Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cruel to be Kind

Last weekend my son asked, “Dad, what’s your mission in life.” I told him that I wanted to be a good person, and the best father I can be. Being an awesome kid, Justin said, “Well, dad you’ve already achieved those.” Pure sweetness. I suppose that if I had already achieved those goals, I could sit back on my laurels. (Laurels are not like poison ivy, are they?) I’ve always striven to be good; sometimes to avoid the razor strap and sometimes to be more Christ-like. Now I don’t need any physical threat or divine inspiration. Treating others as you would want to be treated is just altruistic good sense. The maxim of reciprocity is common in nearly every ethical tradition, although it’s often claimed by Christianity as its own.
To me, being a “good person” means being kind to others. Be kind is one of the twelve points of Boy Scout Law, along with be clean and obedient 😲. I’m as kind as I can be to our customers; even the customers that raise the wrath of my co-workers. There is one little old French lady, who will only deal with me at the used book counter. She’ll call ahead to ensure that I’m working that day. It’s a lot of pressure on me to carry on conversations that I have no interest in. It causes stress in my internal organs when I am nice to others, but cruel to myself. [Excuse me, while I tighten the barbed wire cilice around my chest.] I am my harshest critic. My worst enemy.

What does it mean to be kind to others? I’m a pretty angry person. I’ve had friends tell me that I carry my anger with me. Like the plague, I guess. I’ve cut communication with members of my family over the Frumpf debacle. I get angry when all my son wants to do is play hoops or video games instead of study. He’d rather make the effort on the basketball court than in the classroom. (Duh!) I get angry, because my wife’s religion keeps her from voting or celebrating holidays. She feels no stress or anxiety about our current political atmosphere, and societal breakdown. I get angry, but mostly with myself for not being the perfect human I had hoped to be. For not being the perfect human that I expect everybody else to be. And I’m the one that told my son that perfection is not possible, just a goal to aim at.

Yesterday we woke up to four inches of snow in our neighborhood. I was determined to walk to work, even though I don’t have snow boots. I was enjoying my walk, when all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black and white dog headed for me with teeth bared. He chomped right into my calf, before his owner could call him off and apologize. I said, “He bit me. He bites.” And then I continued to work. I know, I know. I should have gotten a phone number, and other information, but I walk by there every day. I just need keep the wound from getting infected. It’s not like I have a lawyer on retainer, and I’m going to sue for pain and suffering. I experience pain and suffering every goddamn day, so a dog bite is just a little variation on the everyday torture.

In other news: a pedestrian was killed on the crosswalk by our bookstore last weekend. An oversized diesel pick-up truck was barreling around the corner and took her down. The driver was distraught and inconsolable. I was not there, but the accident shook up quite a few people, as it should. I got enough of a visual when my co-worker told me about the blood surrounding her body, and her hat off to the side. It was only a week ago that a pedestrian was hit about five blocks west of there, but not critically. Death is not pretty, but it’s pretty consistent. So, let’s all be careful out there. We need to be extra vigilant. We need to be aware of the dangers that surround us and be prepared to fight. Complacency is lethal.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)

The documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" opened here in Seattle and in many other cities on Friday. I have been looking forward to this film after first seeing the trailer. We need to emulate great men like James Baldwin and speak truth to power - get up, stand up - and grab the reins of our society back from the moneygrabbing flim-flam man and his flunkies.

Here is a wonderful debate from Cambridge (1965), which discusses the notion that the American Dream was attained at the "expense of the negro." You might wonder why bother listening to Buckley's response to Baldwin, but it's worth it just to view -- once again -- the pathetic white man's defense of his horrendous treatment of human beings, based solely on skin color.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Time flies, except when you’re stuck in the doldrums. There is a dead calm and any motivating winds seem to be a world away. Where are the winds of change when you need them? If we’re stuck here much longer, we’ll have crazy Billy Zane, climbing aboard the otherwise peaceful vessel with Nicole and Sam. Two’s company, but three is a cheesy TV series. Ménage à terror. Stuck in a boat with b-list actors and then Ralph Furley and Tallulah Bankhead show up with a life raft and you just want to drown. Not even a laugh track can save this fiasco.

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it can feel as if one is stuck in the horse latitudes. Legend has it that when the sailors became stuck in subtropical ridges, thinking that they would run out of fresh drinking water, they threw their horses overboard. One would think, with all that horsepower, they could have high-tailed it out of there, but evidently not. "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?" Well, I don’t think I’d throw my horses overboard, but that’s just me.

The days are getting longer now – they have been ever since the winter solstice – but it’s subtle. With the holidays over, most of the festive lights have come down, so now dark is just dark. Some folks leave their lights up quite a while – possibly in an attempt to battle SAD. I know that the extra illumination helps to cheer me and alleviate my winter doldrums, as I walk through the neighborhood at night. I don’t consider it white trash at all. Now, if you leave the faded plastic Santa and his eight tiny reindeer on your roof throughout the year, that is white trash.

You should always be careful what you wish for. Calm is good, but the opposite of calm is chaos. Sometimes the winds of change come and they’re not a spring breeze at all. Instead of just enough wind to get us going in the right direction, we end up in the middle of a shit-storm. Babies don’t wash up ashore due to calm seas. The remaining family members – once on land – are often given a hostile reception and turned away. Anne Frank and her family were denied entry into the United States due to restrictive immigration policies at the time.

If you think that’s bad, we now have a maniac at the helm. He’s never captained a vessel as big as a country before and yet the ship’s wheel is now in his tiny hands. If you think the Titanic was a disaster, just wait until you see the iceberg we’re headed towards. First Mate Bannon keeps saying, “Full speed ahead!” but who was lynched and left him in charge? Pastor Pence is in the chapel on the ‘tween deck, conducting church for all the young boys onboard. We’re going to hit and we’re going to hit hard and there are not enough life rafts onboard the U.S.S. Fascist. This ship wasn’t equipped with life rafts. Just pro-life rafts

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Settle Down Now

Well, the first thing you know, our landlord gives us notice to vacate. Seems she’s ill, and it’s time to sell. So we loaded up the truck and we headed easterly...Wedgwood, that is. Fancy schools. Prius cars. Now that I'm a grandma* it’s time to settle down. I've traversed the country more than a few times. I’ve lived in New England, North Dakota, and Washington, where I make my home. When the time comes, my ashes will be scattered at Kalaloch or used as garden fertilizer. Ashes to ashes and all that.

The Jeffersons
We are now nestled in the woods, up on a hill. It’s a new way of life akin to the Waltons…or maybe it’s closer to the Jeffersons. It’s upstairs downstairs with a shared kitchen. Competition is fierce for baked goods that are pulled from the oven. All animals are relegated to the basement. It’s a matter of hierarchy. The neighborhood is full of dogs and their walkers, always with a friendly hello for fellow dog walkers, which makes me think that having a dog would be a perfect cover for a serial killer; but then again psychopaths usually torture their pets, so that wouldn’t work.

Settling down also means getting used to the what’s and wherefores of my new surroundings. It means finding a space and making it my own. In our last house, I was lucky enough to have an office. Here I am in the process of converting part of the garage into a Cynic’s Sanctuary. Sounds better than man cave, doesn’t it? There’s music, movies, reading space and a comfy chair to torture the unsuspecting that stumble into my lair. I’ve done all the necessary acoustic tests and I can without a doubt, turn the volume to 11 without fear of offending the neighbors.

I haven’t really addressed the third word in the title: Now. Mindfulness is very trendy these days, so most folks are aware of the fact that there is only the present moment. The past is gone (if it ever existed) and the future is yet to happen. (“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”) The time to settle down is now, not someday. Moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone and grass don’t grow on a busy street. Fish don't fry in the kitchen. Beans don't burn on the grill. That being said, if you kids don’t settle down back there, I will turn this car around right now!!

 *My grandson calls me grandma, because he calls my wife, who is -- of course -- his grandmother the Japanese term for grandma, which sounds like "Byjon." He's bilingual, but gender confused.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bonus Video

Weezer - (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To


In Transit

We have moved. Just a skip to the left. And then a step to the right. The gang’s all here now. We brought over the harbor seal. Word is there’s actually a cat under all that blubber, so put your clubs down, boys. We have a new puppy in the house, thanks to my stepson jumping the gun, and bringing home a furry ball of cuteness the weekend we moved in. My only contribution is the name, Loki. So, if you’re counting, that’s three cats, one dog and a pony. Oh, wait. That pony was just visiting. He’s since moved on to parts unknown.

Our house cat, who looks remarkably like a harbor seal.
We are now in the very quiet neighborhood of Wedgwood, which sounds rustic, or like a really painful wedgie. We were blown out of our straw house and our stick house, so now we’re ensconced in a brick house. I’ve been enjoying the quiet evenings here, after previously using my iPod to drown out the sirens, buses, and other city noises on 15th street. Here at the brick house, I sit on the front porch and listen to the rainfall. I see neighbors, walking their dogs. I see trees of green and red roses, too. I see them bloom for me and you.

I walked to work today and it only took me thirty minutes. Apparently you can get there from here. It just takes a little longer. I took a zigzag route through a nice neighborhood, counting “Black Lives Matter” signs on the posh homes of rich white folks. Nice scenery though. I’ve been admiring all the wonderful holiday decorations, including the ten foot tall inflatable polar bear and the candy cane wielding stormtroopers. When my 23-year-old stepson found out that I was still walking to work, he said, “Wow. That sucks.” I have always enjoyed walking and being able to walk to work and back is a pleasure and a healthy one at that.

I’m not going to lie. It’s been tough these past few weeks, moving households while working in retail during the busiest time of the year. I’ve been packing books at home and unpacking books at work. Last Friday’s one day total at the bookstore blew away the previous record. December has been a bit of a blur and the end of this week is also the end of the year. There really is too much going on in my life for me to handle it all in any practical way, so I’m taking a step back emotionally, and trying my best to go with the flow. Over time, the water wears down the rocks, and carves its own path.

My young co-worker says, “The fun never ends,” but the truth is that it ends long before your remaining family members draw straws to see who pulls the plug on your life support. The fun is just beginning. My four-year-old grandson is now living with us. He still calls me grandma, so now not only am I the only atheist stoner in the house, but I’m apparently also the only transgendered grandparent in the house. I don’t bake, although I do get baked. Grandma is his own man.

"Do you know the muffin man? Girl, you thought he was a man, but he was a muffin." -- Frank Zappa

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

My Year in Reading -- 2016

It seems that I wasn’t really serious about my vow to watch more television. I still like to browse Netflix and I’m always adding things to my queue, but my viewing habits are not really habits at all. They are more like fits and starts. I work in a bookstore. I love books. I must since I am in the process of packing over two-thousand of my own books to move into our new abode. I have books that have outlasted my marriages and multiple moves across this ingrate nation of ours. Television just seems like a sugar rush with short lasting effects compared to the longevity of the written word.

Working a fulltime job and being a parent of a ten-year-old boy doesn’t leave me all that much time to pursue hobbies like reading, writing and supersymmetric string theory. I still probably read more than your average Joe, but not your average Josephine. Surveys consistently show that women read more than men and that’s just one of the reasons that they are smarter than men. The stereotypical male reader – if they read at all – will read Tom Clancy or John Grisham, but shy away from anything that might test their moral mettle or – heaven forbid! – cause them to do some research.

I haven’t made my annual reading goal since 2012! In the years since then I’ve learned to mix in a few graphic novels and children’s books to pad out the count. My goal this year is to finish 45 books before midnight on December 31st. I’m only competing with myself, so please…no wagering. I’m about a third of the way through a my 43rd book, which is a collection of short stories entitled Scary Old Sex by Arlene Heyman. She was a student of Bernard Malamud (The Natural.) It has a terrible title, but the stories are candid and memorable. My next two books will most likely be short books, novellas really, but they have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) so they still count as books.

So far, I’ve read two graphic novels: Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart. I read one book of poetry: Why God is a Woman by Nin Andrews. I read two books for younger readers: The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall) and Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. I read thirteen books of nonfiction, including a couple about religion, one about a beef slaughterhouse and three books about husbands who died (The Iceberg, When Breath Becomes Air and The Light of the World.) I also read three Shakespeare’s. No, wait. That wasn’t me.

It’s not like I need the encouragement to read though. Being well-read is one of my positive qualities and you've got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative and don't mess with Mister In-Between. It’s all on my permanent record somewhere. You can look it up. Now let me just say before I present my Top Ten Reads of 2016, that I have no intention of reading anything better than these ten (eleven) books listed below before the end of the year. Some titles on the list may be better than others, but they are in no particular order. And now without further ado:

Most top ten lists are limited to ten items, but this goes to eleven.
  • The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam 
  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead 
  • Miss Jane by Brad Watson 
  • White Rage by Carol Anderson 
  • Out of Sight by Erik Loomis 
  • Every Twelve Seconds by Timothy Pachirat 
  • Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume 
  • Strange Gods by Susan Jacoby 
  • Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans 
  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh 
  • Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser