Tuesday, March 30, 2021
Sunday, March 28, 2021
"Everything Happens to Me," by Chet Baker
No complaints here, I'm no prima donna. I've been around, eighteen time zones, I can shoot the shit in three languages, I know how the world works, I read the papers. Shit, I read books! That's where you get the real deal. I've had it easy. Easy enough. It's all relative. I mean, look around! I, and probably you too, have had it pretty fucking easy. But no one gets out of these blues alive. And nothing is really as it seems on first glance.
So I'm sitting here in my tropical paradise with the front of my shirt stained with tears, listening to sad songs on YouTube, because it's happening again. It's like the hippies used to say: wherever you go, there you are! You can escape the police; you can escape from your vindictive government; maybe you can even escape from your pissed-off Korean ex-girl friend; but you can't escape from yourself. Even after a perfect day, and a blissful night of eight or nine hours of peaceful sleep and delightful dreams, you wake up in the morning and, boom! There you are. It's you. Oh, bloody hell.
After being born with certain genetic predispositions, and a certain temperament that we can never alter, we slowly build a personality according to our experiences, and before too long we have bound ourselves with the impenetrable knot of our lives. It wouldn't be so bad, except for the fact that other people are tied up in the whole mess by you. Wives, children, girlfriends, ex-wives and ex-girlfriends, friends and former friends. You may not care about yourself, but anyone who had a heart cares about those interconnected others. Whether they deserve your consideration or not, they get it.
Here is a terrible secret that I have discovered about life on earth: you can be a wonderful, cheerful companion for 99.8% of the time that you spend with people who love you, but if you lose your shit and act like a crazy man for the other point-two percent of the time, it all comes to nothing. It might happen fast, or it may take several decades, but that losing your shit part will drive people away. Suddenly, it's like the other 99.8% of your loving devotion has been forgotten.
You know how I feel about depression. No one who is not depressed has any idea what it feels like to the sufferer. No non-sufferer who observes the typical behaviors possesses any metrics with which to judge them. Some day, and the day will come, the sufferer will be cut out, or frozen out, or simply tolerated, as though he were a naughty dog. The dog metaphor is particularly apt at my age. The dog and I will be dead soon. No need to rush things.
Should I have done better? That starts to sound like an English lesson: should, would, or could? I would love to have done better, if I could have, but now I should just stop typing. It's not like anyone cares.
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Monday, March 22, 2021
"Suffering With the Blues," by Little Willie John, 1956
The singer is depressed, and he struggles to recall what he could have done to cause the depression. People in his past have ghosted him, and the only reason that he can come up with is, “I must have done something wrong.” This is a typical aspect of the human personality.
The phenomenon shows up frequently in divorce situations where children are involved. One or more of the children will blame themselves for their parents' breakup. “Mom and dad would have been so happy together if they didn't have me around.” Adults indulge in this self-flagellation. “It's my own fault,” or, “I should have been more careful.”
Whether the person expressing remorse is truly responsible for the unfortunate situation is usually a subject of considerable mystery. I am reminded of a quote that I like, which I am eighty percent sure is attributable to Alfred Jarry: “When the expression of an artist collides with the mind of a beholder and produces a dull thud, it remains to be established which of the two is at fault.”
Maybe there is a moral here. “Don't be too hard on yourself.” That's it, something like that.
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
We've been hearing for a long time that jazz is dead. That sounds straightforward enough, but it quickly gets confusing when one tries to pin down what they mean. That is, what they mean by “jazz,” and what they mean by, “dead.”
Do real musicologists talk about a Golden Era of jazz? They really should. The period from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s was a magical period for a certain kind of innovation and improvisation. There had arisen a large number of extremely talented players who made a living by dressing formally and playing charts in big bands, taking brief solos if they were bandleaders or big star players. When opportunities and venues to do so became available, they started getting together after hours and playing for fun. You know, show off a bit, earn a reputation, maybe cut a rival down to size, a less formal setting where there were no charts, no bosses, little or no money, and no rules at all. That's where the real gold started appearing.
Guys with names like Bird, Diz, and Prez, got together and went nuts. They played the songs that they all knew, the “jazz standards,” and they played original compositions. When they played the standards, like, “Body and Soul,” they would all play the intro and a verse to the song together, straight, just as it was composed. Then they would each take solos in turn, taking either a fixed number of verses or, if things were really working out, a few extra, before nodding to the next guy, who would seamlessly begin his solo, and so forth. Once in a while they might all look at each other and wordlessly decide to play a verse straight, just to remind folks what song they were playing. They took turns “singing the song” with their instruments. How far off the beaten path you could take it varied with the group and their moods, but they mostly stuck to the chords of the song, and followed the changes. The motto was, “everybody solos.” That included the bass player and the drummer.
The original compositions could be startling. Those could be unsingable songs, with enough chord changes to make you dizzy. They'd play “the head” together once or twice to establish the piece, and then start the solos. Or, as in the case of “Chasin' the 'Trane,” they'd play the head, then play it inside out, then play it backwards, then take turns playing long solos, wandering the jazz countryside and leaving no chord unturned. It was 1960 by then, and the lads were getting a bit, not bored, let's say “overly familiar” with the routine.
That's when things like free-jazz and other abstractions began to appear in the jazz world. Many players stuck to what had been working; many moved onto more accessible jazzy variations on popular tunes; many spun right out of orbit and into new realms all together. This might be the point at which certain critics say that jazz “died,” but it's probably better to say that it entered a phase of extreme variation and transformation.
Musicians are funny. They are as varied a group as any highly skilled tradesmen out there. Some just want to get paid, and don't mind following direction and playing by a set of rules. Others resent authority, and always long to color outside of the lines. I've worked around machinists quite a bit in my endless search for new jobs to add to my resume. Those are the guys who operate mills (the billet is stationary and the tool moves; it's a vertical machine) and lathes (the tool is stationary and the billet revolves; it is a horizontal machine). They make very precise parts for very sophisticated machines, like cameras, or automobile engines, with tolerances in the thousandths of an inch. Most of them just want the parts to pass inspection, to be useful for their intended application to the whole machine. There are some, though, who also ensure that every part that they make is unique and beautiful. There are artists among them. All are very talented, highly skilled workers. Some are also artists. It's the same with musicians.
Another thing about musicians: they all listen to each other. They listen, and when they hear something they like, they just might borrow it. That's a nice way to say that they steal. Most of them admit it. If they hear techniques or styles that might enhance their own music, the odds are good that they will shamelessly appropriate them. Jazz was full of great ideas, and those ideas got around. Rhythm and Blues, or Jump-Blues (Louis Jordan), might be called a style of jazz. All of that, with a touch of Country Music, became rock and roll, (Ike Turner and Rocket 88) and everyone is listening to everything and soon you have Hillbilly Jazz (Jimmy Bryant), Hot (East Coast) jazz and Cool (West Coast) jazz, plus Kansas City jazz, and it's all swirling around everyone's heads turning into all kinds of combinations. This process has been going on for decades now.
We've been through rock, hard rock, smooth jazz, jazz rock, psychedelic rock, art rock, progressive rock, punk rock, new wave, electronica, Kraut rock, grunge, Hip-Hop, Go-Go (Chuck Brown), techno, jungle, and dozens of others.
Presently, we have DOMi and JD Beck playing “Giant Steps,” and people aren't sure what to call it, because DOMi is a French, twenty-something piano player and Beck is drummer about eighteen years old and what they are doing is jazz without a doubt, but it is highly personalized jazz. It's kind of like a nice hippie girl spiked the punch, but she was off by a decimal point and now the party is really in orbit. It's the March 11th post a few down from this one, if you want to hear it, and you do want to hear it.
DOMi and Beck are post jazz, post rock, post funk, post techno, post Jungle, post computer, and post ironic. They may or may not be part of the new Math Rock scene (if you can confidently count what they are playing, you have a very, very good ear). It's a safe bet that they are what jazz has become, after filtering itself through everything that has been in the air since classic jazz went on hiatus in the late 1960s.
(With apologies to all of those guys who have continued to play old-school jazz all of this time. Many of those fellows were terrific players, Richie “Alto Madness” Cole for example, but most of us just kept playing our old Miles and 'Trane records. A previous post of Richie's amazing band is repeated right below this post.)
Who knows? Maybe Math Rock itself is the new jazz. There is a lot of frighteningly complex but strangely melodic music coming out of Japan right now. (Tricot; Elephant Gym) America is big in the scene (Clever Girl). Math rock does seem to lack the aggression that characterized great jazz, and which is prominent in DOMi and Beck's music as well.
What would Miles say? (“Fuck that noise.”) How about Coltrane? (Picks up his tenor and falls in effortlessly.) The future arrives unbidden, wearing strange clothing.
Saturday, March 13, 2021
By Eri Hotta
Amazon Kindle: $4.99 (Four and a half stars)
Pub: Random House
Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asian-Pacific War, Vol. I: July 1937 – May 1942
By Richard B. Frank
Amazon Kindle: $20.42 (Four and a half stars)
Pub: W.W. Norton & Co.
If you are like me, you have often wondered, “how could the Japanese have been stupid enough to attack Pearl Harbor and start a huge war with the United States?” It's even worse than that, because as part of the same plan, they were attacking the entire British Empire, starting with Hong Kong, Malaya, and Singapore. Almost as an afterthought, they were attacking the Netherlands as well. The Dutch East Indies are rich in oil, you see.
The quick-response to that question is, “oh, they thought that Germany was winning the war in Europe, and that all of this was just low-hanging fruit.” Besides, thought the Japanese, “we're Japanese! We have Japanese fighting spirit! We are the Yamato people! Soon all of Europe will be German colonies and client states, and the Americans, they're just a mongrel race that thinks of nothing but Hollywood movies and dancing to jazz music.”
I happen to love the history of this period. It turns out to be a perfect example of how fast the “quick-response” evaporates in the face of real history in real books.
The problem is that it takes a long time for all of the necessary books to be written. For all of the necessary documents to become available to historians. Things were classified; or diaries were held back by families fearing embarrassment; or important sources were left in old boxes full of “unimportant documents.” I've been reading about the war in the Pacific since about 1960, and I will admit that my interest started out as that of a child. “Zero Pilot,” by Saburo Sakai. (Also called, I think, “Samurai.”) In the fullness of time, I read more serious books, but even then, historians are just as liable as anyone else to be drawn to the sexy aspects of the war. Pearl Harbor! Midway! Guadalcanal! The Marianas Turkey Shoot! One must be patient. As every decade has passed, additional sources have been exploited by new generations of historians, and more aspects of the war have been held up to the light.
I have recently read two giant books that concern topics that for me were issues of first impression. “Tower of Skulls,” by Richard B. Frank, starts around the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, with lots of flashbacks to when Japan really started going for China's neck. (i.e. the seizure of Manchuria in 1931) The book ends a few months after Pearl Harbor, having covered four years of the miserable, unproductive war with China, and the first few months of glorious Japanese victories that kicked off World War II in the Pacific. I had only read very shallow, fast coverage of the China war, so all of that part was new to me. Honestly, I had also been very vague on the drive into Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, Sumatra, and Java. The details were fascinating, and remarkably brutal.
Professor Frank is a great historian and a great writer, but he is anything but prolific. I had read his book, “Downfall,” which is a close examination of the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan, and also “Guadalcanal,” a terrific history of that important campaign. Those two represented his entire output between 1990 and 2020. For years I had been checking periodically to see if he had written another book. I knew that he was alive and working. Finally, this one showed up. It's the first of a trilogy covering the entire pacific war! I hope that he lives long enough to finish it. I doubt if I will live long enough to read it all.
The real surprise in both of these books was how far on the back foot Japan was after a few years of fighting in China. The Chinese military performed much better than the usual brief histories give them credit for, and the Chinese generals won some clever victories. That was way before the Japanese even seriously considered starting a war with the United States. By 1940, the domestic situation in Japan was dire. It's a bit shocking to read that long before Pearl Harbor, even expensive restaurants in Tokyo were using mashed potatoes to extend their small allotment of white rice. Tokyo had been famous for its ornamental metal gates, fences, and building accents, but they were all gone before Pearl Harbor. Gone to be recycled by the military. Even as early as 1939, there was a serious shortage of military manpower. Japan started drafting men in their thirties, men who had businesses and families. By early 1941, meat and fish were very difficult to find, the supply of fresh vegetables was limited and getting more expensive, and white rice was being rationed. (So was beer.)
This is the situation that generated one of the greatest leaps of illogic in political history: Japan needs food and natural resources; there is plenty of food and natural resources in South East Asia, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies; all of the colonial powers are tied up in this European war; we can simply seize all of that territory and steal all of the food, aluminum, rubber, oil, etc., and ship it thousands of miles back to Japan! We'll discourage America and Britain with overwhelming surprise attacks! That way we will have the resources that we need to fight the war!
Got that? The plan was to start the war, and then seize the resources that were absolutely necessary to fighting the war. That's really leaving a lot to luck.
Only low and middle level Japanese military officials and officers actually believed that there was even a small chance that that plan could succeed. Everybody at the top knew that it was a foolish dream that would destroy Japan. But after four years bogged down in China, Japan's pride was at stake. They had to save face. They chose destruction over the shame of being seen as a second-class power.
The other book is, “Japan 1941,” by Eri Hotta, a Japanese historian of considerable power and authority. (Some quotes follow.) Here the intense focus is on the workings of the Japanese government leading up to the decision to launch a sneak attack against Pearl Harbor. Oh, there are asides concerning certain events in the Chinese debacle, but the laser focus is on the important players in the government's decision to “go south,” starting a war with America and Britain.
The amazing truth is that none of the major players wanted the wider war with America and Britain. They all knew that it was suicidal. They were all well informed about Japanese industrial capabilities, and they all knew the difficulties of transporting the natural resources of the southern islands back to the factories of Japan. They knew how much shipping they had, and they accurately predicted how much shipping they would lose in such a war. They could almost predict the very day in 1943 when they would run out of oil. It was like a high-stakes poker game where they were holding a pair of fours, tops. Their plan was to play them hard, and try to bluff it out. They knew they could have a good few months, and they were hoping that FDR was so focused on Europe that he would quickly negotiate a peace deal favoring Japan. That was a really, really stupid plan.
And they all knew it! To watch all of these officials twist themselves in knots trying to have it both ways is amazing. They feel obligated to talk big in official settings and demand war with the racist, domineering United States, while in private they are all begging each other for help getting out of it.
Many of those Japanese officials had been to America, and they had seen it all first hand. They knew that Japan didn't stand a chance in a protracted war, and they knew enough about the American people to realize that the bluff thing was a joke. They knew that an attack on Pearl Harbor, a sneak attack, and undeclared act of war, would trigger in Americans a desire for pay-back that would be deep and wide. They were still afraid to speak publicly against starting a war. Common sense was a rare thing at those meetings. When someone mentioned the “Japanese spirit” at a top-level meeting, one brave soul yelled, “don't forget! They have their Yankee spirit too!” No one paid attention. All of them, all of the officials and the military officers, had two goals: to save face, and to avoid blame. Professor Eri is merciless in describing the selfishness of important people who put their own needs before the needs of Japan.
Even Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku knew the enterprise was doomed from the start. He had studied at Harvard, worked in Washington D.C., and traveled coast to coast by train. He gets the credit for planning the attack, but he was just doing his job. Those decisions are made above my pay grade, thought Yamamoto. They want a plan? I'll give them a plan.
These books get fascinating quickly as one sinks deeper into the details. As I just said, Yamamoto gets credit for planning the attack. But Professor Eri informs us that one of his staff officers, Kuroshima Kameto, did most of the grunt work, with big assists from air group leaders Onishi and Genda.
Kuroshima is one of those individuals that shows up frequently in Japanese history. An extreme eccentric. He was in his late forties. He was born very poor and orphaned young. He had to work his way through night school, and he was such a good student that he was admitted into the elite Japanese Naval Academy, and then to the super-elite Japanese Naval War College. He had been a staff officer to Yamamoto since 1939.
But he was not the typical picture of a fastidious, aristocratic naval officer. Even other officers from humble beginnings displayed the pomp and circumstance of high-class dandies. No, Kuroshima was a “tall willowy man with a gaunt face and a bald head.” His nickname behind his back was, “Gandhi.” He “rarely bathed,” and he smoked cigarettes constantly, allowing the ashes to fall wherever gravity claimed them. When he was working on a project, like Pearl Harbor, he would lock himself in a dark room, filling the place with smoke from incense and cigarettes. He would sit there naked, waiting for inspiration. When he had it worked out in his head, he would write it all out “in a frenzy” until he was done.
Discovering details like this is a big part of what I call, “the Miracle of Reading Books.”
Anyway, that's the story. “Keep it movin 'ere, Mr. Blogga,” says the nice officer with a wave of his stick, “dis ain't War and Peace.”
Thursday, March 11, 2021
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Monday, March 8, 2021
Sunday, March 7, 2021
Friday, March 5, 2021
Editorials are beginning to appear that predict big Democratic Losses in 2022 and 2024. That was probably a good cold bet as soon as it became known that they had succeeded in taking control of the House, the Senate (by the skin of their teeth), and the White House. I don't have the heart to read those editorials, but there are ominous signs in the general news.
Bear in mind that the news is neither all good nor all bad. President Biden is doing a good job of shit-canning the Trump executive actions that were particularly offensive. He has also been quiet about it all, behaving like a real executive. The former, one term president acted like the public-relations manager for a carnival of wrestling strippers. Biden's White House spokesman is a joy to observe, as she thoughtfully answers serious questions while effortlessly swatting down trolls. We are slowly regaining the world's trust, or some of what we lost in the last four years at least. Rejoining the WHO was a no-brainer; the vaccine distribution plan is proceeding; signing back onto the Paris Climate Accords provided some good optics. (For all the good it will do! You would do better to pay attention to the facts on the ground: continuing high emissions levels, the ongoing mass extinction, weird super-storms, changes in ocean temperatures and fluctuations in the Gulf Stream, ridiculous ice melts, various pollution problems, etc.)
Most encouraging for me is that the Democrats in Congress are appearing less inclined to let the Republicans push them around. I'd love to see them take the biggest hammers available and smash every Republican obstruction like they were in a Gallagher routine. “Oh, you want us to read all six hundred pages of the plan in real time? Sure. We'll have a clerk read it into the Congressional Record in another room while we keep doing the people's business.”
If the Democrats ever do anything just because the Congressional Parliamentarian tells them it's polite, I swear by the bowels of Christ that I will find a dog and kick it.
If the Democrat want to accomplish anything they must learn to be ruthless. Bring in outsiders if you must, boys and girls, but start spilling guts under the table. Or be condemned by history for throwing away yet another pretty good opportunity with nothing to show for it.
Oh, the bad. It's not all bad, but some of it's pretty bad.
The editorials notice the encroaching weakness of Democrats in fighting off Republican efforts to control people's ability to vote, their reticence to fight hard for their own nominees, their growing insincerity in really opposing the filibuster. It is beginning to look like the Democrats are reverting to type, getting bluffed out of a poker game where they hold four Queens.
I shudder to bring this up in today's social environment, but many of the editorials mention that the Republicans will bury the Democrats on social issues. Even on simple things like a $15 minimum wage, COVID relief, and a wealth tax, a truly amazing number of Americans take the Republican side in opposing these things. None of those three items would hurt anybody, at least not one individual worker, not one American family. They wouldn't even hurt one rich, super-rich, or hyper-rich American, nor one American corporation. To the Republicans, and their wealthy masters, those are principled positions that must be fought to the last drop of workers' blood. They don't want to give up a penny of “their money.” It's fascinating to watch the Republicans and the wealthy do this. Most Americans by far would be better off financially to see all three of those things passed. The American economy would benefit from them. But Republican propaganda sets even low income Americans against all three. Amazing.
Then we come to the hard part: this incredibly complicated new gender identity minefield.
Up until the late 1960s, we never even knew who was gay. Those guys kept their heads so far down, it looked like up to them. There were one thousand boys in my high school, and we had no idea who was gay. Lesbians were even more invisible. Then, blah, blah, Stonewall, blah, in fairly short order, Americans by the millions realized that gay men and lesbians were everywhere. At work; in the military; on the police force; in every family; everywhere. It was like a little light came on. Oh! Everyone realized that they knew and loved gay people, and I believe that that fact caused them to get over the old prejudice. Sure, there were still homophobes around, and anti-gay violence, including murder, but most of the general population got with the program. Even transgender people became accepted. After all, we had been hearing about that kind of thing for years, and it never seemed to make any trouble. We had all read about Christine Jorgensen, we knew the whole story. She worked as an actress!
Many of us were relieved when society upgraded its software to get over the existence of LGBT communities. I know I was. I had gay friends. It was nice to stop worrying about getting beat up for walking around with them. As we wandered into the Twenty-First Century, the opposition to this expansion of gay rights grew, and along with that came entire new categories of “identities.” Suddenly it all became very confusing. Queer, which had only changed its original meaning fairly recently, has undergone a new change in meaning. I can't figure out what it means now. Non-binary is another tough one. I mean, the basic concept is understandable, but then there turn out to be potentially dozens of variations within the umbrella of “non-binary.”
Christine Jorgensen had been a perfect poster-child for the introduction of the transsexual phenomenon. Born a he, he had been a very good he, he served in the Army after high school. In the mid-1950s he had the reassignment surgery without any fanfare, and then she presented herself as the charming Christine Jorgensen. She certainly looked like a she, and she was obviously very happy about the entire situation. Okay, that made a very nice Life Magazine story.
Opposition to everything increased exponentially while we had President Golden Calf in office. Violent opposition increased across the board. There was an increase in violence racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual. Violence against lesbians, even! Trans-women were just getting killed outright in multiple countries. People were, still are, losing their minds at the thought of a trans-woman using a ladies room! This bundle of social issues had for a while there consisted of abortion rights and gays in the military, adding gay marriage along the line without much opposition, and has now suddenly grown to include about a thousand things.
And let's face it. If you're talking about gays and lesbians, you're talking about a substantial portion of the population. I'm not going to argue for any certain percentage, but it's a lot of people. Bisexuals don't count. They're just homosexuals without the courage of their convictions. Of trannies, genuine transsexuals as opposed to cross-dressers, you're not talking about a lot of people, although the numbers do seem to be expanding. So, gay rights, big group, you get general agreement. Abortion pursuant to Roe v. Wade? Ditto, first trimester, woman's right to choose? Okay. A few reasonable adults want to undergo sex reassignment surgery after carefully going over the whole thing with a psychiatrist and a doctor? Why not. But the whole situation has gotten out of hand.
You know what? I'm not going to go into any more detail. I will admit that the very idea of choosing one's own pronouns strikes me as a clear break with reality, but that's as far as I'm going. As the great man (sarcasm alert) said, “never write anything down.”
This, my friends, is where the Democrats are going to screw the pooch. This is where the Republicans are going to bury them. These non-negotiable demands by newly created sub-groups of sub-groups of only recently recognized minorities in society are going to be the bear-trap that takes the Democrats out of the race. I support the Democrats in their deployment of extreme diversity right out of the gate, that's fine, but if they get pushy about a social agenda that supports every single one of these new gender categories, and uses any pronouns that anyone demands, and God forbid supports gender reassignment for minors, they lose the Senate and maybe even the House in 2022, and the White House in 2024.
You might think that old Fred ain't woke, but you'd be wrong. I'm plenty woke. If I'm not woke enough for you, you're making unreasonable demands on society.
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Depression is really full of surprises. Sure, we all know that it haunts your dreams; that it shortens your life; that it lowers your lifetime earnings; that it creates fertile ground for lifestyle errors*; that it lowers your IQ and/ or your ability to apply it; that it ruins your relationships; we know all of that, and more. But now, as I approach the fifth anniversary of the death of my father, I have identified an aspect of depression that I had not previously understood. It accelerates the passage of time itself.
It is a well observed fact that as we proceed through life, the years seem to pass more quickly with every turn. One year for a five-year-old seems to last forever; one summer for a twelve-year-old goes slowly enough to make going back to school (and watching the World Series) seem like fun. Somewhere around the transition from the flood to the ebb tide of life, let's say somewhere around the age of forty, life begins to lose its languorous pace. All of the markers for the passage of time seem to be arriving more rapidly than they used to. The various holidays and birthdays are repeating themselves with a strange new regularity. Most people realize in their forties or fifties that this process is accelerating on an annual basis. In our sixties, it becomes a finger snap: birthday, Christmas, birthday, Christmas. By the time that we turn seventy, the whole thing has become quite disturbing.
Being quite aware of all of this, it is no surprise to me that the five years since my father's death have passed quickly. At my age, that's natural. There were, however, deeper shocks built in to my father crossing the river. It has been disturbing to endure the typhoon of never before encountered symptoms, and the feeling that my life is racing towards an oblivion that could begin at any moment. Neither is it any fun to live with the daily, nagging bewilderment about my parents feelings towards me. Was I really so terrible? They both seem to have thought so. My mother, later in life, would praise my ex-wife as a saint for putting up with me, and they would both commiserate over the daunting challenges of living with me. “Living with Freddy is what made my hair go gray!” All of that was providing the entertainment for the entire family. My ex-wife kicked me out within a matter of weeks after my mother died. My father lived another nine years, and other than feigning deafness to avoid talking to anyone he managed to put up an impressive display of support and acceptance. (The ability to love, I'm afraid, had always been denied him.) He waited for the reading of the will to insert the stiletto.
Fred, focus, back to the rush of time.
I began having nightmares after the will business sunk in. Who leaves their first-born's share of an estate to that son's ex-wife? I always knew that they liked my wife much better than they liked me, but really, who would do that? Break it up, sure, give the ex-wife a share, but who zeros out the son without so much as a “fare thee well?”
Before the will fiasco, if the subject of heart related chest pains came up, I couldn't even imagine what that would feel like. I was having them myself before long. The nightmares were of a very particular type that I had not previously encountered. Naturalistic settings, in color and in detail, peopled by family members living and dead, all saying things that you could easily imagine them saying. I was having these dreams, and none of what they were saying was flattering to me. Or I would be arguing my own case in the dream. “But I was a good boy!” “Didn't I call mom every couple of weeks and have a friendly chat for an hour or so back when that shit cost a fortune?” Or shear exasperation, “I traveled ten time zones for nine years in a row to visit that motherfucker! Just to hang out for a few days and tell him that I loved him!”
In my adult life, after I got over hating them for their pathetic failure as parents when my sister and I were at home, I accepted them for what they were, just a man and a woman, imperfect like the rest of us. I forgave them, and I loved them, and I was good to them. And for what? To be treated like a dog.
Here is a contributing factor to the rapid passing of time. I had had a prescription for Xanax for many years, but I had only used it for international plane flights. Believe me, fourteen hours on the plane, it really helps if you can get four or five solid hours of sleep. Other than that I never touched it. But those nightmares had to go, and I needed to relax in general. I was so wound up that I was getting strange stress manifestations and histamine reactions to things that weren't there. I have stayed with a low dose, just enough to deepen my sleep and take the edge off in the evenings. My heart Rx also slows the metabolism a bit. Alcohol, of course, is in the rear-view mirror now that I have a deep, personal relationship with a cardiologist.
So my days go by faster, then the weeks, and months, and years. Faster, I think, than is normal for someone my age. I'm sleeping more, and enjoying every minute of it, I might add. I still teach my classes, but my schedule is not onerous. I read “too much,” which is a characteristic of many depressed people. I have been known to take a nap, of an afternoon. In the evenings, I watch Netflix, like many people (no binge-watching). The day zooms along and is gone. This is probably a mixed blessing.
I still say to myself most days, “I was a good boy!” I never got caught stealing, or riding in stolen cars, I never got arrested with drugs, or for anything else at all! I never broke a bone. I was never a bully. I was personable! I think that most of the other parents liked me. I have a studio portrait photo of myself dressed up for First Communion, age six I believe. I look angelic. I walk past and I think, who could hate a son like this? Then I run quickly to my Kindle and bury myself in my second reading of Eri Hotta's “Japan 1941.” Prime Minister Konoe; Foreign Minister Matsuoka; General Tojo; it's fun getting to know them a bit. Fun watching them twist themselves into knots trying to avoid a war with America, and all the while taking frequent actions that would insure it. We all know how it turned out, but watching them stumble into it is fascinating. That kind of reading also speeds the passage of time.
If you are not depressed, thank God immediately. I am happy for your good fortune. If you had loving parents, if there was love in your home, good for you! It is a comfort to me to know that there are such families. If you had parents who encouraged you, who supported your interests and efforts, you, my friend, were doubly blessed. Good for you! Without an ounce of sarcasm I say, your happiness is a blessing to me. Without it, I would never know that such things existed.
*”Lifestyle Errors,” such as smoking tobacco; drinking alcohol to excess; drug use, or abuse; self-sabotage; high-risk behavior; aggressive social behavior; over-ambition; workaholism; or obnoxiousness.