Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11 -- The Dirty Bird of Days


Nobody knows what to do with this day. The usual rules don't apply. You go to the diner and Trixie isn't herself. She's muted her usual boisterousness, her usual lust for life. The past comes rushing in on us. However long ago it was -- perhaps we could look it up -- doesn't matter. The same somber tone, the same unwelcome sobriety descends upon us, one and all, and once again we're beside ourselves.

Once we were beside ourselves with terror -- utterly perplexed, finding devils in the smoke -- and now it's with reflection and a shaking fist, at the sky, at somebody, as we chant, "Never again!" I remember the first time I heard that familiar chant. We adults were stoic, standing stolid in complete silence. I remember my own stolid stance, the evil wind of that day moving my hair, that's it. I didn't know what to say, no adult did. The chant started then, wonderfully enough, with a little kid, maybe not more than four or eight, something like that. He or she raised his or her little fist, and with an angelic voice, as if from the clouds, he or she started in: "Never again! Never again!"

Other than that, does anyone really remember what they did? I don't. I remember my first day of kindergarten, my first Valentine, my first kiss on the playground, my first school lunch, my first (and second) Cub Scouts pins -- Fox and Bear, actually the only ones I ever earned, the day LBJ had his surgery, and the day I lost my virginity to myself. But that day, that terrible day, so long ago and yet as fresh as today to so many, is a weird blur, a distant nightmare that I mostly remember only because others remind me.

I know this much about it, though, the world hushes itself in its presence. Every lip is sealed, every voice struggles, every eye sheds a tear. There is no laughter. The decree goes forth, binding on one and all, "Let laughter subside!" Give it up, let it be, a pall falls, and that same dread we faced, and have pretty much repressed, returns to the fore, and what seemed so proper just yesterday -- Ha! Ha! Ha! -- is at once set aside, perhaps never to be heard again ... We just don't know. Can we make it? Will anything ever be the same? I don't think so...

This is now the dirty bird of days. You know the dirty bird. The dirty bird emits droppings on everything in its path. Straight below it, around the yard, around the block, then the town, and finally the world. Joy and happiness are far from its path. It may be the most joyous occasion of all, a picnic, a birthday celebration, the day of your first marriage. But when the dirty bird gets hold of it, it's nothing anymore, a waste, a void, something to be buried and forgotten. Your happiness that seemed permanent and set to endure, in the twinkling of an eye, is turned to despair.

Have you washed your hair? The dirty bird passes, or lands, and again it's a mess, as though it were never washed. Were you proud of your car, the sheen, the shine, the glint of the day's noonday sun beaming on it? Passing is the dirty bird, doing what the dirty bird does, and your car's just as crappy as ever. Or you have a brand new set of shingles on your house. You're showing it to your priest, but even he has to turn away -- he's who's heard every squalid confession there is -- as the dirty bird passes, emitting, dropping, and bombarding everything in its filthy path.

Let introspection reign, then, on this day of days, the day of the dirty bird. May each heart be gripped with moroseness, completely seized up and bound. As for me and my house, we're staying in today. And now ... to silence.

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Scenic Train Ride - "HIC! HIC!"


It's probably true that most folks like riding the scenic cruise trains you see around the country. I've found it's a good relaxing time for an old guy like me, not given to too much excitement and preferring to take it easy.

We've come a long way since the hobos rode the lines and had to sleep under bridges in hobo jungles, scarfing mulligan stew and fighting for every bite. Now they bring us a lovely three course lunch, starting with the salad and bread, then steak/potatoes/veggies, whatever, then the dessert. All the times I've ridden, I've never been hungry enough to beg from passersby afterwards.

Something they have plenty of now, as well, is alcohol. And some of the folks (not me) get pretty lubed. The last time I was on board there was a party of six, three women and three men, and the men were completely lubed. Bubbling over. And carrying on, too, pawing their wives. One of them even saw me -- a gnarly 61-year-old man -- in the vestibule, the space between cars, and thought I was kind of cute.

Shortly after, my having eluded him and maintained my virtue, we were back at our tables in the dining car. I sipped a Coke and these guys were enjoying spiked coffee, topped with about three inches of alcohol-enriched foam and even a cherry on top soaked in whiskey for six weeks.

The real fun came, then, when the guy who runs the train line came out to narrate the more picturesque sights along the way. These guys, still running up their liquor tab, were generally well-behaved, but with those unfortunately loud, involuntary "HIC!" noises more common in taverns. The train guy was trying his absolute best, but I could see a look of frustration on his face, being so rudely interrupted as he was.

"On the left, you'll notice the Golden Mountains, the single source of our nation's great riches----" "HIC! .... HIC! .... HIC!" Sometimes they hicced in threes like that, one per man. We veered around a corner and the Golden Mountains receded from view, but I'm given to understand everything in Fort Knox came from there.

Going down a steep incline, the train guy started in again: "Ahh, the majestic Valley of the Kings!," he said approvingly, "who mystically appear at the fog line whenever--" "HIC! .... HIC!" That was one guy hiccing twice, and his wife gave him a major league jab in the ribs. That led to laughter from the other guys, which degenerated into their own "HICcing" fit. I'd actually forgotten the Valley of the Kings was anywhere near here. Now I'll have to look it up, what causes the mystic Kings to appear and where precisely. Because the train man didn't get it out.

Soon we went around a beautiful curve, supposedly the biggest curve in the world since Ethel Merman's death, and there was shimmering Lake Diamond, home of splendid magical jewels that are gathered on the beach by true believers, if your heart is certified properly righteous. The train guy started in, saying, "And here is shimmering Lake Diamond," then abruptly gave up mid-sentence, anticipating a loud chorus of "HIC! HIC! HIC! HIC! HIC!", all three men going at it in discordant guttural belches. The train veered around a corner, leaving Lake Diamond out of sight.

It went like that, then it was time for Happy Hour, before pulling into the station an hour later. I watched the wives leave with their husbands staggering toward their cars, and with my hand over my lips, emitted a tiny, silent HIC of my own. One little drink at Happy Hour.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Get Your Degree in Violence


I've been watching the arc of history closely, keeping track of how things are going, and now with over 60 years of experience, it seems to me things are getting a lot worse in terms of societal violence, quite a bit worse. Either that, depending on how you look at it, or things are getting better, a lot better. Because of course there's lots of great opportunities for somebody no matter what happens.

I too can see some great opportunities. Gun sales, that's keeping a lot of folks employed. Then on a larger scale, we have defense contractors, who are always prosperous. There's plenty of opportunities to work in the military. And with guns here on the home front there's plenty of openings to teach folks how to shoot, gun safety, and, my favorite, how to ensure a kill shot at any shadow moving around your house at night. Be they burglar or, maybe not as desirable, family.

One huge opportunity (and maybe someone's already doing it) would be in the more advanced educational field, offering a college degree in Violence. That'd be a cool way to get the upper leg on things. Imagine the deeper philosophical background and how much practical value that would be for you, being able to develop new and better techniques of defense, plus offensive maneuvers. Obviously you're not going to get that at the gun range! And this isn't just the namby pamby stuff they teach at places like West Point, which, frankly, has more to do with the niceties of saluting and keeping your uniform clean than anything else.

In case you're thinking this is just general education classes with a few hours of Violence courses, let me assure you, it's not. There's no general education hours. English, math, even the history of warfare, you don't need that. Instead, it's one useful course after another:
Introduction to Barbarism;
Stockpiling the Perfect Arsenal;
Beheading -- The Cutting Edge;
Bombs -- From Backpacks to Mack Trucks;
Terrorism's Secret: The Buddy System;
Plus lots of smaller stuff:
Hold Ups;
Burglaries;
Truncheons, Bludgeons, and Pikes -- Your Personal Toolbox;
What Color's Your Chainsaw?
and, Pyro -- Not Just for the Fourth of July.
I'm excited already. I wouldn't mind signing up for some of this stuff myself. If anything, it'd boost my personal confidence. Yes, I've had troubles in my life. I remember this one time in the '70s a big drunk grabbed me on the sidewalk, thinking I was someone else. I was lucky to wriggle away and for the fact that he couldn't run. But with a little training I could've wasted him, then when he woke up he would've regretted--- No, he would've been dead.

It might, however, be dangerous for the professors. The students are going to want to really prove themselves. They're not going to just skate by. The practical implications, having a guy like me able to wriggle away, could be deadly. So when the professor calls for role playing, you honestly might end up dead. And the same goes for the professor. So the school will need the biggest, baddest, ex-con, cyborg, armed guys with hairpin triggers, the whole bit.

The implications are crazy. Because I don't think you could have students start the training, get disgruntled, and drop out. They'd be giving away all the techniques (and philosophy). And then how would students have a leg up? No, if you're a student and you can't cut it, you'd about have to be one of the victims during the demonstrations or practicum stuff. Say you're defending your thesis; you might need several victims.

Violence is increasing. It's getting dangerous even to go out and get the paper. That happened the other day, a drive-by shooting. I bent down to get the paper and a barrage of bullets took out the ass of my pajamas. Was a good thing I was reaching at an angle. But how much better it would've been had I been trained. I could've cleared the road with some mortars before going out, then got the paper and got the hell back in.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Big Shoot Out at the Police Academy


I have to say, I definitely love the policy of the Police Academy: IF YOU SURVIVE, YOU PASS. Speaking as one with a lot of anxiety in school, the assurance was comforting. It didn't matter about the quizzes, group discussion, participation, or the final exam. If there's a notebook to hand in, original research, or book reports, none of it counts, skip it.

I always wanted to go through the training. Yes, I heard it was a bastard of an ordeal, but the mere fact that there's policemen on the street told me it was more than theoretically possible to survive. And so I did ... the only one this year ...

The first day came, the opening of Police Academy! They told us the policy and I immediately knew what had to be done, which was basically to bide my time. Everything would work out in the end. It would just be a matter of playing it smart and accumulating what I needed. After all, if you survive, you pass!

Right away, I saw the others were doing it all wrong. These guys over here were diligently taking notes. A couple of female cadets were winking at the lecturers. Most of them were doing lots of research, putting it on 3 x 5 cards. I saw some impressive piles. They taught us about taking a good defensive stance, of having the right ammo for the particular gun we were handling, and how it might help to memorize the Miranda rights, just in case we failed somewhere along the line, etc. Failure? I wouldn't have it!

My favorite lecture was the one where they had a big body outline on paper. The lecturer pointed at the various appendages. The top two were arms, the bottom two legs. Those are not kill zones. Everything but that, see, constitutes what's left. And of that, everything from the waist down is non-trunk, leaving the remainder, except for the head, as trunk. The head is the head. With all that in mind, every shot goes for the trunk or head. Simple! There's no crotch kills.

Then there was the mantra, drilled into us: SHOOT TO KILL OR DON'T SHOOT AT ALL. There's nothing ambiguous about that, which is how I like it. Nice and tidy, easy to remember, easy to do. I've always been amazed how they don't do this on TV shows. I'm sitting there watching the cops shooting at random, poking the gun around the corner and shooting. And I'm shouting at the TV: "Wait for a good shot, then shoot!" It's not like you have all the ammo in the world; it's much better to end up with more than you need.

So we had that policy, and the other one, IF YOU SURVIVE, YOU PASS. To me that said there might be shooting. Someone would go crazy and start in. I immediately made up my mind that when that happened, I'd be ready! They wouldn't deny me my certificate! That's where I got busy, accumulating guns, other weaponry, building a formidable stockpile, charting out the auditorium, the side rooms, etc. I knew the access points, the whole layout. And I was ready.

The last day came and anxiety was building. Who was going to blow? And why? It turned out to be something simple, some idiot clown pissed off that all the homework he did, the notebooks, the stacks of cards, the original research, the kissing up to the lecturers, the homemade book covers from paper sacks, none of it mattered. He complained about the other guy who ignored everything and did nothing -- he was referring to me -- would get the same passing grade. So he erupts -- see? -- and pulls out a gun and is shooting wildly. That means everyone else, trying to defend themselves has to shoot to kill or not shoot at all.

The place was ablaze with fireworks, bullets flying, life and death. I see cadets falling everywhere. One of the lecturers, a smart guy, is behind a table, waiting it out. Just as I was waiting it out, but I had taken the excellent precaution of stationing myself behind a huge metal plate (meant for the sound system) up in the rafters, with my entire cache. I looked out and just missed getting hit by a shot hitting the top of the plate. Half the class was dead, the other half was checking their notes as to how to do it right.

Now it's down to the last eight to ten guys -- the survival of the fittest -- and they're piling up bodies and ducking behind them, anywhere they can get. The lecturer's ducked down, but I have a line of sight on him. He spots me and shoots, just missing. Here's where it gets good, because I've seen him behind the table so much, I can picture precisely where his head and trunk have to be. True to my scruples about getting it right the first time, I zero in for a head shot and watch him drop.

The bad part of this shot is it alerts the others to my position. But right away in the hubbub, having also anticipated this, I'm able to get decent trunk shots on four of them. That left five or so others. My position, however, being what it was, I could afford to wait. I mentally raced through all the possible diversions I've seen in old shows, telling myself I couldn't be fooled. If someone threw something across the room, I ignored it. If someone called for a ceasefire, I knew better. But as for them, no one could move without me seeing.

Just then I looked down and this one asshole's crawling under chairs, exposing himself a second at a time in the gaps. Three rows and I had it timed, a nice head shot. Another guy was desperate and ran for a door in the chaos, but this is where the gun in my left hand came in handy, right in the back, heart-side. That left only a few survivors, whose cries for compromise I simply ignored. In the Academy it's kill or be killed, kill first and ask questions later, if there's anyone to answer.

Now they're calling to one another, trying to gang up on me, making a pact. At which point I'd just about had enough. I lobbed a grenade, not meant to kill but only to flush them out. Which worked. They're scampering along, tripping over bodies, slipping on blood, out of their minds with fear, the whole bit, and I picked them off just like that, bam bam bam bam.

OK, at this point, if I had less intelligence I might've come out. But I have that extra something, that extra mental oomph, what I like to call Moxy Power, moxy on the ball. So I waited and waited and waited, listening for some sign, just in case there was someone nearly as smart as me still hiding. I spent my time meditating, "Aaaaauuuuuuummmmm," just mentally working on that and other helpful mantras, keeping me on my toes, part of my Life Divine studies. When what do I hear? A very tiny hushed sneeze, someone sneezing into the thickest part of his shirt.

It was my meditation that gave me the extra Moxy Power to locate the sound, on the left side of the hall, 3rd row back, 4th seat from the end, on the floor. Here's where I was tricky. I heaved a grenade to the opposite side of the room. Which worked. The guy thought I was off my game and he could take me by surprise. So up he pops, gun in hand, with a quick aim. But not quick enough, with my 30 ought 6 rifle already trained where he had to be. I sent a slug immaculately through his head, right between the eyes.

So I survived! Yea! And I passed. I stepped over bodies getting to the front and found a bloodied sheaf of certificates by the dead lecturer, rifled through them, so to speak, and found mine. Now it's just a matter of passing the strength and agility training and I'll have a job with the local police department! Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I'm Possessed by The Dead Miner


So many times over the years when I've heard people saying, "I'm a channel for such and such a dead guy," I've always said, "You're crazy!" Because I thought they were, the dead being dead and not coming back. But now I owe about a thousand people a huge apology.

Why the huge switch? Personal experience, of course. The only word for it is I was recently overcome by dead miners and possessed by one. There's a place south of here where mining used to be a big deal, the area's whole economy except for farming. Over the years, as these things always go, there were a number of miners killed, this or that shaft caving in on them, others getting struck in the head by falling timbers, and others breathing fumes fit for neither men nor canaries. I visited the place.

I haven't been a big believer in ghosts, although as a kid I was more susceptible to the idea; I used to be scared that particular departed spirits would appear, but never saw anything. Being grown up, till recently, I've strictly been a rational person, which I know now is just someone who's turned himself off to the full experience of the mysteries of existence. A few seconds with a microscope or telescope proves that the naked eye is blind to more truth than it sees.

Before going into the mine, I had a couple shots of whiskey, which I now believe lessened my resistance. Then somehow something terrible happened! Because since then my normal speaking voice has been replaced occasionally by a low, brusque, huskier voice. Rudely making suggestive remarks apparently reflecting a libido interrupted in its prime. "Hey, baby, I've got a rich vein for you right here!" It's happened in the grocery store, the park, downtown window-shopping, and even in church. They say I wasn't myself that day with the pastor's wife, suggesting, "The shaft is deep but nothing a real man can't handle."

The problem with dead miners -- the same as living miners -- is they're extremely lascivious. When alive, they were in the dark all the time. They did alpha male work, very repetitive, rhythmic, and regular. Then the mine fills up with musk and pheromones and hot desire. In short, it's a seething cauldron, very unhealthy, but hard to resist whether you're living or dead. If they find a host -- which is what happened to me -- there's no telling how far things might go.

At this point I'm reluctant to go out in public any more than I have to. My only "solution" till now has been to stay home and hope that my boring lifestyle would encourage the spirit to leave. But he still pops up in annoying ways, and seems to be extremely interested in beer commercials. Which have come a long way since the days of hunting cabins, cartoon bears, and sky blue waters. Now they're at pool parties, with sexy women in ragged cutoff shorts riding up the butt and the bottom of their pockets hanging down. You don't have to be a dead miner to stand up and take notice. And without fail, he says something, "Eureka! I've struck pure gold!" If he takes me to stake a claim, I'll be in trouble.

How I'm finally going to rid myself of this nuisance, the Dead Miner, I don't know. But I've got some ideas. I think my best hope will be to lure him back into the mine. To accomplish that, I could put a laptop computer about 30 feet in the entryway, run a slideshow of the worst content Tumblr has to offer, while blaring a lot of "Come hither-type" MP3 files to lure him in. Then once I felt the sensation of his departure, and sense that he's in -- perhaps signaled by a muffling of the laptop as he takes possession -- I'd blow the place shut with a thousand sticks of dynamite. It just might work!

Finally, with the Dead Miner gone, with God as my witness, I'll be able to strictly limit the rude remarks I make to those of my own.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

In Spiritual Ecstasy Johnny Law Bites It


"The Law is the Law," Johnny Law said, citing my family for illegal squatting on a reserved picnic site. "You are in violation of Section So and So," he told my mother, before giving her a ticket and forcibly moving us on. We packed our basket and departed, heads hung low in shame.

This all goes way back, being, as I look back, the beginning of my radical spiritual life. Because at that time something new came to the fore, and I knew -- can you ask a five year old how? -- I'd never be the same. All because my mother was the kind of lady who wanted something different for her family, experiences of pleasant outings.

It's hard to believe, but Johnny Law really patrols the parks of the city. I think it's all underground knowledge. The average guy sitting home on his easy chair hears a siren and assumes he's off dealing with serious crime, a bank robber or burglar. When the odds are, he's merely harassing park visitors and moving them on, albeit usually with a warning. Bullies.

Mom got a warning the first couple of times. We were at the picnic site, but not having a picnic. My brother and I sat on the grass, our legs out, rolling a ball back and forth. Mom had a book. It was a pleasant day, the birds singing. The big thing I remember about nature that day was seeing those butterflies, the ones that are little chunks of ripped cloth, flying haphazardly everywhere. When here comes Johnny Law, full siren blaring, flashing the artillery.

Things like this stick with a kid. It haunts your thoughts. I bet for a week there wasn't a night that I didn't dream of it. I'd awake crying hysterically from dark nightmares. I didn't ask Mom if her idea was to help me psychologically, or what, but she kept at it, taking us to the park. Indeed, we returned! Over and over. Sometimes with food, sometimes not, once with wax fruit! And Johnny Law was never far away.

My first magical experience came when I least expected it. I felt it welling up in me, some force going beyond my personal self. I was able to see through to the other side, and yet in some unexplainable way I wasn't me, in the egoic sense. I became alive with sensations of otherness, of rising above the entire world. I discerned things right at the heart of truth. No longer did I see bowls of wax fruit, but everything was fully alive with energy, pulsing with freshness and taste. My heart was afire that day, when who shows up but Johnny Law!

There I was -- in complete prophetic fervor and fire -- when Johnny Law was reduced to crisp. A bolt of lightning flashed from the heavens, weirdly channeling itself through the top of my head and out my eyes. I had no conscious purpose, no conscious desire ever to hurt a living soul. Butterflies flew by without harm. All I know is, where Johnny Law stood was suddenly nothing but a pile of simmering ashes. And his ticket book, which my mother picked up and put in her dress. We packed up, went home, and to my knowledge she never mentioned it to anyone.

About the illustration -- Notice the trees, like the towers or gateways on Tarot cards, meaning entrance to a new future. Then there's mom and brother, almost like Mary and Joseph in the nativity set, with me in the middle. Gifts are before me as I hover between earth and heaven. Mom pours from a pitcher, suggesting new, living wisdom. Brother reaches his hands in the pose of beholding something wonderful. The true Law, the book of grace, is above my head, radiant. The superseded Law -- Johnny -- didn't stand a chance.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Mom's Been Dead One Year


Well, friends, it's been a weird time of reflection for me -- the honest to God truth -- now that my mom has been passed on for one whole year. I bet I thought of it and reflected on it more than for any other person in my whole life that's died. And now that I'm getting old myself -- 61 -- virtually every one of my loved ones, with a few exceptions, from that generation is gone.

There's something about a mother dying, I've found, that makes a hole that's just brutal. I always pictured it as being bad, of course, but nothing like the complete dead end void that exists in reality. My imagination didn't come near to it. It feels like a strange total silence out there, no door, no window, no nothing.

I never really saw her that much, truthfully, just a few times a year, since we didn't live extremely close to each other. But I heard from her numerous times a year. And online.

Anyway, the anniversary came, and I remembered it. About the time at night, a little earlier since it's past my bedtime, I looked at a few pictures of her and lingered on them, then went to bed thinking pretty much of what I'm jotting down here.

But it's not all that terribly sad -- let's say it isn't for a minute. Because my mom was quite the humorous person. We laughed and joked around a lot. I remember that about us being together more than anything else. I remember the only time I saw my mom ever finger anyone. That's a great memory I cherish. My dad was in the hospital, dying. One of the nurses did something, snotted off to mom, or something, and as the nurse left the room my mom fingered her. We both cracked up laughing. I was semi-shocked, but glad to see it. I thought of that on the anniversary of her death, my dear mom fingering the nurse.

Mom was also extravagant. She did everything in a big way. One of the last times I saw her before she died she was in a total manic state, thanks to meds. She seemed well. This was the last "good day" I ever saw her, since I was just there for the day. She had wild plans -- and had met with the artist -- to put a $10,000-$12,000 statue and bench on her grave site. We were going over the information, she was digging into it like a person possessed, and she was going to swing it. When everything went to pot right after that, it was all forgotten. But those moments were actually her, the way she dreamt and got things done all her life.

I guess I'm not going to put too many actual memories here. I have to save things for next year.

PHOTO: Mom died of cancer, as seen in the blood cell photo. The picture is from the movie, "Night of the Blood Beast," a Roger Corman production from the '50s. I don't know that she ever saw that movie, and I don't know that she didn't. But if she did see it, I can hardly believe she ever expected this frame to be used in a blog post about her own passing. :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mutual of Omaha: FINAL NOTIFICATION


Sigh. Here's a piece of junk mail I got that I thought would be fit for display. It's from the Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company. The key thing about this one is the bold "FINAL NOTIFICATION" shouting itself out. If I never see another envelope from them forever, I can always look back and remember, Yes, I was warned.

But warned? ... or promised? Let's just say -- sure, it's one in a million -- that maybe I don't especially appreciate getting junk mail. I walk to the mailbox, and there it is, something like this. An insurance company wants to sell me a policy. My old university -- which had no qualms about putting me on academic probation when I was there -- now considers me a great alum, who needs to have their credit card, etc., and give money. Cards from tree removal services. Pizza coupons (actually useful.) Surveys from Congress, like they really care what I think.

They seriously think we're idiots, or so extremely lonely that we're just dying for a piece of mail, when of course we aren't. The best ones are the (rare) ones that come with a free stamp or even a free nickel. I believe I got a nickel some time in the last couple years. Seems like it was stuck right in the window, a little bit of sticky stuff holding it up, so you could see, indeed, it was an actual nickel! Those are nice. You're suddenly five cents richer, for what that's worth ... about five cents. If I could hear from them a thousand times a day, with the nickels lumped together as an actual $50 check, that'd be better.

Speaking of checks, I used to get those in the mail. But they were the kind of checks that if you cashed them, according to the fine print, they were actually loans. I can't remember who they were from. Seems like they were from my credit card company, or maybe just a loan company, acting on P.T. Barnum's old saying of a fool born everyday. At some point, I guess they just stopped coming. I don't believe I got a "FINAL NOTIFICATION" on those, or I would've probably written this blog then.

Anyway, to the Mutual of Omaha company: I'm old and have all the insurance I'm ever likely to buy. If this is my "FINAL NOTIFICATION" for mail I didn't ask for in the first place, and don't actually appreciate getting, then fine, thank you. Please show your integrity as a great company by keeping your word.

Hey, whatever happened to the "Wild Kingdom" show, sponsored by Mutual of Omaha? Did they just yank it off the air way back when? Did we get a "FINAL NOTIFICATION" that it was leaving us. I can picture Marlon Perkins, surely dead by now, or 150 years old, his final years screwed up without constant safaris. Maybe they sent his last check in on the tip of a poison dart and hit him. Or paid him off in nickels, one at a time. He was a great guy -- I guess, he seemed nice -- but who knows. He was responsible for an awful lot of animal pain.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In My Depression, I Bought Old Utility Bills



I was really feeling terrible, down, irritated, and depressed, a little over a week ago. I don't know what hit me, except my biorhythms have been completely out of whack. I hate to admit it, but this one guy told me it helps to "get it out," his exact words.

Well, you probably don't have to be a therapist -- and he's only an armchair therapist, a Monday morning counselor -- to know what people do when they get depressed. There's several things, ranging from severe acting out against yourself, which I don't do, to going crazy shopping. I'm more apt to do that, even though I rationally know I have everything I need, and seriously need to get rid of some stuff. I just keep putting it off till tomorrow.

In this case I was too depressed to go shopping downtown. Afraid the guys downtown would razz me for my ratty bathrobe, I guess ... again, "getting it out." So I turned to the next best thing ... no, not Amazon.com. Not this time! I checked in with eBay. Particularly looking for something that would make me think of the old days. I think that's what I had in mind. I like to see old movies, of the world gone by, no internet, cell phones, back when people lived in black and white and smoked like crazy.

This time, though, I didn't get movies. I found some guy's very unusual listing for some old electric, natural gas, and water bills from the early '50s from some town (little? big?) in Ohio, Lancaster. I thought, There's something you don't see everyday! Someone's old bills! The folks' water bill postmarked Sept. 29, 1950, was only $2.00, with sewage billed at 60 cents. Very cheap! Their two month electric bill (July 6-Sept 6) was the minimum charge of $1.00. Natural gas from the same period was $1.60 gross and $1.45 net. It goes on like that for the whole stack of bills I got!

When I bought these, my biggest high was the bidding war with three other people. But when my life and mental well-being's on the line, I cannot be denied. I kept topping the other guys, finally plugging in $200 with about 3 minutes to go. They were feverishly adding to their bids, but naturally no one thinks you're going to have that high of a maximum bid. So I got them for a little under $60, a real coup! Or so I thought at the time. By the time they got here my depression was gone, and now I don't know what to do with them.

The big plan was to categorize them, chart them out, etc., but the charges are so steady across the line that to chart them doesn't prove very much, if anything. Plus, even if it did prove something, it wouldn't prove very much, nothing worth knowing, in all probability. Still, they're kind of cool, in a way. They're actually someone's bills (receipts for bills) from the early 1950s, but what good they really are, I'm starting to think they're not that great.

What I might try to do -- wish me luck! -- is call the Lancaster utilities and dispute one of the bills. I could say we were overcharged in October-November 1951, since we were away on vacation then, and we had called in to turn off the service. But we paid the bill just by habit, and now I realize they had made a mistake. It's likely the utilities threw away their copies, so they'll have to take my word for it. They'll see the total's under $5.00. Little do they realize, though, I'm compounding interest on what's due, meaning they owe me $58,978!

When I get my $58,978, then I won't be depressed! I'll be buying all kinds of crap!

People in Chains


At the risk of inflaming an already troubled world, I have a few comments to make. Further, I know I am putting this blog and my reputation at risk as well. For I have very sensitive readers, most of whom have told me time and time again that anything that rocks the boat doesn't sit well with them. In other words, they've threatened to "hit the doors" if I ever say anything evenly the slightest bit controversial, in anger and rage abandoning me out of revenge.

But I shall be bold. I've weighed all the different factors -- and others I'm too afraid to list -- and have decided, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." If my readers, precious in my sight though they be, are so super sensitive, so supercilious, to anything that even might rock their world, and however slightly at that, are they really worth having? In that case I'm as much in chains as the poor folks seen in my illustration.

Anyway, being bold, here's my sincere contention, Everyone's got something going on, some problem, let's say, something that's holding them down. It may be a complex, a behavior, a predisposition, a habit, or longings, not yet acted on but enslaving them every bit as much. I will simply lay it on the line: I feel sympathy for them and want their lives to be better, to enhance them as much as I can, if I can.

I will make a few comments on each one, expressing myself in sympathy and grace, thankful that it's not me, for There but for the grace of God go I.

Let's go left to right. The older lady's chain is LUST. I've known several people on the chain of lust, true story. They're always on the make, sniffing the air for whatever opportunities there might be to get their jollies. As I'm given to understand, lust is a terrible taskmaster, capturing first your attention, then keeping you firmly on the hook until you've gone the full mile demanded. For the lady here, as sad as it is to say, there's no turning back. She will either grab the guy next to her, RUDE as he is, or the PRIGGISH guy. Who, being PRIGGISH, might put up quite a fight.

Then there is RUDE. I really hate it when people are RUDE. Their biggest thing is they've given up on human sympathy. See the connection? If you have sympathy for other folks, you will bend over backwards to understand them and to accommodate them. But being RUDE is to show a lack of sympathy, showing itself by acting mean. Have I ever been RUDE to someone? This is something that, yes, I have done. But my sympathy is such that it's never gone on for long. I get over it very fast.

PRIGGISH.  I've actually been accused before of being PRIGGISH ... because I believe in clean living and I don't allow blue material on my blog. Me PRIGGISH? Ha! Let me say I'm a little turned on by the lady in the pink dress. The little BORED kid looks like she could almost be my daughter -- if Pink and me got married, then did it, 40 years ago when I was young. I see she's MOODY, which can be good, if she's clawing cat MOODY.

HELLION - All boys are potentially little HELLIONS. I used to be a boy, and still use the HELLION attitude as a boy does. But it's never misbehavior, or used in being RUDE. I'm not a vandal or anything like that. I use the HELLION nature if I need the confidence to do something, like jump over a creek, climb over rocks and boulders, something hard. I think "I'm a boy!" and dive right in, fighting and going at it like a tornado.

MOODY - As said above, I like a certain amount of moodiness. It gets old, though, if it's constant. Variety is the spice of life. Mix your sullenness with good cheer, grumpiness with bubblyness. Keep me guessing, but not so much that I'm perplexed.

BORED - Little girl, why would you be bored? You have your whole life ahead of you. You know next to nothing about anything. Everyday should be a day of excited discovery for you. I want to see you bouncing around, going from one project to the next. Let's set you up with finger painting activities, kite flying, origami, reading cool books at the library, and going to various fun outings -- touring museums, theme parks, and going on trail rides. As for theme parks, though, I'm BORED by them, so I'd skip that. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

She's Cute ... He's Handsome ... Stop! Don't Do It!


This is just the kind of argument you want to get into ...

You caught her fair and square, bald-faced, lying, red-handed, in the act, in flagrante delicto, as it were. You had her right where you wanted, names, dates, suspicious comings and goings. This would be your big chance to be rid of her, no questions asked. No one could blame you.

Then -- you should have known -- as sure as the sun doth rise, she has the names and dates, and suspicious comings and goings of you as well. A little tit for tat, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, or vice versa. You tried to avoid that infernal lipstick! Proving to yourself once and for all, there's no fool like an old fool!

It's the same old story, times two. You're out and about, you catch an eye, an eye catches you, then there's a smile and an exciting closeness. It's a crowded room, pretty dark, you can duck through this curtain and out this door, the back door, and find a booth somewhere. No one's looking, you think. In this whole big world, surely you can duck scrutiny for a paltry hour; you've been around, you see people, they're out of sight in a flash.

But there's always some little thing. Someone crossing the street the opposite way, catching a glance, noticing something out of place, a slightly different person on your arm. But they don't say anything, don't greet you, and maybe turn their head to look the other way. Saving their kind attentions for later, the gossip mill.

She, however, was very discrete, coming up with one excuse after another for her absences. Doctor appointments, visiting a sick friend, Christmas shopping in July, having her dress mended. But you started thinking, Something's going on. And decided to call in a private detective for answers.

He tailed her, but good. She wasn't so secure she didn't look behind her and around. But she kept right on going, not noticing him. Then the assignation, a dark stairwell, a key to the door. Their meeting went well, such as it was. The detective was back with the details within the hour. Now to confront her! And be done with it!

She was ready, though, the evidence she has against you bringing out an added brazenness. This is why she had no shame!

Fortunately, friends, the above scenario is fictional. The very sad people in the illustration, just actors, helped me make a point. The point being, if you haven't yet crossed that line -- and there has to be a few of you who've thus far held back -- there's still hope for your relationship. You may seriously think you've lost the fire as a couple, but it's very likely that's just a deception. Because whatever it was a long time ago, the mutual attraction that brought you together, isn't dead. Much more likely, you've simply set it aside, by neglect, or from a lack of imagination. The old fire's still there, present somewhere, just waiting to be rekindled.

I've had friends who've crossed that line, and I've kept their confidence, only because they're my friends. But I know they're miserable. Had they only come to me before it happened -- this goes for male and female -- I would've told them, "Don't do it!" In my favor I would've brought out the old truth, "The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence." I would've then lead them through a few questions -- delving into their thinking -- before emptying a pitcher of iced water in their lap. They'd have come up cussing me, obviously, but when they got hold of themselves, they'd have thanked me.

It's too late for them now, many of them, but that doesn't mean it's too late for you. Let's say you're getting ready to go right now. But somehow (Who knows how it happens, but thank God it does!) you found your way to this blog -- a very popular blog, yes, but still obscure enough that you basically need divine guidance to find it -- and you're reading this post, and it's hitting you like a ton of bricks. You're saying to yourself: "Yes, yes ... just the word I needed, as within the hour -- or maybe even sooner -- I was planning to throw it all away with some hot little floozy [or tall, dark, handsome paramour with a pencil-thin mustache, smoking a Swisher's Sweet, very sexy.]"

It's fantastic news to me to know now that I had some little part in changing your plans. And that you've decided to take another look at your mate, your partner over all these years. She ain't so bad, is she? He's still pretty cool, isn't he? You look up, you look at each other, there's a meaningful look, a glance, and a sly smile.

Forget everything else! Take your pill and fill the tubs in the backyard! Maybe you can make it before sundown!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The First Day of School for Me ... Again


It's the first day of school for me, again. School opened today, meaning I made my annual trek back to see about starting again. Two things went against me: 1) Every year it's getting harder and harder to pass as a kid; 2) They never think I'm serious. We argue the point, I cuss them out, and end up sitting in the corner till the police arrive.

It's embarrassing, of course, to be led from the classroom in handcuffs. But I look on the bright side; it gives the kids something interesting to remember. I can see them now at their 40th reunion -- "Do you remember that old man they arrested on our first day? Wonder whatever happened to him?" -- "I hear he had a facelift, came back five years later, and ended up graduating at the top of his class, graduating early, right out of fourth grade!"

That's how I plan to do it. In four years, just like the kid remembers it. I'll test out of Kindergarten and start with First Grade. Then it's 1-2-3-4 and out. If you can go through college in four years -- I've always said this -- the lesser grades shouldn't take any longer. (That doesn't mean I might not go back and do fifth and sixth grades, the elementary equivalent of grad school. I wouldn't mind doing a dissertation on girls, how yucky they are.)

The only reason I put myself through this year after year is because of something my dad said. That he wished he could go back to school and do it right. He said it, I bet a dozen times, and it always stuck with me. For some reason, though, which I've forgotten, he could never do it, or maybe he just thought he couldn't. Times were different back then. He had to work hard to feed a bunch of hungry mouths. But I've only got me to worry about. And I just ate.

The biggest problem -- and here's where I'm going to confess a few fears -- is that I'm honestly afraid that, as much experience and knowledge as I think I have, I might still flunk out. And they're not fast to flunk kids these days! Not like when I was in school the first time. They graded on the curve then, so a full 18% of everyone failed automatically. Now it's all individualized, giving every kid an honest to God shot at success. Of course the downside for society is that it has to function without a vibrant Shudra caste, drones, worker bees. But with outsourcing so prevalent, and the increased use of robotics in manufacturing, the loss hasn't been that terrible. These days, now, if I fail it really means something!

Think then, too, what it would mean for my self-image if I can't keep up. Because, remember, most of these little honyock mama's boys have had preschool. I never had that luxury. I'm starting in the hole the first day. But I might have the edge after all, since I've been balancing a checkbook for years (math), writing this blog since 2008 (English), and heating up TV dinners since Grandma died (home ec). Plus, a lot of the stuff should just come to me, if somehow I can find a reservoir of common sense within; I believe it's there, but where?  

The kids I'm really afraid of are the ones who've been trained in music, playing the piano. Because I've heard that their little brains are wired differently from the average kid, meaning they might be smarter than me on the first day. Even if they're not -- they'll probably be close -- and by the time I graduate, after fourth grade, the little musicians will be so advanced, I might be way down in the percentile somewhere. It'll kill me.

But if it doesn't kill me -- ho ho ho, I'm devious -- who says I can't start again ... and again ... and again ... till I finally -- till death doth me part -- get it right.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dad Wanted to Die Alone


Note: I'm sorry this post is long, but I can't cut short the story of a guy's death. My recommendation is that you read it over a period of three days. That way you can pace yourself, not tire your eyes and mind, and be better able to consider the issues of life, family, mortality, and passing. There's two great truths about Death: It plays no favorites and it plays for keeps. Reflecting on Death, as I often do, I am set a'trembling, and yet I wouldn't have it any other way.

The stories of how people die -- how we die -- are among the weirdest. We aren't sure if it's supposed to be a social process or simply a solitary act. Dogs crawl off to die alone, but we, perhaps because we have more feeling for appearances, make a production of it. Still, the dog isn't too far off the beam; there are times when dying alone is preferable.

Moss Stipple wanted it both ways, at least he alternated between them, in a strait betwixt two. We shall call him by the term of affection that his family knew him by, Dad. (He wasn't my father, by the way.)

Dad was in the hospital. All hope was gone, according to those in the medical field. He was dying and, if the process went on as everyone expected, he would be dead soon, very soon. As the time seemed to loom very near, those on the scene carried on their conversations in hushed tones. Nurses and doctors conferred as much in sign language and with well understood nods as anything else.

Dad rouses and demands, "What's going on?", then drops back to silence. "Nothing, Dad, just get some rest." The nurses stand still a moment, then return to their business, in motions designating lieutenants among the family. As if to say, "You're on cotton swab, you're on soothing music, you're on bedpan, ring if you need anything." The doctors, recently on the scene in conference, don't do any of this; they simply vanish down the nearest doctor hole.

After a bit, Dad rouses again, and holds up his finger, and whispers, "I want to die alone." To me this is more heroic than to face the namby pamby look of one son on cotton swab, another on music, etc. With resolve, he sends everyone away. Good for him! Because all the chatter, their hushed tones, and the various distractions take away Dad's dignity as a man.

Alone then, he's contemplating, trying to keep fear away, trying to stave off the sense of abandonment, which rises quickly. He sends for his family, who return, some still, some preoccupied with whatever. One son has the undesirable task of arranging a birthday party for his twins. They're talking together: "Has the doctor been in?" "I haven't seen him." "No, he was in for just a moment. Don't know what he said." "Dad, what'd the doctor say?" Dad says with difficulty, "What?" They busy themselves with the swab, the music, and ready nitrile gloves in case the bedpan should come into play.

The nurses return to the scene, needing to shift Dad. There's always some danger of bedsores if he's left in one spot for more than an hour. "On 2, 1-2." They shift him; now he's on his side, his bottom out for a moment, with all demurely turning away.

The son's phone rings. "No, I don't need two cakes, just two places at the head table for the twins. That's right, one cake, two places." With this commotion, everything from the swabs to the birthday arrangements, Dad comes-to strongly enough to send them all out. He again wants to die alone, in peace. They think, 'Who are we to argue against this good man?' and leave.

Back at his dying, Dad busies himself with his final thoughts, the thoughts of Everyman: "I had a pretty good life. I loved my wife. I'll see her again very soon. I and my family, the whole Stipple clan, many generations of us, have our names written in the Book of Life. Life is good." He pauses for a moment, about to cry, and thinks, 'My dad wasn't like this. I was at his bedside.' Wanting to be the dad his dad was, then, Dad sends for his family.

The whole crew's back. They've been involved in some debate going on between themselves and three competing doctors. One doc wants more tests, but, the family says, "Dad's side is like a pin cushion." "No, we've been using the port." One wants to try a complete Ensure regimen. One wants a morphine drip timed for every hour. Some agree, some disagree.

The nurses are back from their break, smelling of smoke. It's time for the family to man the patient, so things get hectic again. Dad can see this busyness in all quarters, all except for a long haired grandson in the corner preoccupied with a video game, otherwise sullen.

An hour or so later, the sons and daughter are tapping their toes, impatient. "Why don't they tell us anything?" "Maybe they don't know anything." "Then tell us that!" An uncle -- Dad's healthy brother -- comes in, offering to spring for a cafeteria run, ice cream for the kids, saying, "We don't know how long we might be waiting." The others shush him, but Dad's conscious and can hear their tiptoeing. His brother comes to the bedside and says loudly and distinctly, "How ya doin', Moss?" Dad gives him a hand squeeze as his answer before the brother takes the four grandchildren out for treats.

This leaves Dad's kids bickering over the various slights they've felt in his treatment at this hospital. One complains the hospital is nothing but a corporation, and that's the way they make you feel. "Nothin' but the bottom line!" Of course Dad hears all this and rallies once again to send them all away. The nurse hears his whisper and tells the family, "He wants to die alone." "We'll let you know ... one way or another." In the excitement, Dad's senses are sharpened, and he looks around the room. Though it's a little blurry, he makes out a lot of metallic technology. The buzzing and beeping of IV bags, with the intercom in the hall, adds to the feeling of malaise.

Nurses return to shift him. Dad whispers, "I'm dying, what's one more bedsore?" But rules and regulations being what they are...

All alone now, Dad decides, "No, I don't wanna die alone." He tries in vain to get the call light. He's thrashing as much as he can, but it's fallen halfway to the floor, dangling past the bottom of the bed. He tries to call out, but his voice is unheard, very raspy and weak. He rattles the bed. He wants everyone there for one last final goodbye. But instead he dies, his eyes rolling back in his head.

At the nurses' station a hush falls over one particular monitor. Part of the family's there nearby. They see the nurses rushing off. They trail quickly, sending the 14-year-old to find the others in the cafeteria. Everything's just rumor at this point. "What are they saying?" "They haven't said anything yet." "This could be it!"

Entering the room, they find Dad totally still. Others arrive, saying "Is he---?" The nods of silence and downcast eyes tell the story. The daughter offers up praying hands, a signal to the others that they go to silence. Especially appropos when the kids show up with the last bits of their cones. Nurses are quietly disconnecting spiggots. The uncle with the other sons come in. One son says, in a very solemn, dignified way, "He said he wanted to die alone. Now he's with Mom."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Teacher Who Meant to Say


The whole class took the test and it was a total wipe out. Everyone failed, because each problem was different than what the teacher meant to put. For example, on the test he had "20 + 10," but he meant to put 20 + 20." So none of the tests matched up with his answer key.

After a while, as you might guess, almost nobody wanted to be in that class. To them, being absent-minded (or devious) is apparently the unforgivable sin. But a few hardy souls were man enough to take it, which included my dad, some other guys, and also some girls.

So they went from something like 40 kids a semester down to less than 10. That made for a good problem. "We used to have 43 kids a semester in this class, and now we have 8 ... How many did we lose?" That's a tougher question, of course, since you don't have 10s, 20s, and 30s to work with. I think it'd go 43 - 8 = 35 kids lost. That's what you'd think, but the teacher meant to say they started with 35 kids, purposely low balling it to minimize his failure. So the answer should've been 35 - 8 = 27.

One generation passed on and another came, all the while the numbers going up and down. The lore of this teacher was passed from father to son, mother to daughter, with him keeping things confused enough that the school didn't dare fire him. The pattern of it went on. Which, if you think of it, it's a good way to learn math. Because your first answer is never right you learn twice as much.

There was a kid, though, who sometimes got it wrong on purpose because he was trying to get it right by guessing. By the way, that kid was me. I worked with some of the info my dad gave me, and I swore the teacher would not be a match for me. I was able to keep my vow only somewhat, because, obviously, he could always claim that he meant a different number.

Here's an example of me guessing. He says the problem is 20 + 30. Everyone else assumes the answer would have to be 50, but I thought of the stories, so I figure he meant to say 20 + 20, so my answer of 40 is right. He's amazed when one kid gets it. Now, though, he has my number and wants to make life tough for me. So he says the problem is 30 x 2. I can go one of several ways, I can increase or decrease each number, significantly changing the answer. But if say the answer is 90, assuming he meant 30 x 3, there's nothing to prevent him from saying he meant 30 x 4.

The way I eventually turned it around on him was to claim that I also meant something different than what I said. So if I said 90 and he said he meant 30 x 4, I said I meant 120. Like that. Or when I figured  he was getting totally wise to this, I prepared cards with all the various numbers, giving me the ability to pull out whatever card matching up with whatever he eventually meant.

We went at it like that for a couple semesters. Him riding my ass like a rodeo cowboy and me thwarting his every move like a rodeo clown. One last thing, it was getting extremely dicey for me -- with him ultimately holding most of the leverage -- leading me to petition the school to force him to teach like this: 1) Students' choice of problems; and, 2) Printed flashcards. That effectively defanged him until the semester ran out and I ended up with a B.

In later years, though, I heard that the school board rescinded their revisions in the curriculum, letting the teacher return to his old tricks. He had complained to them that 99% of his students were failing, so of course they immediately voted to rescind the rule. When in truth he meant to say 99% were passing.