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.