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!

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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.