Ripped From The Headlines: A Day In The Life Of The Trump Apocalypse

I was getting ready to go to work on writing an update to my article “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse” but I’ve been too busy failing at the very first principle I outlined which was to ISOLATE myself from the news.  I thought that I’d be a happier and more peaceful person if I quit listening to NPR and religiously reading the front page section of the New York Times every day.  I thought I had exhausted my capacity for outrage during the Bush 43 years, but it turns out that that abomination barely pushed my outrage-o-meter up to “WARM.”  Like a person who can’t make himself turn away from a train wreck about to happen, I can’t stop watching for the next WTF moment that will emerge from these clowns. That has led me to at least read the front page section of the local paper where I can get the short version of what is going on.

However, Thursday was remarkable, in that article after article seemed to have some additional bit of confirmation of how incompetent, duplicitous, or hypocritical this administration is and how each of his inner circle seems to be in a competition to prove he (there aren’t many women in this group) is just as bat-shit crazy as number 45.

You think I’m kidding.  Here are some headlines all from Thursday’s paper, some quotes, and some commentary:

Kelly (Secretary for Homeland Security) Concedes a Full Border Wall Doubtful

“Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday that it was doubtful that a wall along a full border with Mexico would ever be built, despite an of-repeated campaign promise by President Donald Trump.”

Well, this will come as a surprise to absolutely no one except some die-hard Trump supporters, the one’s who took him literally.  I find it remarkable that we are often being told not to take the President so literally, except when we should take him literally because after all, he was the candidate who “tells it like it is.”  Back to Kelly.  He was asked about one element of “extreme vetting” which included “the possible separation of mothers and children at the border to discourage immigration.”  He reassured senators that while he had not actually taken the time to write up a policy for when agents might do such a heinous and inhumane thing, “he had told employees that he must approve any such separations.” When questioned further about actually writing a policy, he replied, “border agents don’t need a written policy because he’d given the order verbally.”  After all, he is a retired four-star general and “his subordinates know that his orders are to be followed even if they aren’t written down.”  Does anyone else hear Jack Nicholson’s voice there?  I’m surprise he didn’t end the session standing on his chair and shouting at the senators, “You want me on that wall!  You need me on that wall!”

Trump Removes Bannon From Key NSC Post

With Michael Flynn gone, Trump actually put a qualified individual into place who has now sorted out just who should and should not be on the National Security Council.  Little things, like making sure there was a chair for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  LIke kicking Steve Bannon out of the room who never belonged in the first place.  But this was Bannon’s head-spinning explanation for why he was there in the first place, and why now, it was no big deal that he was leaving.  He said, “Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration.  I was put on the NSC with Gen. Flynn to ensure that it was de-operationalized.  Gen. McMaster as returned the NSC to its proper function.”

Now, even I realized that I was reading this at 7 AM and there was some chance that the caffeine from my morning coffee and not yet kicked in, because I found myself say out loud, “What the fuck does that mean?”  I was pleased and reassured when I read the next paragraph where the reporter commented, “Bannon did not explain what he meant by “operationalized” or how his presence on the committee had ensured that it would not be.”  The syntax is so twisted, bizarre, and incomprehensible that Joseph Heller (Catch 22) would be proud.

U.S. Warns of Unilateral Action in Syria

This article was remarkable on several fronts.  While he has tried to blame any bad thing that has happened in the opening days of his administration on President Obama (including the atrocities in Syria), he finally acknowledged that, “the responsibility is now mine.”  But as so many times before, Trumps language is empty:  “Trump said that the incident “crosses many, many lines” and had “changed very much” his attitude toward Assad.”  His Defense Secretary James Mattis said, “It was a heinous act and will be treated as such.”  I’m not sure what any of that means, but if Trump thought health care was “really complicated” just wait until someone, talking slowly and using small words, explains his options for Syria. Note:  I wrote this piece early yesterday before the missile strikes in Syria, an action most startling because it reverses many of Trump’s previous statements about U.S. involvement in the Middle East.  He has stepped into something “really complicated” here and interestingly, his severest critics have been his most fervent supporters who feel he has betrayed the many promises he made about keeping America out of messy international problems.  For some thoughtful commentary, I suggest you look at Charles M. Blow’s opinion piece on the NYT website entitled “Creeping Toward Crisis.”

Tillerson’s Reticence on N. Korea Confuses Allies

If you haven’t heard of Rex Tillerson, he’s our new Secretary of State although he’s been left out of numerous key meetings and only a fraction of his staff positions have been filled.  I’m not sure, but I don’t even think we now have a deputy Sec. of State.  His quote of the day was, “North Korea launched yet another intermediated-range ballistic missile.  The United States has spoken enough about North Korea.  We have no further comment.”  Really? Nothing to say about the aggressive actions of a strategically important nuclear power.  The reporter pointed out that the comment was startling because, “In fact, the Trump administration has said very little about North Korea apart from some Twitter posts and Tillerson’s own statements in Seoul, South Korea, two weeks ago–when he said the United States would negotiate with North Korea only after it gave up its nuclear weapons and missiles.  And that is unlikely to happen.”

EPA Seeks To Eliminate Lead Paint Programs

It’s hard to pick out the saddest part of this administrations efforts to basically turn the government over to business concerns, but if you had any doubt that the Environmental Protection Agency is now one of the biggest enemies of the environment, this should seal it:  “EPA officials are proposing to eliminate two programs focused on limiting children’s exposure to lead-based paint–which is known to cause damage to developing brains and nervous systems”, gutting federal support for states’ efforts to safely remove lead paint from aging and deteriorating houses.  If you haven’t been following the dismantling of the EPA, and the rollback of regulations that would have insured cleaner air and water for ourselves and our children, you probably should.

Apparently, there just wasn’t enough room on Thursday’s front page to include Trump’s defense of his buddy Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and the continuing reports of the millions of dollars that Fox has paid out to settle (cover up) complaints from numerous women of O’Reilly’s alleged incidents of sexual harassment.  According to Trump, O’Reilly’s “a good person.”

I have to stop. I can feel the outrage-o-meter getting into dangerous territory.  I may have to skip tomorrow’s paper entirely and immerse myself in a “West Wing” marathon.  I always feel better after visiting my friends in that fictitious White House.

“Post-Truth Era”? Is That Actually A Thing?

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Ever since I read the article entitled “Search Party” by Jonathan Mahler (January 1, 2017) in the New York Times Magazine, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around his use of the phrase “the post-truth era”, a phrase I am hearing used more and more often.   His article begins with a discussion of the growing phenomena of “fake news” and of websites that promulgate specious conspiracy theories, including the one that prompted a young man to load up his car with weapons, drive 350 miles to Washington DC to “self-investigate” whether or not Hillary Clinton was indeed running a child-sex ring from a Washington pizzeria.

I’m not sure why I’m struggling with the idea that Donald Trump is having such success even though he repeatedly has been called out for telling lies, repeating assertions made by others that have been categorically debunked, and then fiercely repeating his own falsehoods and those of his minions.  I guess I’m aghast just because there seems to be no consequence for these actions, especially among his supporters.  His backers will list many reasons for their support of Trump, but what astonishes me is that when they turn to demonizing his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, they invariably list one of her most critical sins as being, “she can’t be trusted; she lies.”

We have certainly, in my lifetime, have been exposed to destructive institutional deception on a large scale.  Our entrance into the Viet Nam war, the secret bombing of Laos, the cover-up of the devastation caused by Agent Orange all prompted extensive cover-ups.  The Watergate affair and the subsequent efforts to protect the guilty certainly gave us insight into the government’s ability to create an alternate reality as did the Bush administrations efforts to cherry-pick evidence of WMDs in Iraq, sometimes from wildly unreliable sources, just to support the pre-determined narrative that would lead to the invasion of Iraq.  Outside of politics, in the 80’s we watched the Catholic church scramble to discredit and minimize the sexual abuse of children stretching back as far as 50 years.

I guess what seems different about these scandals is that eventually truth won out. Investigations persevered, detailed accounts were written, admissions were made, testimony was taken and the results were acknowledged.  In almost all of these cases, the mainstream media, the Trump administration’s biggest punching bag, was critical in exposing and bringing the truth to light.

On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times one headline read “Slamming Media, Trump Advances Two Falsehoods.”  During the first 48 hours of his presidency, Trump has been obsessed by how many people showed up to his inauguration.  His claims and the subsequent claims of his press secretary that the ceremony had drawn, “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration,” were quickly shown to be false by photographic evidence presented by numerous news outlets.

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Then, he took time out to mend fences with the intelligence community, appearing at the CIA, where he reassured the 300 employees that were present that he appreciated their work and that he was “so behind you.”  This was just weeks after he had scorchingly tried to discredit their work on the reports of Russian hacking of the DNC and even compared them to Nazis.  Worse than this duplicity, was the setting that he chose for his speech.  As he stood before the gold stars that represent the members of the CIA that have died in the line of duty, he quickly lost the thread of praising their work and dedication, to bemoan his treatment in the media and to go back to his complaints that they (the media) were misrepresenting the number of people that showed up to his party.

I guess this is where I’m starting to see what Mahler meant about the “post-truth era.”  How can one denigrate a professional group like the CIA, undermining their work and calling them Nazis, and then stand before them and say that “I love you, I respect you, there’s nobody I respect more” and be taken seriously?  But this isn’t some low-level hack; this is the President of the United States.  Sadly, we are are a long way from the days of John F. Kennedy, when he addressed Americans after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and said: “The President of a great democracy such as ours, and the editors of great newspapers such as yours, owe a common obligation to the people: an obligation to present the facts, to present them with candour, and to present them in perspective.”

I guess this was a time when the truth was more in vogue, just something we expected out of our presidents. It was a time where we didn’t need both the facts and “alternative facts.”

Maybe we just need to sit back and take the advice of Kellyanne Conway when she tried to defend Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter, an incident that was recorded and well-documented, when she admonished reporters that, “you always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”

I don’t know about you, but that is one heart that I don’t want to go looking around in whatsoever.  And it has always seemed to me that we, as Americans, have felt that what a president actually says is important.  I hope it won’t be long before we have a president who abides by the time-honored principle that it is important to say what you mean, and mean what you say.

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Honestly, I Lie All The Time

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This whole honesty thing is something that I struggle with because I think of myself as someone who tries to be authentic and straightforward with people, both strangers and friends, and yet I catch myself shading the truth pretty constantly.

Take any doctor’s visit.  I’ve been claiming to be 5’8’’ since I was in high school, and yet I know that on my best day, I never have broken 5’ 7 3/4”.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m shrinking as I age.  I might not even break 5’ 6’’ on some days.  Before long there will be rides at Disneyland I won’t be allowed to go on.

No matter how many times I visit my doctor he will ask about smoking and drinking habits.  No, I never smoke.  Yes, I really enjoy drinking.  How many drinks a day would you say you have?  My answer now is always, “no more than two” because I know that that answer will not alarm him.  Plus, I read that doctors know all their patients lie about drinking habits and automatically double whatever number that the patient gives.  In other words, my doctor doesn’t trust me to be honest with him. It makes me sad that this has come between us.  It prompts him to say things like  “we have programs if you ever think you need help with that.”

Help with drinking?  Hell, no.  I’m drinking plenty without any help at all. The trick here is self-regulation.  I have many rules about when drinking is allowed and when it is not.  The problem is that I break my own rules all the time.  Well, not break exactly. I just find that words like “rules” are so inflexible.  i had a rule that drinking was something that I should reserve for special occasions, but if you love life (I thought to myself) isn’t every day a cause for celebration?  At 63, I’m pretty excited just to wake up every morning.  Any given Tuesday, seems like a special occasion to me.  My two favorite presidents, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama were both elected on a Tuesday.  My birthday falls on a Tuesday every few years, right?  I’m pretty sure I’ve had sex on a Tuesday more than once.  The more I think about it, the more Tuesday seems like a reason to celebrate, truly a special occasion.  And then there are Wednesdays…

I recently discovered that, not only do I lie, I’m even capable of theft.  I was picking up a few supplies at our local Target and opted for the self-checkout lane.  When I got to the car I was tossing things in the back when I discovered two packages of floss sitting in the bottom of the basket.  I had completely missed them when I was scanning the other objects.

I literally stood there in the parking lot holding on to my $2.78 worth of floss trying to figure out the best thing to do.  There was just no good option.  If I carried them back into the store openly, I might get accused of theft.  If I snuck them back in and then tried to pull them out of my pocket surreptitiously, same thing could happen. I imagined carrying them up to the customer service desk to explain my dilemma, but I’ve found that honesty confounds some people, and the folks that work customer service are usually there because they’ve failed at more complex tasks–like stacking boxes on the shelves.  I could just imagine how the conversation would go:

ME: “Hey, look, I accidentally forgot to scan these items so…”

HIM: “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t do exchanges on personal hygiene products like floss.”

ME: “No, you don’t understand.  I don’t want to exchange the floss, I want to pay for it.”

HIM: “Do you have your receipt, sir?”

ME:  “No, of course I don’t have the receipt.  I haven’t paid for them yet.”

HIM:  “You are trying to exchange two packages of floss that you haven’t even paid for?”

ME:  “No, you idiot, I don’t want an exchange, I…

HIM: (on the loudspeaker)  “Security, could you come to customer service, please.”  (to me) “There’s no reason to use abusive language when I’m trying to help you, sir.”

I look around and I don’t see a cadre of security guards converging on me so I toss the floss into the back seat without another thought.  There are times when being honest is just not a convenient option.

Surviving the Trump Apocalypse

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I was in bed by 9:30 on election night because I could see the ship was sinking and I couldn’t stand to watch the inevitable.  I drank pretty heavily the next night as the reality sank in, but tried as hard as I could to not think about it.  As the next few days went by, I turned off NPR, didn’t bother to open the New York Times, and stayed away from any television news.  I simply could not endure the post-mortem, the intimate dissection of this horrible election season and it’s horrible outcome.

I felt oddly calm and serene about it all even though I am convinced our country is entering another era where it will be hard to feel proud as an American, that Trump will usher in a court system that does not understand the concept of justice, that efforts to improve the environment and create a sustainable energy culture will suffer greatly.  Efforts to create a more fair and transparent justice system will cease, and women’s health and reproductive rights will wither.  We are still nearly a month away from his inauguration and we are being given daily reminders that our leader is an erratic, self-aggrandizing buffoon. Americans voted for this, after eight years of the principled, educated, visionary presidency of Barack Obama.

So, how can I be calm when I feel we are headed for the abyss?  It’s because my capacity for outrage was exhausted by eight years of George W. Bush. I simply cannot allow myself to read about every tragic misstep, every deception, and the constant brushing aside of the norms and values that I used to think of as being uniquely American and react with the fear and loathing that came with the Bush years.

So, what to do.  Being prone to depression as I wrote about here, it would be easy to sink into a quicksand of funk, but I’ve decided instead to “fight against the dying of the light” by dusting off the once-popular concept of “thinking globally and acting locally” that had us all snipping up those plastic soda can holders to save the seagulls back in the 80’s. As I’ve talked with friends, most of us are still feeling as if we are in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. Most of us know we are still in some stage of shocked denial, and all of my friends have mentioned self-protective measures they are planning to take, so nothing I suggest here may seem or be original.

Regardless, for the next 4 to 8 (shudder!) years, I intend to do the following:

ISOLATE

I already don’t watch much TV news, but I’ve been dedicated to following print news, with subscriptions to the New York Times and my local paper, listening avidly to the NPR news program, reading political posts on Facebook, and daily scanning through the Daily Beast website. No more.  I now will only get the NYT on Sundays so I can have the travel and book review sections, and the local paper will allow me to scan the headlines and get the short version of any news I need.

I simply can’t spend a couple hours a day reading about and listening to news that will tear down my spirit.  I’ve already noticed, that I have freed up a full hour of time in the morning simply by letting go of the news.  I have better things I can do with that time.

EXERCISE

That means I’m often out the door by 8 AM for my morning walk around our neighborhood.  As a slave to my Fitbit device, I need to put in a good 4 miles to enjoy the satisfaction that those damn 10,000 steps require.  However, I’m determined to live long enough to watch the nation realize the terrible mistake it has made and begin the necessary course correction that will eventually come.  If I happen to lose weight and lower both my blood pressure and my cholesterol levels, I will have Donald Trump to thank for it.

I’ve also added yoga as a daily practice.  I try to spend an hour a day now either in class or communing with Rodney Yee on the DVD as he soothingly takes me through an hour of stretches and exercises designed to ease my aching back.  I am lucky to have discovered a wonderful yoga teacher through our local adult school, and I go to three of her classes per week. I am enjoying the community that exists in each class.  There is such a comfort in being around a group of people dedicated to the flow and spirit of yoga. However, I also thrive in the quiet of my own room as I clear the hardwood floors to begin my practice in solitude (well, me and Rodney).

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CREATE

It is time to join the choir.  Or take up painting, learn a language, sculpt something, build a deck, deck the halls, write a poem, or immerse yourself in any kind of creative activity that will allow you to bring light and joy into the world or into your own soul.  As hard as it has been to write these past few months, I’ve decided I need to re-dedicate myself to my writing for my own sake and maybe for the sake of my 12 avid readers.

I began my retirement with lots of projects in mind.  There was that pergola I wanted to build in the back yard, landscaping and painting to be done.  I was determined to actually learn to play the guitar.  Some of these I’ve finished, some I’ve started, and some have fallen by the wayside.  I’m starting the list again and considering other creative avenues that are entirely outside of my comfort zone.

The reason I see this as an immunization against the poison of Trumpism is that I believe that anyone involved in the creative process brings light into the world, and in this time where some of us feel surrounded by darkness, it is important to bring our light together.  I’m not strong on spirituality, but I am so struck by the simple greeting that often ends yoga practice.  If you look up definitions for the word “Namaste” you will find many, but my favorite is, “The Divine light in me salutes the Divine light in you.”  I think creativity brings out the “Divine light” in all of us and gives us an opportunity to share it with others.

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Rendered by Scott Knox, friend, and self-taught artist

PLANT SOMETHING

The Trump administration is shaping up to be the most aggressively anti-environmentally oriented collection of scoundrels since, well, since the last time the Republicans controlled the White House.  Clean air?  Clean water?  Sustainable energy?  Psssh.  Who needs it?  Oil and gas, baby.

I’m looking around my yard and trying to figure out where I can squeeze in a few more trees.  I’m looking at ways to expand my year-round vegetable garden.  I feel like I need to grow as much as I can in my drought-affected part of the world to make my small contribution to the health of the planet.  Trump came along just when it looked like the country and the world were bonding together to make a concerted effort to battle the effects of climate change.  I guess that was part of the anger Trump tapped into.  The anger of those folks that were just mad as hell that someone was going to make them change over to LED bulbs.

If you live in an apartment, find a window where you can grow some basil, thyme, or parsley.  It won’t stop a coal plant’s production, but you’ll enjoy the greenery.  Every new bit of natural growth that you foster is now an act of subversion.  Welcome to The Resistance, my friend.

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VOLUNTEER

Lots of organizations are going to be hit hard by this administration, especially ones dependent on federal funding.  Groups that support the environment, women’s reproductive health, and immigration support and reform are going to need more than an occasional donation.  Organizations that support LGBTQ rights and social justice causes are going to be likewise vulnerable.

I currently do volunteer work occasionally for the Solana Center which promotes sustainability practices throughout the county and weekly for Mama’s Kitchen which provides food support for clients throughout San Diego County that are affected by cancer or HIV/AIDS.  I can do more.  Of course, I have the luxury of being retired and my kids are on their own, but too often I still find myself saying “I’ve just been so busy,” or “I just haven’t had time.”  It’s bullshit.  We all have time.  It’s just awfully hard to reorder one’s priorities, especially if you are someone like me who thrives on routine.  I have to make the effort.

CELEBRATE

Within the last thirty minutes, I heard the news that the Army Corps of Engineers is going to deny the easement for the Dakota Access pipeline.  Some people who sacrificed greatly and worked countless hours and those who supported them with money, supplies, and encouragement have every reason to celebrate tonight. It’s a big win, even if it proves to be temporary.

But I’m also talking about celebrating every small local and personal success that keeps  us positive and hopeful.  Today I met two neighbors I’ve never spoken to and enlisted them in providing lawn clippings for my personal composting project.  They were so kind and enthusiastic and ready to provide me with far more material than I can process.  That’s a win.  If your garden squeezes out a head of lettuce or your new tree flourishes, grab a neighbor and break out the champagne.  Make sure you tell everyone who will listen every time you hit a new personal fitness goal.  Post your artwork, photography, writing, and other creative pursuits on Facebook and let us honor your efforts to help to raise each of us up during this dark time.

I might be wrong about just how bad this presidency will be, but I doubt it.  I do have faith though in the swing of the pendulum.  Look where we were as a country in 2008 when we elected the first black president of the United States, voted for vision, hope, and change.  Eight years later, I’m not sure what people were voting for, but the pendulum will swing back once again.  In the meantime we will need each other more than ever before. We will need to come together to be “keepers of the light.”

A Day In The Life

The most frequent question any retiree gets asked is “What do you do all day long?” sometimes followed by a forlorn statement of “I don’t know what I would do without work.”

So sad.

I know you think I’m going to wax on about all of the obvious glories of retirement that include things like travel to exotic places, making the world a better place by volunteering for organizations that no one has ever heard of, or training for that ultra-marathon that no one in his right mind should be thinking about doing.

All of those are great things.  But all of them take a lot of time, and/or planning, and/or money.

No, the best thing about being retired is taking care of shit around the house that you’ve just never had time to do.  Believe me, if I have prepared well and constructed an excellent “to do” list, I can putter about with the best of them and not feel a moment of existential angst over whether my life has meaning. I have important things to do.

Feeding the birds

I have taken on the responsibility of feeding all of the birds of Spring Valley, my community.  Ever since I hung, not one, but two, wild bird feeders on my back fence, the word has gotten out, and birds come from far and wide to pillage my feeders.  What used to last all day now gets savaged in a couple of hours, and then they line up along the fence, moping and staring at me inside the house hoping I’ll come out and fill them again, ignoring the two inch carpet of seed they have wasted, throwing it left and right as they look for the good stuff, whatever that is.

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I went out last night to talk with them about the wastefulness, the expense, and their apparent lack of gratitude.

“Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap,” was all they had to say.

Ungrateful bastards.

Cleaning stuff up

Do you have any idea how many years it has been since I had cleaned out–I mean really cleaned out–my workbench drawer and cabinet?  No one with a real job has time to do that sort of thing.  I actually took everything out of every container on every shelf and threw away a full trash barrel of stuff and ditched a Christmas tree holder that I have come to loath but have been too cheap to replace.  I went so far as to wipe down each shelf.  The grime was impressive.

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The drawer was a revelation.  It too had plenty of trashables, but more remarkable was how many things of value I discovered.  Like, why can I never find a tape measure when I need one?

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Why can’t I ever find the right drill bit?

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The result of my many years of disorganization has been me frequently storming around  the house in the midst of a project, angry that I can’t seem to keep myself equipped with even the most basic tools.  By the way, has anyone seen my Phillips screw driver?

Organizing stuff

I am in a continual war to create enough space in the garage for both of our cars.  The battle began in ernest when the kids started moving away to college in 2000 and using my garage as their free storage unit.  Well, to be fair, it was the ripple effect caused by their leaving and my wife and I reclaiming the two bedrooms that we had loaned to them for eighteen years. This meant boxing up all of their toys, trophies, games, and books so that we could re-take the house.

The lack of wall space available because of their boxes of stuff means that I’m continually looking for creative solutions of where to put everyday household stuff that we are continually tripping over.  There are just not enough corners to pile this crap into. Part of every day is coming up with solutions to complex problems that can only be solved by a simple 29-cent hook.

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Planting stuff

I like to grow things.  It started when we bought our place in 1980.  It was move-in ready on the inside and a barren wasteland on the outside.  One of my greatest joys has been watching my pine trees grow from one-gallon twigs to the 80-foot sentinels that surround the front yard.

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On a smaller scale, I try to keep a vegetable garden going year-round now.  Most recently, I rescued this tomato plant from Dixieline.  I felt sorry for it because it was sickly looking with drooping yellow leaves, sort of dried up and spotted.  Kind of reminded me of me.  I brought him home and replanted him in a pot with some good soil and home-made compost, and as you can see, he is no longer the 98-pound weakling of the garden department.  I can’t wait for the yellow tomatoes he is going to give me as summer comes on.

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So, you see, it doesn’t take much to fill up a day.  This doesn’t even include exercise, yoga, reading, napping, and doing absolutely nothing–all things at which I excel.  But just getting through a few items on the ever-present to-do list can leave me feeling completely fulfilled and satisfied, ready to reward myself with a cold brew out on the back deck where I can relax and listen to the sounds of evening coming on.

“Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap.”

Bastards.

Let’s Elect a President Who Has Already Been President

I really have resisted for as long as I could. It is simply not possible to be a writer and not long to comment on the 2016 presidential campaign, especially as it becomes weirder and more unpredictable by the day.

As of today, the front-runner on the Republican side is reality star/businessman Donald Trump, who almost daily spews out some kind of new outrage, continually lies about what he has said in the past, and stomps all over any kind of decent political discourse. Most disturbingly, his clone-lets across the country continually mouth his rhetoric about “making American great again” and profess their loyalty because “he’s someone who tells it like it is!” even though he never actually says anything.

And on the Democratic side there is the surprising candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who I thought simply wandered into the race by accident. He is from a state that is about as big as my garage, but he has a strong, idealistic, and completely unrealistic agenda that is capturing the imagination of yuuuuge numbers of young people pulling for the old dude to upset the presumed coronation of Hillary Clinton.

You can’t make this stuff up. It’s beyond what fiction would allow. Every day that I read the paper, I feel like I’ve stepped into a Dali painting. It reminds me of how I felt in 2003 when California, in the midst of a deep energy and economic crisis, recalled Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with an Austrian weightlifter—and then we kept the Governator on the job for 8 more years!

So nothing seems particularly outlandish to me anymore and I am ready to unveil my radical proposal. Let’s elect someone for president who has already been president!

No, I’m not suggesting we bring back Bush, Bubba, or Barack. Let’s choose from some of the fine actors who have pretended to be president in film and TV because, after all, isn’t being president all about pretending that you know what you are doing most of the time?

So, let me suggest the following five candidates, in no particular order chosen based upon two criteria. One, they showed the ability to give a great speech, one that inspires and unifies, and two, that they showed the ability to get something done.

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 As far back as I went in my research, America’s first African-American president was not Barack Obama, but rather Tom Beck, played by Morgan Freeman in the 1996 film Deep Impact. Personally, I’d feel very comfortable with Freeman at the helm given the air of thoughtfulness, honesty, and wisdom that he shows in this film. After all, he faced an oncoming ecological disaster (a comet racing toward earth) without pretending that it didn’t exist or that it was no big deal (see all Republican candidates re:climate change). Not only that, he came up with not one, but two plans to see that life would continue on earth after the catastrophe and helped to calm the nation both before and after.

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Kevin Kline also gets my endorsement as a candidate for his role in the 1993 film, Dave. Kline is uniquely qualified because as an actor he has already pretended to be a guy who is pretending to be the president! Kline plays Dave Kovic, a look-alike for the sitting president, Bill Mitchell who takes over the role when the president suffers a catastrophic stroke. Not only is he able to stand up to his scheming chief of staff, he works cooperatively with his cabinet to cut ridiculous appropriations to save his not-First Lady’s pet homeless shelter project, and launches an ambitious jobs program. He addresses Congress by owning up to the sins of his predecessor and summarily exposes all of the corruptions that had been allowed to flourish. His ability to pretend to be warm and honest would serve him well as our president. I would have no problem endorsing Kevin/Dave/Bill for president.

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My third potential candidate would be Dennis Haysbert who played President David Palmer from 2001-2004 (in season 1, he is candidate Palmer) in the action series, 24. During his presidency, he faced an unprecedented series of potentially catastrophic terrorist attacks, supported by CTU, possibly the most inept counterterrorism unit ever created. I realize they needed to keep the crisis going for a full 24 episodes, but honestly, not once did a CTU leader say the words, “you guys cover the back in case the terrorist decides to sneak out the back door when we storm the front.” Just never occurred to them. Despite this, Palmer inspired calm and confidence and managed 3 full seasons without ever being shot or tortured by Jack Bauer, no small accomplishment. And through every potential disaster, he kept it quiet that he had our back—he had an Allstate Insurance policy lined up for the entire country.

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My toughest-to-make endorsement goes to Kevin Spacey who has now completed two seasons as President Frank Underwood in the Netflix series House of Cards. Sure, he is unprincipled and ruthless, but those certainly have never been presidential disqualifiers. We have seen his ability to work behind the scenes to push legislation through, cajoling, charming, threatening, and occasionally murdering individuals that might resist his agenda. Frank has also shown to be modest and compelling in giving a speech, even as he lets us, the audience, know that he is dishing pure, undiluted bullshit. Kevin would have to reign in some of Frank’s rough edges to get my full endorsement, but let’s face it, there are scarier people than Frank Underwood who are currently being taken seriously as candidates today.

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My final recommendation is certainly my most heartfelt. From 1999 to 2006 on every Wednesday night, I could comfort myself that for one hour my president was named Josiah “Jed” Bartlet played by Martin Sheen on the immensely popular television series, West Wing. Bartlet showed toughness, compassion and a strong intellect as president. As long as writer Aaron Sorkin was nearby, he was never at a loss for a speech that was comforting and forceful. Maybe his most important contribution was helping me to hold faith in the American political process while suffering thought eight years of George Bush. For seven years, Jed Bartlet was my president. I’d have no problem voting to give him another four or eight.

Fanciful? Maybe. But look at the five remaining candidates and tell me if you think that the primary winnowing process has produced the five most trustworthy and qualified people to lead our country. Tell me you have complete confidence in any of them. Now, look at my five candidates, each one of them with extended experience in being a pretend president. I’m not even sure where the write-in box is for the presidential vote, but I may be looking for it when November rolls around.

 

 

 

 

 

Jazz Hater

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I suspect that I would be infinitely cooler as an individual, if I could say that I knew jazz, that I got jazz, that I loved jazz—but in truth, I just don’t. I really wish that I did. I’m sure I’d be considered more suave, more debonair if I could talk jazz instead of baseball.

I don’t think I could even name 5 jazz artists depending on how you define jazz. Let’s see, there’s John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and……er, ….. yeah, not even five. So there’s the problem. There is a big gap in my musical education.

I can actually name only one jazz classic, Brubeck’s Take Five which is a perfect example of why I hate jazz.   It opens with a tight, memorable melody and then wanders away into a confusing maze of solo performances that don’t sound anything like the opening, that don’t complement the opening, that sound as if the musicians have forgotten what song they are playing, until they swing back into that great, memorable melody to end the song. By the time they get there I’m likely to have missed it because I’ve dozed off.

I had two recent experiences that reinforced this antipathy. The first was on my annual pilgrimage to see the Dave Matthews Band at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. I had read that they were going to feature Herbie Hancock (OK, there’s my fifth) and I was kind of excited to see how they were going to integrate him with the band. Dave opened his song Mercy at the keyboards and then gave way to Hancock who proceeded to go into his own riffs. Within seconds, he had lost me. Even though the band bobbed their heads, and tapped their toes, and just looked delighted with Hancock’s contribution, he was playing something that didn’t sound anything like the song that Dave had started.

It’s my problem with solos in general. They just seem so fucking self-indulgent. The artist is allow to just wander off into a musical Neverland, playing whatever the hell he wants regardless of the structure or integrity of the actual song he’s supposed to be playing. Hancock basically hijacked the show for about half an hour. Whoever thought that was going to be a good fit had badly miscalculated. It was like trying to integrate Riverdancers with a ballet company.

The second and more miserable of the two experiences was when Mary and I visited a jazz club in Montreal, one that had been recommended to us by a local, a local who clearly hated American tourists. Ever since then the words “jazz club” have become synonymous in my mind with “dentist office” in terms how I feel about the possibility of having to go to one.

It was a cute space and I always like live music—honestly. I was predisposed to give the music a chance especially given the local endorsement of the place. The group consisted of a man who played trumpet and a woman who played bass. Once they began to play, I realized that once again, I had entered jazz hell. Occasionally it seemed as though they were playing the same song, but mostly it felt like they teamed up just to get in some practice playing whatever melody (and I use that term loosely) came to mind. I could not distinguish one song from the next. It pained me to watch some of the patrons nodding their heads, sometimes with their eyes closed, clearly grooving and getting something that I simply could not hear. I started to hate them unreasonably. The saving grace was that the bar served a strong, American IPA that I liked and the musicians eventually took a nice, long break that I enjoyed much more than I had their musical performance.

I should probably take a “History of Jazz” or “Jazz Appreciation” class at our local community college and see if I can expand my musical knowledge. Hopefully, it will contain lessons on how to properly nod my head in time to the music.

 

The Wisdom Thing And Why I Don’t Think I Have It

Day 15—I have been part of an FB writing group for the past three weeks or so. The challenge was to write at least 500 words a day for 30 consecutive days. This post is specifically addressed to those participating group members.

I’ve gotten a couple of very kind comments from members of the group that indicated that they thought I possessed some kind of wisdom or insight, and it’s a label I’ve always been uncomfortable with. I know part of it comes with age. I think I may be the senior member of our group from what I can tell, and just because I’ve lived though a few more life transitions than others doesn’t make me feel qualified to impart anything to anyone.

I told my wife I was struggling on how to approach this topic, and she suggested I try to define what I felt wisdom was.

Reading all that you have shared about your lives, I’m always so impressed by the depth and breadth of your experiences. You have traveled so much and so adventurously. I’ve never even seen the inside of a hostel. I can get lost walking out the front door.

In addition, you’ve worked in so may fields, had big failures, big successes, or are still trying to make your way, still inventing yourself, still figuring it out. I admire that. You’ve experienced a multitude of relationships, and I feel awful when I read about how painful some of them have been for you, but you keep finding your way through, showing a resilience that is admirable. In time, you will have a breadth of experience to share that I think really approaches wisdom.

My “wisdom” is deeply rooted in a lack of experience. I’ve been married for 41 years and we’ve been together for 43+. She is the only woman I have ever been with. What do I have to tell you about relationships? I have lived in the same house since 1980. I worked at the same job in the same high school for 36 years. Notice the pattern here? And, of course, only I am aware of just how fallible and foolish I can be, about my epic failures of judgment, about my continued and sometimes purposeful acts of poor judgment.

When I taught I school, I always felt deeply honored by students who came to see me as a mentor of sorts. One of my classroom rituals was to shake hands with each student in every class every day, just to say hi, offer them a greeting, cajole them about their work, tease them about the bad hair day they were having, whatever. Sometimes, I’d see a change in mood or demeanor and I might stop and ask if they were OK, or hit them up later and check in with them. Some sought me out on their own. Some simply came into my room and dissolved into tears over their latest crisis.

I got to be pretty good in these moments to just let them talk, to be an active listener, and to qualify any advice I might give them with the disclaimer that I was completely unqualified to give advice. In truth, I don’t think it mattered much what I said. What mattered most was they had found a caring adult who would stop everything for the moment and listen to whatever they had to say without appearing shocked or judgmental, even though they sometimes shared incredibly intimate details of their lives. I think it was especially important that I was a parent, but not their parent. If I gave them anything, it was reassurance, not wisdom. Those experiences have continued to this day with students who have chosen to stay in touch with me. I feel very honored by those relationships.

A small group of my students once got into a heated discussion before class over whether I was more like Gandalf (the wise and kindly wizard of The Lord of the Rings) or Albus Dumbledore (the wise and kindly wizard of the Harry Potter franchise). I found it a little disturbing. I didn’t like them having a perception of me that was so different than the perception I have of myself, as complimentary as it might have been. I told them it was the dumbest conversation I had ever heard them have, and that they should sit down so I could get class started.

(The answer, by the way, is Dumbledore, always Dumbledore.)

 

Ooops!

Coming home from Balboa Park the two days ago, I got into a car accident on the freeway and I handled the whole thing in a totally uncharacteristic way.

A car re-entered the freeway slowly from the shoulder, causing the guy in the first lane to swerve into the guy in the second lane, causing that guy to hit me a glancing blow on the right side as I swerved into what was luckily an open space. I looked in the rear view mirror and could see some dust and debris flying up in the air but it didn’t look like anyone was spinning out or slowing down or pulling over.

By instinct and training, I knew I was supposed to pull over to the side of the road, exchange information, and call my insurance company, but at the moment that just seemed like an enormous fucking hassle.

Strangely enough, I was uncharacteristically calm. I did not feel shaken up at the close call and wasn’t feeling that huge adrenalin rush that usually accompanies such a moment; I wasn’t angry at the idiot who had caused the mess; I just felt annoyed that I might get sucked into some god-awful mess when everything had happened so fast that I didn’t even know the color of the car that had hit me.

So, I just decided to drive on and hope the damage to my car was as minimal as I imagined that it was. I was kind of surprised at my reaction but figured it this way:

First of all, I was most definitely a victim. Through no stretch of the imagination could I have been considered at fault. I got hit in a chain reaction and had luckily avoided hitting anyone else. It didn’t really occur to me that someone could have been seriously hurt, but I suppose that was a possibility. I just didn’t feel it was my job to stop and try to sort things out.

Secondly, I didn’t want to get into the legal hassles that were going to follow a chain-reaction accident. This had happened to me once before when I was sitting at a stoplight and a young woman plowed into a car, three cars behind me. I ended up being the last in line to get popped, just enough to get some free chiropractic and massage treatments. But I also got sued by someone in the line who sued everyone involved in the accident even though I had no possibility of being at fault. I called my insurance and the guy said, “Yeah, this happens all the time. It’s why you have us.” The estimate was that it would take 3 months and $6– $10,000 to extricate me from the suit. I did not want to go through that again.

Lastly, I’m not crazy about the car I own now. It’s a small 2007 SUV that I’d like to replace, but it only costs me about $500 a year to insure and it’s paid for. It is eminently reliable and functional for hauling around my yard and garden stuff. I’ll probably drive it until it dies. All the dings are on the passenger side, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s in pretty pristine condition as long as I don’t walk all the way around it.

It did vaguely occur to me that I had “left the scene of an accident” and that I might get a visit from the Highway Patrol if someone had been fast enough to get my license, but for me, someone who worries about just about everything, I felt oddly unconcerned. You could say that it barely put a dent in my day.

Paranoia Strikes Deep

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Let me just say that I’m not universally opposed to a good conspiracy theory. I do believe that the government can and will be untruthful and manipulative when it suits their purposes. Area 51 as a hiding place for UFO’s and captured aliens? Sure, why not. The grassy knoll in Dallas is number 6 on my bucket list, and back in college I actually read the entire book, Rush To Judgment, detailing all of the reasons why Oswald could not possibly have killed Kennedy.

But what really scares me is that I’m becoming convinced that with a wide enough platform, you can convince 30 to 40% of Americans of just about anything. WMDs in Iraq? 30% of Americans still believe that they existed even after former president George Bush admitted that they were never found. A similar number still buy the notion that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. Climate change? Don’t get me started.

Most of those notions are harmless. Some of them are folks simply adhering to a set of political mantras that suit their worldview and their temperament. Am I wrong though, in feeling like the paranoia is becoming more acute? When I heard that Texans were arming themselves after hearing of a routine military exercise fearing that the government was preparing to take over their state, I wanted to find it laughable except for their passionate sincerity. I mean, seriously guys? The government can’t even figure out how to take back a remote wildlife refuge that’s been taken over by some random yahoos, a place that no one even goes to except the occasional birder. What in the hell would the government do with the entire state of Texas? Rename it Eastern California and hope the people would become more progressive?

The military exercise came and went and Texas still abides as a sovereign state. Shocker.

Just this month, though, I read in the New York Times about a professor, James Tracy, who had been fired from Florida Atlantic University ostensibly for not filing forms detailing outside jobs and activities. The professor maintains a Facebook page and blog named “Memory Hole.” In it, he promotes the idea that mass shootings such as the one in San Bernardino and at Sandy Hook elementary were elaborate fakes “carried out by ‘crisis actors’ employed by the Obama administration.”

Hey, write what you want to write, believe what you want to believe, but what hit my “utter disgust” button was Tracy’s response when the parents of Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old victim of the massacre at Sandy Hook, requested that he remove the picture of their son from his blog. In response, Tracy sent them a certified letter demanding proof that Noah had ever actually lived and documentation that the Pozners were actually his parents. In a letter on his blog, Tracy accused the Pozners of “profiting handsomely from the fake death of their son.” At this point, I believe both parties are suing each other for harassment, and Tracy is claiming that the family is responsible for his firing.

It’s one thing to believe that there is a government conspiracy to deceive the public and to use your voice to promote your version of the truth. It is entirely something else to attack people who have already endured the worst kind of suffering.

My wife has tried to keep my blood pressure down on this one reassuring me that it’s just one more voice screaming in the wind, but check out his FB page (https://www.facebook.com/memoryholeblog/). The 30% are starting to line up in his support.