Doubling Down and Drowning

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In the wake of yesterday’s turkey shoot in San Bernardino, which eclipsed last week’s Planned Parenthood shootings, does anyone even remember the community college in Roseburg Oregon? It was exactly two months ago. My friends on the left rage that meaningful gun control must happen. My friends on the right demand that an armed citizenry would diminish bodycounts. From my perspective they’re both wrong.
The raw facts on sheer numbers of weapons in the U.S. dictate that it is no more possible to limit guns in America than it would be to follow through on Trump’s half baked idea to round up and deport 11 million illegal aliens. They’re here, they’re queer, get used to it.

The concept of a good gun owner taking out a bad gun owner is why nearly all of us have a pistol in our castle to protect our family. The right likes to trot out an occasional incident where that actually worked out for the home owner but they’re quaint when put head to head against the huge numbers of accidents, suicides and domestic violence killings they’re actually used for. The strategy of conceal carry is already an unmitigated disaster in every poor gang turf in America. Sadly our movies and television reinforce the fantasy that we’re all potential antihero bad asses, exacting righteous one to one head shots against hapless, aimless storm troopers. Newsflash Mister Eastwood: It’s. A. MOVIE!!! (Or tv show or video game). We’re fed that imagery a dozen times a day. Never the reality of being so coursed with fear and adrenaline that you lose coordination, can’t hit the side of a barn and probably run out of bullets in your panicked first five seconds. Stop it.

From where I sit the enemy is fear.

As a citizenry we’ve always had guns. That’s a constant. The real variable is hope and the lack of it. Always a constant in poor areas where killing is a regularity and doesn’t make the news is a perfect microcosm of what “normal, white America” is sliding towards and we’re freaking the fuck out in the worst possible ways.

I grew up with a small dog named Burgie. She was an unusually well tempered Dachshund. She got along with everyone, four legs or two. She even showered our Culligan man with kisses every month. As she got old and couldn’t walk well, went deaf and her vision was clouded by cataracts she became increasingly snappy. Everything started scaring and threatening her. She didn’t feel safe and felt helpless to cope with her circumstances.

My childhood pet is a perfect corollary for America. The middle-class is being choked out into a paycheck to paycheck existence. Far from the idealistic dreams of Babyboomer bra burners choosing to have careers outside the confines of “Domestic Engineer”, no one has a choice anymore. The traditional fabric of a stable family and neighborhood is all but gone. Everyone is from somewhere else and no one has time to get to know their neighbors. My last decade of employment was with a company who stubbornly held onto the classic 40 hour workweek, health benefits and retirement fund blueprint. We were small so it was easy to watch in real time how, through privatization, increased shareholder over worker focus, pressure to jettison classic employment packages for temp, contract or part time workers not qualifying for benefits increased anxiety. Job security was replaced by “be grateful you even have a job”. I watch it play out louder and tighter, at every level. Thank goodness the media is here to point at our neighbors as being the culprits and cause of our personal collapses. Out of neurotic frustration and pent up impotent rage we’re all too happy to buy in and lash out. At the exactly wrong thing.
My friend Kevin posted a comment last night suggesting 2 Chronicles 7:14 as our hope. I’ll spare you the peek at google.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

As an atheist it would be super dooper easy peazy lemon squeazy to roll my eyes and dismiss any verbiage from my favorite fiction fantasy book. But Kevin is a christian and that passage provides direction, focus and comfort for him. My decidedly irreligious eyes read this as hope. Inner reflection. Reinforced by better action. Toward myself, you, and my neighbors. What influences you in a positive way? When was the last time you fed your heart by reading, practicing, and expanding your better self? What do you do to be a part of any sense of community? How do you help yourself by helping others? These aren’t fluffy, esoteric questions. They’re the only things that keep the claustrophobic terrors of day to day life from killing hope.
Another law, another gun, another person or people to blame won’t make me feel safe. Only hope. And hope comes directly from what I think, say and do every day. Fear or Love – which am I worshipping right now, this very second? Because that thought, idea or action is the life I’m choosing moving forward.

Baguettes, Not Bombs

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What we’re experiencing politically in America with the popularity of candidates like Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left is a response to disenfranchisement. Whether you’re a liberal or conservative you know that your government isn’t on your side or any side but that of corporate power. You’re being drawn to purist forms of your ideological beliefs that would feel unnecessary and rather fringe in times when things are good for you. You feel strongly about your personal disconnection from any ability to make your life better and it inspires you to rally, vote, make speeches against your foes on social media and post increasingly harsher sentiments regarding them in the form of snappy memes. No matter the side you’re on you have a sentiment of “Taking Our Country Back!!!”
Corporations have owned America lock, stock and barrel for decades. Lulling us to indifference because commercial consumerism dangled carrots and fed our fears in measured doses to keep us distracted and entertained as long as we were getting our fair share (and kept an eye on the Joneses to make sure we kept up or that they didn’t steal ours). That formula has finally stretched so thin as to be transparently disingenuous. And we’re pretty pissed.
Now picture that same co-option without the carrots. Picture Canada accessing our resources and installing presidents that were favorable to their policies and whims. Picture decades of increasing poverty contrasted by extreme wealth for small swaths of pampered Mormons who shared religious or cultural ties with that installed government. Imagine massive corruption favoring that sect, suppression of dissent and your relatives disappearing to Mormon political prisons. Think of Canada invading us with near impunity when their preferred balance of power and resources slips.
Guess what happens. Hopelessness breeds extremism borne of desperation.
Islam was once an evolved way of thought – that never left the seventh century. The extreme interpretations of the Koran fueling the madness in the middle east are a reaction to a 100 years of British, Russian and American intervention and manipulation, keeping minority populations in those regions in ruthless power over the rest of their neighbors. People like to point out that these tribal feuds have been going on for centuries but that only absolves ourselves of our complicity in the giant mess.
I read an article sometime just after the Charlie Hedbo attack that pointed out that the reason why we see relatively little actual terrorism in America by Muslims is because our policies help immigrants to incorporate themselves into America. To have a stake in the American Dream. France’s policy has been to do precisely the opposite. The French are very nationalistic toward immigrants and Muslims especially are pressed into ghettos. Breeding grounds for desperately repulsive purist ideology. France is a petri dish with all the components that made the Paris attacks possible.
When people hate you it is human instinct to immediately justify why your foes are full of shit. To deny-deny-counteraccuse. It is almost considered weak to look in the mirror, to own our part in a thing. Yet that introspection is the very thing – and the only thing that will bring us all back from the brink. We can’t bomb and invade our way out of it. That would be the “throw flour on a kitchen fire” strategy followed by surprise when it makes the fire exponentially bigger.
Baby boomers never fail to get mad at me when I point to their all consuming, self absorbed locust id being the greatest factor in the decline of America. And Americans get mad at me when I point out that we are the Baby boomers of the planet.
Al Queda and ISIS are reactions. Doubling down on the reasons they grew in the first place is madness. Religious extremism is madness. Mindless, lazy consumption without consequence or conscience is madness.
We need to grow the fuck up and look in the mirror before we make our next move. But we won’t do that. We’ll just turn up the volume on Nationalist rhetoric and be indignantly surprised at the results because thinking is weak.

The Vilification of Virtue

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As Pope Francis parades across D.C. I am reading a resurrection of hatred for the man across my news feed.
By Christians.
It disgusts me.
As an atheist I have no dog in this fight. But as an outsider looking in I have a great deal of affection toward Frank because though we surely don’t see eye to eye on everything (not a prerequisite for my admiration btw) he does espouse the spirit and ideals of what I understand to be the core of Jesus’s philosophy; Love, Tolerance, Humility, Compassion, Service. Principles that, for myself as a Humanist, are just as imprinted on my heart. Principles and ideals that seem to be, in practice, anathema to what worshippers of Republican Jesus preach. A sort of hate-filled, paranoid mantra of fuck you, I got mine, wealth ministried, god hates poor/brown/gay/foreign/liberal devils because they’re ruining God’s Chosen Country… in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Seriously. What the actual fuck. That’s some serious Through The Looking Glass shit.
I understand the cynicism of some of my fellow unwashed heathens who decry Frank as a propaganda pitchman for a corporate brand that’s been tanking for 20 years looking to rebuild it’s stock. I don’t agree with it but I see their point. My own perspective is that even if this were true, he is the CEO of the world’s largest social services conglomerate on the planet. Public displays of washing female muslim prisoners feet, holding the disfigured in prayer, defrocking high ranking clergy who harbored child molesters or used church funds for lavish personal excesses, personally discarding the plush environs normally availed to a Pope/CEO for modest furnishings and clothes – as he apparently has done his whole life, offering olive branches to gays, atheists, women who’ve aborted, acknowledging their humanity, these are all ideas worth living up to, whether you’re me writing this blog, a single mom raising a family, a 30something middle manager at Walmart in Tallahassee, or God’s celebrity pitchman. Whether he’s looking to refill pews and coffers or not, he’s setting a tone of brotherly love and inclusion that has to affect 1.3 billion people. The fact that so many old guard Catholic practitioners and bishops are pissed off by this to me shouts volumes about how much they’ve forgotten what Christ’s message was in lieu of their own personal security and power.
I admire Frank because his message is double dog daring me to love you whether you’re like me or not. And people hate him for it. Jesus was said to have been considered a radical. Frank must being doing something right.

My Switchblade Can Opener

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Last night during the wrap up of Traditions in Relationships I read a snippet that talked about knowing my partner’s achilles heels and using them to intentionally hurt them. It dawned on me that not only do I know what they are but the very idea of using them against her was abhorrent to me.
This is sort of big news.
I’ve long stated that I have the reasoning skill set of a woman more than a man and people just as often get mad at me when I say that women are clever and manipulative as a matter of historical survival. In a world dominated by slower thinking and physically superior men, these were the tools they developed to get their needs met. I grew up as a little man with a big brain in some very tough circles once I left the nest of my neighborhood. The odds were very good that I could neither out-fight (though I was pretty good in the confines of a vehicle) nor outrun you, so I had to outthink you.
Reading people; studying body language, vocal inflections, collecting pieces of their histories, inclinations, what they react to and comparing that to my own versions of the same, as well as learning to trust my intuition gave me razor sharp survival skills. And I used the shit out of them. Looking back at some of the situations I got myself into it’s boggling to me that I didn’t end up as a cautionary line in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

Yet, here i am.
That skill set meant that I had the ability to decimate your ego or psyche in 15 words or less or dance between raindrops to escape. It also has proven to be a brutal waste of time in my recovery. What i keep finding as I keep growing up spiritually, emotionally and mentally is that the tools I used to keep me alive and safe “out there” only stunt me from growing in here. In fact they can kill me because they require me to reject the principles of the program in order to use them.
I don’t live “out there” anymore. In fact my life is really pretty gentle. It is only my psychic ptsd that thinks I need the old ways in my hip pocket to feel safe. But like a feral animal, cautiously, warily stepping out – practicing one principle at a time, then scurrying back to my cave only to realize that doing so didn’t kill me did I slowly grow more courageous in trusting these new principles and tools. To practice these principles in all my affairs.
Today I use those skills I honed for survival so many years ago to help me read and understand people to help heal them. And if I can’t do that to at least feel nonthreatening to them. That my presence is somewhere they can exhale.
So… what old, treasured piece of weaponry is it finally time to let go of?

Penny For Your Fucks?

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I have a confession to make – I give fucks. Lots of them. I mostly always have.

When I was younger you could tell how many fucks I gave by how loudly I pronounced that I didn’t. These days I’ve learned that when I give them for free and for fun I understand that they will be given in return. Maybe not directly from the person or cause I aimed my fucks at, but the Universe notices and reciprocates. The problem is in the specificity of my fucks given. If I insist that they only come back to me in just the ways and from just the folks I want them, well, I’m fucked. People don’t work like that.
But if I’m busy shouting loudly just how many fucks I’m not giving I’ll receive a pile of pity fucks that will bounce right off because I’m actually so full of fucks that I can’t possibly eat another one. And pity fucks taste funny anyway.

It turns out that fucks are a lot like the penny dish at the checkout stand; need a fuck, take a fuck! Got one to spare, leave a fuck! You don’t know who it might help. But I always walk away feeling a little better when I give a fuck and don’t worry so much about who’s taking. It comes back to me when I’m not looking.

If I spend all my time worrying about who might take my fucks I will see threats to my fucks everywhere. If I give them freely I won’t notice you threatening my fucks because it’s inconsequential. I will however notice all the different ways my fellows gently give their fucks too. Inspiring a friendly fuck feeding frenzy. It turns out that fucks are self replicating. It all depends on my fucking focus.

The Blissfully Belled Cat

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Horrifying story at the poker table last night: “I went into the insurance office to pay my bill yesterday. They don’t accept cash. They said it was for their employee’s safety. Really? Because who robs a Geiko storefront. I held up a twenty and pointed out that it announced that it was ‘legal tender for all debts, public and private’. Blank stare. Sir, we can’t accept cash.”

A little about me; I was that guy that specifically paid cash for everything for years. If I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t need it. I threw my drivers license into the microwave straight away once they started with that magnetic strip nonsense because, fuck you – work for it. I had several routes I drove home and used them randomly. You either understand the logic in that or this whole paragraph flew right past you. I *just* started surrendering to the idea that I needed to pay attention to this credit score bullshit because I’ll need it if I want to execute my master plan of a northwest 4D compound/retirement community. I know, I know. It’s grandiose. But it’s what’s in my head. My point is that I’ve spent much of my younger life taking pains to not be easily, conveniently tracked. I’m just an old peckerwood like that.
The horror of “not accepting cash as a matter of policy” struck me with the same gut punch as the first time a movie theater dared to show me a fucking Coke ad before the trailers. I knew it was the beginning of the end of TV-free theaters. They were being gentle with the first thrust into my movie going ass before it was going to be an expected part of our date.
I feel the same way about cashless society. Except this is much, much worse. This is the final, convenience providing removal of any illusion of privacy I’ve been coddling over the last few years. Without the ability to pay cash as I move about my life, that microchip my crazy Obama Death Camp friends are always railing about is utterly unnecessary.
I’ve often semi-joked that Facebook was Big Brother with an emoji smile, encouraging all of us to gleefully vomit out our whereabouts and personal information for “likes” without a second thought. Metaphorically, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing us He wasn’t there. My debit/credit card is simply the next inevitable, easy to use step in my cheerfully surrendered freedoms.
It’s August! The 2016 Tinfoil Hats should be in the showroom any day now!

10 Things I Hate About You

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I was sitting around our fire a couple of evenings ago when someone mentioned the popular sentiment that no one is born racist. A buddy of mine chimed in that he heard someone recently, he couldn’t quite remember who, actually trying to tell him that this wasn’t true at all, that more recent “studies” showed small children preferring dolls and playmates that looked like them over those that didn’t. “It was ridiculous” he scoffed.
“Who was this?” I asked.
“I’m not 100% sure, but I have my ideas”.
A wry smile came across my face as I reminded him that it was me.
Then I went into a little bit of the study I’d watched sometime back by University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer that replicated the research done in 1947 which was eventually used in Brown v. Board of Education to, at least on paper, end segregation in schools.
This led into my segue on Robert Wright’s research on Darwinian psychology and our unconscious predispositions toward any and every way we make choices all day long to improve our odds of propagating our genes with the best possible compatible genes.
His eyes glazed over as he tried to disagree without being disagreeable. I understood his dilemma and didn’t take it personally at all. It’s a reaction I often see when I try to bring this stuff up because it’s utterly anathema to what we’re told everyday in books, tv and every media flavor on the planet. That our nature is love, that hate is taught. That with Jesus, or Buddha or this self help book, I’ll be able to reconnect with My True Self.
Which is all great and good except it’s bullshit. And it does you and I a great injustice to sell us that. My True Nature is not Love. It’s fearful as fuck. Love is actually pretty damn hard to attain. Everything you aren’t telling me but that I’m watching with my lying eyes tells me so.

Every job I’ve ever had has a built-in disdain for anyone not in my department, or in my group, or in my company. Workers dislike management and visa verse. People in my home group talk trash about other home groups as sport. Or the way “others” work steps, or don’t work steps. Families talk shit about one another, and other families, other towns, states, countries, cultures and races. Sexual identity factions tear at each other, jockeying for status. Insert any and every sliver of society into that sentence and it’s no less true. Just not in public. Only with certified cosigners of our particular point of view. And we’re horrified and betrayed if they break that unspoken pact by disagreeing or exposing my secret squirrel real opinion on something. It’s everywhere and all encompassing and so ever-present that “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” or the next Maryanne Williamson best seller doesn’t stand a chance of buoyancy.

Unless.

Unless I am first honest about being the supremely fearful, self-serving asshole that I am in the first place. That this is not some character flaw that I must discard in order to get back to My True Self (which is the Self Help version of the old adage stating that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince us he didn’t exist) but that fear IS my nature.

As an animal this instinct is reflexive, from the amygdala portion of the brain that processes survival threats and also signals the presence of food, sexual partners, rivals, children in distress, and so on. It’s connected into most other portions of the brain. (interestingly, this little portion of the brain is larger in conservatives – but I digress) It’s literally how we’re wired.
But we’re evolved! Enlightened! Self aware!
Well, barely.
My ego gives me much more credit than I deserve. It’s actually pretty stunning just how not those things most of us are 23.5 hours of any given day; running on autopilot responses and reactions to life all the while thinking we made a choice, a decision, took a stand. Naw. You probably did and said what you always do and say. And patted yourself on the back for it. We build stories and books, erect statues and laws and traditions celebrating our evolved nature, lining the streets to worship… the Emperor’s New Clothes. And in an awkwardly uncomfortable way, we all know it but cheer anyway.

Ever notice how truly happy people stand out? That’s because they’re the exception, not the rule. Fucking well regulated serotonin levels. I hate em!

I don’t go on about all this to harsh your mellow. I say it because being honest with myself about where my feet are really planted is an absolute requirement if I want to walk forward without walking into walls or off cliffs; Further pissed that I’m a sinner or that the steps are bullshit or that I’m a horrible Buddhist because I shouldn’t be angry so I’ll just be passive aggressive. Fear IS my True Nature. The principles of altruism; brotherly love (not directly toward someone that will benefit me), hope, courage, openness, faith, integrity, willingness, kindness, joy – these are hard! They aren’t reflexive traits, for anyone! They take practice, especially when they are inconvenient. Not to make me a better person, or to bring me closer to God, but to create larger, more defined pathways in my brain for serotonin and other “happy” chemicals that trigger those feelings and responses to flow through.

I am no fan of the term “Miracle” or “Spiritual Experience” as they are the thinking version of magic. That word often invites the equivalent of a bill in congress packed with pork before it gets passed and signed off by the president. All kinds of half baked shady bullshit slides through under the guise of “magical” that was really just code for “I just got a super killer dose of endorphins or serotonin!” But when I try to replicate it for further Scooby Snacks it fails. And then I’m bitter. What a gyp!

The truth about me is I’m a hater. So are you. There, I said it. Now I can actually move on towards something better.

Boogeymen, Burgers & Bullets

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Much shouting happens over guns every time something big hits the news. But g
uns aren’t the issue – even as they are obviously the issue. Gun control won’t work simply because we aren’t Australia. We’re America, with 88.6 guns for every 100 citizens per capita. No one. And I mean no one is going to take them away. It’s just reality. In fact given the overall psychic state of America’s emotional and mental health they’re increasingly seen as an answer by a public slowly drowning in debt, poverty, fiscal disparity, fraudulent government, a quiet dread that their retirement plan will consist of moving in with their kids or robbing a liquor store so they can spend their golden years at scenic San Quentin By the Sea, with a media that daily, almost gleefully points to how “they” are coming to take what little resources we have away. We’re all scared shitless and pole-vaulting over mouse turds. It’s not that bad. At least not where you’re being told to look.

When Stef and I left New Orleans we felt a tension building around us. Something nefarious shifted in the feel of our neighborhood. Two weeks before we packed up to go, a mother’s day parade got shot up 6 blocks from our house in broad daylight. A couple of weeks before that a neighbor stepped off his porch and fired rounds at a guy who’d been trying to break in. A week before that a guy got robbed at gun point a block up across from the Ruby Slipper and it didn’t work out the way the robber planned. Since then things have gotten worse. The Quarter has seen such an uptick in violence that Quarter merchants have banded together for security.
Here’s why it’s gotten worse; New Orleans is a beautiful, eccentric, mess of a second world city. That said, there was always a strong sense that we’re all in it together. Hurricanes happened no matter which neighborhood you lived in. Entergy loses power for days at a time whether you live uptown or in the 7th ward. Everyone gets to boil their water a few times a year for several days at a time because the pumps backed up sewage into the municipal water. Everyone suffers the heat and humidity. Everyone gets rained on. Everyone relishes in it’s music, food, corruption, and colorful characters. No one’s immune. That’s what made it’s gumbo work. It was unspoken and completely understood.
Only now gentrification is pushing the poor out of traditionally lower middle to poor neighborhoods. Pushing them further out of their city. That camaraderie is being replaced with “Fuck you, we aint in this together no more. Gimme your damn wallet.”

That little story was okay as long as it was happening somewhere else. Not affecting my quiet little middle-class life. Let the poor brown people tear at each other far away on the news. But that’s not how it is anymore. The middle-class is feeling just as shut out and disenfranchised as the poor and brown have always felt. And we’re being told to blame the poor and the brown for it. But by all means PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!!

It’s happening everywhere. Here in the bay area it’s becoming less and less possible to live if you don’t work in tech with a double income. Hell, if my father wasn’t a smart guy back in the 70’s and made it possible for me to own a house, my wife and I would’ve been forced to leave awhile ago. We barely live month to month as it is. Our answer is to hang in and hang on as long as possible and in the meantime practice that “we’re all in it together” mentality. All the things we do here at the house are a part of that belief. We help. We ask for help. We share. I was raised that way. A part of me scratches my head and wonders why everyone doesn’t do just that too. Because opening our house fosters a small town mentality where people feel safe. And it enriches the fuck out of us to do it. Love and service baby, love and service.
We’re in it together here. I own 5 firearms. The thought of giving them back is ridiculous. I’m not worried about poor people robbing me. They’re in it together, just like me. We all keep this sanctuary afloat. I worry about the people telling me I need to worry about my neighbors. And how easily Americans buy that narrative.

Not Fade Away

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The final scene of the greatest tv show of all time is of Lindsay Weir donning her army jacket and piling into a VW van with her best friend, Kim Kelly to go follow the Dead for the summer in complete defiance of her family’s assumption that she’d hopped on a bus to go to an academic excellence camp. As they turn the corner, driving down the street to “Ripple” I was a complete mess – because I knew what she was doing. She was following something inside her that had to be expressed lest she die the slow death of other’s expectations.
It was sparked however by her meeting a couple of fledging Deadheads awhile earlier who offer her a copy of American Beauty. It sets fire to a piece of her spirit in a real way. “Box of Rain” alone in her room compels her to move. Fluid, graceful, honest.

So it was with me.

Freaks & Geeks nearly perfectly mirrored my life in high school. Set in 1980, I was a brainy stoner. My first show was the ’80/’81 New Years set in Oakland. I just passed on my beautifully painted army jacket a few years ago to a lovely hippie soul to carry on it’s mission and it’s been a joy to see how spot on I was in sending it off with her.
Last night resurrected much of that same loving, empathic, connected, seeing the good in my fellows honesty. That core of who I am, unencumbered by world weary wariness.
We made friends on the train platform. Spent time with an old dear friend before the show. I noted that in the 25 years since we’d known one another that we both still knew each other. I know you’ll get that.

Our seats were at the top of the third deck, facing the stage and as luck would have it, perfectly blocked the wind. As we settled in, deciding that the incline and distance from the railing was indeed survivable the guy directly in front of us offered up some of the M&Ms he was munching on. “They aren’t dosed” he said. “Well, at least not by me. I can’t vouch for the Concessionaires.” he grinning. Very soon we found out that he and his buddy were from Jacksonville and L.A. respectively. Soon after that that they each had over 20 years sober. Instant Wharf Rat meeting. We became quick friends. Dancing and laughing gleefully, singing along and high fiving with every new song.
By the time a rainbow formed over the stage I had surrendered all pretense of my normal life. I simply waved hi to Jerry and kept swaying.

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It’s easy to be cynical about the Dead and it’s culture. Patchouli. (which I hardly smelled any of) Weed. (Which I smelled plenty of) Dirty hippies. The jaded eye of people who never got it or forgot what it was like to know it would scoff at what happened that night. And I would feel sad for them.

As we rode an escalator down, just before we’d get swallowed up by 80,000 revelers, tears rolled down my face. The music was still playing. A living eulogy to itself as it faded away with our increasing distance from it. This was the last time I’d ever hear them play. It was fucking amazing. But like Lindsay Weir, it is a warm hug from the inside, once again coloring my vision as I head on down that road. Like my first Burning Man. Like my first breath of New Orleans. Like my first love. There is a Truth in it that can’t be taken away. Only taken with.

Have a great show tonight.

The Comfort of My Own Private Echo Chamber

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I’ve mentioned before that I make a point of following a pretty broad spectrum of sociopolitical perspectives on my feed because I want to get a good barometer of what people who don’t think like me are feeling about daily events. It doesn’t serve me to react to any differing perspective with a collective reaction of the see, hear and speak no evil monkeys and ban them from my social media feed and favor only the soothing sounds of the echo chamber of like-minds. That only fortifies each camp’s perspective and digs greater rifts between all of us. We all lose.
The memes, articles and posts I’m seeing running down my Facebook feed regarding Baltimore are, I feel pretty indicative of race relations in America. From pining for the good old days which never existed to utopian temper tantrums for a world that doesn’t exist to uncle toms, apologists and race traitors of all ilks. Each with a surety that they have a much greater understanding of the situation than their fellows. (unless they agree with me!) I read and watch each of their rants, pithy snippets and sound bytes and what I get is that everybody is afraid. No one sees an out, no one likes where we all stand and no one really knows what the fuck to do except wish for better and blame the other.
It’s even worse if you scroll through the comments section of any video or article posted up here. That’s where I get to read the hideous underbelly of what people actually think but don’t say in polite society. It’s fucking gross. But it’s America.
The one good thing I’m getting from this cacophony of opinion is that we’re starting to have the discussion that America needs to have with itself regarding race, class, opportunity and responsibility. Yes, it’s fugly. And it desperately needs to happen.
It is a common trait amongst humans to choose comfort over courage. But I think you’re up for it. I double dog dare you to click “follow” on your friends from high school, coworkers, relatives and people you slept with back in college who you hid because you couldn’t stand what they said on their feeds. Have it out with them. But remember – there’s a reason why you liked them in the first place. Remember that while you’re disagreeing with them. Yelling louder won’t get us where we need to go. Remembering and finding common ground will. Only love. …but I could be wrong.

The Audacity of Loving an Ugly Duckling

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A friend who I really only know through Facebook posted a few pics of the “new” her that were so striking that I felt compelled to encourage her with a comment. What I said was “You look great! I hope your mind has followed.” She’s someone who I know has struggled because she’s been pretty honest and open about how she feels. Some of it is easily just the rites of passage that all of us go through in our twenties. But some of it is that extra tweak of damage I recognize because it reminds me of me. So naturally I root for her from afar.
I grew up a pretty ugly kid. Nerdy on top of that. And an introvert. With a big brain and an uncool depth of feeling. In short, I was fucked. When I turned 18 and got clean I miraculously went from ugly duckling to stoner punk rock swan. Only I had no idea that I had. I saw myself through the same filter I always had, only now girls started to pay attention to me. Which I thought was weird, but I sure wasn’t going to ignore my good fortune. Unfortunately my mind didn’t keep up with my improved outer appearance and I played from the perspective that I still suck but I’m smart and charming and as long as I’m good in bed you’ll hang out for awhile.
For the next 30 years.
I made a LOT of messes. Aimed for women who I had no business falling for. Managed to never get shot. (and I don’t make that statement for dramatic color) Pushed away lovers who were probably actually great, loving, loyal people for the very reason that they were just those things. And handed my heart on a platter to lovers who were no more capable of receiving it responsibly than I was at staying.
I finally broke at just under 40 years old.
I spent the next two years doing absolutely nothing romantically inclined and sought outside help. I’d dug as far as I could with the steps. They weren’t designed for this shit. But they DID give me the basic honesty and self awareness to be able to flip all my cards face up with a professional so *they* could put them in an order that made sense and receive new tools to heal my psyche. Learning to apply those ideas and skills was sometimes graceless. But it was exciting and it required me to step radically outside my comfort zone. Frankly I was all for it.
My 40’s became bar none, the best decade of my life by a long stretch. At 43 I was brushing my teeth one morning when it dawned on me that I was a pretty good looking guy. It was quite literally the first time I’d had that thought. My mind caught up to my outsides – just in time to get deathly ill for about 4 straight years, culminating in the loss of my leg. During that stretch of repeated tastes of “almost dead” fear drove me back to all my old ways in spades. But I wasn’t that ugly, introverted, awkward kid anymore. My mind actually had caught up, though at the expense of another relationship and long friendship.
It’s funny, having a fake leg hasn’t rendered me ugly. If anything it’s emboldened me. It no longer matters to me whether I’m attractive or not. Because I am clearly not my body. I am the thoughts I act on. I am the kindness I show others that no one knows about. I am a kid blowing raspberries in my wife’s belly while she squeals in equally childlike laughter and redoubles her feisty efforts to pin me. She thinks I’m hot and it makes me smile because it just isn’t important anymore. Staying and appreciating a fellow good, kind, loyal soul as my partner is what matters.
So I have great hopes for my Facebook friend. Because it took that guy to become this guy. I’m rooting for her.

The (Early Bird Special) Breakfast Club

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A friend posted this morning that today is the 31st anniversary of The Breakfast Club. Thirty Wonderful angsty, feisty, rebellious, edging toward conformity, living within society, looking toward retirement years.
Fuck.
In B-Club terms I was a cross between Brian the nerd and Bender the rebellious stoner and I had a mad crush on Allison the freak. Today, I’m Carl the janitor, married to a cross between Allison the freak and Claire the popular girl. And I couldn’t be happier with that outcome. Carl was a sage.
When the hell did 50 sneak up on all my friends and replace our shining, firm, clueless, beautiful hubris with waist measurements bigger than leg lengths, wrinkles, receding hairlines, grey pubic hair, muffin tops, aches that tell you barometric pressure, cynicism and surrender? Well, except for the few who’ve given up all hope of an actual life for the scent of gym and/or gone into the plastic surgeon witness protection program. Am I the only one who notices that all facelifts give a creepy clone look to the recipients?
But I digress.
When I was a kid my view of adults was that they always looked just like that; Old, saggy, grey, grumpy, sexless. I couldn’t conceive of their youth. I am quite sure my niece views my sister and I the very same way. It makes me chuckle, both at her and at myself. Carl the Janitor can do that.
I also regret not allowing myself to be photographed more than half a dozen times during my entire 20’s. I look at kids around the same age today and think to myself “you are more beautiful, strong, in shape, strapping and sexy than you’re ever going to be. Biology designed it to be that way. And you’re wasting it by nit-picking yourself. You’re in competition with no one, no matter what society and your own head tell you. Enjoy you and those you’ve chosen to be your tribe. Or kick rocks and go find another tribe that does suit you.”

The clock’s ticking. Trust me on that.
The next time I have to come in here I’m crackin’ skulls!

Aim Low, Shoot High

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When I had a few years clean and had already worked the steps a couple of times, Emmet Fox’s Sermon on the Mount had become all the rage around the rooms. As it turns out, that book was an integral influence on the original writing of the Big Book and after reading it I could see it’s stamp all over Bill’s words. But that’s an interesting side note. What’s in my head this morning is the profound effect Fox’s book had on me as an Atheist. (which is only to say it could probably have a profound effect on *anyone*!)
You see, studying Sermon on the Mount changed the way I saw recovery in AA in a most fundamental way. Fox talks about principles in terms of absolutes. That Honesty, Humility, Courage, Integrity, Willingness, Brotherly Love are perfect ideals. At the time I was a very angry young man, though my two runs through the steps had provided me some relief from that particular bondage of self. Just enough relief that reading Fox’s ideas on practicing principles in all my affairs struck me as something I needed to pay attention to; it mattered not that when I threw a rock [principle] at the east foothills [ideal] that I didn’t hit the east foothills [ideal]. What mattered was that by trying as hard as I could in the moment – I made progress.
What I read in that book was that being human meant that I could never achieve perfection regarding these principles but that every bit of suffering in my life was directly connected to the degree by which I worship my exceptions to practicing them in each affair of my life. My serenity is inversely proportional to my “yeah but’s…”.
Mind blown.
On a very core level I thought to myself, “fuck.” because I knew it was absolutely true even as my mind came up with several favorite, well polished, lifelong trophies of justified rage that I loved (in a Stockholm Syndrome sort of way) to hold up regularly as my righteous burden qualifying me to treat you badly.
Thus began my going on 25 year snipe hunt to eradicate my “yeah but’s” regarding practicing principles. Not because I’m a saint (as all of you who know me know for damn sure!) but because I’m practically Don Quixote when it comes to trapping my own hypocrisies and hoisting them up to be mocked! Sometimes they’re vanquished. Sometimes they’re accepted as being a quirky part of me that I may not be ready to let go of yet. A catch and release program of sorts. But acknowledging my “yeah but’s” means they no longer scurry around ruining my happiness without my permission. Which starts making them look and feel kind of silly.

“12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” never looked the same to me again after that.

Unremarkable Acts of Humanity

Stef and I were window shopping at Lowes a couple of days ago and I started chatting with an employee hanging out near kitchens about tattoos. He wondered aloud whether Pinky had done my stuff. He was in a wheelchair and we shifted toward talking about disabilities. I pulled my pant leg up to show him my Gimp Membership Card and we launched off into discussion as my wife smiled and waved us off to go look at shelving. She knows me and my random 10 minute long chats with strangers.
We were talking about perspective and how many people who end up in chairs or get amputated struggle emotionally with it, with being different. He said “you know what man? I’ve got cerebral palsy. I’ve been in a chair my whole life. Sometimes a customer will ask me how someone like me ends up working at a home improvement store. I tell em (waving his arms in an expansive gesture) you see all this? I know where all of it is. Every last piece. I know what works with what and what won’t. They’d be lost here without me and this brain.
“And that’s the thing” he said as he started to turn and ride off like a Hawkings-esque John Wayne into an aisle 7 sunset, “people waste their time suffering over the lives they used to have and the things they used to do, when they could be looking forward towards what they have now and how they can use it!”

<Gimp mic drop>

I couldn’t agree with him more. For all of us, whatever we’re claiming as our handicap.

I think the most important element in these sorts of stories I tell is not that they’re inspiring but that they are actually completely unremarkable.
I don’t see myself as handicapped. In fact unless I’m taking it on or off or walking through a metal detector I never even consider that I have a fake leg. And I think that’s infectious.
I posted that high school teacher dance video this morning and it wasn’t until my third time watching it that I noticed the kid in the front row of one of the dancing student sequences rise up out of his wheelchair to more or less move in sync with everyone else doing it. He blended in. He wasn’t showcased nor catered to nor pittyed. He was one among and unremarkable. It made me very happy because *that’s* the point.


The ultimate goal to me for any segment of society that needs special attention to achieve successful averageness is that attaining it should not be newsworthy at all, it is so commonplace. Be it gay rights, brown people inhabiting the middle class or excellence in something other than sports or entertainment, women receiving equal access and pay, mental illness treated with the same acceptance as any other physical malady.
My goal is “so?” in the best of ways.

The Whitewash of Blackface

269614_2125700498792_1134296117_2405887_3679363_n I have a style of posting on Facebook that encourages audience participation. I throw something out there, often it’s inflammatory. But posed in a way that makes people think. Above all else I want people to think, whether they agree with me or not. I want them to be awake to where they stand on a thing. To own what they believe, not merely recite it like pulling a string in their back. I encourage discourse and opposing views. My only rule is you can’t attack anyone else’s beliefs. You can’t bully. Yesterday after reading the teaser for an article someone posted which had three photos of President Obama, Eric Holder and Al Sharpton with the word THUGS in the title. Behold, my topic for the morning: You *do* realize that when you use the word “thug” we all know you actually mean “nigger”, right? The discussion that followed was interesting and at one point it was suggested that by posing this rhetorical question I was exasperating the racial divide in this country. Now I’ve been chewing on just that idea for the last month. And this is what fell out. I’m not furthering any divide. That divide is plainly there. I’m just calling out the fart in church. The etymology of the word “thug” is of little relevance to the discussion. Very pertinent is it’s popular usage. I’m reading things encouraging conciliation in the wake of the cops getting shot over the weekend. I say the opposite needs to happen. Not an out and out race war but for the topic to not be hastily stitched closed by people saying all the right things to smooth egos, hurt feelings, and retain status quo. We NEED to talk this out. We need to be made to see our willful blindness that keeps things comfortable for us and not for everyone else. (see: U.S. population NOT white, straight, male) The isms in our country are institutional, pervasive and part of every bit of it’s fabric so much so that it is stunningly easy to be blind to it, akin to a fish being asked to describe water. There is much talk about women, brown people and all the other crybabies of society sucking America dry one welfare check, crack pipe and illegitimate rape at a time. That they need to get over it, get a job, stop with the victim mentality. Every meaningful social statistic says that societal opportunity is stacked against them, from birth forward. Blacks, asians, women, hispanics are rarely shown in any media as anything but stereotypes. Caricatures. If they’re strong, capable, smart, well they die to save our white hero (who avenges their death). Or the white savior makes a stand to save them. Educational resources are funneled away from poor neighborhoods. Police arrest nonwhites at 4 times the rate of whites even though drug usage rates are equal. No one except double digit I.Q.ed neanderthals actually say “nigger” anymore, they say “thug” and everyone in the club knows which side of the fence they’re on. All levels of any meaningful career is still firmly a good ol boys club. Even Silicon Valley only has maybe a 25% female employment rate. It’s bullshit. The protesting going on didn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s been brewing for a long time. Most of it isn’t being done by people breaking windows and setting fires. Hell, protesters outed a cop in Oakland undercover as a protester breaking windows – instigating chaos. When confronted he drew on them. It’s insidious. And the media is all too happy to produce the narrative. One crackpot shoots two cops sitting in their car and it wipes away decades of police abuse. I don’t accept the “a few bad apples” argument regarding rogue cops the very same way I don’t accept the “not all men” tactic. It conveniently hands the worst characters over as appeasement to keep everything the same. it looks absolutely nothing in the eye. And that desperately needs to happen. I am not a race traitor, a gender traitor or a closet homo. Those aren’t filters I see through usually and whether you think I am speaks a great deal about you, not me.  What I am is awake. And being so makes me sick. The consciousnesses that need to be raised are *ours*, not the people we keep held down by the fiscal, social throat, insisting that if only they had more character they’d be just like us. Everything about our society is rigged to favor me. Ann Richards, governor of Texas once said of George Bush, “Poor George, born on third base and thinks he hit a home run.” That’s you and I. Maybe you’re relatively poor and you aren’t feeling that statement at all. But the word “relative” is significant. You probably work your ass off just to get by. The people I’ve listed at the outset of my post – they work just as hard, for less, with even less hope of leaving their station in life. The consciousness that needs to get raised is mine. Ours. Step out of your comfort zone. Pay attention to how you get access, privilege, a basic assumption of benevolence simply by nature of your gender, race or orientation. It’s easy to do. Think of the superlatives you use reflexively to describe a black person, even complimentarily, that you find unnecessary to use to describe someone from your tribe. Try it with a woman. A gay person. Those words are unconscious prejudice. And deeds follow words. America is at a turning point. “All lives matter” is a worthless rebuttal to “black lives matter” because we already know white lives matter. Acknowledging that black lives matter brings them into the equation. It has to happen first before “all lives matter” is a truth and not literally a whitewash. I don’t lose a damn thing by offering women, blacks, asians, hispanics, and gays the same humanity, dignity, opportunity, access and rights that I receive simply by virtue of half my bloodline (I don’t have the energy to get into what’s been done to the Native American part of me). We all gain by bringing as many great minds to the table as possible because America isn’t doing well. We need one another.

Your Picker Ain’t Broke – You Are

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This sounds mean and cruel but it isn’t my intent. It breaks my heart hearing people claim their picker is broken, as if it were a defective feature outside themselves. It also proclaims that they fully intend on picking another version of what they’re unhappy about now.

Water seeks it’s own level. I always pick what I am on an emotional level. Owning that is one of the hardest truths I’ve ever had to swallow. Doing so meant the beginning of a new life with new choices. Arguing against it means a promise of more of the same.

I think the aspect of acknowledging responsibility for the people I choose in my life is super important. Almost everyone I know who uses the broken picker bit does so to distance responsibility. It’s ‘them’, not me. Stupid picker.

I absolutely agree that we pick partners to help us work out our issues. Totally. Sadly we do it unconsciously for the most part, chasing fire without realizing that that intensity is our neuroses igniting our libido, and calling it ‘fate’ as Jung would say. We try to work out our demons with a synchronistic lover, though blindly, dangerously. Two steps forward, one step back if we’re lucky.