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Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks – Tom Petty

It’s the fifth of May and there’s snow on my deck. A full foot of it by my estimation. I was driving to the 7-11 in a whiteout blizzard last night for a bag of cookies and premade sandwich, thinking “really? …” But weather is a God thing and you get what you get. If only life could be so reactive. Plans are essential but planning is useless. I’m laying the bullshit on a bit heavy here. Must be this inclement weather getting to me. (Full confession: I had to look up “inclement” and am still not sure if it fits.)

I was reading one of those typically inane Instagram posts yesterday with a list of places in America, and one of them was Tahoe. “Most people,” the person or bot generating the list claimed, “have been to five or fewer of these places.” The point was that they were all supposed to be desirable, special places to go. And Tahoe is, undeniably, a beautiful place. For the past three or four years I’ve been remodeling an old family cabin. It began with the idea that it would be a way to solidify some part of my past; upgrade it and invest in its future. What’s puzzling isn’t the revelation that you can’t invest in the future of your past, but the idea that I might have ever thought it possible. It’s taken a lot of coming up here by myself and just sitting with it to realize I’ve done a decent job anyway. The new windows are nice and I took out a wall between the kitchen and living room. This really opened the place up. But, as Bill Stratton’s bumpersticker continues to resonate, wherever you go there you are.

I got into a rather protracted debate with a friend the other day about what it means to “come full circle.” There’s no way to tell this story without risking being revealed a contemptible racist, but here goes: I was talking about the Netflix adaptation of the Tom Wolfe novel “A Man In Full” and how the black, female director had created a series where the black characters were well conceived and human, and the whites were cardboard cutouts and caricatures. I asserted that we’d come full-circle from the days when the reverse was true and most films depicted blacks as minstrel-esque and subservient. He claimed that, for it to be full-circle, we’d have to be right back in that position. I said no, and that while his scenario might qualify even better, mine still worked because the full-circle element was that we’d started in a place where one group had no sense for the other and come back around to it. Yes, the players had been inverted, but the condition itself had come full-circle. Then he called me a racist and we agreed not to discuss it anymore. That I haven’t identified him and refrained from titling this post “Full Circle” is a small sign of progress.

The above notwithstanding, this adaptation of “A Man In Full” was nothing to write home about to Mammy. (OK .. sue or cancel me, but try and do it before this snow melts.) I did watch a slightly better series earlier in what turned into a big Netflix week. “Baby Reindeer” is a troubling effort relating the true-life tale of a Scottish guy who was hounded mercilessly by a female stalker. The woman in question is fat and loud and hard to take at first, but the story is compelling. It made me think about two seemingly unshakeable facts of life: most of us don’t want to be alone and most of us realize that we all die that way. In fact, the “alone” part is probably what people fear most about dying. It would be easier if you could take someone with you, and not just figuratively speaking. (On a side note, my old man probably came closer than most to accomplishing this with my mother .. but that’s another post.) So in a way, being OK with being alone in life is likely decent preparation for being alone in death. Kind of like being OK with having a foot of snow on one’s deck in May. Which isn’t a clever ending, but rather a cheap way of coming full circle.

Diggin’ up Bones

I’m back ..” – Ace Frehley

It temporarily wipes the slate clean. Makes you forget old regrets like backing down to Bill Shubin in eighth grade or letting Dave Rios call you ‘fuckface’ in front of Michelle Giacchino at high school scheduling. Erases the times you should have pulled the trigger but didn’t, opens that fistful of cowardly instincts to the wind. Gone are events over which you’ve died a thousand deaths. More substantive missteps vanish too; wasted potential, relationships taking bad left turns and jumping the rail with mangled front axle. Replaces “old” with “upright,” “shy” with “what?” Jackhammers the surrounding cement from your old man’s “place of love” observations and blows the hardened dust helplessly down Seventh Avenue on a cold December day. All bullshit conjured in your fat head salt-grained like instructions whispered from some wannabe county fair hypnotist. This is returning to New York City after a four year absence. This is being thrust into the present.

It’s Friday morning and I’ve gotten here, which is four-fifths the battle. Inertia’s grip clamps down like an Iron Sheik choke-hold when you toss in funerals, pandemics, lockdowns and not having to move. But it goes in both directions, inertia, as a West Village shrink once told me. And then it’s like that pop on a frozen pickle jar right when you think your wrist is going to snap. Pushing past airports and people and $130 Uber rides from JFK, to check-ins and tricky elevator key cards and some trendy Chelsea hotel called “Motto.” Mine’s “it’s like riding a bike,” or maybe falling off one, this city. But, (and this one’s bigger than Adele’s on a super chunky Jif bender) there’s no other like it. So I take the subway to Brooklyn this first morning for breakfast. Because I used to live here and I can, which should cover all things going forward.

Local, Express, Uptown, Downtown. “Any retard can melt cheese,” to quote the great Hank Kingsley. This is all one needs to know about the Metro, about how to navigate a world class city. I depart at Court Street Station, take the elevator up and exit to Montague Street, where Bob Dylan once sensed “revolution in the air.” It’s corned beef hash and eggs over easy I’m sensing at the Grand Canyon Diner, an establishment with menu so large it carries footnotes and citations. A functional diner with booths and competent waiters, something so seemingly simple yet increasingly difficult to find in places outside Brooklyn. Somewhere an early seventies man of modest means can sit for a spell without being hurried and pick up the tab for his older friend if so inclined. Two women past child-bearing years huddle and discuss the conflict in Israel over coffee and toasted bagels. “My niece is Palestinian .. they sent her home from school Wednesday.” Their tone grows hushed and the waiter knows to increase the time between refills. All so extraordinarily ordinary; wouldn’t raise an eyebrow unless you’d lived anywhere else.  I drop my wallet in the gents room on the way out but return to find it laying conspicuously on the mopped floor. I flash it to the owner who’s asked with concern, both of us relieved, and I place my hand on his shoulder before leaving. I used to live here. I belong.

Saturday night and the flashbacks grow stronger, more pronounced. I’m with Mark Street — my original Brooklyn connection and ex San Francisco coworker — at Peter McManus pub, a storied joint conspicuously devoid of morons in red outfits on SantaCon night. We’re talking kids and brothers and drinking and agoraphobia .. hitting on all the highlights. Then it’s a short trot uptown to an actual Saturday night Christmas party, Street joining me despite aforementioned subject matter. More of my past crashing back in living color. But it’s good, festive even, and good to be remembered. Alli and Nicole karaoking “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About.” “When are you girls going to grow up?” I ask to bursts of ironic laughter. I slip back to the Motto before things get out of hand, a stately older gentleman who knows how to get when the getting’s good. You can bask in the middle of New York’s electric charge or just sit with it all playing out thirty-nine stories below the hotel glass, as my dad loved to do, coming here. It’s all good; all New York.

A kind of heavy sadness overtakes me leaving here. This is the price you pay, shaking inertia’s tree. The ride to JFK departing always feels different than arriving when you no longer live here. Back home it’s suburban-dead and quiet, too. “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” So read the bumper sticker on George Stratton’s Volvo, a stern junior high teacher who liked to warn about the evils of dope, of not growing up. He’s dead now too, I’m guessing. Just like Greenbrae, California on a Monday night. But New York City most certainly is not, and that’s a good thing to know.

Myers and the Chief

Scott Coleman Miller, Tom Myers. Lake Tahoe CA, October 2023.

I traveled to Tahoe with Scott Miller and Tom Myers last week for our sexennial Sierra event, which sounds a bit gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but is the proper way to describe something that takes place every six years. I posted on the last trip back in 2017 and included a similar photo with Miller leaning forward, assuming the dominant position, and Tom responding with appreciative, back footed bemusement. I don’t think I’ve known a more “yin and yang” friendship over the years and am struck by this every time the three of us get together. It isn’t that I’m a third wheel or drop of water to their oily bond. I do add a certain, albeit unessential element to the trio. But I’m not exactly a part of what these two have going on, either. Tom is the deferential fuel to Scott’s Zippo lighter and in his absence the Miller flame can flicker and ultimately give out.  I’m like a separate box of matches altogether.

I picked Miller up at the Reno airport where he was flying in from Minneapolis and we made our way to the Silver Legacy casino to watch his Chicago Bears play Thursday Night Football. Part of our youthful interaction involved the mid-80s Bears-Niners rivalry, but those days are long gone. On this night I fed a twenty into a video poker game and nursed it through the second half while Scott made short work of a burger and stepped outside the dining area to cash in on Nevada’s lenient casino smoking laws. There was a time when we could make a night of it, but gambling’s novelty thins with age and Tom was due to arrive back at the cabin. Reno has always been Vegas’s poor relative and post covid it’s acquired a more pronounced limp. Still, it maintains a certain pathetic charm and this followed in our wake over the mountain with the waft of sheep urine from a livestock truck ahead. Soon we’d overtaken said sheep and were back lakeside, embarking on a stargazing stroll. We returned to Myers’ convertible parked in the driveway and the boy himself inside scarfing a Safeway deli sandwich with bag of salt and vinegar chips. “Those were a mistake purchase,” he confessed, the party having officially started.

It was an active few days at altitude and we fit in multiple restaurant meals, nine holes of regulation golf and eighteen miniature (“goofy” in Miller’s midwestern vernacular), some light gambling at the Hyatt past stateline, and kayaking under sublime late afternoon/early October conditions. Too many highlights to rank but breakfast at the Old Post Office coffee shop was definitely among them. Scott has a long and loving history with the place and was disappointed to discover that his beloved biscuits and gravy (emphasis on the ‘biscuits‘) was no longer on the menu. The dark cloud over his head passed when the waitress informed him it was still available as an off-menu item, but returned quickly when a side plate with single biscuit and frugal dollop was placed in front of him. He was decidedly crestfallen (despite making quick work of his child’s portion) and had to flag down the waitress for supplementary grub. Somewhere in the process I snapped a classic “Miller shot” : mouth agape, hand expressively positioned, head cocked sideways looking to rectify the situation. I would like to make note of my not posting it here as evidence of late-life maturity. Besides, my eggs over easy with corned beef hash arrived on time and in plentiful portion.

Toby Keith, someone I’ve long considered a middling musician, recently performed his song “Don’t Let The Old Man In” for an awards show. Context is everything and Keith has been battling some serious health issues lately. That he wrote the song after hearing the quote from Clint Eastwood doesn’t cost him any points with me, either. It’s a simple but effective tune and contains the line “just ask yourself how old you would be / if you didn’t know the day you were born.” And this is the way I can feel on rare occasion with Myers and Miller. They are a reassuring constant, having bonded the first day they met in the Monaco Labs print department. That I’ll never exactly be a part of their deal is unconcerning and I’d be too caught up in sustaining or evaluating things — a condition neither seems to suffer. I’m glad to provide the occasional spectacular setting, jot down a few words, and know that I’m a good friend to each. That anyone should be so lucky is not to be overlooked.

Van The Man, Indeed

“No white man sings like Van Morrison.” So proclaimed the native San Franciscan and music journalist Greil Marcus. Whenever I use this observation in a comment section, I invariably get hit with “watch the racist generalizations” or similar sentiment. To which the reply “blow me” seems to suffice. And this is what I figure Van would tell me if I ever met him and expressed my fandom. I once read a Reddit thread about Van’s famously mercurial ways. Some young dude chimed in about having seen him at a show in New York City. “Afterwards, I went into this half-empty dive bar, and there he was having a drink with Sean Penn.” Seems like a promising set up. “I got up the nerve and went over to ask them both for an autograph. Sean Penn signed my paper but Van Morrison told me to ‘fuck off.'” The kind of story to be taken with a huge grain of Celtic salt, but I like to believe it’s true.

I’ve been following Van most of my life and long ago discovered he’s got two categories of fans. The first is those who have heard the “hits,” often starting with Brown Eyed Girl being played endlessly on whatever now passes for a jukebox in their favored local. Maybe they know Wild Night from a movie soundtrack and discovered Domino along the way. They fall into Moondance by way of their fathers, getting a direct line of Into The Mystic and And It Stoned Me into their veins. If they’re particularly ambitious and the first marriage fails or the Gameboy is busted, they might even trip across Astral Weeks (though rarely the superior Veedon Fleece.) And, edging into their forties, they finally catch Van in concert and come away thinking “what the hell was that?” Predictably, they comment on his lack of crowd-friendly behavior and how he “didn’t play any of his good songs.” Ultimately, they take exception to me setting them straight in a comments section and redeem their superiority by admonishing my racist generalizations.

The second group includes guys like me (who often fat-headedly figure they’re in a third group all on their own.) They’ve seen him many times, usually in places like San Francisco and New York City because he tours frequently, typically in Europe and on short American stints. They consider buying a last minute ticket because he’s playing SFJAZZ on Franklin, and, my God, that place only seats about five hundred. Still, the idea of dragging one’s ass into the city and dealing with parking and other people is too much and … *click* they hit the button, the credit card is charged, and the deal is sealed. Cut to driving across the bridge, doing battle with a QR code that won’t scan from paper at the parking garage, and all the layered levels of squalor and residual tech opulence that define San Francisco 2023. Trying to look old man cool in your felt Macy’s sports jacket at the venue bar but ending up awkward and sweaty, hitting the bodega four blocks away for an airline bottle of Jameson as old school alternative to trendier fentanyl and meth.

Finally you find your seat, so close that you fear social awkwardness leading to public misstep and Van storming off the stage having singled you out. But no time for that because, as is typical, the house lights dim at seven-thirty sharp, and with brief introduction he walks out to that gold plated microphone center stage. He’s short, trimmer than he once was, and decked out in oversized shades with natty blue suit and matching fedora. It feels perfunctory at first. He’s not looking up, just staring through those dark lenses into the top of the mic, baring sharp front incisors for occasional growling emphasis. Streamline Train. Sailaway Ladies. I Wish I Was An Apple On A Tree. Those hoping for some Irish version of John Fogerty belting through “Fortunate Son” are already crestfallen. But most are not and if you take the occasional peripheral glance you see people curiously intrigued with this little dude who hasn’t looked up once but instead seems to be turning more inward with each song. Then at some point it happens. In this case it was Green Rocky Road made famous by Dave Van Ronk in the early 60s Village folk scene. Van’s own adaptation, no introduction, and as with all others, on the heels of the previous number. “When I go down Baltimore / got no carpet on my floor.” Somewhere in the middle of the song he’s done his thing again. You go from being uncomfortable, curiously distracted, out among the masses, to tearing up. Tell me who do you love, child? Who do you love? Indeed, no white man sings like Van Morrison, and you wouldn’t want them to. It takes too much to get there.

I-80 East Revisited

Spending a lot of time on the interstate lately between sea level and Tahoe. I was stuck in a three-hour standstill just outside of Roseville a few Thursdays ago. Ninety degree heat with the engine off watching a lot of men unsuited for shorts getting out of their cars to try and get a look down the road. Sometimes you just have to hunker down and resolve to not going anywhere. It’s a big part of life. Roseville is the kind of place where you’ll catch a sign hung outside some newish, still available prefab condo project. “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Already.” The ‘already’ is the giveaway. Beware of any location whose primary appeal is being an alternative to a three hour traffic jam.

Having to pass through Sacramento and the like is part of the process of driving to Tahoe. All spectacular locations require wading through crippling mediocrity to arrive. And they typically come with the caveat that no great place goes undiscovered. We may have cheated the Native Americans out of Manhattan for the price of some tobacco and a sack of beans, but they were the last to see Tahoe in August before the Germans arrived. (Using ‘Germans’ here as a general metaphor for any group descending on a area from afar with pale legs and inflatable arm floats.) Still, there’s always the final drop down from 267 and spotting that particular body of water. I had a friend in New York who bragged on her family vacation spot upstate at Lake Luzerne. She contrasted it with Tahoe, where she’d never been, asserting that it was the superior spot. My take at the time, having visited both places, was that if I’d lived at Lake Luzerne I would’ve been home already.

“Never get married.” This is Clarence Williams III’s (“Linc” from “Mod Squad”) advice to Prince in a poignantly funny scene from the movie Purple Rain. My updated version, based on a years-long project at our family cabin, is “never remodel.” Buy new, sure, if you’re young and have it all in front of you. Or, alternatively, rent and enjoy the freedom. But under no circumstance remodel. Particularly if there is nostalgia involved and the idea involves some version of upgrading the past. The past is a memory, the future a mystery, and the present a gift. This is why they call it the present. I stole this years ago from that Indian snake oil salesman, Deepak Chopra. Having undertaken a years-long remodeling project, I now wish I’d had Deepak as a contractor. Shoddy workmanship is a given, even with the licensed variety, but at least he could have spun some first class bullshit to make it more palatable. The first guy I hired was a short, turquoise  and cowboy boot wearing Qanon type. All of which works for me. Unfortunately, he was also prone to rage and stroked-out about halfway into the job. The second guy, an industrious Mexican fellow with a small construction empire out of Truckee, has been marginally better. The work is still rough around the edges, but it’s getting closer to the point where I can sell the place and put the past behind me.

“Champagne problems,” as somebody accurately pointed out when I was in the middle of this maelstrom. (Learned that word too late after wondering why Mr Turquoise called his company “Maelstrom Construction.”) But problems are problems, whether you’re being hit about the head and neck by a homeless chap with a stick or wrapping your Mercedes around a tree. And short of the occasional loving mother or faithful offspring, nobody cares about yours. Instead you get all kinds of hints dropped as you near completion of this nightmare. “Would love to see what you’ve done with the place .. no need for you to come along.” The other piece of this equation, of course, is the unfathomable expense. Mr Qanon dropped that bit of wisdom halfway into his stint and before blowing a gasket. “Actually, remodeling is more expensive than new construction.” You don’t say? Might have mentioned this when you were listing your bona fides. All water under the bridge now and further reason to embrace these Everly Brothers lyrics, later covered by two late greats, Tom Petty and Jimmy Buffett: “And if you ever wonder why you ride this carousel / you did it for the stories you could tell.” Might have to change that last part to “the inane blog posts you could write every four months,” but still better than shelling out for Deepak Chopra.


Independent Thinking

“I can hear the fireworks / up-and-down the San-fran-cis-co bay” – Van Morrison

Approaching another birthday and getting old. I never seem to “become old” but instead am always getting there. It’s like one last thing to aspire to before dying in failure. Bob Dylan has this line “I’m gettin’ old ; anything can happen now to anyone.” And he’s right. If you go they go, too. Also, the older you get the less you have to lose (time-wise, anyway.) I suppose you lose a whole life accumulated to that moment, but only in that moment and then you’re gone. Losing one’s keys or wallet is a far greater tragedy.

I’ve been dreaming about New York City lately, every night. I went through a period like this about fifteen years ago, before moving back the second time. The dreams are intense and keep coming. New York enters one’s subconscious when energy is low and you feel like you’ve been left behind. Its idea is like a shot of psychic energy filled with possibility and confusion. In one of my dreams last night I’m in a bar and an ‘older’ woman (in my dreams I’m always younger) references my being gay and I tell her “yeah, I’ve got that whole ‘Midnight Cowboy’ thing going on.” Then I’m in another bar with a friend but there’s a waiting list and I overhear a group of young white people saying “Rupert’s kids were here last night.” I’m trying to get my slippers on and noticing that there’s sawdust on the floor and the place only serves beer.

I’m taking care of my friend’s fish. His name is ‘Ralphie’ and she left him with me before going back to New York herself. I’m that guy now, the one who people leave their pets with. A pillar of stable immobility. My brother has gotten in the habit of leaving his dog with me, the one he got for his kids before they left him for college. She’s a good dog and a real chick-magnet (lot of good that does me with this Midnight Cowboy thing going on) but I think I take the task a bit too seriously. Same with the fish. I noticed that he was lethargic shortly after he was put in my charge. He didn’t have the nicest of tanks. It was a dingy little number with some glass rocks at the bottom and he’d taken to hiding in between a couple of the bigger ones. So I bought him a new aquarium, a fancier getup with a real filtration system and everything. Now he’s darting around like a fish reborn and I’m dreaming of New York City.

Bobby Z and the Lazy Repost

A long while back I took a crack at answering a post on ‘Quora’, which is a question and answer website. The question was straight-forward: “What’s so good about Bob Dylan?” Here’s what I came up with:

The standard answer here, to paraphrase David Letterman on his penultimate show, is that Dylan is the greatest songwriter of the modern era. And it’s a good point, both in terms of prolific output and quality of work.

Dylan is deceptively simple. He’ll use an unremarkable turn of phrase that becomes ingrained in one’s subconscious. And he does it on album after album. Take “I Feel A Change Comin’ On” from 2009’s “Together Through Life.” It’s an ordinary tune on first listen .. perhaps about a shifting relationship, and set to simple melody. Then a closer look at the lyrics: “the fourth part of the day is already gone.” What exactly is the fourth part of the day, and who uses this as reference? His baby’s comin’ .. “walking with the village beast.” Some assert it’s “priest” but in either case it’s an attention-grabber. “You are as porous as ever / baby you can start a fire.” Of all uses of fire as a metaphor for burning love, who adds “porous as ever”? Talk about a flame-stoker. For me, the image is a Weber charcoal starter, with porous holes in its sides allowing for oxygen, heat, and flame. For you, it’s likely something different. His words mean something powerfully different to each listener.

But why pick “I Feel A Change Comin’ On” from “Together Through Life”? Because unless you’re a fan and attuned to Dylan‘s recent output, you’ll likely never listen to this tune. Nothing about Dylan is particularly flashy or attention-grabbing, outside of his eccentricity and curious moments like his Christmas video “It Must Be Santa” (a brilliant aside in a career packed with them.) It’s his ability to use words, a talent spanning six decades, which sets him apart.

Knocks on Dylan serve to reinforce his greatness. Old hippies who have seen him live at some point over the last decade often complain that his voice is terrible, and that he doesn’t play any of his “protest songs.” Dylan never claimed or wanted to be a protest singer, even when given the label and dubbed the “voice of his generation.” There’s a 60 Minutes interview with Ed Bradley from years back where Dylan explains that his songs were just songs, “not sermons” and that he never saw himself as a generational voice. “It’s ironic,” Bradley notes, “that the way people saw you was the polar opposite of how you viewed yourself.” Dylan: “Isn’t that somethin’ ?”

This leads to another of Dylan‘s greatly underrated attributes — his sense of humor. He’s always been aware of his surrounding myth and has had great fun with it. Another superb Bob tale from 2009 occurred when he was far from his tour bus in pouring rain, walking in an affluent Long Branch, New Jersey neighborhood. Someone called the cops on him. The young female officer didn’t believe the soaking wet 68-year-old when he told her who he was. “I’d seen pictures of him and he didn’t look anything like them.” She asked what he was doing there. He told her that he was looking at a house that had a “for sale” sign on it. When that didn’t suffice he added “I’m on a big tour with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson.” Was this spontaneous or a conscious effort to pad his legend? Does it really matter?

So what has Dylan been writing and singing about in recent decades, if not protest themes or social issues? Besides the eternal topic of love — which he hits on like no other — he’s been covering growing older and closer to death. About being there “when the deal goes down.” Not with morbid repetition, but with the same insight and language that has supported him through his entire career. He’s always of his time, regardless of what time it is, and is novel in approach. His voice? Come on .. this is Bob Dylan. Anyone complaining about that never got it anyway. There have been accusations, particularly in recent years and around the era of “Modern Times,” that Dylan steals from songwriters and poets of another generation. And of course, it’s true, just as those songwriters and poets did in their time. Ultimately, what he creates is uniquely his own and a revelation.

The above really only scratches the surface and the best answer is contained within the original question. What makes Bob Dylan so great? He’s Bob Dylan.

He Is Risen

I’ve been out walking
I don’t do too much talking these days – Jackson Browne

Shouldn’t it be “He has risen” ? Best not to question such things on Easter Eve. But I am calling bullshit on Jackson Browne, who supposedly wrote that tune at sixteen. “Don’t confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them” ? “Had not”  forgotten them? Some straight-up “He is risen” stuff, right down to the past participle (or whatever .. I was an English major but nobody actually knows this shit) and the futility of earthly redemption. We’re supposed to buy that he sat down with a piece of binder paper and pen, and let rip with some stream of consciousness shortly after hitting the DMV for his first driver’s license? I think not.

Anyway, it’s a good tune and an increasingly relevant holiday. Lost in the rain in Juarez etc. My brother’s kids are likely going through some solemn Jackson Browne reflection this weekend too, as it’s the fourth Easter in their grandmother’s absence. She’d always hold an egg hunt at her house, with about a thousand dollars for each of them tucked away in plastic eggs in the backyard. Toward the end of her life and amid the kind of confusion this can bring, I happened upon her in the kitchen with a bunch of halved plastic eggs on the table and stacks of tens, twenties, and a few fifties (those fifties were the good eggs.) She was in a state, realizing that she couldn’t do the math to make sure each kid got the same amount and that the egg locations were properly mapped out. So I stepped in to take over and fully expect this noted on my epitaph. Though, in the spirit of full disclosure, Uncle Rick made out OK that Easter too. The point here is that it’s a good thing Jackson Browne never penned a song about my mother, because it would be the final nail (apologies) for me.

I can’t say that I’ve become more religious in old age, but I have become more annoyed with the vehemently anti-religious. To clarify, I have no problem with atheism or any other theism, but it seems non-believers go the extra mile when it comes to reminding you where they stand. Ricky Gervais should perhaps consult God about boasting on his atheism along with the tendency to dip into the maudlin with his episodic efforts. Just sayin’. Jesus Is Just Alright, to quote the Byrds and the Doobie Brothers  (neither of them authored this one .. maybe Jackson Browne had some spare time that afternoon.) “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” It’s a nice sentiment and, if Jesus did in fact say it, he’s alright with me, too. (hashtag.) Everybody is always saying “he’s no Jackson Browne” but there was much else to cover (like where He’d put all those eggs.)

That may be the single most incomprehensible paragraph I’ve ever written, but I’m sticking with it. Faith matters. You gotta have it, to quote George Michael. And I did show up that afternoon to hide the loot so my mother’s in me paid off. Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) rises from the dead in final scene of The Verdict, and for my money it’s one of the best written scenes in any film. (No huge coincidence, as it was written by David Mamet.) He reminds the jurors that, on that day, “you are the law.” And that the law itself is just words and the “trappings of the court” … a “fervent and frightened prayer.” New Testament indeed. “In my religion it says ‘act as though you have faith, and faith will be given to you.’ ”  Quite the ask, particularly if you’re Ricky Gervais. But we’ve all got our rows to hoe.

The economist Thomas Sowell says that one of the three questions you must ask yourself is “compared to what?” and I’d offer it to anyone debating the virtues of faith. You have to believe in something or else your ears really start to ring. Happy Easter.

Eulogized Egoists

The thing about eulogies is, despite your best efforts you can never be sure how they will handle your own. As much as we all have egos, we’ve imagined our funerals. It’s really the last grand foray into self indulgence. But that’s all it is, and at the end of the final day we have no idea or control over what will happen. Will we get one? Will anybody actually say anything? And if they do, will it come close to what we’d have wanted? When I’ve overheard or been in the presence of others talking about me, it generally falls into two categories: pointedly cruel and inaccurate, or overblown, grandiose, and exaggerated. In truth, these are the only two that register and I likely ignore the vast majority in between (“Did Rick eat the last piece of cake?”) But it applies to this eulogy thing. As much as “he ate the last piece of cake” would suffice, people tend to go overboard when speaking of the deceased at a funeral. The majority lean into the positive, but there are certainly examples of folks shuffling up to the podium, nodding in the stiff’s direction, and taking a final swipe.

All this thinking about how we’ll be remembered is going on in our own heads. It’s only in the ego of others, and how they wish to be perceived, that it will come to fruition. I have a friend whose ego lies squarely on the relative merits of his sense of humor. He’s spoken about making a video to be played at his funeral, an irreverent, brave, and above all hilarious final send off to be lovingly crafted by him. What he likely doesn’t get is that it’s just another vain example of ego indulgence. Even if he does this and his wishes are honored, people will react as people do. Some will indeed be thinking “my god, his wit transcends even this” while for others it will be “thank Christ this is coming to an end.” Implied ironic hilarity aside, there’s no getting around it. The only freedom comes in doing what almost none of us can do until the end: letting go.

There are exceptions. Unconditional love, ephemeral and elusive as it may be, transcends the ego. But it’s tricky and a large section of those believing they possess it are still trying to fill some self need. Like my writing this, it’s just another reach, another flailing stab at affirming that I matter. I had another friend, a short, combative individual who, interestingly, had a keen appreciation for my own brand of humor. His ego was so acute that he once asserted “the difference between you and me is that I have no ego.” I thought about it for a second and replied that, if this were true, he’d feel no need to say it. This seemed to stump him and, in deference to his ego, he replied “OK .. yeah.” An egoic Chinese finger-trap if ever there was one. All of which is to say it’s time to lay this post to rest. Please reserve all comments for after I’m gone.

Come They Told Me

Pretty thing, isn’t it?” – Bing to Bowie

I can now confirm that my infrequent posting here is the direct result of negotiations to sell this blog space to Elon Musk in early 2023. Not sure where he’ll find the time but I understand he plans on writing bi-weekly updates on my life, as well as sending reusable rockets to space, inhabiting Mars, improving his electric car, and putting a chip in everybody’s brain. There were signs that this guy might be an overachiever when he pulled off the first successful hair transplant in human history some years back (take that, Jeff Bezos) while simultaneously claiming the title of Palest African American. It’s true that nobody likes a show off but I don’t walk in lockstep with the anti-Elon crowd. His fall from grace may be inevitable given the sheer number of impossible challenges and powerful enemies he’s taken on. Still, it makes for enjoyable sideline viewing. A friend recently proclaimed him the “New Trump” but I’m pretty sure if you put those two brains side by side on the same stainless steel table, you’d notice distinct differences. (Beyond the prototype Elon Chip implanted in one of them.) It’s also fun to picture him in the Twitter building, pulling all-nighters in one of the worst San Francisco neighborhoods going (believe me, I know) whilst stepping out at three in the morning for a bag of pork rinds from Asad Market. He’s living proof that kicking it full-time on a Spanish beach just won’t cut it for some billionaires.

Contrast all of this with the lives of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who were paid $100 million by Netflix to dish the dirt on the royals and bitch about how tough they’ve had it. Both examples (Elon and the Sussexes ) are enveloped in narcissism but they move in distinctly different societal circles. Musk buddies up with Dave Chappelle and shares World Cup boxes with Jared Kushner while Harry And Meghan prefer brunching with Oprah, George and Amal Clooney, and Elton John. Though E.J. may be switching affiliation if Elon can show him a way around stapling that ridiculous hamster to his head. Elon and Elton may be separated by a single consonant, but the teams they play for are diametrically opposed. You can attempt to straddle the dividing line but these days it’s either pick a side or let someone else apply the label for you. It is required for even the most polite conversation or banal blog entry.

I, of course, have chosen the side of Good. It didn’t take much consideration. All formerly heroic indicators were pointing in this direction. Take David Letterman, a man brave enough to pull back the curtain and reveal the pompous reality of celebrity worship back in the early 80s. A guy who knew what mattered, and more importantly, what was funny. It didn’t concern him if the audience wasn’t quite in on the joke of Chris Elliott doing his Marv Albert impersonation and thanking his “musical director and long time friend Leo Sayer.” Dave’s instincts cut to the core of the relevant even in its most irreverent form. Same with these days. Caught him the other night doing one of his post Late Show spectacles, once again for the inseparably virtuous folks at Netflix. He’d flown to Ukraine (or is it “the Ukraine”) to interview the Great Zelensky in the grittiest of remote locations, an underground subway station. The lead-up footage showed Old Dave toting his modest duffel bag and wearing a workingman’s English cap while boarding a cramped, single train compartment. “Is this me?” he asks, and then “this is all I need .. this is all anybody needs.” All those years of studio apartment living have tilted him toward the appreciative. I think Peter Jackson may have been involved in the production; it somehow married all the authenticity of an eastern European underground with the flash of a late night network talk show. The sound of the rumbling subway cars was prominent but only occasional, and faded to perfectly mixed audio after they passed. And Letterman was sublime, fawning over this noble (if diminutive) man with proper humility and deference (much as our Congress would some time later.) It was all reminiscent of his first meeting with Cher, even if Zelensky didn’t call him an asshole. All was good, all was true.

Speaking of which, I lied. My infrequent posting isn’t the result of some rich guy taking over the helm but rather the product of age and discretion. I get the occasional idea (see the above) but quickly figure “what’s the point?” Not in a pathetic depressive way, mind you, but more in an accepting one’s fate and position way. I don’t have a sound crew to dial back the rumbling of trains in my head. Where to go from here? In this sense I’m not much different from Elon, once you get past the billions thing. And the genius, hair, ambition, and scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere things. And a few dozen other things. OK .. I’m nothing like him. Point is, we’re all just degreed versions of sorry bastards trying to see our way through. Or, if you prefer, enlightened Children of God tripping from one blessing to the next. It all works; it’s all good. Another friend and I were once discussing relative life philosophies and he said that he didn’t “trust the guys who go around acting like they’ve got it all figured out.” I don’t really trust anyone, so this distinction did little for me. Besides, I don’t think these guys are much different from the “look how wise I am” self-consciously cynical types. They’re just more fun to make fun of if you happen to lean in a certain direction. Then there’s the ladies, but I’ll leave them to the guys with everything figured out.

My dad, who died a while back, was a frequent reader of my blog. He’d give advice: “write more about other people and less about yourself”, opinions: “Bonds is a jerk but he’s the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen ..”, and comments: “enjoyed this piece but once people read what you said about me all hell is going to break loose.” Sure, he may have had an exaggerated idea of our respective reaches, but he cared. Once, when he was eighty and we were shacked up in a Marriott travel lodge during a family emergency, he told me: “I don’t know why I get up every morning and keep doing it. I think I’m just curious how it will all turn out.” I included this line eulogizing him. He was a guy who struggled with religion but if you ask me he had it down pat. I used to have some form of this same curiosity but it dissipated shortly after childhood. I also used to look forward to Christmas, so make of this what you will. Good place for a Chauncey Gardiner quote but I’ll hold off. Discretion, valor, ho ho ho.