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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Change of Scenery

We always bring along whatever emotional baggage we have to our new homes, but a lessening of stress allows us to open up that baggage and possibly start to remove of a few of the lesser appreciated items like low self-esteem, and lack of parental love. I don’t know why I keep hanging on to those with every move. It’s tough enough moving a couple of thousand books, but bringing along all of my sacks of woe makes for an even more difficult move. Like a starving refugee on the run, I need to learn to drop my belongings by the roadside and not look back. That being said, I moved about twenty boxes of books over the weekend.

Humans love to measure everything, and forget that every measurement is influenced by the one doing the measuring. Much of life is immeasurable, besides being subjective. Love. Pain. Stress. How do we measure stress? I can’t even manage it never mind measure it. I have lived here on 15th Ave NE for five years and the stress I endured here, will be noticeable by its absence at our new abode. Here the bus stop is across the street. Every full moon, some drunkard entertains us with songs, barks and other nonsensical shouts. We were always getting alerts about neighborhood break-ins. Our place was broken into once, but I suspect that the would-be burglars heard my stepson Collin downstairs and beat feet, leaving a mess in the kitchen, where they crawled through the window over the kitchen sink.

The first time I drastically changed my surroundings I was seventeen. I ran away and joined the air force. After six weeks of basic training in San Antonio, Texas, and six months of technical training in Rantoul, Illinois, I then spent four years in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I can tell you, I was ready for a change of surroundings after that stint in the winter wasteland. At the time I yearned to go west, where I had friends in Oregon. I had made a trip out there on leave, and I wanted to go back. Instead, I returned home with my proverbial tail between my legs. After living with mom and dad for a few years, I got married to my first wife, Betty Lou. She and I changed living spaces a few times, once moving in with her alcoholic parents, and once living above a sexually perverted priest.

After a few years of marriage, and the stress and strain of living with and near parents and in-laws, my first wife and I decided to move west. We were unsure whether we’d end up in Oregon or Washington, but our ultimate goal was Alaska. I still haven’t been to Alaska. I hope my first wife has made it up there, fulfilling half our dream anyway. I met the woman, who would be my second wife, and mother to our son Justin in Seattle. After being together for a while, we decided it might be better to move back to the east coast and closer to our families. We first landed in Maine, and then settled in the Berkshires of Massachusetts for about five years. It didn’t take us long to realize that our move was misguided and we returned to Seattle, which we now considered home.

Seattle is still better suited to me than my childhood environs, but it’s changing and not for the better. I’m still very happy to be back in the land of evergreens and smoking greens. Rain is plentiful; marijuana is legal; and there are still a few independent theaters and bookstores left, including the one where I’m employed. I was never meant for the cut-throat, rush-rush pace of the east coast. I was never meant for city life, but Seattle was my compromise. A city with quaint neighborhoods and just a stoner’s throw from mountains and the ocean. I now know that I will always feel at home on the left coast.

Location. Location. Location.

The house we found to rent is a brick house. It’s well put together, everybody knows. It’s mighty, mighty and it’s in a much quieter neighborhood, with lots of dogs and their walkers. The firewood is stacked and that’s a fact. It’s surrounded by evergreens, which provides some natural privacy, and the yard is fenced, so we’ve already started to shop for a family dog. Location is not everything, but having some quiet space to let my thoughts roam is vital, and I expect I’ll be able to transform the garage into some semblance of an office/man cave/getaway. My walk to work might be a tad longer, but longer walks means a longer life.

Lip sych much?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Call Me Ponyboy

‘Tis the season of stress and strain, financially and emotionally. With the holiday shopping season upon us—we just passed Black Friday – the days at the bookstore begin to whip by at a breakneck pace. I work like a dog in a retail environment during the time of the year when stores hope for their biggest sale days. It’s the end of the year. The last chance to catch up to, or surpass last year’s totals. Add to that mix the fact that I’m moving with my family to a new house in the next few weeks, and it becomes stress overload. At least for me it does. I’m just a man, not a superman, although kryptonite does not seem to bother me at all. Go figure.

I'm a celebrant of one.

Leave it to me. I must be addicted to feeling like an outsider. I’m an atheist and I married into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I feel like a Fish out of water. A square peg in a round hole. Like a dog without a bone. There are no holiday celebrations. No Christmas lights or birthday cakes. On Christmas Eve our house is always the darkest on the block, while the rest of the neighborhood is aglow. Having grown up on holidays, and continuing that tradition until marrying my current wife, I can say without equivocation that I miss celebrating the holidays.

It doesn’t do any good to get mad at the world, because the world is indifferent. All that anger just raises my blood pressure, hardens my arteries and chaps my ass. I don’t fall in for phoofy terminology, but my inner child is pissed off. Day one – at birth – I was given up for adoption; something about the wrong eye color. I was then raised by wolves for six months before being adopted by the hillbillies from the hinterlands. I never truly felt like a vital part of my family, which made it all that much more difficult to fit into the greater society at large.

I need to pause and reflect for a moment. Kiss my son’s forehead, and remember my breathing. My son is so kind and empathetic. He inspires me to be a better person. My parents never said the words “I love you” to us until we were grown and started saying it to them. I guess then they felt that it was okay to respond in kind. It was one of those households, where you knew you were loved, because you were fed and clothed and had a roof over your head. Beyond that, what? You want hugs, or something? How does it feel to want?

"I forgot my mantra."

The holidays come and go, and I just get older. I’m not a lapsed Catholic, but I do qualify as an Angry Buddhist. I can’t seem to muster up enough Zen to release my thoughts to the idiot wind. Life is short and my mean little old heart could give out tomorrow. Is this really how I want to spend my last days? Mad at the world? I rather spend it loving my son, hearing the birds sing and the writing inane blog posts like this one. I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. I’ve still got some fight left in me, but more importantly, I still have a lot of love to give, and it would be a shame to die without having given it all away. What else is love for, but to offer it freely, and without infection?

Instead of feeling like a fish out of water, I want life to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Sense of Betrayal

This time it's personal...

Many of us are still walking around in an apparent state of shock after the recent election. Unless you’re lucky enough to be living in a cave, you are aware that Donald Trump has been elected president of these United States, which means that they may not be united much longer. Everything that is wrong with this country reached its nadir last week with the election of Donald Trump. Protests immediately sprang up in cities across the country. He was officially endorsed by the KKK and his new chief of staff has ties to white supremacy groups. Some say, give him a chance to prove himself, but he proved himself to be sleazy conman long before he was mistakenly elected president of these United States.

I feel betrayed by my country. I gave four years of my life to the government when I joined the Air Force at age seventeen. I pay my taxes and abide by the rules of the road. My country, ‘tis of thee, is starting to come apart at the seams. Our fragile social construct will soon be in the tiny hands of a reality TV star, who seems to have no concept of moral responsibility. He has over seventy lawsuits pending against him. He openly degrades women and people with disabilities. He wants to start deporting immigrants and yet all of his wives have been immigrants. He uses immigrant labor to build his towers, which are obvious substitutes for his feelings of sexual inadequacy. It’s all just so headshakingly stupid.

I feel betrayed by my family. I knew we had some serious haters in our country, but I didn’t realize that some shared my last name. Maybe in my parents’ case, voting for Trump was a case of accidental bigotry. They’re good people. I’ve never considered them to be racist, just uninformed and when you’re pushing a hundred it’s a little late to start. They eat what they are fed by the media without asking questions about the harmful ingredients. This will most likely be the last vote they cast in their lives. My parents have always voted republican, but this time is different. This time it’s personal.

I’m a white male – safe in this society – but I’m married to an African American woman, and I have a mixed race son. My cousin was finally able to marry her partner of many years. Many of us are worried for our immigrant friends and this whole idea of “extreme vetting.” Unfortunately, everything about this is extreme. Whites hate a level playing field. Rich white men pay pennies to starving brown children to make Air Jordans or iPhones, so that they can afford the best single malt whiskeys or that quaint little getaway in the Caribbean. Nobody ever got rich through hard work, but through exploiting the inexpensive labor of others.

I’ve struggled with this post since the election. It’s too soon to know what evil lurks in the hearts of these men, but Trump’s recent cabinet appointments do not portend well for the future of humanity. We’d better be prepared to fight for our rights, and the rights of our neighbors. Fascists do not give up power easily, but you fascists bound to lose. Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sheer Pandemonium

Today is November 8th. Election Day. When it comes to politics, passions run deep and divisions become canyons. They’ve switched to mail-in ballots here in Washington and I think that’s a mistake. I used to look forward to walking to the local polling place with my neighbors to perform my civic duty. Yes, it is a civic duty – like paying taxes – and you get what you vote for. This presidential election has been the ugliest campaign in memory, and I’m looking forward to it being over. I’m also tense and nervous and I can’t relax about the potential outcome and its aftermath. I’m getting my post-apocalyptic soundtrack ready, just in case.

This election reminds me of when I was eleven-years-old and I used to attend pro-wrestling matches at Jack Witschi’s Sports Arena. In between bouts, the young fans would hang out by the wrestlers’ locker rooms, hoping to get an autograph. There were two locker room doors: one for the good guys and one for the bad guys. One time, while standing to the side of the door awaiting my turn, I glanced into the locker room and noticed a bad guy or two walking around! It was one big locker room! There were no good guys or bad guys. Just beefy actors, making a buck on a Saturday night, slapping another beefy actor around. It was all in good fun, and kind of cathartic, too. That’s how I feel about the republicans and democrats. They all share the same locker room and have drinks together after the show, the show in this case being the running of the United States of America. I think they’re the only ones having fun though and the drinks are on us.

The only significant memory about presidential elections that I can recall from my youth is watching the election returns of the 1972 presidential election. Richard Nixon was defeating George McGovern by a landslide and my father was very happy about this fact. It was my bedtime, but I was allowed to watch some of the early results and even though my dad was happy, he was still in some discomfort. That evening he was suffering from a painful boil on his ass. My mother was using her skills as a nurse’s aide to lance and clean out the abscess, while he lay on his stomach. Now when I think of Richard Nixon, I think of the boil on my father’s ass.

It was only a year later though, when our family was privileged to witness a moment in history. We were visiting Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1973 and I happened to recognize Fred Thompson, the Minority Counsel, in a pizza parlor. He put my entire family on his guest and we sat in for the morning session of the Watergate hearings, watching the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency. Karma can be a real pain in the ass.

[I promise to tell the Watergate story in its entirety in another blog post.]

Friday, November 4, 2016

Bonus Video

Alabama Shakes - Don't Wanna Fight (Live on SNL)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Slipping Into Darkness

“Hello darkness, my old friend.”  – Simon and Garfunkel

Daylight Savings Time is upon us once again. This coming Sunday, November 6th at 2am, we have been instructed by the powers-that-be to turn our timekeeping devices back one hour. Our phones and computers do it automatically, essentially taking away our choice in the matter, at least for those technological gadgets. Those still living in the analog world, can have the pleasure of moving the big hand and little hand until you’ve traveled back one hour in time. Now you can finish watching that movie, instead of going to bed.

Ben Franklin once wrote an essay for the Journal of Paris called “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” in which he jokingly suggested to the French that they could save on candle costs by getting out of bed earlier in the morning, making use of the natural morning light instead. Cheeky bastard, wasn’t he? Here in the U.S., “Fast time,” as it was then called, was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson in 1918, to support the war effort. (Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.) It was repealed only seven months later, but in 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a year-round annoyance, and if you didn’t like it, you had to lump it in some fashion. Preferably off the clock.

This year the winter solstice falls on December 21st. That day will be seven hours and thirty-four minutes shorter than the longest day on summer solstice. That’s practically a full day at work! On those midwinter days, it’s dark when you arrive at work, and it’s dark when you leave. Thankfully, we have plenty of windows in the bookstore, so that I can actually witness darkness falling. Then I slip into it, when I begin my walk home, like a silk letter, being slid into a black velvet envelope.

The winters here in Seattle are by far the darkest I have experienced. It’s not Alaska dark, but it’s much darker than I was used to in Massachusetts, where winter snowfall helps to brighten the landscape. Cloudy days = dark days. Over a decade ago, I purchased a full spectrum lamp in an effort to help alleviate any seasonal sadness, but I have found that what works for me best is to write myself out of the darkness. Slipping into darkness and then writing my way out is therapeutic. I don’t want to end up like Patty Hearst, kept in the dark until Stockholm syndrome sets in.

I feel like I’m practicing literary dark arts, dredging up memories from my past. These memories are not repressed though. They want to be found! Through my writing, I journey into the heart of darkness until I uncover the horror, the horror of my sorrows and bring them out into the light. That’s when I should use my candlelight app, rather than curse the darkness. Shining a light on the subject does not mean self-criticism. It’s a light radiating love and forgiveness. Like a Hallmark card, but not as cloying.

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.” – Carl Jung

Friday, October 28, 2016

Human Beings

"No one is more important than anyone else."

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pup Tents

Once upon a time I was a happy camper. Literally. I was about ten-years-old, and I would often go camping with friends on Hemlock Island, which was a hop, skip and a jump from the back door of my childhood home. We would carry our sleeping bags, food, cooking gear, and my pup tent past the red barn, and down the dirt road that led to the lower barn, where the ponies were kept. Once over the gate, we walked through the pasture until we reached the fence line at the opposite end, where the trail to Hemlock Island could be accessed. Over the swamp and through the woods, a-camping we went.

W. Ben Hunt
I don’t ever remember my dad camping with me in the midst of the Great Cedar Swamp, but I camped with a number of friends, sometimes erecting two pup tents before campfire. I learned camping tips from my Golden Book of Camping and Indian Crafts and Lore by Ben Hunt. I was a Cub Scout and Webelo Scout. (Later on I dropped out Boy Scouts, but that’s a different story.) I was a trusted child, responsible with my campfires, keeping a bucket of swamp-water nearby to extinguish the fire after its use. This wasn’t quite backyard camping. I was out of sight and out of earshot.

For some reason food always tastes better in the great outdoors. I would bring one can of ravioli and a can of baked beans made for a hot stick-to-your-ribs supper in the woods. I would open the lid on the can partway, and place it near the hot coals and within about ten minutes – voilà – dinner is served. In the mornings I would sometimes fry bologna with some eggs, beginning the day with a hearty meal, before trekking back home to watch Saturday morning cartoons.

This one can be filed under “It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time.” I was once able to convince my mom to let me take some bacon with me. Always being a conscientious camper, I knew that I needed to secure the bacon and eggs overnight to prevent varmints from getting at them. With all my ten-year-old wisdom and experience, I decided to put the bacon and eggs under my pillow to prevent any animal from getting at them, while I slept. Naturally, I thought I would wake up if any animal came scratching at the side of the tent for my bacon.

In the morning, the bacon and eggs were gone. I roused myself from my musty Coleman sleeping bag, and walked outside of the pup tent. There in the corner of the canvas tent, was a hole chewed out of the material, where some bacon-hungry beast, reached in and took my vittles while I slept. I never felt a thing. I was shocked, but lesson learned. I don’t sleep with bacon under my pillow anymore. I sleep, clasping the precious commodity to my chest, close to my heart!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Ticket to the Show

"I must be in the front row!!" -- Bob Uecker

We’d all love to have front row seats for the show, but those are reserved for the patrons that have jewelry to rattle. After all, there are only so many front row seats, and behind them, there are only so many box seats. The rest of us have to find a way to be content in the bleachers, seated beside boorish drunks and twitching toddlers, high on cotton candy. Nobody likes to be in the nosebleed section, but it sure as hell beats never making it to the show or being priced out, relegated to standing outside, listening through the locked exit doors. We fill our pockets with snacks from 7/Eleven and eat ahead of time, to avoid the pricey confections at the arena. We go in knowing that we can’t afford the souvenirs and swag.

To be honest, front row seats are a little too up close and personal for my tastes. I once spent two hours and thirty minutes, staring up into Al Pacino’s nostrils, which is about two hours and thirty minutes too long. When I was younger, and an avid movie-goer, I would count the theaters’ seats and do my best to sit in the very middle. In my mind the film was designed to be best enjoyed from the center, in the middle of the stereo system. There are still the second run movie theaters, where those that cannot afford the eleven dollars at the glittery first run chain theaters can pay discount prices.

“Somebody give me a fucking wiener before I die.” – Randall Patrick McMurphy

We have our own forms of entertainment in the cheap seats. There’s the guy that acrobatically throws peanuts to customers, while simultaneously putting his daughter through college. And then there’s the guy, who always shows up in full regalia, with face-paint, wearing team colors. We all think he’s a little eccentric, but we love him and we wouldn’t want to see him come to any harm. We don’t want him thrown out of the show, just because he may have forgotten to take his anti-psychotic medication. You can’t even watch the World Series when you’re taken away. “I’m talking about the World Series, Nurse Ratched.”

“It’s an illusion!” – Doug Henning

Yes, life is an illusion. Magicians are amazing and tricks are not just for kids. It’s all sleight of hand, and misdirection. Kind of like the U.S. government. Nobody really wants to get sawed in half, or have swords thrust through your midsection, while you sit, cramped in a decorative box. We want it to be magic. Real life is painful, and often leaves a mark. As soon as your ticket is taken and your umbilical cord is cut, you have to get the show on the road. Matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“Nobody said it was going to be fun. At least, nobody said it to me.” – Don Galloway in “The Big Chill”

Not everybody gets to be onstage. There are only so many sociopaths, troubled introverts and con-men and they operate at a loss. Being a celebrity is a disease. Snookie got a boob job; Pamela Anderson is now against pornography, and don’t even get me started on the whole Brangelina debacle. Everybody wants to be a YouTube star, ceaselessly counting their views and likes. We broadcast our egos over the internet, convincing ourselves that we are stars in our own lives, but we are just stand-ins and walk-ons. Life is full of bit parts, and we usually have to do our own stunts. Bones get broken. Feelings get hurt.

We’re all just trying to remember our lines and keep our minds off the final curtain call. Will you get a standing ovation at the end of your life, with shouts of Encore! Encore! or will your last performance be in front of an empty auditorium, with a few chirping crickets in the peanut gallery? The choice is not yours. The choice is genetic and environmental. The choice is a throw of the dice and a spin of the wheel. JOKER, JOKER, JOKER!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Music Hath Charms

Music hath charms
to soothe a savage breast
To soften rocks,
or bend a knotted oak.
-- William Congreve
"The Mourning Bride"

I told my son that I was writing a blog post about how music helps to pick you up when you’re down and he immediately told me the two songs that he has been listening to lately that help him feel good: “Panda” by Desiigner and "My Way" by Calvin Harris. My wife likes to listen to the blues when she's feeling blue. I usually require something with crunching guitars, pounding drums and played at eleven on the volume dial. I require music strong enough to smash angst. I’ve had some tough days recently -- as evidenced by my last two blog posts (Natural Born Loner and Mr. Lonely) – but music has always been my saving grace. My port of safety in this raging storm called life.

A week ago I was in such state of sorrow that only blistering punk rock could soothe me. The album that did the trick was “The Body, The Blood and The Machine” by The Thermals. This is the third album by this trio from the Pacific Northwest. The album targets religion and its sheepish followers with smart lyrics and powers chords. After two days in hell, listening to The Thermals managed to cool the flames. Sometimes it’s the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and at other times the Foo Fighters battle my blues, but music has always been there for me and – if I don’t go deaf – it always will be.

The healing power of music has been well-documented. There are wonderful books out there on music and the brain by authors such as Daniel Levitin, Oliver Sacks and John Powell. There is no doubt that music has a powerful effect on our brains. Watch the documentary “Alive Inside,” which is about the Music and Memory organization. See how songs from someone’s past light up parts of their brains that haven’t been activated in years. They sing and dance. They tell stories from their youth. Musical memories are especially effective with Alzheimer patients. I’m sure we all have a song or two that prompt special memories, and cause us to wax nostalgic when they are played.

Without music, the audible world would be pretty dull. There is the music of the spheres and the sounds of the forest -- babbling brooks and birdsong -- but music is the masterwork of the human race, and it wasn’t even invented. It grew organically into the universal language that it is. We sent the Voyager spacecraft to the outer galaxy with a gold record onboard, in a primitive attempt to communicate with alien species. As was once predicted on Saturday Night Live in 1977, they only wanted more Chuck Berry.

I once heard it said that when someone reaches their thirties, their musical tastes are pretty much set. Not me. I love hearing new music. In fact, The Thermals were introduced to me by J.J., my young co-worker at the bookstore. He has also turned me on to bands such as Smith Westerns, Blitzen Trapper and Car Seat Headrest. Some people only like country music or classical. I like any music as long as it's got a good beat and you can dance to it. Or it moves you to tears. Or if you can sing along. I like any music as long as it’s good. Good music may be in the ear of the beholder, but bad music is bad to the bone. Perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly defining good music. But I know it when I hear it.

I listened to Bruno Mars: “Unorthodox Jukebox,”  Coldplay: “Live 2012,” and Car Seat Headrest: “Teens of Style,” while finishing this post tonight.

* * * *

Here are a couple of music videos, including my son's recent favorite, "Panda" by Desiigner and a song by The Thermals off the album "The Body, The Blood, and The Machine."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Mr. Lonely

Last week I was too depressed to write about anything, except being depressed. This week it's worse. I can barely write my name, but I'll do my best to eke out a few words, since I usually feel better after posting on my blog.

Everyone has been lonely at one time or another, but the worst feeling of all is to feel lonely among others. Feeling lonely in a family, with a wife just seems antithetical. I probably wouldn't feel this way, if I was the go-out-with-the-boys-on-Friday-night kind of guy, but I've never been that guy, not for the lack of trying though. I'm an artist, so solitude comes naturally to me, but loneliness is a whole other can of worms.

I took yesterday off to try and ease my emotional pain. I don't think it worked so well, but I don't have the option of taking another day off and going to the spa to relax. I need to show up to make my whopping $12.50 an hour. Plus, there is an author even tonight, so I must be on my best behavior. I suppose that means don't smoke too much weed at break, before having to introduce the author.

I'm fifty-five and wading in the shallows. I'm brave enough to head out to sea, but it's a lonely swim on my own. Companionship is a nice word, but a complex concept. Allies are often there to assist countries when they bomb other countries, but allies are not usually found when the troops are just emotionally down.

"Cheer up Charlie, do cheer up Charlie. Just be glad you're you."

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Saturday Night Music Video

Typhoon - "Young Fathers" Official Video

I got Typhoon's CD in error from my local library and I'm finally giving it a listen. This song, "Young Fathers," stands out in particular.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Natural Born Loner

Loner. Sounds like a tall-in-the-saddle badass, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The Man with No Name, clenching a cigarillo between his teeth, and gazing upon the world with disdain. It doesn’t sound like a shy guy, who avoided every school dance, and preferred to spend his free time, wandering through the woods behind his boyhood home.

I enjoy companionship and friendship like most human beings, but I have always found it difficult to connect with others. I’ve never enjoyed getting drunk with the boys. (Besides, boys shouldn’t be getting drunk. They should be helping old ladies cross the street, and mowing their invalid neighbor’s lawn.) I’m not a sports fan or player. I’m not a hobbyist, meeting up with other stamp collectors at the local community center on weekends. I enjoy solitary activities. Yes, including that one.

I grew up in the countryside. The closest neighbors my age were down the road a piece. I was not part of a close knit family. We were (and are) embattled. Children are better seen than heard. Don’t speak until you’re spoken to. If you say that again, you’re going to get your mouth washed out with soap. According to the University of Liverpool, the idea that children shouldn't have a voice in their lives lingered well into the 20th century. I can vouch for that.

Over the years, I’ve maintained one or two good friends at a time, although I haven’t hung out with a friend since my son was in diapers. My flip-phone is not filled with numbers to call on a Friday night; Friends to watch movies with, or discuss politics. Even my own son says to me, “You don’t like crowds, right daddy?” “It depends on the crowd,” I reply. “Yeah, but you don’t like crowds, do you daddy?” It’s true. I have a hard time liking people in general and yet I spend five days a week, being nice to my customers at the bookstore. It’s my natural instinct to treat people, as I would want them to treat me if our roles were reversed. I may be a misanthrope, but I’m a friendly one.

If loners prefer their own company, then why would they get married? Well, loners need love too. When the world quiets down, it’s nice to have someone to open up to at the end of the day. I’m the strong and silent type, but once you get to know me I reveal my fragile self. Fifty-five and emotionally fragile is not a good tagline. I'm sure that the Man with No Name visited the bordello once in a while, but there must have been a tragedy in his past that kept romantic love at bay. Maybe the Man with No Name needed a dog; or a good therapist.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Variable (Man)

I am The Variable Man
A variable is a quantity that may change within the context of a problem. Mathematically, the variable is often represented by an X and in this case X is me. I am the variable and that can be looked at in two ways. First: It’s a positive aspect, meaning that I’m capable of change and adaptation. Or Second: It could mean that I’m the type of person, who has a tendency to change horses in midstream, but if that horse has been rode hard, and put up wet, maybe it’s time for a change.

As I mentioned in my last post, the house we have been renting for the last six years is going to be sold. Naturally, there is a lot of stress and frustration swirling around this impending move. My wife told me recently that I was the only variable in this decision making process. Like Goldberg, there must be at least 30 variations, including commuting, employment changes, and timing. Life is my aria and I contain multitudes. I’m full of contradictions and always looking for alternate routes. The Goldberg Variations put Glenn Gould on the musical map. My variations have put me in debt and on high blood pressure medication. Fifty-five and wondering why I’m still crazy after all these years.

They say that variety is the spice of life, so is it just one spice, or is it a mix like Mrs. Dash or Johnny’s Seasoning Salt? Variety television shows were popular when I was younger. The idea was a comedy sketch, followed by a ballad, followed by another sketch, followed by a dance number…well, you get the idea. A variety of entertainment was contained within the same show. Kind of like life itself. It’s a variety of entertainment in one lifetime that’s over too quickly and has too many commercials. There is no variety in reality shows, which do not resemble life at all.

My career path has not been a straight trajectory. I’ve been a technician, a picture-framer and a bookseller. I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. I can’t fit all of that work history on my résumé! Just the pirate stuff alone would take pages, maps, and an inventory of booty. I don’t see any new employment positions on the horizon, but who knows? Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but he can learn variations on the tricks he already knows. Even old pirates can still be crafty.

Variety is touted as a wonderful thing, but change can resemble dark clouds on the horizon. You wouldn’t say, “Hey, just for variety’s sake, let’s move all of our possessions from this location to another location across town.” As for being the Variable (Man) in the equation, I’m going with answer number one, that I’m capable of change and adaptation – Even though I still sometimes change horses in midstream and get on a blind donkey headed to nowhere.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
              --  Walt Whitman

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What We Talk About When We Talk About Moving

Moving. We’ve all done it, at least once; the first time being when we were moved from that nice warm womb into that harshly lit hospital room. I’ve moved across the country four times. Last week, we were informed by our landlord that she has decided to sell the house, where we have lived for the last six years. This house has served us well. It’s conveniently close to the bookstore, where I am employed; it’s big enough for the four of us, and it’s fairly inexpensive for the area – about a thousand dollars less than comparable houses. I don’t think we’ll be moving on up to that deluxe apartment in the sky. We’re hoping for a house with a yard, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Something affordable and within a twenty minute drive of our work, and my son’s school. Ah, hope…

Our current residence is not without its downsides. It’s located on the very busy 15th ave NE, across the street from the bus stop; emergency sirens are a nightly occurrence; and the house itself needs quite a bit of work. The convenience and price outweighed those minor negatives though. Now comes the difficult, but not impossible task of finding something similar in the area. They say it’s a seller’s market right now, and those who suffer, are the ones that were already hanging on by their fingernails, the cliff crumbling away beneath them. I know at least a half dozen people, who are in or soon to be in the same situation we are. We need the jobs here in the city, but we can no longer afford to live, where we are employed. Thanks Amazon!

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was writing about life’s little lemons, and having to move is certainly a big fat festering lemon. I need to try and see it through my son’s eyes. He’s excited about the unknown possibilities and the known possibility of having a basketball hoop at the new place. I’ve been yearning for a canine companion, so maybe this move will provide the space. It would be nice not to be so close to our neighbors that we can reach from our deck and hand them a bowl of sugar. I can hear the the toilet lid hit the porcelain tank when they raise it! That's too close!

Every transition is a source of stress, even happy events, such as weddings. Moving from one place of residence to another is a major source of stress, but according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, changing residence is not even in the top ten. Marriage is number seven. The scale is skewed towards the wealthy -- as most media is -- because under other items causing stress is selling one’s house. So, apparently the landlord will be experiencing quite a bit of stress, but the tenants will continue to roll along carefree. Survey says! You don’t count.

The sun is shining with indifference, as always. It's time to put my shoes on and walk to work.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

One Angry Man

I’m not 12 angry men, deciding on the life of a young boy. I’m one angry man, deciding on the fate of my own life; making decisions that sometimes take me off the highway and send me down the garden path. It’s easy to get angry about all the injustices across the globe and down the street. These days activism is just a click away, but that is a useless anger, like a candle that doesn’t illuminate. Anger at something for which someone has no control is useless, and a waste of precious human energy.

So far, I haven’t learned to temper my anger, turning swords into plowshares, as they say. Will it really matter to anyone except me if I try to explain my anger? Anger burns energy. (“Anger is an energy” – John Lydon.) If it’s not helpful in anyway, then it’s a waste of energy and resources. Energy that could be better spent loving others, and oneself. Nothing wrong with a little self-love. In fact, self-love is vital and necessary.

Anger seems to be a particularly masculine trait, like male pattern baldness. Let’s face it, it’s always been the men, who have raped and pillaged throughout history. Men are the warmongers and the wife beaters. They are the “rageaholics,” who must undergo anger management classes, which infers that you’re going to get angry, but you just need to learn to manage it -- cage the lion, so to speak.

More than 30,000 heart attacks each year are triggered by momentary anger, according to a 2004 Harvard study. Similar studies have shown that angry men are three times more likely to develop premature cardiovascular disease, six times more likely to have an early heart attack, and three times more likely to have a stroke. Not to mention ulcers, headaches, and other stress related maladies.

I never have to hear the words “Don’t forget your angry eyes” from my wife, as I leave for work. Of course, at work I wear my customer service face, and my angry eyes don’t really go well with that look. Nobody likes a cranky camper. The happy camper doesn’t let his fire get out of control. Fanning the flames of anger can burn bridges, families and friends. Anger is a downright incendiary emotion, harking back to early and primitive fight or flight predicaments.

I’ve always been one of those people, who keep my feelings inside, so it’s not too surprising that I spontaneously combust on occasion. I’ve worked hard during my life, and I’ve made choices that seemed sensible at the moment. As Needlenose Ned says on the topic of life, it's all one big crapshoot anyhoo. The dice just haven’t rolled in my favor. All I can do is work on improving my odds and turn my anger into art.

"Anger is an Energy!"

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Bonus Video

I have about three blog posts in the works, and today I think I finally found the right voice for one of them. We'll see. In the meantime, I'm doing some "house cleaning," as we like to say in the business, and listening to Jay Farrar, formerly of Uncle Tupelo, formerly of Son Volt, but always with Jay Farrar.
Back to scrubbing pots and pans.
Jay Farrar - "Vitamins"

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Get Used to Disappointment

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
and the sanity to know that you don’t exist;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know that it’s a just a roll of the dice. 

Get used to disappointment is just a pirate's way of saying practice acceptance. This is a Zen pirate. He sails the seven seas, resisting his craving for gold, seeking instead to calm the raging seas inside himself. Of course, he never resists the opportunity to grab some booty. He’s not crazy. Just calm.

Disappointment is directly tied to hope. Remember when mom used to say, “Don’t get your hopes up.” She knew that Disappointment Eve was just around the corner, and she hadn’t yet hung the stockings by the chimney with care.

Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul -- and sings the tunes without the words -- and never stops at all.” Of course, Emily was a shut-in, who most likely knew a thing or two about disappointment.

Red in The Shawshank Redemption says “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” One my favorite philosophers, Mad Max, says “…hope is a mistake.” It pays off in disappointment dividends. Hope is a losing investment, but we just can’t help ourselves. To hope is human, and to disappoint is divine.

I have a habit of disappointing myself and those closest to me on a regular basis. One might think that my middle initial stood for Disappointment rather than Douglas. I’ve always been my own harshest critic, but I also let myself skate free when I should shackle myself to the grindstone of life, until I get it right. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it breeds consistency. I seem to be carrying my disappointment around like Pigpen and this cloud of disappointment is following me about, like it’s about to rain shame and judgment upon me.

I’m married to my third wife, so I obviously disappointed the first two. I never want to disappointment my son, but I’m human and I leave a trail of mistakes behind as I journey through life. My shining star is always my son, and his amazing ability to love unconditionally and forgive without condition. I wish I could delete the many disappointments that I have introduced into my family’s life, and fill those moments with cherry pie and cute woodland creatures, but my time machine is sitting in the backyard with engine problems and mold, growing on the interior. I don’t think it would get me back to yesterday at this point.

I am a disappointment artist. I am the Duke of Disappointment. The downbeat devil himself. I admit that freely, but not without some shame. What is the opposite of disappointment? Satisfaction, but it’s never guaranteed. I don’t live to disappointment others. It’s unfortunate that those closest to me are unlucky enough to see me at my worst. My worst is worse than liverwurst, but today is another opportunity to do right, and leave disappointment in the dust. I just need to take a right turn at the bottom of the hill, and never look back.