Friday, September 30, 2016

MEMO TO MY SON

   You've been asking me about women lately so I figured this would be as good a time as any to have this conversation or monologue or brief dissertation, all for the improvement of your psychological well-being, now that we have hit a point in what some people have taken to calling a Presidential Election. You're thirteen-years-old, a fine old age to be, and it is perfectly appropriate that you might have a lot of questions about a lot of different things. But since I won't know the answers to most of those, I thought it better to steer the talk toward something I actually do know just a tiny bit about and that is being a guy. What does me being a guy have to do with women, you might well ask. That's what we're here to find out.
    When I was thirteen--and I suspect things have not changed all that much since those days--just about the only thing any fella I knew fretted over at all was invariably connected to the subject of "How will this make me appear to girls?" When you're a thirteen-year-old boy, you want to have your mother approve of you because if she does, then there's always that chance that the young lady down the block might also think you are worth the time of day. In that same vein, it's cool if your dad approves of you too, because you get some sense as to what you are supposed to do so that the girl down the road will take positive notice of your potentially pathetic existence. But what's probably most important is that your mom and dad really like one another. I don't mean that they love each other. I've known people married for decades who could put on a pretty face about matters who quite evidently despised one another's immortal souls. No, the important thing in this situation is not love, but like, as in respect, admire, appreciate, treasure. If your folks like each other, you're in a better position than most when it comes to having some sense as to how to be comfortable around other people--especially girls.
    Another thing you need to know is that women are not from Venus and you are not from Mars. Back in the days when they were still making books, some joker who pretended to be a psychologist actually made that claim on the cover of his book and then went on at some length explaining how men were like microwave ovens and women were like crock pots, and never mind the mixed metaphors. This bozo's idea--what's that? Bozo? Oh, he was a clown who rose to a certain quiet fame back in the 1950s and 1960s and so popular was he that years later it became fashionable to use his name whenever making reference to somebody congenitally stupid. But as I was saying, this book tried to make the claim that there were all these big differences between men and women, that men wanted aggression and women wanted to sew; that men wanted war and women wanted peace; that men were protectors and women were nurturers. I can see you smiling so I guess you know just how ridiculous that was. But at that time our country was in the midst of one of our typical reactions against the progress that women had been making socially and economically. Because a lot of people didn't understand what true power meant, they felt threatened whenever a woman achieved equity in the workplace or gained reproductive freedom or even made the first move on a date.
   Power? Sure, I'll be glad to tell you. Most people, as I say, get it wrong. They go with sociologist Max Weber definition, which says that power is the ability to get someone to do what you want them to do and that the more they don't want to do it and do it anyway, the more power you have. Of course, in a geopolitical sense, that is a fine definition. But around the house, where people actually live, power is the opposite of that. Power is the ability to be comfortable with who you are no matter what everybody else thinks of you, unless everybody thinks you're drunk and you're fishing your car keys out of your pants pockets, but that's a conversation for another place and time.
   So we have this election coming up, as you know. A lot of my friends and maybe some of your friends or their parents, they just absolutely loathe this Hillary Clinton person and that is why they plan to vote for Donald Trump. If you ask them why they hate Clinton, they'll roll their eyes and shrug and finally sputter out something about how they can't trust her. They won't have any specifics, of course. They'll blather on incoherently about missing emails and foundations and Vince Foster and about how her husband's infidelities were somehow her fault rather than his own, but when you pin them down they will only say that they just don't like her.
   Then you ask them what they like about Trump. Again, the delusional part of their minds will formulate some nonsense about how he speaks his mind and doesn't worry about correctness, but what they really and truly like, love and worship about the man is that he makes other people into commodities. The Mexicans he rented to were inhabited units. The blacks he would not allow to rent from him were undesirables. The women he insulted were vaginas.
    That last point is crucial, son of my loins. You see, Trump is such a sniffling wretch of a glob of sub-human protoplasm that he thinks of women's sexual organs as commodities. So do most of his supporters. So do some of his female supporters, which is kind of like finding Jews in the 1930s who wanted to jump into the train cars on their way to the death camps. 
   I could spend the next decade telling you why Trump is a sadistic monster who makes de Sade look like a humanitarian. But that isn't why we are here. We are here because if you worry too much about whether or not girls like you--the way you want them to do--you will be very disappointed and what is worse you might even channel that disappointment into a type of what Freud called reaction formation where you end up despising that for which you used to yearn. And when you despise women, you are a misogynist. You're a misogynist just like Trump, Gingrich, Ailes, Howard Stern, Michael Savage, Matt Drudge, the whole Breitbart regime, and a whole lot of people in national and state government. 
  So, yes, I do want you to think about how you appear to girls, of course. But don't worry about whether they think the car you have is fast and shiny or whether you have a lot of spending cash or whether that muscle between your legs is long enough to drape over your shoulder. Here's the secret: some girls actually do care about that kind of thing, at least for a while. But what real girls care about deep down is whether you respect the human race and them as members of it as well as yourself within it. Once you have that accomplished, everything else you worry about these days will take care of themselves.
    Yes, I realize I have kept you a long time. You're playing baseball this afternoon, right? Is that Janie girl pitching? Watch out. She has a mean slider. 
   Have fun!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

DRUGS

   I went outside this morning to walk one of the dogs. Cody is a handsome German Shepherd mixed with some greyhound. We estimate him to be thirteen years old. He carries an inoperable tumor on his right front knee and exhibits--as is common for his mix--a certain amount of obsessive-compulsive behavior. My girlfriend and I love this dog very much and do, on occasion, think of him as having human comprehension. 
  As I say, my version of the morning was just getting started. I hooked Cody to his leash, trotted out the back door, swung a right at the driveway and prepared to stroll east on the sidewalk.
   Lisa Ann dreads mornings here like a normal person dreads a root canal. Some deviant maggot-faced parasite or two often as not are rummaging through the three city dumpsters against the fence that separates our house from the jungle. She knows the odds are excellent in favor of me seeing this, losing my cool, yelling at the maggot-face in question or, worse yet, engaging the creature in some sort of fisticuffs. The next phase in her anticipation of my admittedly inappropriate behavior is to storm back inside the house and bitch about conditions here for an hour or so. 
   This behavior on my part is idiotic. I readily admit that.
   Just yesterday some junkie scum was standing on a trashed television set so that he could lean into dumpster number one. When I saw him, he was three-quarters into the trash, hanging there as if he were smelling the intoxicating aroma of fresh cut roses rather than the cat vomit and dog feces that live in that receptacle. I asked him if he was finding everything all right in our neighborhood grocery and he assured me with a stoned slur that yes indeed he was just hunky dory, despite the fact that he had tossed half the trash in all three dumpsters out into the mouth of the alley.
    By the time the police arrived, he was long gone. But the visible stench remained for us to clean up on his behalf.
    That was yesterday. This morning, as Cody and I walked merrily out the door and around the front to pass by the alley, we saw something that made yesterday's miscreant look like the centerfold for Rich Man's Monthly
   This perpetual loser had opened all three dumpsters, thrown back out yesterday's TV set, and, not to be outdone, had likewise spilled toy trucks, laundry bags, cardboard boxes, school work belonging to someone named Angela, and hundreds of opened trash bags all over the alleyway. But unlike the soporific demeanor of yesterday's hoodlum, this character was stoned on some accelerating drug, as was evident by the way he kept beating his shirtless chest and screaming about how the invisible monsters were holding him down. 
   This type of nonsense happens here everyday. The cause is not poverty; nor is it an oppressive police force, nor inner city inevitability. The problem is that these people are addicted to drugs and given the choice between clean housing, steady meals and medical treatment, they opt for the drugs. 
   An opulent thrill accompanies this lifestyle: begging for cigarettes and spare change, screwing degenerate whores in doorways, wearing the same clothes for weeks at a time, flailing arms at passing motorists, bellowing bloodcurdling ululations at four in the morning--I'm sure it's all quite a blast. And if that weren't enough, they get to sleep in the park until some other lunatic sets a barrel on fire and gets them all chased away. 
    Because I do think of Cody as part human, and because I love Lisa Ann more than I do anything else in this world, and because I am inclined to be a vicious hothead who does not need drugs to go crazy, I flipped out. How dare this semi-human turdman even exist on our planet, let alone do so a few feet from our front door! Didn't the stupid glob of protoplasm realize that I have a family to protect from the likes of him? Apparently he did not.
   He was nuts, so I did not approach him myself. Instead I called the police. One of the funny things about these slovenly divers is that they invariably disappear just as the cops roll up. It does not matter. All they would have done was to chase him away once they asked him if he wanted social services, which none of them ever seem to do.
   I don't want to sound like some kind of Republican here. But after being exposed, as it were, to strangers fornicating in the park, urinating in the greenbelt, shooting up in the street, loitering on the sidewalk while Lisa Ann and I struggle to pay our bills on time and try like the fools we must be to keep our part of the jungle presentable, my personal interest in the "freedom" of these bums to choose a lifestyle that offends anyone willing to look at it is somewhat diminished. And before someone suggests that I don't know what I'm talking about, that drugs are not necessarily the problem or that social services need to be enhanced, let me simply say that we watch drug transactions happening within spitting distance of our front door every day. We have asked these pathetic bastards if they want help. They do not. They want to stay stoned.
    I hope you will think about this the next time you buy an eight ball of coke or a vial of glass from some so-called reputable dealer. What you are doing is keeping the criminal enterprise for which that dealer works in business. A happy life out in the country or the suburbs is what the supplier gets.What the rest of us get is a dead junkie on our doorsteps. Thanks a lot.
  In my lifetime, the world has lost a lot of famous people to drugs: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Keith Moon, Philip Hoffman and others I'm too pissed off to remember. There is nothing romantic about drug addiction. It is a scourge. It looks like this:


Saturday, September 3, 2016

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION

   Defining certain philosophical terms is akin to dancing between raindrops during a hurricane while struggling to remain dry. Once the proper beat presents itself, the band changes time signatures and the conductor sneers.
  So it is with one of the primary concepts never mentioned directly but consistently implied in the 1993 movie Six Degrees of Separation. The term theosophy is a type of Gnostic stew, holding that the only true religion is Truth, something which can only be divined, as it were, by active use of imagination.  In the late nineteenth century, Helena Blavatsky, one of the founders of New York City's Theosophical Society, wrote that the subject matter had three objectives: humanity itself constituted a universal brotherhood without considerations of race or gender; humanity should study religion, philosophy and science; and it was paramount to understand the undeveloped powers within human beings, something which could only be grasped by willful use of the imagination.
   The Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, among the greatest expressionists, was a fan of Blavatsky's thinking and incorporated a ferocious sense of childlike wonder into most of his paintings. However, he never did create a two-sided painting as is claimed for him in Six Degrees. Facts and truths are not necessarily the same thing, of course. 
   Flan Kittredge (Donald Sutherland) is a high class art dealer who, with his wife Ouisa (Stockard Channing), is looking for one big score so they can maintain the east side Manhattan lifestyle to which they have grown dependent. To facilitate this, they hope to sell Geoffrey Miller (Ian McKellen) a painting by Paul Cezanne, one which he in turn will be able to resell to the Japanese. It should be noted that neither Kittredge cares much one way or the other about Cezanne. What they like is Kandinsky, and in particular, two paintings of his on either side of a canvas, one of which emphasizes control and the other chaos. They do not know why this appeals to them so much.
   Miller isn't too hip on buying the Cezanne until Paul (Will Smith) staggers in, as all strangers must, with a knife wound to the abdomen. 
   Miller is immediately dazzled, as is Ouisa. Flan just does what is expected of him until he sees that Miller is hooked on the situation and has become so amazed by the story Paul acts out that he would buy the Brooklyn Bridge if someone offered to wrap it up for him. 
   The movie (based on the John Guare play) unwinds from there amidst a series of crafty flashbacks and visits to the police department. All the while, Ouisa draws ever closer to having the first actual human feelings she has experienced in decades. She becomes the beginning, the original cause, the Alpha, and thereby brings the whole experience of this marvelous film into focus. One of the other aspects of theosophy is that creation began with a single point and grew geometrically outward, therefore being traceable back to that original point. Hence, six degrees (or six people) are all that separate any one person from any other person. 
   The movie does not beat us over the head with philosophy. On the contrary, it just tells a fascinating story and uses Theosophy as one of the abstract themes. Because Six Degrees was not a genre film, its amazing cast was not enough to have it break even. It must be said, however, that Will Smith has never been better and Stockard Channing robs every scene in which Smith is not featured. 
    Any film which opens the mind to Kandinsky, Cezanne, Salinger, Sidney Poitier and perfect pasta cannot disappoint. 

   
   

Thursday, September 1, 2016

DARKNESS IN THE CENTER OF TOWN

   Living in Phoenix for more than thirty years presents me with ample opportunity to criticize what I still think of as my "new" home. Summer heat blows car engines apart. The late season monsoons bring walls of sand--called haboobs, these are often fifty miles across and several miles high--through the sweltering city before drowning us in Amazonian-style downpours. Our metropolis expands out rather than up, so that one must spend hours every day getting from one part of town to the other, or else reside in the city itself, causing one to ingest what passes for culture: white people determined to prove their enlightenment by visiting the Heard Museum to admire Native American pottery, while just down the street a bar shakes from the numbing vibrations of a graying band of Metallica wannabes trying to fight World War II all over again. Even though Arizona can only boast of three state universities, the dominion of Phoenix prides itself on a vast array of pseudo-schools: everything from the omnipresent Grand Canyon University to various Colleges of Applied Pet Grooming and Linguistics. We dine on a multitude of trendy green food in shiny eateries. We drink margaritas with the gusto of a glutton just given the news that the famine has ended. We text when we drive and crash our freshly-waxed wheeled behemoths into other peoples' houses and feign outrage that the mishap somehow was not our own fault. In short, the situation here is just as pathetic as it is where you live.

But last night something happened in Phoenix, Arizona that embarrassed me more than anything has in a long time. And this thing that happened also instilled in me a strange sense of very unusual patriotism.

Last night DJ Trump came hither to proclaim his ten point immigration policy.

Need I tell you that the crowd inside the Phoenix Convention Center moistened their panties?

While in the early days of the campaign, the candidate's henchmen routinely let in a few minorities just so the crowd could pummel them. But what with the threat of massive lawsuits against DJ, Herr Trump no longer makes a habit of visiting unfriendly locales and his brown shirts earn their wings by spinning away anyone they suspect of sedition. Il Duce did not disappoint those in attendance.

"Number one, are you ready? Are you ready? We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall. Number two, we are going to end catch and release. Number three. Number three, this is the one, I think it’s so great. It’s hard to believe, people don’t even talk about it. Zero tolerance for criminal aliens. And our local police will be so happy that they don’t have to be abused by these thugs anymore. There’s no great mystery to it, they’ve put up with it for years, and no finally we will turn the tables and law enforcement and our police will be allowed to clear up this dangerous and threatening mess. Number six, we are going to suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur.

"I saw her today at the reception. . . "

A mere transcript does little to capture the tenor of the proclamations.

My girlfriend, Lisa Ann, watched the speech with me. Both of us were caught somewhere between a state of horrified disbelief and the remnants of faith that the entire campaign would dissolve into tasteless satire.

People watching at home would see the word "Phoenix" in the upper left corner of their screens and draw conclusions from that. The idea troubled us.

Of course, our friends and family in other parts of the country and world would know that not all Phoenicians were mouth-breathing saliva drooling racist idiots. But by God, this is our city, too! Just as we have never agreed to sign away our rights to the American flag to a particular political party, neither have we abdicated the character of our adopted home to the anti-xenogeneic ideologies of our fellow desert dwellers. Every city holds a certain neo-fascist contingent, I suppose. Usually that contingent is a very loose and disjointed smattering of people who only get worked up when Vince McMahon leaves the WWE. But when a would-be strong man descends through the polluted mist to invigorate the downtrodden slumlords, investment bankers and Scottsdale merchants--lo and behold, the unity in the air makes you think there's a sailor kissing Marilyn Monroe on the beaches of Normandy. So the sacred flags were waved, Clinton heads were impaled, and the throngs went orgiastic at every suggestion that African-Americans should come on board the slave ships because America really is a land of dreams, or at least would be if all the opportunistic politicians would lose their grip on the inner pockets of the working people who actually pay taxes, great God Almighty.

Those people chanting the "USA" mantra to ward off invisible demons no more represent America than the National Front represents Great Britain. But the anti-immigrant fixation both groups share causes the spines of our heterogenic country to shiver because we have learned from an early age that when it walks like it and talks like it, you call it what it is: fascism. The American brand of this disease gets into our hearts and nibbles like a malfunctioning video game until a sociopathic doomsayer wanders up to the microphone and feeds that dormant disease with the bile that is its life blood. We have to be willing to examine the meaning behind the words we use, the intentions in our daily actions, the impact of our thoughts. I'm lucky. I have Lisa Ann to help keep me in check. I only wish those goosesteppers at the Convention Center had someone to remind them of the darkness of their own deeds.