Sunday, June 28, 2009

At the H.E.B.

Oh for a thousand tongues to sing

My great redeemer’s praise,

The glory of my God and King,

The triumph of his grace., Wesley, Charles, “Oh for a Thousand tongues to Sing”

 

 

Pulling out of the parking lot at Berryhills after a post church meal, the spouse and I headed for the close by  Westlake H.E.B. in order to avoid the usual crowds at our neighborhood Central Market.

 

Wade: (humming) You know that song they sang at church today, Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing ? The guy singing the song, is he saying that he wishes that he had a chorus of a thousand people to sing praises to God or is he saying that he wishes that he, personally, had a thousand tongues to sing ?

 

Rayda: He means a chorus, how could he have a thousand tongues himself  ?That’s ridiculous. What would his mouth look like ?

 

Wade: I disagree, I read that hymn pretty closely this morning, I think that the guy is saying that he wished he had a thousand tongues himself. They don’t have to all go in his mouth, besides, I think it’s a metaphor, “I wish I had a thousand tongues” he may not mean it literally.

 

Rayda: I have never looked at it that way, no one has ever looked at it that way, he meant he wishes that he had a thousand people with him.

 

Wade:, see, here’s why you are wrong. It’s a praise to God song, right, he says, “Oh for a thousand tongues to sing” like he is saying to God that it is impossible without you. That’s not impossible. You pray to God for something like that and God thinks, “OK, go get a thousand people, that’s not miracle. You have got a couple hundred here at church with you already. Get 800 more, or join a bigger church. “ You see, God is not interested in helping someone with such a small issue, now asking for a thousand tongues for yourself personally, that takes a miracle, that’s the kind of thing that you ask God for.

 

Rayda: There is  no way that is what that I means. I will ask Paul, do you think Presbyterians sing that song ?

 

Wade : ” Of course they do, everyone sings it, but why would Paul know more about it that me, just because he is ordained ? Besides, you said yourself that he is a Presbyterian. Charles Wesley was a Methodist.

 

Rayda: there is no way it can  mean what you say, here’s the parking lot.

 

Wade: I thought that you said that there would be fewer people, look at this place.

 

Rayda: I did not say fewer people, I said that we would  not have to walk as far in the hot sun. Look they even have a drive up service after you check out.

 

Wade: Great, valet, let’s do that.

 

Rayda: It’s not Valet, you have to park and go get your own car, but they will meet you at this spot with the groceries.

 

Wade: That’s it ? What’s the big deal about that, all it saves you is pushing a little cart to your car ? It probably takes longer to do the service.

 

Rayda: It’s for old ladies, wait, I have to go back, I forgot our  shopping bags. (at this point Rayda opened the trunk and pulled out three environmentally sound cloth shopping bags, all clearly labeled “Whole Foods”).

 

Wade: You can’t take those into an H.E.B., they say “Whole Foods”. It is an insult to the store.

 

Rayda: I always use the Whole Foods bags, everyone does, they are cuter, no one in there is going to get mad.

 

Wade: That’s not the point, it’s a matter of respecting the establishment that you are visiting, if you don’t have the proper cloth bag, you have to use that stores paper ones.

 

Rayda: That defeats the whole purpose of carrying these bags around. Go see what produce you want (Rayda grabs small cart).

 

At this point I walked over to the fruit and began looking around. A bewildered elderly man was staring at the peaches and asking the produce guy, who was unboxing some fruit, what he could tell him about the difference in the  two kinds of peaches he was looking at , from a flavor perspective. I interrupted. “Sir, I said, “those peaches there are California peaches. There is not a California peach that is worth a damn.” The old man visibly brightened, “That’s exactly the kind of information I’m looking for.” He said, casting his eye toward the store employee who said, “He is exactly right . “ My job now done, I moved toward the plums and began selecting   some type of hybrid plum/apricot thing, or anyway, something that looked like a plum but was not quite a plum. I noted the code as 6501. I bagged the fruit and weighed it, typing in the code. “Unknown plum” came up on the data screen. Thinking that that could not be correct I tried again and again and got the same reading.

 

Rayda: What are you doing ?

 

Wade Can’t get the correct code to get a price on these plums, look, I am putting in the right code.

 

Rayda: Try another code , try that one (she said as she punched in an inappropriate plum code). There, that works

 

Wade: You have no idea what you did, we could be paying an excessive amount for plums.(at this point I began putting the little green twisty thing on the plastic bag).

 

Rayda: What are you doing ? don’t use those, I hate those things, I just have to remove them when I get home.

 

Wade: Sorry, if you shop with me you use them, I am not going to have fruit getting lose in the basket and have it rolling around for us to gather up when we get to the line. Why do you think they give you the green twisty things ?

 

Rayda: Just go get some bananas. I am going to buy some sole, I have a great recipe for it.

 

Wade: That’s great, I love sole.

 

At this point I must mention that the greatest foodstuff in the entire world is the banana. I purchased four large bananas for forty six cents. Everyone should eat a banana for at least one of their meals a day. When you can dine for under twelve cents a meal, you are really accomplishing something. Rayda does not eat bananas but she always buys some. But you have to be careful with them. Not too ripe, not too green, not too many, not too few, not too large, not too small. There are a lot of variables to consider in a banana purchase, all of which will have profound ramifications, more bananas are thrown out of households than any other foods in the United States. I smugly and carefully put the little green twisty around my banana bag and tightly twisted.

 

Wade: I need to get some of those frozen coconut bars, I’ll be right back.

 

Wade: (minutes later) Look, they have  frozen treats in Spanish, fresca y crema. Outstanding. Hey, why the prepared foods ?

 

Rayda: Well I found out that if I bought the prepared fish I got the sweet potatoes and green beans for free so we don’t have to cook !

 

Wade: I thought you wanted to cook ?

 

Rayda: who wants to cook ? stand in line, I forgot coffee beans.

 

I hate to stand in line without the complete purchase. You feel like you are cutting in line, why don’t you just get in line when you get to the store and have your wife run around and pick up everything ?  As is always the case, once I got in line, the checking for the people in front of me went amazingly fast, leaving me at the head of the line and unprepared.

 

Wade: I’m sure that my wife will be right here, she just forgot coffee. Look here she is

 

Checker: paper or plastic ?

 

Wade: Well, neither really, we have these environmentally safe cloth bags that we are using although they are not from H.E.B. I’m afraid, does that matter ?

 

Checker: Why would it matter ?

 

Rayda smiled.

 

 

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Rest of the Story

I started out writing a review of the Bastrop diner, the “Texas Grill” the other day. As sometimes happens, the story I meant to write got hijacked by one of the characters who would not let go for the better part of a thousand words. I suppose that I could have gone back to the original theme once I’d finished with that character, but few people in the world have the time or patience to read more than about 600 words on a computer screen, so I was already pushing my luck.

 

Mills of the Gods was going to harken unto Bastrop the very next day to complete the journey, but then history  (or what passes for history) intervened when Michael Jackson died. I felt that I owed it to those social historians in the future, who will read these blogs as an insight into our times, to record the event. The fact that only about eighty million bloggers wrote the same story that day did not stop me. I often consider my perspective, if not important, then at least unique. So this put me up to the weekend and I still had not gotten to write even one line over the Governor of South Carolina’s Brazilian tryst and the his news conference covering same. Nor had I done what was going to be my expose on the state of American Health Care based on my one day with my mother at Houston’s M.D. Anderson. My mom is going to have an operation, probably in July and I will tell the story then, rather shame facedly because it is my brother’s story to tell. He’s the one who has singlehandedly (well, almost, he’s had great help from our third cousin) carried my mom through her health issues over the last year and a half. I try not to write about my brother Clay very often because I am diminished  somewhat in comparison to him. He seems to take this “do unto others” stuff quite seriously.

 

But I do need to finish up with the Texas Grill while my memory is still accurate, not that accuracy has ever been an important component of this blog, or even a relevant one.

 

Let me begin by saying that the Texas Grill  has achieved that most unsought after state of becoming an old diner , without becoming a quaint one. As far as diners are concerned, it’s a lot like visiting an elderly aunt who lives in the house where she raised her kids. You know the house, the only one on the block that has not been renovated or torn down. The house is functional, it just feels dated, and not like an antique shop, like a resale shop.

 

Let me begin with the waitress and the patrons. I have no doubt that in the light of day, perhaps after a morning shower and brushing, these are handsome people. By the time I got to the Grill, they were about 16 hours past handsome. This is not to compare them invidiously to your correspondent. Let me make it perfectly clear that when I walked into the diner at about 9:00 p.m., after driving since 5:30 a.m. and meeting with the particular sampling of the Houston medical profession I was introduced to, and then driving toward home, none of the women in the place nudged their neighbor and inquired as to just what Justin Timberlake was doing in Bastrop. I looked, felt and probably smelled “shabby”, which, combined with my usual ‘fat”, is not a good look. Even in Bastrop. But back to the other uglies. A couple of these ladies looked like they were wearing masks from that Twilight Zone episode where all the greedy relatives have to put on a mask while waiting for the rich guy to die and then, when he does, we find that their faces have taken on the appearance of the masks.”Butt ugly” as a description would have given this group way too much credit.

 

I was given a menu and opened it up, but before I could read it the waitress came over to report items that had already been “sold out”. There were several, but I did not hear any past the first, “We are out of the oysters”. Out of the oysters ? the brain spins. Did she really need to say that ? Did she honestly think that I was going to walk over from the Exxon station next door with the evening temperature still at 103, stroll into the dining room of the Texas Grill, smack dab in the middle of four months without Rs in them , and call out, “No need for a menu madam, I’ll have a dozen of Bastrop’s finest on the half shell….Oh, and a champagne cocktail.” All I could think of was who caused the run on the oysters in the first place, and where were their collective stomachs being pumped now ?

 

Waitress then  left me to my thoughts and I went straight to the Fried Chicken. Almost no diner sells Fried Chicken anymore. They sell something called Chicken Fried Chicken which is a chicken breast fried in the manner of fried chicken, except that it usually arrives to the kitchen in a frozen and already breaded state. Apparently, cooking with anything like a bone inside of food is now regarded as beyond the abilities of most of today’s Iron chefs. But this place had Fried Chicken. It had six or seven different ways you could order it. It had “half a chicken” $9.75, it had “all white” $9.75, it had “breast and thighs” $9.75 and so forth down to the Fried Gizzards and Fried Livers (not mixed) $9.75. These prices seemed high, but then again, true pan fried chicken is quite labor intensive and since they were apparently the only ones in Texas who still sold it, they deserved my approbation, not complaints.

 

At the last minute I saw something called the “Regular Chicken Dinner” $9.25. Well I knew a bargain when I saw one. As soon as the waitress came back, that was my order. In the meantime the aforementioned waitress was carrying out four orders of something, I could not tell what because all of the entrées were buried in a mound of French fries. No human being could ever consume the amount of French Fries on those plates. But, always know thyself. If I had received such an order I would have certainly tried. I can eat fries by the hour, but it was getting late and I did not need anything that would cause me to fall asleep at the wheel so I decided I’d order mashed potatoes.

 

Upon ordering the chicken the waitress informed me that I was looking at a fifteen or twenty minute wait, “Fine with me” I noted,” just proves it is fresh.” “Oh it’s fresh she said” looking at her watch and sighing, “and it comes with a trip to the salad bar”. When salad bars first got going in the early 1980s, the term “trip” to the salad bar was always used. As if  the salad bar was so amazing that even the walk over there was likened unto a vacation. You got to take a “trip”. No telling what would be over there, all kinds of croutons and dressings, different greens and veggies that you never got on a salad at home. It was an adventure within the dining experience, all usually thrown in for free or for $1.99 with an entrée.

 

As trips go this particular one more closely resembled going to Beaumont than to Paris. First, it was a short trip. To call the item a “salad bar” was correct only in the pure academic sense. It was located at a bar and it had some items normally put on salads, but what it really was, was a cynical attempt on the part of the Texas Grill to unload the days leftover salad materials. It looked EXACTLY like your refrigerator’s  vegetable crisper looks when you get home from a week’s vacation and your wife tells you that you need to help her throw away the stuff that’s gone bad. The homeless of Bastrop would have turned up their noses and refused this stuff, and with good reason. After scrapping around the various bowls I managed to put together a small amount of material that, if not fresh, was possibly unspoiled. I returned to my seat to await the chicken.

 

About fifteen minutes later, right on schedule, the waitress appeared with one of those platters of chicken that you see in movies where  the whole town gets together for a picnic. You never in your life saw this much chicken. What would I have gotten if I’d paid the extra fifty cents ? Two guys who looked like Tech Gurus (one was even South Asian) walked into the grill at this point. As Twain said, these guys were as out of place in the Texas Grill as a Presbyterian in Hell, but they stopped and stared at my chicken. They  were seated and proceeded to wave off the menus and ordered “what he’s having”. This meant an additional fifteen minutes for the poor waitress, but what could be done ?

 

The chicken was so crispy and so hot that I had to wait for a few minutes for it to cool. That enabled me to notice that gravy was served with the chicken. Dark, thick, hot, creamy gravy. I tentatively dipped a part of a roll into the gravy. It was like the nectar of the Gods. I had not had gravy that good, perhaps ever. I had to carefully ration it though. it is not good form to order “more gravy !!”, that’s roughly akin to asking the guy next to you with the steak if he’s going to “finish that fat ?” (remember Caddyshack ?)

 

The chicken was tremendous. I could not finish it all and could not take it home for fear that once Rayda saw it, certain issues regarding health might be discussed, issues that I heard enough about as it was. I guess the potatoes were good, I will never know because I had covered them in gravy. Sort of like when you order escargot, when all you really want to do is use something as an excuse to suck the drawn butter.

 

The waitress, by now somewhat disgusted with me, did not offer me desert. Although I had heard someone try to get desert earlier and they were out of most everything (probably had been some prefix deal with the raw oysters).So I had no choice but to leave, and I had to get moving because I wanted to see the big fire over behind the Home Depot. The drive home was not memorable, but I made it in one piece. I knew that I could not come on the blog and give the Texas Grill the full five stars. The gravy got five stars and the chicken four, but nothing else could really be talked about in polite company. As Lee’s on the lake in Orlando, Florida used to say “It’s a dining experience”. How can you argue with that ?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Death in the Afternoon

“Great talent deserves great license.”  Dan Akroyd upon the death of John Belushi

 

 

Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, avoided the slow decay yesterday by means still to be completely determined, and , if I am any judge of the endless capacity of the public to wish to  believe in conspiracies, never to be completely resolved. Jackson now joins the pop martyrs of the last fifty years, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, John and Robert  Kennedy, Elvis, John Lennon, M.L. King and many  other lesser figures whose bodies died before the name.

 

It is hard to believe, but Jackson was close to being a contemporary of mine. Only six years younger, and a pop star when I was in high school listening to the radio. But when you are 18, 12 seems impossibly young, and Jackson always appealed to the generations after me. In the early 1980s his star shown as bright as, or brighter than, any pop star in history, including Sinatra. The Thriller album sold more copies than any other album in history which was not a “greatest hits” compilation. Jackson was the first of the post-rock “entertainers”. He harkened back to a different era when people like Astaire and Kelly and Garland and Sammy Davis, Jr. did not just come out and sing. They put on a show, with dancing being the spotlight. Every pop star who has since  followed Jackson has been, in some ways, an imitation of him, even Madonna. His impact upon the musical entertainment of his own time was at least as great as any other entertainer who ever lived. The fact that I don’t value his particular art as much as I do, say, Cole Porter’s (whom he loved) does not make it any less important. The smallest member of the Jackson Five was a true giant.

 

And yet there is that asterisk. There is the Jackson of the bizarre face changing surgeries, the strange marriages, of the dangling baby, of the chimp and the Never Land Ranch, all culminating in the criminal trial which comes so quickly to mind when his name is mentioned. The stigma of child molester, whether accurate or not, is the hardest of all stains to clean. Time will never clear that stain, but it may, at some point, lessen its glare. Time, as Auden once  noted (and later recanted), is the forgiver of great talent. Kipling, Claudel, Wilde,Clinton, Arbuckle ,hell, even Napoleon. Greatness will, at last, overcome weakness, unless the greatness itself was perverted (“that Adolf Eichmann was one hell of an organizer”  is not a platitude you hear much) or unless the crime is so monstrous that nothing can wipe it out (Simpson). Even then, sometimes  license can be granted, Washington and Jefferson held dozens of human beings in bondage, bought them and sold them, what could be a greater sin that that ? It works the other way too. No one was more reviled than Oscar Wilde for many  years after his death,, and yet societal mores now mark him as a martyr, not a criminal. Eyes can be opened.

 

So good night Michael, but not goodbye. I expect that I, my child, and her children will be seeing your image for the rest of our lives. A lot of people will talk about you and explain you, but no one will ever really understand you. But the music, the music we can understand.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Late Night at the Texas Grill

“it is my belief, formed upon experience, that the lowest and vilest London alleys do not present a more dreadful record of crime than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”  Sherlock Holmes

 

 

I have been passing, up and back, between Austin and Houston, the Texas Grill ,in downtown Bastrop, for thirty three years. I estimate that I have probably driven by it some 200-300 times. Until last night I had only stopped there once. There were a couple of reasons for that. First, it is only thirty miles from home and so too early to stop when you are leaving on a trip , and too late to stop when returning. The second reason is that the one time I did stop there, the food was lousy.

 

I am a sucker for small town diners and cafes and the Texas Grill fills that niche. They have a big billboard just past Columbus which says that you are only 44 miles from the Grill. You start thinking about chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with the skin on it and homemade  rolls and you think about stopping in. Over the last 33 years, I have stopped at a number of these type places on the Houston/ Austin route. For years it was the Cottonwood Inn and later, the fabled Bon Ton of La Grange. After the bypass came in, Schoebles in Columbus became the primary eatery for us. I have recently discovered that, in a pinch, Tony’s in Sealy will do. There are a couple of places in Fayetteville which are good, but that adds about 30 minutes to the drive.

 

It had been a tough day in Houston on Tuesday, a day I thought was going to be the first of several for me there, occasioned by surgery on my mother. The surgery was postponed and so I drove home that evening. By about 9:00 I had not eaten, but worse than that I noticed that I had only 9 miles left in my tank of gas, as estimated by the little electronic printout on my dashboard. I pulled off of the  highway into an Exxon station and found myself next door to the Texas Grill. Since Rayda was still in San Antonio visiting our daughter, I decided to eat there.

 

The sun had just set on what was the second or third longest day of the year and so it seemed earlier than it was. As I walked into the café, I noticed there was an end of the day feeling in the place. There were three booths taken, one by  a married couple, one by an extended family and the one, opposite me, by a guy who could have passed for an English Prof. at Concordia Lutheran. Small and owlish, bald and in his early 60s with a kind of unshaven patch between his chin and his lower lip. I thought that he was probably not a teacher after I noticed that he was dressed in camouflage.

 

I had been directed to the booth next to him, but I could have chosen to sit with my back to him. For some reason I sat down facing him and noticed that he was finished with his meal, except for a beverage he was still sipping from a straw. Let me be more accurate. He was finished with the beverage, at least all of the liquid part of it, but he was still sucking pretty aggressively on the straw. “Sluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurp”. You know that sound. You might accidentally make that noise at the end of your drink, but most people over the age of five, quit ,or refill , once they hear the noise, “sluuuuuuuuuuuuuuurp”. This guy neither quit nor refilled. Just kept slurping. After a couple of minutes he got a napkin and began wiping up his table, He was very fastidious about this, he wiped and then wiped elsewhere and then come back and wiped where he’d been before and then stop for a second  to “sluuuuuuuuuuuuuuurp” and then he’d get another napkin and start the whole process over again. The only other thing on his table was a credit card which was sitting square in front of him  and which he would clean under and straighten up every couple of minutes, making sure that it lay exactly in the middle of the table, not leaning in either direction, “slurrrrrrp”.

 

After what seemed like an hour and a half, the one waitress in the place came over and asked him if he’d like another drink. It was a strange conversation:

 

Waitress: would you like some more tea ?

 

Customer: (indistinct mumbling as he continued to stare at his credit card, followed by “sluuuuuuuuuuuurp”).

 

Waitress: So you don’t want more tea then ?

 

Customer: now silently looking directly at her and fingering his credit card, “sluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurp” (followed by waitress walking away).

 

The closer I looked at this guy, the more uncomfortable I got. What had at first appeared to be a small academic type, oddly dressed but harmless, had changed appearances. The more I looked at him, the more I was sure that this guy was a registered sex offender there in Bastrop. He had the look about him. Sneaky little pervert, fingering his credit card and slurping from a cup filled with nothing but melting ice. I looked around the room to see where any children were seated so I could protect them should the guy leave his booth. There was only one, a little blonde haired one year old boy with his parents and grandparents. Every few minutes this kid would shake his head furiously causing his long blonde locks to fly around like George Harrison’s used too during the chorus  of those faster Beatle songs. I thought that the kid was going to throw his neck out, but his family seemed quite taken with his activity.

 

At any rate, the slurping continued and I began to wonder just when it was , in a Bastrop Café, that a customer crossed the line from eccentric to nuisance. They seem to be more patient about these things in Bastrop, or maybe he was a regular. Finally, he picked up his credit card and ambled over to the cash register to pay his bill . He walked with a very strange slouch, bent at the knee and sort of bent back above the waist. He looked a little bit like an arm chair that had decided to move around on its own. That is, if an armchair would carry a cup of melting ice around slurping on it while it paid its bill. The bill was paid, I heard some low mumblings and the man turned toward the door, “sluuuurp”. The door shut behind him, cutting off the noise, but I could still see him sucking away as he walked past my window. Now there were nine of us left, plus the owner/manager behind the counter, ands the waitress who looked like she’d worked a double shift and still had to get home to feed the kids and do the laundry. The manager addresses all of us. “Any of you know anything about the fire behind Home Depot tonight ? It was huge. I wondered what started it.” I did not know what started it, but I was already forming some suspicions as to just WHO started it. “Sluuuuuurp”.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Never Never Land

Come with me where dreams are born,

And time is never planned.          Mary Martin, as Peter Pan, “Peter Pan”, 1954

 

 

I had a 7:15 date with  my wife last night and had about thirty minutes before I had to leave to meet her. I did what I often do, early in the evening, and pulled up YouTube. I had been thinking about the Broadway Star from Texas, Mary Martin. Martin is seldom spoken about today, but was one of the greatest of stars from the 40s to the 60s of the last century. She is best known for “South Pacific”, “The Sound of Music “, for her rendition of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and, apropos to this blog, “Peter Pan”. All of which Is not too bad for a girl from Weatherford, Texas who started her career with a dance studio  in Mineral Wells.

 

When I was a child, life had a more definite rhythm to it. There was a lot less technology and thus, a lot less distraction. There were things that you could count on happening. The “Andy Griffith Show” was on at 8:00 every Tuesday if I recall correctly. It was preempted by a Christmas special once a year, but other than that it was always there. New shows ran until June, when they ran twelve weeks of reruns.Ed Sullivan was on every Sunday night. Once a year they ran “The Wizard of Oz”, around Easter as I recall, once a year was the Miss America Pageant, the World Series and the Rose Bowl. Once a year we had the annual showing of Mary Martin’s “Peter Pan”. Everyone in the country watched all of these shows, usually together as a family.

 

Movies were not shown on T.V. then  as they are today. It would take years and years to get a film from the big screen to the small. In those days the Studios would rerelease a good film every few years back  into the  Theatre. Most people thought that “Gone With the Wind” would never be shown on Television. Prime Time movies were shown on one NBC from eight to ten every Saturday night (“Saturday Night at the Movies”)The movies were usually ten or fifteen years old, a lot of Martin (Dean not Mary) and Lewis.. There was a lot less excitement, but a lot more regularity in those days.

 

As mentioned, once a year they showed “Peter Pan”. It is one of my earliest television memories. I think it came out in 1956 and was redone in color in 1960. I had never seen the color version until I saw some of it on you tube last night while clicking around, watching Mary Martin sing. Mary might not be a big star today because she was not beautiful (although she had been ). She never got the movie versions of her shows. She probably only played Peter Pan on T.V. because she was playing a boy. Watching these old videos of her, the thing that surprised me is that I did not think that she was all that great of a singer. Obviously, a lot of Broadway producers had a different opinion than I have.

 

Back to Peter Pan. As I watched some of it last evening, a familiar chill ran down my spine. I recalled for the first time in years that I thought the Martin version of Peter Pan was downright creepy. Actually, many versions are downright creepy. It bothered me as a child that a woman was playing the part of a boy. Everyone could see that it was a woman, who was she trying to fool, and perhaps more importantly, why  ? It also seemed to me that she had practically kidnapped the Darling family and I felt sorry for their parents. As a child I was strangely intrigued and disturbed  by Wendy. Years later I finally understood how much of the story was really about her passing into womanhood, leaving the nursery.  In the Martin version Wendy grows old and Peter comes back and takes her daughter away. How creepy is that ?    And what was the deal with all of those “Lost Boys” and why were they all  living with a flying cross dresser and a tiny fairy, whom in the play was portrayed by a flashlight  ? The whole thing was quite unsettling and I would be somewhat filled with an unknown dread for a few nights after watching it. It would be hard for me to sleep and I did not know why.

 

The sexual connotations of Barrie’s work have now been described for many years, so I gather that what I was probably really scared of was growing up myself. As Wendy entered puberty and Peter continued to deny it (other than swooping in every few years and stealing  a female member of the Darling family) we all saw the advantages of youth and , of course, that’s what Pan was, the spirit of youth. Perhaps I was not so much disturbed by the play as its underlying theme. Or perhaps Cyril Ritchard, as Captain Hook was just a very bad actor and I was acting as a critic, unaware. Richard badly damaged the production, just as the voice of Hans Conried (the fabled Uncle Tonoose) enriched the Disney production. A singularly uncreepy version of the story, and one my daughter adored.

 

In the end we all grow up, some more than others. I had not seen Martin flying around the stage for a good many years. It helped me remember what it was like before I grew up and used to watch her on my parents old T.V. set. It was interesting seeing her again, but I think that will be the last time I go back there.

 

 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Saving Your Skin

My mother called me at work yesterday to let me know that she felt that I was not getting enough magnesium. I will admit that I had not thought about the magnesium content of my body that day or actually, ever. To placate her and to keep out of arguments I am going to start eating some almonds so that I can honestly report my efforts. Magnesium makes up 0.05 % of the human body. Maybe I can get it up to 0.06 % without magnesium overload. Anything for mom.

 

There are a lot of  other elements in the human body, potassium, zinc, sulfur, chlorine, iron and a number of others. I don’t give them much thought either. Then after my mom called, the news ran a story about 130 people losing their sense of smell and taste from swabbing or spraying zinc up their nose in an attempt to fight off colds. That one did get my attention, I eat those little candy, zinc laden things anytime I feel a cold coming on. I don’t think that they have shown any issue with those, but I would not have been adverse to a zinc spray if I thought it would help. Now I know better. It is a rough enough life for those of us who can smell and taste, losing forty % of your senses would  make it that much rougher. There is a reason that they add smell to the natural gas which comes into your home. It is so that when you smell it, you call the gas company and do not start burning candles in that room. If you do that, you lose the other three senses in pretty short order.

 

Every year some scientist will release the total value of the human body (if broken down and sold). This value is actually very understated because it does not take into account such things as selling your blood, your eggs if you are a woman (thousands),your sperm if you are a man (anywhere from $50-$200 ), or the big jackpot, a black market kidney  ($3,00 street value, up to $85,000 retail in the Philippines). In any event, the sum total of the human body’s chemical worth (subject to variance in the commodities market) was close to a buck. In the last few years the value of the body has skyrocketed to $4.50 because the Japanese have found a better way to extract skin. You have about $3.50 worth of that. It won’t be long before we can get a human being’s worth up to $5.00 (barring a collapse in the price of iron).

 

I am not sure if sun damaged skin is worth less than skin carefully protected from ultra violet rays,  but  I would think so,. Just another reason to use sun screen, although over the course of your life you’d have to pay more than $3.50 for sun screen, so I guess it is not a business model that is going to get you rich. Plus, you really can’t live without your skin and it is hard to sell it a few pieces at a time. What you are basically doing is creating an inheritance of $3.50 for your heirs. I’ll give my daughter the shirt off my back, but I’d just as soon keep the skin on my back for now.

 

I guess another thing that people sell is hair. I don’t know what the going rate for hair is now. Again, it might depend on not only the quantity but the color or quantity. I’m not going to get much of an offer for my gray. In the 1960s there was a rumor that Revlon would pay up to $10 for your fingernails. That turned out to be false, although a number of people grew very  long nails in reliance on a pay day ($10 went a lot further in those days).I don’t know of any value for nails either finger or toe, at the present time.

 

All in all, it is easier to make money with your body than by selling it off. In fact, the only really good value out of a sale of people parts  is for selling the soul. That happens all the time.  Of course,  that may have consequences of its own.

 

 

 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How Many Times Can You Say I'm Sorry ?

All three major network’s were simultaneously running stories on their morning shows about” little Kylie” or Little Kylie’s mother, or something , so  I changed the channel. I don’t follow these tragic disappearance/ murder stories and could not tell you the first thing about that one. While the tragedy of these stories is unspeakable, it upsets me that the national media will pick out one story on child murder to follow when children are being killed  or allowed to die ,for no reason, around the globe every day. They just don’t happen to be cute (or white) by American standards and so they die unmourned by us and uncovered by our media.

 

I turned over to that Fox cable morning show which usually gets my blood boiling. Before their story on Kim Khardashian announcing that she has cellulite and is unashamed ,complete with pictures (honest to God, that was the story) they ran a sequence on David Letterman.

 

Letterman is in trouble  for telling a tasteless joke about the Governor of Alaska’s daughter being “knocked up” in the 7th inning at Yankee Stadium by Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez (former Madonna lover). Everyone knew that Letterman was talking about Palin’s oldest daughter who has an unplanned pregnancy last summer. But that daughter was not at the game, the 14 year old was, so Palin got to say that Letterman had told a sick joke. It was not meant as a sick joke, it was meant as a tasteless joke to make fun of an 18 year old girl who can’t defend herself. So Letterman sort of apologized and then one of his major sponsors dropped him so her really apologized last night. This morning, some of the “really pissed off” are saying that the apology was not good enough, which is crazy, the apology was fine. The timing of the apology was lousy and it thus might seem (or even be) insincere.

 

I like Letterman and was watching his show when he told the joke. I was taken aback and thought he had gone too far (although I did laugh). Once you have raised a daughter your view about such things changes. But, taste aside, the joke was funny, managing to make fun of three people at one time, Palin, her daughter and Alex. I am fine with making fun of Palin and Alex. I laughed at his mention that Palin was shopping to upgrade her “slutty flight attendant look”. I just think these celebrity kids should be off limits. I can think of 100 jokes which are funny, i.e. they would get a laugh, but would never be told because they are tasteless or mean spirited toward the innocent.

 

The nation changed during the O.J. Simpson trial, murder jokes or jokes with two people’s murder underlying them were told each night by Leno and Letterman. I doubt very much that the victim’s families got  a big charge out of them, but everyone else laughed. If you can laugh about the brutal murder of two people, I guess there is not much else that is off limits. Maybe Helen Keller jokes will make a comeback, maybe we will finally start seeing some decent cancer jokes or get a good laugh out of the Holocaust.

 

It was not so long ago that Don Imus was run off for telling a tasteless joke and my reaction in this blog was “don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out Don.” Of course, I did not care for Imus, and like Letterman a great deal so I am hypocritical enough not to call for his ouster. I think that it is O.K. to be inconsistent as long as you can stand up and admit it. Then when you read this blog you know going in that you are reading the words of a hypocrite and you can decide for yourself whether it is worth your time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blowing Smoke

Tobacco is a dirty weed,

I like it.

It satisfies no normal need,

I like it.        Penn State University Literary Magazine, 1915

 

Word now reaches us that the FDA may be within weeks of finally getting the power to regulate tobacco. That strange substance which, since the creation of the Food and Drug Administration has been neither food nor drug and thus, difficult to regulate (although the Tobacco Companies probably don’t agree that it has been that difficult).

 

It is going on thirty nine years since the Marlboro Man rode across the television screens, the “Kool” penguin lit up  or Winston tasted good like a cigarette should. Base on current trends in advertizing of drugs I think that the FDA should bring cigarettes back to television. Now that you have to warn of side effects of drugs on commercial, the cigarette warning would cause even the most faithful smoker to drop the habit. Imagine two guys out on a boat fishing. First Guy reaches into his shirt pocket and says, “Damn, I’m  out of cigarettes. “  Guy 2 reaches for his pack of Lucky Strikes (is that one still around ?) and says “Here, try one of mine, they’re great, but you ought to know that the surgeon general of the United States says that they will reduce your life expectancy  by 14 years because of damage to your lungs and heart. In a lot of cases you will start with emphysema ,making it difficult for you to breath and that will affect your everyday life. After awhile, as your lungs blacken, you will develop severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or ” COPD” as  my Pulmonologist called it when he prescribed my first oxygen tank. “ (here, Guy 2 is shown adjusting the nose piece leading down to his tackle box which is full of fishing lures and a large silver oxygen canister which he begins to pat lovingly).

 

“Thanks”  says guy one, lighting up and trying to avoid the oxygen tube. “Say” he says,” you are right, these are great .” Guy 2 then continues, “Finally, there is a significant chance that you will contract lung cancer which will probably kill you after a long wait on the lung transplant list since both of your lungs will be ruined, your larynx destroyed and you will be talking and smoking through a small hole in your throat. “  “I bet Joan would like these.” says Guy 1, blowing smoke rings out to sea. ” I’m sure that she would, “ says Guy Two, “ and even if she did not, she and all of your kids would be exposed to secondary smoke, putting them at additional risk for all sorts of diseases and disorders.”

“Great “says Guy 1,” I’ll pick some up after we finish.”   “Why wait ?” said Guy 2, staring the outboard. “That was my last one that I gave you and I am getting shaky without one for myself” He attempts to yell this but is plunged into a coughing fit as the two head toward shore.

 

The problem with  everyone giving up smoking is that the added life expectancy of the American people would add untold burdens to our nation as Social Security payments and Medicare reimbursements went up to account  for the 14 extra years all the smokers would live, see Rand Corporation and Congressional Research Service studies and testimony. It would probably cause your private health insurers to raise their rates astronomically because it is cheaper to let someone die than to care for them for those additional 14 years of life. On the other hand, it would lower your life insurance and even car insurance premiums significantly. All in all, the national health system simply can’t afford for everyone to stop smoking. Indeed, in the current health care crisis, there is a very fine argument for lowering life expectancy, so that we can continue to live with some degree of health care security. As H.L. Menken once said, “raising life expectancy is not necessarily a benefit to society.”

 

So, I hope that the FDA thinks all of this through before launching an invigorated crusade against the “Devil’s weed”. Let’s keep all of this  a secret between you and me. As long as you and I don’t smoke, it will be cheaper in the long run ,for us ,if everyone else does.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tased and confused

I have gotten out of the habit of commenting on news items, the original reason I started doing this blog. But the tasing (some say tasering) of the now famous  4’ 11”, foulmouthed and angry 72 year old woman, in my own county of Travis, was too much to ignore.

Let me begin by saying that I am decidedly pro taser. That is because I am so anti-gun. The idea of being like Captain Kirk and setting a phaser on stun, thereby immobilizing, but not killing, your opponent has great appeal to me. I have never had a gun, but if a taser was worth anything I might buy one of those.  I am told by my hunter friends that a taser is not worth a damn because the bad guy has time to shoot you when you have nothing but  a slow moving taser, and you can’t fire them across the room. They advise me to get a gun, which I will never do. They need to understand that the odds of my killing myself or someone else in my house getting killed by a gun I  may own are astronomically larger than the odds of someone breaking into my house with a gun and  shooting me.

 

The question confronting us is whether this particular  270 pound constable should have tased the 72 year old lady, because the law does not allow him to bitch slap her, which was really the appropriate response to her behavior. We have all seen these old ladies, usually in line at a convenience store buying beer, cigarettes and lotto tickets. In small doses they are quite amusing, although their appeal wears out quickly. They get away with a lot that a man or a younger woman would not get away with. In this case the old lady, a.k.a. Ms. Katherine Winkfein, was doing 60 in a construction zone on Highway 71, the highway of death around these parts. That’s fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit and under Texas law, speeding in a construction zone calls for doubling any fine. I don’t know what set her off, but she was quite abrasive the minute she pulled over.

 

The big problem I have is that the Constable’s office (geez, you knew that it would be a constable and not a real cop) said that she emerged from her car. I don’t see how that could be when the tape clearly shows him opening her door, right  before he shoved her (“to keep her out of the highway”). I suppose that he could have chosen to take her arm and move her back, but let us judge not. It was the shoving which really set Ms. Winkfien off, as it might have set me off, but I’m a lot more afraid of fat constables than  is Ms. Winkfein. The cursing of the constable was a bad idea (that and her telling the news media that she never cursed him).Once you have been shoved by a constable it is good to be still for awhile.

 

One thing I know for sure, the old lady did not want to sign the  ticket. What most people don’t know is that a ticket is given to you in lieu of an arrest and that you have to sign it in order to show that you understand that you have to report to a Judge later. Many people think that signing a ticket is a sign that you are guilty or, that you at least approve of what is going on. I’m pretty sure that’s what Ms. Winkfein thought. After she had been shoved ,she said that she would not  sign the ticket, or perhaps the “fucking ticket” was the way she expressed herself, and then, for some reason, things broke down again, leading up to the electronic violence.

 

On the constable’s side of the scales of justice, he did tell her about half a dozen times that she would be tased if she did not start to cooperate, and she never did. So he tased her. Twice. Once when she appeared to be lying on the grown. The taser company explicitly warns you against tasing the elderly, perhaps shooting them with bullets is a better option. I am sure that the  constable did not want to be seen on tape wrestling Winkfein to the ground, or perhaps he just felt that he could not take her. The taser may have been his only option.

 

So the great debate has started, one on which I believe reasonable minds can differ. Did she deserve the jolt ? The second jolt ? the problem with the issue is that “deserving a punishment” should not always equal getting it. If Ms. Winkfein had been, say, 85 years old, she could have done the same thing and no one would have dared draw on her. If she’d been a 25 year old man, no one would be complaining very loudly. In fact, here in Austin, we’d have been relieved that he was not shot and killed. If this had happened at a retirement village, like Sun City, about 25 miles away, the constable would have been too intimidated by the elderly gangs to pull the trigger. So much in life depends upon timing and chance.

 

I will say that I would not have done this. I don’t think a traffic offense is worth the danger. I would have found her address and sent someone over later to arrest her, once she had calmed down a bit. Of course, I have never been a cop, or even a constable. It is easy to make calls regarding shocking , mutilating and potentially killing  senior citizens, members of  the “Greatest Generation”, when you sit in the air conditioned comfort of a downtown Austin building. I am not out on those mean streets, fighting the hoodlum grannies day after day, not to mention the wild nights after the Social Security check are mailed out. What do I know ? Not much, but that has never stopped me from having a strong opinion.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Senior News

While checking my blood pressure over at the CVS (only borderline hypertension) I picked up a copy of the Waco based publication “Senior News”. While generally aimed at those 65 and over, it was astounding how many of the articles I found riveting. Would Medicare buy in work for those under 65 ? Well that’s aimed right at me ! I’m all for it. Why ?  Because a story back on page 17 says that Medicare recipients give their health care services higher marks than private health insurance recipients. Now, I assume that some of that is because of the rather huge disparity in Medicare and health insurance payments. If you don’t pay much, you don’t expect much. If you pay a lot, you don’t expect much, but you reserve the right to be really pissed off about it.

 

Page 18 contained a fascinating story about slot machines. This is amazing. Last year in Las Vegas,25% of all slot machine revenue came from the penny machines. Now I don’t want to seem like too much of a snob, especially since I don’t gamble at all, but how much fun can it be to sit around a loud casino in Las Vegas with a big cup of pennies plowing them, one after another, into a slot machine ? The author of this gem interviewed Cora Logan of Kansas City (72) who spent her 42nd anniversary at the Isle of Capri in Kansas City playing the penny slots. “It’s all just for recreation” she explained. How boring must it be in Kansas City to have to go over to the Isle of Capri and drop pennies down a slot ? Well, much to my surprise, Cora was up $100 at the time of the interview after spending only three hours of her anniversary at the machine (so far). With these penny bets she’d have to make 10,000 more drops for the casino to break even (5,000 if she was doing the more risky two cent slots).

 

The humor page was not bad. Although its placement next to a rather depressing Alzheimer’s story seemed to me a layout error. There was a story on how to survive a move (presumably into assisted living). “never hire a mover who insists on a cavity search before leaving the premises.” I certainly y agree with that. Then there was a long joke about an octogenarian who had trouble getting out of sand traps.

 

A disproportionate number of stories were “memory” ,or lack thereof, stories. There were web sites for improving memory which I would give you, but I’ve forgotten them (that’ s a little senior humor). The best story was about the Four Corners area out west where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. People drive there to  take pictures of themselves shaking hands across borders. It turns out that the Four Corners is not actually located at the Four Corners marking, but about 2.5 miles west of  where we thought it was. All of those pictures you took ? Useless !

 

One of the things that does freak you out about the newspaper is their reprinting of 50 year old stories. You are reading along and suddenly realize that Price Daniel is not the Governor of Texas and so could not recently have christened the first Texas submarine , the oddly named Turtle II. One cannot help but wonder about Turtle I. The sub can be seen today at a Corsican welding shop, or at least could have been in 1958.

 

there’s more and more, managing postmenopausal osteoporosis, warnings to nursing home patients not to let the home take away your $250 government stimulus check, and the final nail in the coffin of the old myth that acid reflux disease is related to asthma. Many or the stories look much like the drivel seen in this blog on a daily basis, which is perhaps why I enjoyed the paper so much. It just seemed so familiar, although I never wrote a story about the new American Society of Aging Clearing House for resources for senior gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT). This story  had the following critical finding; “the oldest LBGT people, those in their 80s and beyond remain largely invisible. “ That has been my experience, but stories like this can help get great grandpa out of the closet. All in all, this is a great read. Pick one up wherever geriatrics congregate, or just follow me over to the free CVS blood pressure machine.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Picking Peaches

As the swallows return to Capistrano, the Porters return to Stonewall each summer for peach season. Stonewall, which is in Gillespie County, about an hour from our house, grows the finest peaches in the country. No one is even a strong second. All summer long ,one variety after another ripens and you can make several trips during any given summer to purchase peaches, peach jam,, peach butter, peach preserves, peach cobbler, peach pie and peach ice cream, (frozen or soft serve).

 

But now and then, and it seems more often lately, a late freeze will ruin the crop. I ran into a friend of mine from Gillespie county a few weeks ago and he told me that the crop would be lean this year because of a late freeze. They may as well have canceled summer, what’s the sense in going on now except for watermelons and tomatoes ? But, ever hopeful Rayda, in trying to pull me out of a blue funk, suggested yesterday that me drive to Stonewall.

 

I once had a peach tree. It conveyed with a home we owned for awhile. Virtually every year I would get me hopes up for a great harvest. One year I even succeeded. But it is hard to fight the birds for the peaches. I tried everything, nets, little plastic black cats which I hung from the tree, nothing worked, except for that one magical year when the birds left us alone. Perhaps there was some kind of bird flu going around or perhaps there were just better things to eat that year. At any rate, it never happened again, which was too bad, they were good peaches. Not Gillespie county good, but pretty good for your backyard.

 

I think that the real reason that Rayda wanted to go to Stonewall is so that we could stop in Johnson City and eat at the Silver K Café. The Silver K replaced the Country Cupboard (or maybe it’s the Kountry Kubbard ) as our “go to" Johnson City eatery couple of years ago when we asked a young girl behind the counter what kind of pie was sitting there. She poked it and pulled out a finger, pronouncing it “apple”. So much for the Country Cupboard.

 

The Solver K is a little fancy for Johnson City, they even have a Sunday brunch with a carving station  and serve wine. But we can’t hold that against them and at least they don’t poke their pies, that we know of. We eschewed (gesundheit) the brunch for lighter repast so as not to slow us down as we entered peach country a little later.

 

As we drove into Stonewall we saw one of our usual haunts virtually empty. The large open warehouse where the peach machines tumble the peaches into peach boxes for shipping to your favorite grocery store was not working. No fruit seemed available. “I don’t like the looks of this” I muttered, and drove on. The next orchard, another favorite, at least had some people out selling something. In peach season it’s all hands on deck for the peach farmer’s family. Traditionally dad and grandpa greet the customers and there is always a young teen out helping, looking like she would rather be at the mall. Inside is the wife who is in charge of the ice cream, baked goods and jams. I saw dad and a teen, maybe Grandpa died, although the old Germans who own these places seem to live forever. Especially the mean ones, of which there are a few. We exited the car and approached the stand.

 

There before me were several boxes of peaches for sale, but right away I knew that something was amiss, and that what was amiss were Gillespie County peaches. I looked the farmer hard in the eye. “Those are not from your orchard are they ?” I asked.” No sir”, he admitted, “we had a freeze, those are Mexia peaches.” He looked sheepish, I’m sure that it is a humbling experience for a Stonewall farmer to sell Mexia peaches. Now your Mexia peach is not a bad peach, as compared to a Georgia or California peach, peaches which are grown for their size and showiness to display better at  your local Safeway. I’m sure that people in California and Georgia enjoy their peaches because they have been provided anything better. I’m sure that people in Vermont eat something they think is barbeque. But it is not the real thing. The difference in your Mexia Peach and your Stonewall Peach is like the difference in Filet Mignon and Hamburger. Both are good, but only one is memorable. The best thing about your Mexia peach is that they ripen earlier and so you can buy them by May and have something to remind you of how much you are going to enjoy the real thing in a couple of weeks. For some reason it never freezes in Mexia.

 

Well, we bought some Mexia peaches, for the same reason I buy books at an independent bookstore, in hopes that I can stave off the day when every bookstore will be Barnes and Noble. Someday all of these Germans (most likely the ones who are teenagers now) will realize how much easier life is if you sell an orchard as a going concern to Delmonte or whoever the hell owns peach orchards these days. Then you can move to Austin and live like the rest of us do. One step removed from the soil. We bought some tomatoes and some blackberries and even had some ice cream although we were told that it was made from Peach Butter and not fresh peaches. It tasted a little cinnamony and did not have the fresh flavor of the real thing. We drove back less than saddened because we had at least done our part to keep Stonewall going.

 

It was not all in vain. The farmer assured me that about July 15, one of the other  varieties would be out, that they had not been destroyed like the others. This gave me hope to hold onto , a better day was coming.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Tunes of Glory

“Whisky, for the gentlemen who like it, and for the gentlemen who don’t like it…Whisky !” Alec Guinness as Jock Sinclair, “Tunes of Glory”, 1960

 

 

Next year will be the fiftieth anniversary of the Ronald Neame film “Tunes of Glory”. A well received, but strangely forgotten portrayal of the destruction of two competing  Colonels of a Scottish regiment following World War II, both  from the same Island, but different worlds. In viewing the film last night it struck me as to how much has changed in our world view since 1948 and indeed, since 1960.

 

We barely think in terms of class now, at least not to the extent we used to. Class structure in 1948 was still pretty well built into society. It began to crack in England, where it practically started, and still survives to some extent, after the 1945 Labour party victory. It is hard for one to know ones “place” if one is running the country. Popular culture  generally now flows counter to what it did for the previous  several hundred years. In 1765, popular culture flowed from the top down, today, when it is not flowing from the bottom up, it at least flows from the middle up. It was not the rich who invented hip-hop, nor made Tweeter a phenomena. The rich did not establish (although they may have thought of) fast food restaurants or wearing your pants so low that you trip over them as you walk. The stratification of society by order of class has changed, as it has by order of race or sex. All of these changes have taken place within the lifetimes of millions of people who are alive today. Putting aside passing phases, such as the French Revolution, the last century has brought more changes in the structure of society than any other time in recorded history.

 

Is life better because it is fairer ? That is what my philosophy of life has been premised on. Does that mean people are happier ? I really think not. Happiness is relative in any society. Just because I have a high definition T.V. set does not mean I am any happier than the fellow who had only a crystal radio set. I may well not be any happier than the fellow today who has only a small black and white set. Justice, as Rawls would say, is fairness, not happiness. Is the world today broken because of consumer societies striving  for a happiness which can never be attained through the accumulation of wealth and ignoring those things which might truly make us happy ? Really, is happiness a legitimate end in itself, or just  a simpler and less sophisticated way to look at life ? But if happiness is not the end result of a well lived life, what is ? What if the pursuit of Justice makes you miserable as some  might believe was Mother Teresa’s lot, if one examines her diaries ? The founders of monotheistic religions put great emphasis on this pursuit of Justice, outside of one’s self. The Eastern religions seem to turn inward to a peace which is not so much happiness as contentment with your situation. That is why Tibet has no Disney World, and may also be why they find themselves autocratically ruled. Yet there is a nagging suspicion in many of us, maybe all of us, that their approach to life may be fundamentally correct, where as ours is the culture of pigs.

 

In these musings I have tried not to venture into the supernatural, I am not talking about striving for heaven or nirvana, although I realize that it is just such concepts which create a culture. I simply want to say that the final “triumph of the  masses” ,which is the short sighted way in which Marx described this evolutionary sweep ,may well not change the total sum of human happiness at all. What will be our final tune of glory? For those who like it, whisky ! For those who don’t like it, whisky ! We just need to figure out what Whisky really means.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Moment of Zen

When I was a teenager I used to love to go watch baseball games at the Houston Astrodome, but I had little money. After a time I invented a way to get the best seats in the stadium for fifty cents. The park charged 50 cents for people under twelve. My brother, who was under twelve, would go buy these tickets for my friends and I while we held back out of sight. We would enter the stadium and walk over to  a metal mesh fence which hung  about fifteen feet high, suspended from the ceiling. Next to the fence was an opening to enter and  a no nonsense  guard in a suit and tie who checked everyone’s ticket as you walked past (to make sure that you were not some proletariat trying to sneak into the good seats).

 

There was a bathroom next to this guard that attached to a bathroom on the expensive side of the stadium. The bathroom walls only went up about seven or eight  feet and the rest of the separation between the two men’s rooms was made up of  metal chains which reached to the bathroom ceiling. If you stood on top of the toilet in the last stall in one bathroom, you could hand a ticket through the chains to someone standing at the toilet in the bathroom on the other side.

 

I had once sat in some very expensive seats at this stadium (purchased by an Uncle) and had kept the ticket stub. I would give the stub to my brother who would flash it to the guard at the fence and walk through (the guard never checked dates, just ticket colors and Clay looked too young to be pulling a scam).My brother would then enter the bathroom on the expensive side of the stadium, stand up on the last toilet and pass the stub over to me standing on the toilet on the other side. I would take the ticket, leave the bathroom, walk past the guard flashing the ticket, and walk into the bathroom to join my brother to repeat the process until we were all in.

 

We would then take the escalators to whatever level we desired, once to the press box, the holy of holies, where the TV and newspaper guys worked and ate their free food provided by the ballclub. There were several press level luxury boxes there and once we managed to sneak into a vacant one, grabbing some free hot dogs and locking  the door behind us. After awhile, my friend Dan Harrison tripped over a folding chair, the noise of which seemed to echo throughout the stadium. Within seconds  there was loud knocking and a demand that we “open the door”, which we did. A very short .very young usher, dressed in a polyester blue blazer and holding a walkie talkie stood before us. “”Tickets please ? “ she asked. I handed her my fifty cent ticket. She looked at it, a hint of a sarcastic smile on her face and said, “OK” and walked off.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Self Indulgent Blues

I don’t think that there is any doubt that depression is chemical in origin. Having said that, there is depression and then there is depression. There, I’m sure that clears it up for everyone. What I am focusing on is being able to tell the difference in self indulgence (feeling sorry for yourself) and genuine depression. It is my considered opinion that a lot of people (cough, cough WADE cough) break into self pitying modes as a matter of self indulgence and that that particular cycle, once it gets deep enough, initiates or combines with true depression, deepening the cycle.

 

Only a professional can help you with true depression, but almost anyone  and anything can help you with self indulgence issues. The biggest help is simple human contact and focusing on other issues besides your own poor pitiful life. This sounds so easy, but for some of us, it is quite difficult because what we really want from our self indulgence is to be left alone to , well, self indulge. After John McCain lost the Presidency last year he told several interviewers that he took several days to “feel sorry for himself” and that he had enjoyed it immensely. This sounds strange, how can you enjoy feeling bad ? What McCain was saying is that it had been his choice to be self indulgent and so something within him must have enjoyed it. McCain was not giving himself enough credit, what he was suffering was genuine grief, the inevitable result of losing something that you have worked very hard for. However, McCain was onto something for many of us. Maybe we want to feel bad. I have heard women say that what they really need is a “good cry”. That cry may be cathartic, ending self indulgence before it really gets started. I don’t know. I have never had a really good cry. Tears come to my eyes, but I have never really wept. I guess I have been too busy felling sorry for myself.

 

As  depression is said to be “anger turned inward” I think that self indulgence is unexpressed passive aggressiveness. That’s not much of an insight, but then again, I’m not much of a psychologist. While getting out your anger may help your depression, active passive aggressiveness will do nothing for you except deepen your problem, especially if it is resentment. It may all reduce to pure pettiness. The mark of narcissism. The belief that everything revolves around you and that it is a tragedy when you don’t get whatever you want. I don’t know. If I did I’d write self help books instead of blogs. Are these blogs the ultimate self indulgence ?