Gay on Paper: A Mer-Manifesto

Gay on Paper: A Mer-Manifesto

In 1997 Kevin Kline starred in a film called In & Out. The story is of a heterosexual acting teacher about to marry his sweetheart. When one of his former students wins an Academy Award, his televised acceptance speech drops the well-meaning bomb that Kline’s character is gay. In 1997 this revelation could hush a movie theater and provide an actor of Kline’s comedic talents much opportunity for goggle-eyed scenery-chewing. Not only is Kline’s character emphatically not gay, the televised “mis-outing” comes on the eve of his wedding day to a longtime sweetheart.

His student’s announcement on the most watched television broadcast on Earth comes as a complete surprise to Kline, who initially doth protest too much. Way too much. But slowly he begins to realize his personal tastes, habits, and demeanor are in lock-step with accepted cultural markers for homosexuality. Kline loves Streisand, adores poetry, uses a napkin when he eats, and knows what a split infinitive is. Oh, and he’s driven absolutely mad by having his shirt half-untucked. And so on.

What ensues is a film that wittily but ruinously reinforces what it is to be a straight man, and what exactly it is to be a gay man. When I saw the poster I believed I understood the synopsis, But I’d overestimated both the director, Frank Oz (familiar to Mankind as the voices of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster and Miss Piggy, and of Yoda—Dagobah’s diminutive Jedi blabbermouth), and celebrated gay playwright and screenwriter Paul Rudnick. The self-consciously daring film notably featured a 12 second kiss between raging hetero poster-man Tom Selleck and Kline. Which was just about the only ground broken in this 1997 attempt to tweak retrograde thinking about sexual identity.

Could it be Magic

In the film’s penultimate revelation, Kline’s panicked osterone is tested by a self-help audio course whose voiceover acts as guide and comic foil to Kline’s supposed epiphany. “Truly manly men do not dance” the voiceover assures. When Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem “I Will Survive” starts blaring, of course Kline struggles mightily, but finally can’t override his gay gene and—like Superman succumbing to Kryptonite—begins dancing like a dervish. “Stop shaking that booty!” the announcer commands. “Be a man! Kick someone! Punch someone!”

As social history goes, the film is notable for casting in cheap concrete our collective late-90s wisdom concerning the bright line between gays and straights. Kicking and Punching = Heterosexual Man (today you can add Assaulting). My delusional hope when the film began was that the producers were breaking ground, would end the film with Kline’s revelation—and our own—that many straights also have a fervent love for Streisand (to use a little shorthand here), tear up copiously and often, and laugh uproariously with hands clasped and head thrown back.

In fact, heterosexual men have been known to swoon in romantic settings, sob quietly at “chick flicks”, gyrate to Donna Summer (her version of Manilow’s “Could it Be Magic” – are you freaking kidding?!) and otherwise confuse the gender brand. Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Testosterone, I shall Pause and Gather Wildflowers with Both Arms. I’m talking of course about today’s Mer-Man. And this is only loosely to do with Ethel.

Here Comes Your Man

Am I manly? Oh hell yeah! But not so’s you’d notice. I have hair all over my back, but it is the hair that has fallen screaming from the top of my head. I am not a Sean Connery type who needs to shave his neck every day just to look civil. When I say I shave religiously, I mean once at Easter and once at Christmas.

On the Man side of the ledger, I have a gorgeous sweetheart of a foreign-born wife with whom I have sired two wonderful children. Yes, when in the throes of that procreative ecstasy I probably sounded a lot like Carol Channing being mugged. My vocal register tends toward the girlish, it’s true. When I’m excited or perturbed, I would not sound out of place sternly instructing Dorothy to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”. If I had a dollar for every time a phone solicitor responded to my greeting with “Hello Mrs. Wing!” I could buy and sell you all.

What’s more, I write poetry, am indeed drawn to chick flicks, get a tracheal sob-cramp at every single hearing of Eydie Gorme’s viscera-wrenching version of “If He Walked Into My Life” from Jerry Herman’s musical “Mame”, regard beer as ghastly pre-incarnate urine, am completely mystified by the idea of professional sports, and get fluttery in the presence of Gene Kelly’s happy-faced acrobatic whimsy. On paper I am a gay man. At least as our easy-money pop culture would have it.

Rain-Soaked in Rangoon

But if being gay or straight is technically, if not altogether culturally, decided by sexual preference, I’m as straight as the beeline I made to see a shapely and rain-soaked Patricia Arquette in the otherwise sobering film “Beyond Rangoon”. To this day, the words “Burma” and “Myanmar” inspire in me a feverish excitement that has little to do with my wanting to find the place on a map or delve into its tormented history – and present tense. Those geo-political factoids are best presented by a soaked Patricia Arquette, as director John Boorman no doubt knew.

My unique strain of heterosexual manhood is a golden thread that can be traced back through the misty eons and predates a fully upright gait. My ancient Pliocene ancestor is the hunched, attention-deficient cave dweller who, while out with the tribe’s Hunter-Gatherers simply had to pause to marvel at the wondrous delicacy of the giant leafy Cyathea, and was noisily ingested by a saber-toothed poetry hater.

Chauvinist Straight Guy Warning

Today it’s politically fashionable to pretend that gay men and straight men share an equal footing, but in my view they do not. Possibly these next remarks will draw accusations of “sexism”, but my experience is this, and has been for a long time; wherever you have a gathering of people, the gay guy is typically the warmest, funniest, most easily gregarious, best-looking, and most interestingly dressed man in the room. This may be more straight chauvinism reinforced by a pop culture that anymore posits the gay man as a masterfully scripted wit and bon vivant, but it does seem to me an inescapable truth. Why should this so often be the case? Because (and pardon my ignorance, if that’s what this is) a gay man, like a laudably feminized man, has more of the stuff in him that makes the world go round. Namely: Woman.

To put it plainly, women (very generally speaking) are, in my personal view, more interesting, complex, and full-blooded than their penile counterparts—and the more feminine dynamism a man possesses the better. I’m not talking about presentation. I’m talking about the female geist. A woman is more creative, more emotionally intelligent, more expressive, more rational, more deliberative, more empathetic, and more acutely aware of the so-called “30,000 foot view” than a man. In my considered opinion. Anthropology explains this. “You go out and get food and I’ll hang out back here and make our Lives.”

Empathy. Broadsword. Mer-Man

I (think I) know there is an agitating cohort of women for whom association with the above-mentioned attributes is infuriating, and even considered toxic to the very real and deservedly pissed-off struggle in which women remain engaged today. I think some women consider winning at “empathy” and “creativity” a net loss, at least while men are being elevated as being analytically acute, physically unstoppable, courageous, and better at hefting the all-important broadsword. I get it. “Empathy” isn’t going to get women their absurdly long-awaited equal pay for equal work, nor the systemic respect of our self-stroking man-culture.

But “feminized” men, and females themselves, will ultimately save our bacon. Artists, writers, cinephiles, musicians; all ordinary enlightened empaths and payers-of-attention to quotidian treasure—give me as many of those as you can find. They’re slowly moving the needle.

In Ben Stiller’s screamingly funny male-model sendup, his title character Derek Zoolander—a globally famous, vain, straight, and adorably empty-headed nitwit/care bear—“goes home again” and tries to work with his dad in the family coal mine. Zoolander of course develops an effete little cough after a single day in the mines (“..I think I have the black lung, Pop…”).

After work, a lavishly produced moisturizer ad appears on the big screen t.v. in the company bar, Derek Zoolander swimming sinuously with an Esther Williams fish tail and murmuring: “…moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty…”. The gathered mine workers laugh derisively. Zoolander’s father is likewise disgusted. “I just thank the lord your mother didn’t live to see her son as a mermaid!” Zoolander corrects him. “Mer MAN!” *cough* — *cough* “Mer MAN!”

May they save us all.

###

 

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Personal Space: The Final Frontier

melkweg

And one other thing; how to walk down the main street of one’s home town without blanching in horror at glimpsed scenes of seemingly ordinary people getting pedicures? Pedicures? Leave aside the timeworn First World/Third World shame reflex. “I mean, in some parts of the world people have no FOOD and here we are managing our CUTICLES and having our shins DEPILATED.” Listen, I’ll see your filthy limbless beggar in Calcutta and raise you one bored, well-off, recumbent shopping maven having her calves massaged as she flips stone-faced through the latest issue of Tipsy Showbiz Toddler. Limbless Beggar; take me away from here!

And yet…and yet. We’re fascinated by grotesquerie, aren’t we? Mesmerized by the morbid? Compelled by the creepy, hesitantly hippity-hopping in the vicinity of the hideous? I’m drawn inexorably to the pedicure mystery, like a fly is drawn to a really good-looking other fly. In awe of the toenail-centric rituals whose imaginings torment my waking hours, I’m sometimes able to work up the courage to sneak a peek through the doorway of one of these pedicure ‘establishments’ as I pass by at a nervous trot. What I have seen, people! As William Shatner demonstrated in the classic ‘Horror at 37,000 Feet’ (not to be confused with his Twilight Zone episode at a mere 20,000 feet some 10 years earlier), a spiritual abyss merely glimpsed is sometimes sufficient to paralyze the visage in a silent but otherwise powerfully over-acted scream.

What I have seen, I say! My brave investigative forays have revealed to me such scenes of spirit-breaking horror as one expects when gazing on the flaming canyons of the damned. Sound the Mission bells! Fetch the holy water and give me a quick shot! Bring me some rotary beads or whatever those things are called! I have seen row upon row of the penitent; supine, eyes closed, pants and skirts hitched up, feet trapped in whirring little machines while throngs of smallish chattering foot-folk hover busily about the lower legs, fussing and plucking and kneading, kneading KNEADING; a Personal Space Blitzkrieg that beggars the imagination YES!

Um, yes. I have intimacy issues. Yes yes yes. I would rather have a fulsome bee beard go angrily wrong than suffer a stranger placing his/her/its hands on my body for purposes of rubbing, knuckling, or doing that two-handed chopping thing I saw once on the Bob Newhart show. Begone professional comfort-wielder with your portable metal table, chipper demeanor and slightly botched dreamcatcher tattoo. Hit the road, foot-handling hellion. And you, muumuu-filling Earth Woman friend of a friend, who at the dinner party approaches in a cloud of patchouli and would massage my temples if only I would stop making like a terrified weasel with the wide eyes and pursed, scream-suppressing lips. Healer, your touch catalyzes in me the shrinkage of many parts and appendages. You want to relax me? You want to repair my troubled soul? Go over there. Way over there. Little further. Okay, that’s good. Now fold up your lil’ aluminum ping-pong table and get out.

I’ll be the first to admit it; I’m unenlightened. A Californian in name only. I’m unnerved by your Groovy Empath friend and his de rigueur 4 minute hug. Why are his eyes squeezed shut like that? And when I release, shouldn’t he? And huggers who solemnly flutter their eyelids and say “C’mere”, or “C’mere, you” while gesturing you closer with waggling, ringed fingers? Huh uh. On the other hand I’m totally cool with an orgy as long as nobody looks at me or touches me or cracks wise about my argyle tube sock. I get enough grief about the argyle from my wife, so lay off. I have rules – too many rules, some would say. “Why the sock? Always the sock!” My wife says. Oh yeah? What of it! That’s what…..of it.

The pedicure may be the nadir of legally-sanctioned, comfort-seeking personal zone annulment, but here’s a close second; those massage places that roll out the face-down padded chair and invite sidewalk passerby to press their frontsides into maroon vinyl and be molested in broad daylight while visiting Japanese and Belgian tourists stare in slack-faced wonder. You sir? The hipster masseuse pivots, points to me; my viscera twist like a wet towel. Me? Oh, please, yes! This’ll be great! Shall I just lie down and press my face into this padded vinyl hemorrhoid donut? Right here? Is this good? Can you touch enough of me? Is enough of my back available to your invasive stranger hands? Can everyone see? Gather round, good people! Gather round, I say! Don’t be shy. Take a close look! You’ll like this, because in about 90 seconds I’m going to turn completely inside out in a fit of otherworldly revulsion. Like an inkfish. Woo Hoo! Massage THAT, soul-patch guy.

We’re desperate for comfort in this town, and in our cash-soaked Western World generally. I mean, desperate! Acupuncture, Rolfing, our collective glad surrender to occasional woodland episodes of extraterrestrial anal probing – these are the signs of socio-structural stress. Santa Barbara alone sports dozens of pleasure domes and they run the gamut from Evan’s Relaxing Station to the thrillingly named Center for Lymphatic Health. Why? Where’s the stress? What was the tipping point? Was it the closure of the Stanley Kubrick Macaroon Shop and its brilliantly overlit single smocked attendant? Earthquake jitters? The fear that your neighbor may own a nicer 100-year-drought shower-bucket? Let’s relax, people. If we stop offering these flesh-and-foot-grabbers our patronage they will likely gather up their sapphire files, pumice mittens and vibrating love bullets and head on to the next little town willing to buy their outlandish snake oil. Go ahead, fools. Step right up and let them rub your shoulders, your arms! Let these charlatans rub the back of your fool necks! Sure, that’ll make you feel better. Oh a little deep tissue massage oughta feel pretty good. Oh, for goodness sake!

I must conclude with a true and horrific story of Personal Space Invasion. For a time I was writing sporadically for a magazine called Healing Retreats and Spas. Incredibly, my gig was going to day spas, receiving the treatments offered and reviewing the experience for the magazine. How I managed this I’m not sure, but it was a writing job and that was everything. That is, until the day I was sent into the Spa Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken, in the L.A. area. When I arrived and introductions seen to, I gestured carelessly at a menu item, began with a bracing swim and segued into a hot sauna. Finally I was shown to a plain, unadorned room, where a fastidious little man in Cambodian casual bade me remove my towel and lie down. Ever the professional, I did as I was told. It was then he produced a large metal pitcher and poured hot milk slowly over my body, from toes to scalp, and proceeded to massage my quickly mummifying carapace. Any curious security camera shooting from directly above would have recorded a stock-still, mortified nude man with the pin-eyed panic-face and fluttering thorax of a hard-breathing gecko making its fight-or-flight preparations, his lithe and quick-moving tormentor scuttling around him with arthropod fussiness and working the victim/client as a crab might its recent catch.

After an eternity of whole-milk drenched mortification and the not inconsiderable kneading of the expressionless little guy in his white button-up Phnom-Pen blouse, I was released to shower, dress and interview my hosts in a stunned murmur. When I finally made my way out to the parking lot and my car I concentrated fiercely on not breaking into a run. It was then I spotted my masseuse. He was sitting at the edge of the lot in a lawn chair under a shade tree, smoking a cigarette, regarding me carefully through narrowed eyes. I’m sure I needn’t add the whole episode was incredibly relaxing.

Milk. It doesn’t always do a body good. You have been warned.

 

*Jeff  writes the column State Street Scribe for the Santa Barbara Sentinel – where an ineptly edited print version of this particular piece can be found this week.

SB Sentinel, Volume 3/Issue 18/Sept 6-20. Page 33

And the Bland Played On

And the Bland Played On

Nordie boycotters, Prancing “Patriots”, Freedom Fakes, Primacy of the Individual Phonies and Constitutional Amendment Scholars; your Russia loving, Kristen-Stewart-obsessed comb-over experiment is not a change agent—he is a world-sized diaper filled to the brim with publicly steaming crap. In six short weeks your diarrheic lightweight has already stunk up your beloved country so badly we’re going to have to tear out the carpets to get the smell out. At this writing our chronically squinty Pres is massively expanding his deportation mechanism in order to keep America safe. But who will protect us from Trump? Nobody. This has stopped being funny. This isn’t despotism, isn’t machiavellianism, isn’t even runaway narcissism. It’s plain Amateurism on a Godzilla scale that challenges descriptive language.

Peece in Our Time

I went to a speaking event at Campbell Hall this week where a couple of scholarly heavyweights, David Makovsky & Ghaith al-Omari, had a public discussion on the Israeli/Palestinian peace process in light of signals coming out of the Trump White House. These guys have each been on their respective negotiating teams since the 90s; they have granular knowledge of the process and the U.S.’s history as a broker.

They are also dear friends and articulate, witty spokespersons for the nuances of their respective sides of that seemingly endless process. They were both at pains to describe, in non-inflammatory terms, the vacuum of direction coming out of the White House, and Trump’s public remarks. They both referred fleetingly (and with faces bowed) to Trump’s apparent determination to put his son-in-law at the head of the negotiating table in future talks and—oh, wait…hang on, here comes Danny Kaye.

I’m looking at One State and Two State, and..I like the one that both parties like,”

Yea, Verily, Yea. President Trump actually said that. He’s done his homework, you gotta give him that. No contemptible pointy-headed intellectualism evident in this humanoid twine doll.

Paging Dr. Kozinski. You’re Needed in the Oval Office, Dr. Kozinski

Trump’s dry-drunk press conferences, indecipherable pronouncements, impulsive and cavalier covert operations, middle-school lexicon, frank, blinding stupidity and unexplained Russophilia  are more than a problem for columnists to gab about at the National Watercooler. The guy is an unfolding national and historical tragedy.

Though there is very very slow-moving evidence that the country is beginning to see into the maw of our common abyss, we’re still approaching the matter of our new “Leader”as if he is a Bad President in the standard mold. If only. He is as global and sobering a disaster as a tsunami on Christmas Day.

The NY Times, the WSJ—all the venerables, really—while continuing with their austere, clipped mockery of this eye-poppingly inept thumbelina, still parsed his ‘Israel Statement’ for clues to his approach to Mideast peace. What are we all doing, pretending this way? He can’t find Israel on a map or his ass with both hands. He doesn’t know anything and doesn’t want to learn anything. He’s going to smash the place up and not even know it. There is no malice. There is no anything.

The optimistic view is that Trump is merely an intellectual gnome and can be guided. It’s becoming clear, though, that he is in fact either damaged, drug-blunted, or suffering from some sort of chronic mental deficit. Honestly. And he waves off guidance. Can we all begin calling him out? He is not a conservative, not a racist, not a white supremacist, not an anti-semite, not a containable bad guy. He’s an extraordinary empty suit on roller skates with two machine guns. Maybe earning billions by putting up skyscrapers in Dubai isn’t that hard? Who knew?

Wanton Moron Gets a Press Pass

I personally believe Trump is deranged along some DSM continuum, and that this is an unfolding historical emergency. Meanwhile we snicker angrily at his “cabinet” appointments, bitch about his “racism”, “misogyny” and “anti-semitism”, feel only garden-variety embarrassment about his 5th Grade Class Treasurer statesmanship. The whole media mechanism is stunned into bland repose.

Trump is an historical accident so huge and tragic and ruinous we can scarcely bring ourselves to face and discuss him in those terms.

“Bill Maher Just Made a Very Serious Point about the Trump Circus”. There’s a screaming headline. Here’s one from the ever-reliable bait ‘n switch HuffPost. “McCain Unleashes!” What does McCain say in the piece? “…in many respects this administration is in disarray and they’ve got a lot of work to do.” Settle down, former tortured prisoner of the communist NVA. What happened to you, John? Whatever it was, you’ve forgotten it. Your President is on the side of your tormentors. At least until he gets a better real estate deal from the ARVN.

Will you and the other spotted ‘I-forget-what-I-signed-up-for’ jackasses SAVE YOUR COUNTRY? Congress, which famously does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, has an historic opportunity to haul a deranged Tourette’s wrecking ball out of the oval office for the common good. Our legislators will never have been so heroic as the day they cross party lines and drag this shit-for-brains out of the White House before he does lasting damage to the U.S., or worse.

Left-Haters Turn Sharply Left

Yes, the Repubs wanted “ANYTHING BUT HILLARY”. She’s a harpy!  Nobody likes her! Too left-leaning! Her party’s programs are too socialist! She likes too much government! Gotta keep the Pinko Left out of power at any cost!

Hey Tortoise McConnell, Hare Ryan, and all the rest of you a-historical asswipes: your guy is in bed with Russia, Bitch.  Have you lost your minds? Or at least your McCarthy-Lite Decoder Rings? What do you have to say about Trump’s warm feelings toward the President of Russia?! That is, have you closeted everything you used to value? Or is this more of the Republican Heisenberg Principle?

Trump isn’t a troubling bump in the road we have to ride out. He’s a blood-borne illness that we in our Sea-to-Shining-Sea laziness and torpor have self-injected, just to see what happens. The Trump infection could hobble us for a generation, or cost us a limb. Trump is an historical accident so huge and tragic and ruinous we can scarcely bring ourselves to face and discuss him in those terms. He needs to be called out. He is a damaged man and he has the power and raw stupidity and momentum to fuck up the Republic.

Burning Down Your Own Tree House

Shame on our elected furniture on the Hill — “The Right”, the “Conservatives”, or whatever they uselessly call themselves anymore. In the wake of Obama’s term (which thanks to you deafened clods looks more like Camelot with every passing hour, THANK YOU) you angrily sold your souls to get “Any Not a Democrat” into the hen house. Congrats!! Some of you people have worked your entire lives for your ideologically defensible idea of what makes the U.S. a great place. What. Happened.

All your deeply held political philosophy, your veneration of the Individual, of Liberty, of the country’s founding charter – and of Reagan’s facing down the communists across the Berlin Wall—all that party majesty inheres in Donald Trump? You idiots have given away the farm to a shitheel who can’t spell f-a-r-m, and whose bestie is named Vladimir. That’s how desperate you were to have a “Republican” in “Power”?

Save Our Ship

Dear Bland Bastards/Would-Be Leaders—both “Left” and “Right”. Please – FOR ONCE – want something more for the United States of America than simply winning your decades-long ninny argument with the other side of the “aisle”. Please – FOR ONCE – want something more for the United States of America than your useless re-election.

Repubs, if you would really rather have this dumpster fire in office than literally any Democrat, you’ve forgotten everything you’ve ever stood for, everything your country yet stands for, and you need to go home. You are doing harm.

Dumbocrats. PLEASE DO SOMETHING REAL, YOU INCONSEQUENTIAL VAPOR. If there was ever a time that called on you to do something with repercussions beyond your re-election, this is that time.

CONGRESS: PLEASE PLEASE STAND UP. TOGETHER. There won’t be another opportunity like this one to actually find common cause in the salvation of something you love. Storm this barricade and gift us the sea change Trump’s radioactive ascension demands. Reset the whole game. This is that moment. What more do you need as a catalyst?!? An approaching asteroid? You’ve got one! Do the Michael Bey thing and make some history. You’ll save us from a real-time accident of epic proportions while earning the awed respect of an electorate that has grown accustomed to Congress doing ZIP. Write this ticket. This guy is no “Republican” and you know it. This isn’t about politics. At all.

A Lib Confesses

A Lib Confesses

I’m an NPR guy, okay? Yeah, I got beat up by the bike rack in 7th grade, earned my stripes like the rest of my lot – by being ill-advisedly sympathetic at the wrong time (see Homebuilders Association of Northern California versus the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp). The bully, who I’ll here call JK, had kicked poor little big-butt Tony Matthews so hard in the ass during a soccer game in PE, the force had actually lifted Tony off the ground. I’d reacted spontaneously and unwisely, earning my adolescent “Bleeding-Heart-Soy-Based-Bonehead’ creds by briskly hollering at JK and eliciting from him a promise he would meet me after school. “Naw, we don’t hafta meet,” I’d actually said in those first panicked seconds of sobriety, attempting to de-escalate. Think that worked?

Stingray in the Stingray Day

When after last period I went to retrieve my Stingray with its sparkly banana seat and faux-wood-knobbed 3-speed stick shift (litigiously positioned to bludgeon my groin in the event of even the most minor biking mishap), JK was there grasping the handlebars of my beloved. This weasel-faced bully was about half my size and so homely I found myself actually pitying him (see?!) in the seconds before his surprisingly practiced fist introduced itself to my left cheekbone. Could I have taken him? Yeah. I could have taken him for a short run by fleeing like a panicked rag doll. But I knew he and his two minions would quickly catch and thrash me with renewed vigor. That’s right, he was backed up by henchmen, or henchmiddleschoolkids, more precisely, though to me at that moment they looked like grown bruisers with police records. While the two assistants stood in the background smirking with their arms crossed, JK struck me in the head once, twice, Three Times a Lady. There was no ceremony, no verbiage, just a dreamlike minute whose sweep-second hand took its sweet time rounding the face of my cheap ‘takes a licking’ Timex. POW! two three. POW! two three four five six seven……hoo boy glad that’s over the future pessimist exulted…..POW!!!

The blows fell with a stunning blunt force that to my utter surprise did not mimic the slappy-sounding, easy-to-shake-off punches one saw on TV all the time. I vividly remember thinking, as the punctuated jabs landed with the sickening sound of skin smashing into skin; “Shit! This is nothing like I imagined!” From that moment on I understood that were I recipient of a Kojak or Mannix-quality beating in real life I would likely not survive it, let alone straighten my collar and make out with a beautiful woman afterwards. Huh UH. The next day I walked into Ms. Stone’s math class with a face so swollen my cheek stood out in my peripheral vision, a nagging omnipresent reminder of my humiliation the previous day. “Hey, what happened to your face, Wing?” JK chided when I walked in, and from the back of the classroom Tony Matthews giggled with the rest. An early dose of The Bitter Medicine. I looked shamefacedly at Ms. Stone and the concern in her beautiful eyes made me love her anew. But that’s another column.

Mug of a Carpenter

Later that same emotionally misbegotten lifetime, I of course became a member of NPR; the broadcast maypole around which we mercy-dispensing Libs delightedly prance in our forest-green tights. I love NPR. My ex-girlfriend (read: wife) and I pledge to them semi-regularly, and in pitiable dollar amounts insufficient to earn us the coveted NPR Grail, or mug, as it’s known to the unwashed. I depend on NPR’s deep reporting, interestingly unpredictable interviews, and frontline real-time dispatches to help augment my world view, which is informed by the twin lights of mercy and fairness.

Having said that, I can tell you that when I turned on my car radio the other day and the NPR team were murmuring soporifically about salad or human rights or some such, I reflexively punched the AM button for escape. Sometimes the radiant self-congratulation of the NPR gang makes me want to go out and shoot an endangered Snail Darter in the legs. There, I said it.

The Left! Look at us! (those of you who are sick of looking at us, look away) No wonder JK beat me senseless by my newish Schwinn! Was it this quality of mercy that so strained the Romans that they simply HAD to beat up our Guy? Oh, and speaking of Christ, how did the ‘Left’, whose goofy public policy positions actually reflect New Testament teaching, lose Christ to a Conservative movement that has not only armed the Lord with a machine gun, but seems to crap on His less-advantaged sheep with impunity? I’ll tell you how. It’s a little something called Freedom; a much-maligned and tactically abused concept. Freedom is a cult here, I would suggest. It is safe to say the U.S. is beholden to a cult. Do we need deprogramming?

How May I Help You?

My friend David, with whom I discuss much, once asked me out of the blue, “Do you think the Socialist experiment in Europe has been a success?” It’s one of those Great Questions whose discursive answer-seeking can sum up so much. As I said to David that day, “…it depends”. What does our race want? What are people for (all thanks to Vonnegut) and how shall we address this exalted animal? How shall we comport ourselves in this dumb, brutish life, whose pageantry includes both creme brulee and slow beheadings? Shall we build elaborate systems to ensure that no individual goes unfed, unsheltered? Arguably, yes. In the U.S. , where Modern American Liberalism is practiced (vs Classic Liberalism), a microcosmic outcome of this seemingly sensible and Christ-like philosophical practice is the awarding of a little tin trophy to every kid on the losing soccer team. Yes, some of us see a merit-based reward system as barbaric, or at least unnecessarily hurtful to the little boob who can’t kick a ball when it’s right in front him, and should be taught that ineptitude can also be rewarded, and handsomely. Or should the goal of our species be individual excellence? To be superb, a roman candle fulfilling in absolute terms as much of ones human potential as possible in the time allotted, whatever that may be? Arguably, also yes.

What else are we gonna do with our idiot’s eyeblink of a life down here on this meaning-starved wet rock in the middle of literal nowhere? I mean, we got the overcomplicated neural firings, the opposable thumbs, the inexplicable qualia. It’s not like we’re simply very expensive dogs. Having been handed all this largesse by the Big Bang/Giant Bearded Man in a Terrycloth Robe (to summarize the two most popular hypotheses), are we really just supposed to stand down and shade each other from the sun? That’s it? Are we self-actualized, pinnacle-seeking animals, or cosmic social workers adrift in a poetic vacuum, placed here against indescribably remote odds to be at rest, absorb the moments, and see that no one starves? Your answer will depend largely on whether you live in a cardboard box or in a three bedroom house with a mortgage.

Coming Clean

Okay, I’m gonna come clean, as they say (or used to say – and seeing it in type I understand why they stopped saying it): I get Conservatism. At least, I grasp their once doctrinaire embrace of Freedom as an undervalued social compact whose role in history has been that of a golden thread weaving in and out of a shit-smeared burlap onesie. I do understand the inherent common sense and actual human glory that inheres in the Every man for Himself model. In the heat of an argument I once yelled at my conservative nemesis that the U.S. has a “cult of Freedom”, by which I meant we hold people hostage to the idea of Freedom, and in policy debates consider top-down systemic attempts to alleviate suffering a blow against absolute freedom. What good is this double-edged Freedom if it doesn’t help anyone who is suffering?

Eugene Delacroix-La Liberte guidant le Peuple

Lady Liberty’s wardrobe malfunction scarcely registers as she leads the revolutionary French in Delacroix’s famous painting

True Freedom can be shown to leave people worse off, from a public policy standpoint, when Freedom is invoked to push back against government policies that seek redress for the helpless. Seeing Obamacare’s mandate as a blow against Freedom seems absurdist on its face. Christ in his mercy would surely have forced such an issue in the interest of decreasing suffering. The Lord didn’t give a shit about anything but saving people. But, this Freedom thing; it is the natural state of affairs in the universe, like gravity, the weak nuclear force, and so on. Does it exist apart from or somehow loftily above our questions about suffering? Is it a Golden Thread?

 

Bible-Thumping Darwinists

It’s a fact, oft-noted, that the Conservative aspirational model that posits a human life as a pinnacle-seeking enterprise is simple Darwinism (tactical Bible-thumping aside). And that is not to denigrate the term. Still another name for it is Freedom (yawn). Does an animal in the wild give up his taxi to the wheezing guy next to him when it’s pissing down rain? Nope. Is that a bad thing? Only if you’re the wheezing guy with walking pneumonia. Contrary to the religious posturing that is anymore an essential amino acid in the GOP’s political DNA, the party that champions individual accountability and liberty (within the party’s own curious limits, it must be said – wombs and pills still fall under the Heisenbergian “both wave and particle” purview of Freedom’s High Priests) is the party that favors the Shaggy Ol’ Laws of Nature as a design for living. And they don’t even like animals as much as we snuggly Libs do! Can you imagine a platoon of Republican PETA militants angrily breaking into a cosmetics lab and liberating the helpless test beasties? If you ever see that happen you can bet the rescued Maybelline rabbits will make their next appearance on a rotisserie being brushed with clarified butter.

Libs are philosophically the opposite and apposite. They want to lend a hand to the poor, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed; a decidedly anti-nature way to go about things. Animals in the wild are as free as freedom gets, and they screw and eat each other with thrilling/disgusting abandon (respectively). So it’s a little odd how feverishly Liberals venerate the natural world given their total abandonment of that model when attempting to retool civil society as a Play-Doh equality factory.

The Paragon of Animals

Big Bill Shakespeare described a human being as “The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals.” We are probably that. Oughtn’t we, then, encourage one another to stand and fight with all our exalting means, and not succumb? I’ve taken my shots at Conservatism, have gotten hot under the collar just looking at the way their chins interact with THEIR collars. And they are a fat, slow-moving target at a glance. But I think I do understand that the heart of TRUE and unpolluted conservatism is not contempt for the poor and the downtrodden, but contempt for a culture that doesn’t see them as the Paragon of Animals but as lost ninny children who will never find their way.

A Conservative can be the most ardent humanist you’ll ever meet in this regard. And I get it. Homelessness and hopelessness and poverty and the desecration of the human spirit – these are real, misery-sowing, ongoing diseases that need a dose of burning disinfectant. But awakening the latent immune system inside a human individual, arousing the army of antibodies placed in us to overwrite our weaker nature and to buttress our better one – surely this is part of the cure, if only a small part. Yeah, we’re only animals. We’re not beings of light, but we have a strange capacity for renewal that isn’t explicable in the Darwinian model. We have the ability to incandesce.

Freedom Isn’t Boring and May be a Two-Faced Biatch

It does come down to Freedom, I’m afraid; an uber-American noun so laden with baggage it looks like an Eastern Airlines scab on Skycap strike day. Freedom? Haven’t we long since become bored silly by that numbing word, inured to its deeper, almost religious meaning by the stupidity of today’s polarizing shitheel discourse? Today’s Conservatives champion “Freedom” but many of them throw the word around so recklessly it amounts to disrespect for what is a sacred state of being. Take for instance the “Freedom Fries” the House of Representatives cafeteria began serving in place of French Fries when the Gauls had the balls to equivocate at the U.S. decision to lay down a generation-screwing dose of shock and awe on the already massively f****d people of Iraq. I mean, Freedom Fries?!

I don’t know that King John at Runnymede had that kind of semantic b.s. in mind when he momentously (if a little reluctantly) signed that piece of parchment in 1215. Freedom is not an invention, and neither a discovery. It’s like oxygen. But here in the States, where it is as ubiquitous as actual oxygen, “Freedom” has the same spoken narcoleptic firepower as the words “beige” or “Jimmy Fallon”. Freedom is the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights and Dr. King’s defiant march from Selma to Montgomery, and is absolutely central to every incandescent quality that makes us unique among the animals, that makes us human. Freedom isn’t an optimizer in a speech. It’s an element of the biosphere the “lower” animals don’t even notice. We’re higher animals, though. We owe it to ourselves to notice.

The Crackers and the Lorax

So, Conservatives? I understand that not many of you are raging bags of homophobic racism, but a few of you are. Dump your crackers in the public square, they’re screwing your mission. And your patriarchal ovum-diddling. WTF? Freedom, right? There is no Half-Freedom. For our part, maybe some day soon we Libs will stop glad-handing the Lorax, Dr. Seuss’ mustachioed, forest-defending cuddler that pit family members against each other for a time in the Pacific NW where the demonized logging business put food on many many families tables. Kids were suddenly questioning their parents’ working in the devil’s business, sawing down trees and upsetting the Lorax. I have yet to meet a Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp or laudably ancient tree that merits starving out a hardworking family of human beings. We’re the paragons, not that dumb little cross-eyed shrimp. Time and the universe stretch out forever. The shrimp will be back, as will the tree. Let’s get real.

Final nagging note to Conservatism from a smug Liberal weenie. You’re right – the Freedom of the human being may qualify for Grail status, and all barriers to its hegemony should be thrown aside. But Freedom isn’t curbed by government policy that reaches out to the dispossessed and downtrodden, those imprisoned by circumstances. On the contrary. Policies that alleviate suffering give thinking Hobbesian animals the possible respite they require to avail themselves of the graspable rungs of precious Freedom’s ladder. To put this in awkwardly scriptural terms, the means to grasp Freedom is to Freedom itself as John the Baptist was to the Savior. Just sayin’.

 

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue; St. Valentine Went Through the Ringer for You

20150603_195902

Love is in the air. What’s worse, civil authorities have warned that, thanks to prevailing winds, this free-floating toxic event is headed our way. Instructions on the sealing of windows and doors have been issued on a short-wave emergency frequency and the population is being advised to stay inside. Ha ha, lol and rotflmao (I think). Just kidding. Love isn’t really in the air. It’s in our jeans; or at least it parks its sports car there. Or is Love more than sex, more than the procreative impulse, more than blind animal instinct, more than careful coupon-clipping for discounted twelve-packs of Kirkland Bacon-Flavored He and She Body Grease at Lustco? COSTCO I mean! (sorry).

People; IS there such a thing as love, or is Love just another frightened and distancing ritual devised by the wildly misguided species that believes Olympic Luge is a sport? From our exalted position at the top of the food chain we humans are a haughty bunch, believing ourselves miles above the “lower animals”, the helplessly copulating grab-asses in the rest of the animal kingdom who hook up in the wild without so much as a how-do-you-do. We snicker like naughty school kids when we see dragonflies engaged in sexual congress while flying through the air, secretly marveling at how amazing that must be, except for the tiresome arm-flapping. Are we really so different from the African Elephants whose lumbering sex rituals we watch for hour upon mesmerizing hour on YouTube while nursing a series of too-strong rums-and-coke behind drawn curtains? No, I say. You want to see a lower animal in the throes of the procreative instinct? Go stand in the greeting card aisle at CVS the night before Valentine’s Day and observe the defeated males, rumpled househusbands and strutting hair-product hipsters alike, as they stare forlornly at 60 feet of pink folded cardstock. It is positively heartbreaking. Watch with your hand over your mouth as the hapless Y-chromosome victim selects for his beloved an $8 electronic “novelty song” card that screeches colorfully when opened. She’ll love it! Shake your head in goggle-eyed wonder as the doomed nitwit then augments that ruinous purchase with a romance-spurring bag of Sour Gummy Hearts plucked off the “impulse buy” rack at checkout. It’s a wonder we are still able to populate the Earth.

First Spat

But if Love is just an edifice of our own invention, why are we so enamored of it? Why is it so central to the very idea of being human? Since speech and song entered the human culture some two million years ago, Love has been the dominant theme of human expression. Yes, humans’ first heartfelt Ur-language would have sounded like anguished, phlegmatic grunting, and the songs were probably pretty crummy – maybe only a little better than One Direction. But the paleontological record suggests that what we now call Love followed quickly on the heels of language, as did face-slapping, cheap-bouquet-mockery, and the then grotesquely glottal “does this light covering of hominid fur make me look fat?” Love and language! It was as if some inchoate, utterly human quality had been patiently waiting through the tormenting eons to be freed by language itself. Thus liberated from its silent prison, Love as an object, something to define and articulate, entered our world. Of course all hell broke loose. But there was a guy in an annoyingly floppy burlap robe-thing who once made it his mission to unite young lovers and, in the climate of his time and place, raise a bold middle finger to the Establishment in doing so. Have you heard of him?

St. Valentine – Mischief-Making Matrimonial Martyr

In the late Third Century the Roman Empire was throwing itself a party, and then some. Romans were it. Their footwear laced fashionably up the bare lower leg, their tunics were nicely tailored, they had tactless orgies at will and ate hoisted leg of lamb all day while laughing inexplicably. And who wouldn’t laugh? These guys ruled the known world. They also wore their hair in an ill-advised cut that today would be called “baby bangs”, as in “oh my goodness,that @#$%&! hairdresser gave me @#$%&! baby bangs.” At that high point in Imperial Rome’s La Dolce Vita period, the Empire’s armies were constantly at war, clobbering their enemies with spiky clubs and spears and whatever else they could lay their hands on, the battered Roman soldiery both brutalizing and brutalized in the name of ruthless world domination.

Into this milieu strolls our star-crossed hero, the Patron Saint of Hallmark, Valentinus. He is said to have been a Christian priest who lived under the Emperorship of churlish, war-making, anti-Christian Emperor Claudius II. In that period it was known that unmarried men were the preferred Roman soldier, and were more likely to be drafted into the bloody expansionist Roman juggernaut. Bachelors on the front line were known to do fierce battle without reserve; without the implicit hesitation of, say, a husband and/or father, who may reasonably be imagined flying into battle with combat tactics more informed by a desire for personal survivability than unfettered bloodlust. So Valentinus went about his business, and he reportedly stayed very busy. In order that more young men might be spared the rigors and death of war (and just incidentally be brought into the monogamy game at a time that permissiveness and polygamy were fairly common), Valentinus made it his business to marry, in secret Christian ceremonies, as many earnest young Roman couples as he could wrangle, scurrying around on foot in the Age Before Uber.

I Do

This was, understandably, a bandwagon many starry-eyed young couples were eager to board, and his scheme met with some success. Though these marriages held no water in the eyes of the Roman court, Valentinus’ efforts threw a wobbler into the momentum of the Roman war-making machine, and before long he was, of course, arrested. Claudius, a baby-bangs jerk straight out of Central Casting, gave Valentinus the usual stark choice of dumping his faith or being beaten with clubs, then stones, then finished with a sword. “Do you choose death over renunciation of your foolish faith?” Since our guy is today known as Saint Valentine, we can guess at the refusenik’s reply. By several accounts, the evening before his execution Valentinus was approached by one of his jailers, a hope-filled fence-sitter named Asterius, whose beloved little girl was blind. When Valentinus healed Asterius’ daughter of her blindness, the jailer was thunderstruck, and wept tears of gratitude and joy, but was unable to save our mischief-making love martyr. When the young girl awoke the next morning, Valentinus was gone, having been, as promised, thrashed outside the city gates unto death. But she found a note he’d left her. Thanks to her new friend she was able to read it. History has forgotten what the note said, but he’d signed it, “From Your Valentine.”

Love is Approximately All You Need

Today this selfless love bug’s sacrifice has metastasized into a 2 billion dollar annual orgy of Caring here in the U.S., centered around the yearly commemoration that bears the poor guy’s name and the ritualistic mob-purchases of Candy, flowers, jewelry, and enough poorly chosen Valentine’s Day cards to fell an old-growth forest. If his desiccated body bits weren’t spread over thousands of miles of church naves and reliquaries, I can imagine St. Valentine roaming our Sour-Gummy-Hearted world with arms outstretched, not zombie-like but in an attitude of imprecation; “Really, you guys?!”

It’s kind of a mess. Where is the Love? Is it All Around? A Many Splendored Thing? Full disclosure: I’m deeply in love and so are you, and love isn’t just the foolhardy invention of a self-enamored, smartass animal species in a benighted little corner of the Milky Way (which incidentally only looks like a tub full of stars swirling down the drain, but is more importantly the birth spot of Brubeck and Mel Torme, to name but a couple of other saintly personages native to the neighborhood).

Love is no more an invention than the wheel. It’s a discovery, a revealed element, like arithmetic. 2 + 2 = 4 everywhere in the universe, whether or not this plain fact is given voice. In the purely mechanistic view of reality, we may well wonder: what is love for? Not sex, but Love itself. Procreation can happen without Love. Is there anything in the evolving, mechanized omniverse that isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary? The evolved heart is a muscle with rooms. It moves the exhausted blood through the lungs for the life-giving pick-me-up of oxygen, which is then handed around to the rest of the living body like candy in a parade. That’s what the heart is “for”. Likewise, the tongue tastes, the fingers grasp, the crazy wetware of the brain apprehends. What, exactly, does Love DO? We partake of it whether we know it or not, whether we want to or not. We didn’t come up with it ourselves. Goodness knows it often visits us when it is the very LAST thing we want. So it’s an organic thread in the dense fabric of All This, an unsung footnote on the Periodic Table. What is Love doing here? Ours is not to question – but inquiring readers want to know.

Yeah, there are mishaps. In the early eighties Burt Bacharach and his then-wife Carol Bayer-Sager went to a showing of E.T. with their pal Neil Diamond, and we can suppose lobby-witnesses shrank in terror at what they knew these three might concoct once exposed to Spielberg rays. Of course the songwriters were sufficiently moved by the film and its co-dependent, diaphanous, indefinite-article excluding alien, to write and unleash upon the world the 1982 glycemic seizure “Heartlight”. So things can go terribly wrong (true story).

But by and large Love is a mystery, a marvel, and a deep mine of gold; the sort you plummet into after dark with a stifled scream if your flashlight has failing batteries, say. Oh, and sex? I have to go with Bob Hope on this one: “Three beautiful women were frantically banging on my hotel room door all night. Couldn’t sleep a wink! Eventually I had to get up and let them out.”

 

SB Sentinel Vol 5 Issue 3 Feb 12-26

what i won’t do. the mandelbrot set. i’ll need more convincing. stop pulling that goddamned dog

not eat in public

what i won’t do

i’m not going to eat around strangers
i mean other people
i’ve made it very clear
the helpless Piltdown mastication drives me
to an inexplicable distraction.
i look at you and I see an hourglass figure
sand in all the right niches
Clairol hair
a lipless x-ray skull filmed in profile artlessly chomping
chomping and chomping
chomping and chomping
i see that everywhere
lipless awful chomping
like a death skull but lit up by x-ray
and ravenously chomping
the mandibles and chomping more annoyingly vertical
when undisguised by fancy-flesh
you’ve seen the film
probably around the 4th grade
why eat after that
why ever eat again
we have to eat a little
but not in front of these assholes
idiot mandibles disrobed, no lips, no flesh
know what that looks like?
looks like the skull is smiling, smiling like an idiot
the village moron smiling and cracking his gum
smiling and chomping smiling and chomping
while a rolling shadow of x-ray chow
gets hustled around the inside of the yap
like a wilding victim, this x-rayed bolus of food
hustled and harassed from molar to molar
until finally the great heaving translucent tongue
rises out of x-ray nowhere, pulses disgustingly into the cavern
to throw the thing slickly down the back stair.
Oh yum. They’re bringing out the hors-d’oeuvres.
No thank you.
They’re bringing out the catered hors-d’oeuvres.
No thank you.
Honey, just eat a fucking hors-d’oeuvre, it’s popcorn shrimp on a Ritz cracker.
Can you even hear what you’re saying? I’m not gonna eat in front of these people.
Yes, honey.
No.
Yes.
NO.
Yesss! Honey!
DON’T YOU YES HONEY ME. Listen. C’mere. Let me take you aside.
Don’t fuck up my office party.
Some mornings I wake up and the world is a contusion.
Oh, shit. Don’t fuck up my office party.
– whole fucking world a stubbed toe –
EAT THE CRACKER
No.
What is this?
I’ll tell you what this is. Put your purse down. Put it down. Do you know what your mouth is going to do to that Ritz cracker?
I don’t —
Answer me!
You’re scaring me. You idiot!
Oh, you’re scared. Take a look at an x-ray of your yap working a Ritz cracker.
I just got this job!
Smiling and chomping. You can’t even call it chewing!
Sssshhh!
This whole charade is a horror show.
Ssshht! Look, just don’t think about it. How hard is that. It’s an hors-d’oeuvre. IT’S A CRACKER.
I saw the HR lady eating over there by the empanadas, that’s another thing. She put the matter in her mouth and it disappeared.
…what the fuck are you talking about —
She put the food into her mouth and it disappeared. Where did it go? The mouth moves, and the jaw. The stuff doesn’t come back out. It’s gone. It’s gone. Where? Pushed down a living hole, that’s where. You’re cool with that? I am not. Pushed down a hole. I’m not comfortable with that. I’m not going to stand around with these jokers and push stuff into my mouth.
It does come back out! what’s wrong with you!
You know what I mean
NO I DON’T
I’m not eating with those people. I am not going to beat off into a plastic vial.
Oh my fucking god
Can’t I go into a room at the clinic with a magazine. Like in the rom-coms?
Oh my god!
“Please masturbate into this brown plastic pill bottle then race it back to us before the sperm die. DRIVE YOUR SPERM ACROSS TOWN, BREAK THE SPEED LIMIT IF YOU HAVE TO. Run into the clinic like Jack Lord. Hand the pill bottle full of your sperm over to the young lady behind the front desk.” huh UH! YOU masturbate into a pill bottle! YOU hand an attractive young volunteer a plastic bottle full of YOUR living sperm. You mandibular jackasses! Screw you!
<hissing> Eat the fucking cracker you asshole!! Eat the cracker!
No.

the mandlebrot set

An infinitely finite number
or number set, rather,
which when expressed graphically
flaunts its recursive hoo-ha
in lavish fractals and floral expressions
of frustrated finitude.
The Mandlebrot set.
what a stupid name.
So annoying. So fucking annoying.
Benoit Mandlebrot,
did he have a lot of time on his hands or what.
Who thinks this shit up?
Benoit Mandlebrot, for one.
that’s what the Mandlebrot set is to me
a guy with all the time in the world. this is what he does with it.
Do my dishes, Mandlebrot, you asshole.
Fibernucci, too, or whatever.
Clean out my closets, Fibernucci!
you layabout theorists!
not to sound like a government functionary
giving your collider the bad budget news
but what of the application
just look at this dump
spacetime may be a superfluid
what can that mean
when the sink looks like this
-you mean Mandelbrot –
Shut up

stop pulling that goddamned dog

mans’s best friend
is an expensive afghan hound
afghan may mean drone strikes somewhere.
here in the u.s.
afghan means a sleek-looking hound
at the end of a grasped leash.
aw look at the doggie
look at all the doggies
aw man’s best friends
you can’t have a dog
you’ll never take the dog out for a walk
aw yes I will, I promise.
and even if you do
it’s an idiot’s game.
man’s best friend spends every minute straining
against the leash
does anyone notice that?
man’s best friend wants to run
sniff pee-pee at every bush
make a little pee-pee himself
and take off running again.
“whoa, that’s a tall order.
i want a best friend, sure;
a loyal yes-companion from the ranks
of the docile lower animals.
but this is man’s dominion.
we made it to the top
climbed here with our thumbs.
where the hell are your thumbs, little doggie.
thought so.
you’ll be at the end of my taut leash.”
he doesn’t know he’s an afghan
and the pricey Shih Tzu’s id is indistinguishable
from that of the three-legged living rag
that nervous guy sold your neighbor
the Shih Tzu looks at the three-legged rag and thinks
that’s me
not bad
not bad at all.
i like.
the dumbass Shih Tzu doesn’t know from dominion
it has been bred to walk from room to room.
“interesting breed! what are they bred for?”
to walk from room to room
none of these best friends know what they are
they just want to screw each other
and eat and make pee-pee
like us
is that such a big deal
you get to do that every day
or nearly every day
can your best friend
maybe take a crack at it, asshole?
loosen that leash.
I said loosen it, jackass
i will knock you down
aw look at him strain
aw his little face
he doesn’t know he’s a prisoner
you dog wants to run
aw man’s best friend.
he wants only to run!
but after maybe 30 self-congratulating minutes
you’ll be fatigued from hurling
the slimed ball in its plastic “Lower-Animals-R-Us®” claw
let’s get back to the condo
and leave our companion alone
back to the kingdom of man
back to a blanket in a basket
and a synthetic Purina snack of glued brown powder
shaped like a cartoon bone.

i’ll need more convincing

light can be both particle and wave
dual mutually exclusive properties.
yeah, right.
they proved it with slits.
right.
i’ll need more convincing.
and what of it
two states at once?
what of it
that’s fine at the planck scale.
up here where the sun shines
on an upturned face
it’s another story
we’re a stupendous car wreck
of highly organized particles
a momentary spasm of beige brownian movement
invisible and inconsequential.
they recorded a couple making MRI love
and it was a nightmare of wet machinery
bumping and horrific
you saw everything
two machine-filled bags
and some urgent swarming
but it says here our electric laughter
rings through the numbing eons
travels outward
past where microlensing events
suggest other rocks and other skies
other lawnmowers in repose
under the blanched light of other suns
other realms. bikes, homework and cars
other blushing kids sneaking kisses
catching breath, afraid to smile. smiling helplessly.
for real. this part is real.
our embraces are finally meaningless, yeah. Probably.
no fear, no pain. no nothing.
just this mindless, schemeless bowl
kind of ordinary,
but filled to the lip with gorgeous collapsing stars.

 


How the Gipper Vanquished Communism, Punched Out Clark Kerr, Created Your Paralyzing Tuition, and Changed Higher Education from a Right to a Country Club

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Berkeley student Mario Savio found himself the de facto leader of a huge student campus Free Speech movement that attracted the ire of governor Reagan, who thought the student spoiled, ungrateful pinko beatniks. Reagan would fire UC President Clark Kerr for his leniency and then angrily raise fees on the students. The beginnings of today’s California tuition fubar.

In the buzzing, vibrant center of the beautiful UCSB campus sits a squat concrete box. This is Kerr Hall. Simultaneously cube-like and angular (not an easy combination to effect), the building looks like an enormous post-modern bunker, or an Iron Curtain edifice meant to make a statist comment. Which is fitting. To add to the atmosphere of gaiety, Kerr is windowless on three sides, its gray pebbled carapace textured with roof-to-ground vertical grooves, reportedly not molded in a cycle of prefabrication but deafeningly gouged out with jackhammers once the building was completed, in 1977. A demure little plaque at the bunker’s east end, gone tastefully green over the years, bears an innocuous inscription

“Clark Kerr – President of the University of California 1958 – 1967. For Encouraging a Better Quality of Teaching”.

What the hell does that mean? Who is this Clark Kerr guy? You wouldn’t know it from that bland little encomium, but Clark Kerr was UC Berkeley’s embattled first Chancellor, and not incidentally a prominent Free Speech piñata who the Commie-frightened Establishment would beat till the candy came out, to our common detriment. Clark was also Ronald Reagan’s springboard into politics in the go-go sixties. He would be invoked with contempt as a limp, liberal communist sympathizer in The Gipper’s galvanizing 1966 campaign speeches.

Kerr was, more lastingly, the architect of what came to be known as the California Master Plan for Higher Education, the nationally and globally venerated public education model that layered California’s institutions of higher learning – community colleges, the California State College System (today’s CSU), and the vaunted University of California system (the UC) – into a parfait of academic upward mobility. The Master Plan’s holy mission was to codify a promise from the State of California to her citizens: any student who aspired to an empowering education would have one, and practically free of charge; a compact that wove into the state’s cultural fabric a social and class mobility that was limited only by an individual’s desire to rise through learning. This didn’t sit well with everyone, particularly Reagan, a guy (like many during that period) to whom the word “State” summoned the Red Scare, Stalin, and Siberia’s chain of Best Western gulags. In 1966 Reagan would enlist the delighted assistance of the FBI and step lithely into the governor’s mansion on the mud-smeared back of Clark Kerr, and three weeks later Reagan would loudly fire Kerr as UC President. A couple years after that, in 1969, the Governor would formally begin California’s climb-down from investment in public higher education by placing more of the burden on the University students themselves, whose socialist ingratitude for the education they were receiving had gnawed at him since the days of Berkeley’s student protests and what he considered Kerr’s insufficiently iron-fisted response. Reagan’s convincing of the UC Regents to impose “education fees” on the UC students was comeuppance for Kerr’s Master Plan, and is considered by educational historians to be the introduction in California of a little something called Tuition. Heard of it? You can blame it on the commies.

In 1949 the United States was aflame with the Red Scare, which sounds like a rash and did indeed result in pustules and weeping sores, many of them holding public office. That year the UC had instituted a requirement that all employees, present and future, sign an Oath of allegiance foreswearing ideas and institutions seeking to overthrow the U.S. government, a thinly clad reference to Communism. Clark Kerr, since 1945 an Associate Professor of Industrial Relations at UC Berkeley, grudgingly signed the oath but would take it no further, and continually pushed back against the singling out of colleagues and staff on campus. Kerr’s pugnacity earned him the nervous respect of his colleagues in the academy, and it was Kerr the UC Regents chose to appoint as UC Berkeley’s first Chancellor in 1952. During his time as Berkeley’s head honcho Kerr proved a rock star steward of “Cal”, such that by 1957 UC Berkeley was ranked third in the nation behind Harvard and Yale. That year an impressed Board of Regents chose Clark Kerr to be president of the entire UC system. Just ahead lay UC Berkeley’s explosive Free Speech Movement, Ronald Reagan (and his girlfriend the FBI), and the meat grinder that would pulverize Kerr and make pâté of his Master Plan.

In late 1964 a bunch of Berkeley student activists set up some tables and information booths on the Berkeley campus. Most of these kids had just returned from Mississippi, where’d they’d spent an adventurous summer registering as many African-American voters as possible in a well-orchestrated effort that came to be called The Freedom Summer, or in the movies “Mississippi Burning”. The thousand-strong army of volunteers that poured into Mississippi that summer had braved beatings and harassment and arrest. Several of them had been murdered. Now the returned Berkeley student contingent, lives changed and eyes opened, wanted to talk about it. From their rickety card tables and benches and booths they disseminated info on campus and collected donations for civil rights causes.

UC Berkeley rules at the time prohibited any campus political activity outside the student Democratic and Republican clubs there, and the dean asked the students to please strike their tables and stand down. The bloodied Freedom Summer students would have none of it. There commenced over the coming weeks a swarming wave of sit-ins and angry marches, with a charismatic grad student named Mario Savio becoming the leader of the movement, one of the first American university protest conflagrations of the sixties. Kerr was caught squarely in the middle (to the delight of many), pissing off the Berkeley students for not acquiescing immediately and wholly to their demands, and enraging Edward Pauley, head of the UC Regents, for refusing to expel and otherwise punish the wild-haired socialist student rebels. Bewildered and poorly directed peace officers helplessly followed the “frightened mistakes” template, arresting and nervously clubbing kids who were, after all, only agitating for a Constitution they’d been bored by as jug-eared fifth graders just a few years before, but which had now become a precious thing which the Civil Rights struggle had burnished to a fine luster, and whose purity they felt exalted to be beaten up protecting, this tattered cousin of the Magna Carta. The bland wallpaper of ubiquitous freedom doesn’t become dear till it’s being torn down by often well-meaning morons.

Watching the goings-on at Berkeley were two birds of a feather; future CA governor Ronald Reagan and his bulldog on a long leash, J. Edgar Hoover, the dyspeptic and perennial pugilist-king of the FBI. Hundreds of thousands of pages pried from classified FBI files by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that Reagan had been going to second base with the FBI since his film acting days the 1940s, routinely flipping Hoover and the boys the names of supposed Communist subversives in Hollywood, Ronny in one recorded instance dutifully reporting on an actress who’d had the temerity at a cocktail party to complain about the Hollywood witch hunts. The relationship with Hoover would prove fruitful.

In 1966 Reagan ran for governor of the Golden State, and wasted no time colluding with the FBI to smear both the Berkeley student leaders and UC President Clark Kerr, with whom both Ronny and Edgar were furious for not cracking down on the seditious, unshowered hippies. The Berkeley students would soon enough fold an anti-Vietnam War theme into their riotous campus protests and enrage Reagan and Hoover even more. FOIA documents describe in detail the nighttime break-ins and personnel file fingering of the FBI in Berkeley neighborhoods during this period, much of which largesse showed up as fodder for Reagan’s gubernatorial campaign. In his public rhetoric Reagan vowed to send “the welfare bums back to work,” and “to clean up the mess at Berkeley.”

The student unrest at Berkeley, and the public disaffection he managed to whip into a politically helpful shit storm, got Reagan elected governor in a landslide. Once in office he went unabashedly after Berkeley, slashing the school’s budget, and, when they complained, recommending Berkeley raise money by selling their library’s rare book collections. Ray Colvig, the Chief Public Information officer for UC Berkeley during the period of Reagan’s rages, has said, “He thought if you wanted a world-class university, let the students pay for it. The idea of selling rare books went along with that.” Three weeks after his election, in the new governor’s first meeting with the UC Regents, he fired Clark Kerr.

Today there are four Kerr Halls in the University of California system; one at UC Davis, one at UC Santa Cruz, this grooved bunker at UC Santa Barbara, and most tellingly, one at UC Berkeley. Why? Providing the disenfranchised the means, not the capital, mind you, but the means, to move freely about the class system is not everyone’s cup of tea, mission statements and impassioned dais-thumping to the contrary. The metastatic growth of tuition as the defining feature of higher ed is the proof in that pudding. But it was Clark Kerr’s cup of tea. What Kerr had attempted to make an Individual Right is now an increasingly exclusive clubhouse. And Kerr? He seemed to accept his fate with good humor. When Reagan fired him, Kerr did indeed refer to himself as ‘fired’. “I leave his institution as I found it; fired with enthusiasm”. Kerr laid the foundations for a common beneficence through education and got bitch-slapped for it. And in that light the gray concrete box that is Kerr Hall doesn’t look half bad after all. It may even be the sweetest spot on campus. If you think of it, stop by and leave Clark a flower.

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