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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.

Swimming Pools and Rocket Scientists

Deadlines and commitments,
What to leave in; what to leave out – Bob Seger “Against The Wind”

The Detroit Everyman really had something there, and he put it in non rocket scientist terms, which is central to this leaving stuff out theme. What good is art (music, writing, talking, loving, moving) if nobody gets it? Subtraction or an initially light touch are ultimately more important than delivering the goods with a knockout blow. Take Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” How many potential chords had to be eliminated before arriving at that plodding intro? Jeff Tweedy, the AntiSeger, put it well in his own mopey, depressive way: “The best song will never get sung / the best life never leaves your lungs.” Kind of a killjoy, no doubt, but even Senor Sunshine had to sing those words to make his point. What am I driving at? I think it’s best I don’t say. It only becomes apparent after years of playing guitar or putting brush to canvas (and I suck at both, relatively speaking.) Those who do it best know what to leave in, what to leave out. And lest you think these rules only apply to whispy, artistic types, the same can be applied to world class athletes. Watch some of those early Tyson fights (speaking of knockout blows) and observe what comes just before that beautiful moment of violent devastation (punching the ‘nose bone through the brain’ as Mike put it, just before getting dropped by Coca Cola.) There’s always a slight move left or right, a graceful shoulder dip, a slight repositioning of the body. The part he’s leaving out is any exaggerated move or demonstrative display. Any showing off or excessive effort. That’s the magic in those bouts .. the part that leaves you thinking “what did I just witness here?”

I could’ve left half of the above out, but there’s something to be said about moving on, too. Going back to the non rocket scientist terms, it reminds me of an incident with my pool man. Sounds kind of gay, no doubt, (and please, hold your cards and letters until after I’m gone .. there’s nothing homophobic about that quip if you think on it for a minute.) The fact that I have a pool man is kind of gay, though, and that remark would qualify. It was either this or learn how to add chlorine and remove leaves myself, which was clearly out of the question. Anyway, the original guy stopped doing the job himself and hired a crew as his business grew, and things got sloppy. More than once the water was left on while filling the pool and excess poured down my street. Wasting water in Marin County is akin to being the last guy on the block with a Ukrainian flag or BLM sign. People start to stare as you back out of the driveway. So I had to find a new guy. My neighbor, who used the same pool guy as me, found herself in a similar situation.

We thought we’d found our man with the second guy we interviewed (let’s call him “Bob.”) Bob was a tallish white guy with a new truck who seemed to know what he was doing. His delivery was a bit laconic, but again, sometimes it’s the words you leave out. My remark to the neighbor (which I later forgot) was “well, you probably don’t want a rocket scientist for a pool man.” Bob worked out well at first. He showed me how I could reduce my pump speed to conserve energy and kept things clean and neat. (Please note the lack of homophobic follow-up on that one.) But as the weeks passed, he started missing days. I was OK with that, actually. The truth is you don’t need a pool man to come every week; it’s just one of those scams they pull on rich people to make up for the bigger ones they lay on everybody else. But then Bob dropped out entirely and the neighbor and I were back to square one, as the people dealing in squares often say. It all led to this remarkable bit of conversation:

Me: “Well, looks like it’s back to the drawing board.”
Neighbor: “Like you said, you don’t want a rocket scientist doing your pool.”
Me: “I said that? I mean, it sounds like the kind of wiseass thing I’d say, but I don’t remember.”
Neighbor: “I still don’t know how you could have guessed ..

She went on to explain that he was, in fact, a rocket scientist. He was an engineer who worked in jet propulsion at Lockheed-Martin before his young wife died and everything fell apart. He turned to booze and took the gig cleaning pools to make ends meet. It was a longer story than that, and by the time she finished I was curious how she’d grown so close to the pool man in such short order. But I was tapped-out and we moved on to finding yet another candidate. I did explain how the “rocket scientist” quip was a standard refrain, but I don’t think it sunk in and she remained convinced I was some kind of obscure career clairvoyant. There’s a sentence better left out, but who has the time? The comeuppance, as they say, is that we got a new pool man named Lowell and he’s worked out swimmingly. (Insert Mike Tyson punching my nose bone through my brain.) Lowell has a few life stories, too, but I’ll leave those out in deference to today’s theme.

Kinder, Gentler Rivers

I’ve been inactive for a while. Still moving my limbs, and occasionally exercising my mind, but largely inactive as far as these posts go. Something the Fresh Prince of Bel Air said in his Oscars acceptance speech moved me to move my typing fingers. “I’m being called on .. to be a river to my people.” It’s a deep sentiment and actually originates from Anthony Quinn in “Lawrence of Arabia.” I have to give him both irony and chutzpah points. Leaning into the “self as river” thing minutes after slapping one of his people across the chops takes some serious stones. It’s true, rivers do have twists and turns as well as the occasional rock, twig and snake. The preposition “to” may be the key to everything. “From” or “between” would have been a different river entirely. Will Smith feels he’s being called on to get something down river to his folks. I don’t think it’s more Chris Rock jokes, but nothing is impossible.

Actually his professed calling and river metaphor feels suspiciously like something one says when trying to elicit favor from a largely sympathetic crowd. Apparently it worked. They gave him a standing ovation despite his having just smacked the shit out of a fellow performer. Which goes to show that people will buy any bullshit in the moment as long as they think you’re on the right team. For a Hollywood crowd, that team would be Team Kindness. You hear it everywhere these days; it’s as ubiquitous as a mask icon or Ukrainian flag on one side or Old Glory and an eagle on the other. But what does it mean .. “can’t we just be more kind?” Typically it’s translatable to “why can’t you just think more like me?” Kindness is inextricably linked to outcome, and how to arrive at optimum outcome seems open to debate. Might be something best discussed over a cooler of beers on a warm day floating down the River Smith.

Gimme Three Steps (Straight Outta Kenosha)

AK-47 is the tool; don’t make me act the motherfuckin’ fool ..” – Ice Cube

Sage advice from Mr Cube, who also had this ‘equity’ thing figured out when he suggested it was a problem of class and not race. But I digress, and digression can get one killed or expelled these days. No digression, no white chocolate. (And that was Bill Murray, lest you all start reaching for your AKs.)

Sigh. Russell Brand posted to Twitter (ah, glorious Twitter) today, something about a monk who takes his boat to the middle of a lake to meditate, and, shortly after closing his eyes and clearing his mind, feels another boat crash into him. Angered and ready to monk-rumble with the offending captain, he opens his eyes and discovers an empty and unmoored vessel that has drifted from shore. There’s no one to be angry with. His epiphany is complete: anger comes from within. He returns to his monastery, grabs his gun, and sets off pursuing the careless absent boatsman. Just kidding with that last part, but it’s a parable so let’s go with it. What was the monk doing with a gun? What are any of us doing with a gun? Minding our own business, of course, and trying to survive and protect our families in a dangerous world.

And so it goes, round and round. (Ratt; not Bill Murray.) Stop the ride, I want to get off. Some day this war’s going to end (Duvall; neither Ratt nor Murray) but until then, the choices are our own. I wanted a BB gun when I was twelve and my old man objected, but eventually consented after a litany of rules were laid down. It was to remain in a locked room, if I ever pointed it at anyone I was done, etc etc. Things loosened up after I demonstrated responsibility. I never pointed it at anyone and I became a better shot. Interestingly, some years later, my dad obtained a gun himself for shooting rattlesnakes at his country home. He used it once for this purpose, filling the snake and a Weber bar b cue full of .38 holes. (Ronnie Van Zant; not Duvall, Ratt or Murray.) The country home sold and the gun remained in a locked safe. Dad, the Weber and the snake are all gone now. The gun may or may not still be around. Fuck around and find out. (Online meme; not Ratt, Murray, Van Zant or Duvall.) It’s a big, bad world out there with nary an honest voice left. Sometimes the outline of a large object in one’s pocket is enough, sometimes it’s better to be packing.

Some say the Chinese invented alcohol. They definitely invented gunpowder. Some inventions are like viruses; there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. No putting the vaccine back in the syringe. John Lennon said “I hope some day you will join us and the world will live as one.” Salinger wrote “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘fuck you’ signs in the world.” And Chapman was carrying Salinger’s book when he gunned down Lennon. “You’re all over the place — I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” (Meadow Soprano to brother A.J.)


Never Fazed

Some people don’t like baseball. I get that. It’s fine. The game can move slowly; the season can drag on forever. There’s a certain pretense, at times anyway, to those who describe its nuances, its “pastoral nature,” its status as the thinking man’s/woman’s game. It’s our game, as Americans, and that alone can cast it in disfavor.

For the rest of you, Buster Posey retires today. Posey is a catcher .. the anchoring position on a baseball diamond. If every baseball play begins with the pitcher, it’s the catcher who surveys the field, designs the play, and makes real-time decisions. The catcher tells the pitcher what to do before it all begins. He calls the game. Yes, there are times when a pitcher will reject what the catcher calls, but rejecting a pitch Buster Posey called for was akin to not passing the basketball to Michael Jordan for a final shot or taking the brush out of Picasso’s hand to make a few improvements. Posey called every pitch of Matt Cain’s perfect game in 2012. It was only the 22nd perfect game in major league history. Cain remarked that there were pitches Posey called in particular situations that might have raised an eyebrow or two, and yet .. a perfect game. “That’s what made him special,” Cain concluded, “he never got fazed.” Imperfect English, yes, but it cuts right to the heart of the matter. (And yes, it’s “fazed” and not “phased” .. I looked it up.)

Of all sports, baseball is most like life. Not for the literary, romantic reasons so many give. Yes, it “begins with the eternal, emerging promise of spring, and concludes in the fall when everything begins to die.” And yeah, it’s the one game where succeeding three out of ten attempts is considered ‘exceptional.’ (Buster Posey: lifetime .302 batting average.) But mostly, like life, it just drags on forever. It persists season after season, most of them unremarkable in any earth-shattering sense, while the largely imperceptible ravages of time accumulate and stack upon themselves. Buster Posey showed up in 2010, the first of the Giants’ three modern-day championship seasons. He was the common link for those three World Series titles, the singularly indispensable component. Names like “Bumgarner” and “Lincecum” will forever be tied to the current organization, but ultimately, even they came and went. Buster Posey was a San Francisco Giant for his entire career. He was the rock, the constant, the beating heart.

But let’s get back to this “never fazed” thing. Those with fewer words at their command often say the most. (See “Berra, Yogi.”) Matt Cain hit the proverbial ball out of the park here. Yeah, you’ll take a catcher with a .302 lifetime batting average, seven-time all-star, National League MVP, three World Series titles, etc etc etc. But the “unfazed” thing is what it’s about. Baseball, as we all know, is about coming home. And since 2010, the San Francisco Giant who stood closest to home was Buster Posey. This is quite the exalted position. If you doubt it, consider the irate response from typically unflappable manager Bruch Bochy when journeyman Florida Marlin Scott Cousins ended Posey’s 2011 sophomore season with a bone-shattering home plate collision. Bochy, a former catcher, saw what was to come in Posey, and the idea that some wheel-cog in a Marlins uniform might alter this was unacceptable. It was as though somebody had showed up at Bochy’s front door with a gun while his wife and kids were inside. Like someone had threatened his home. Great as he was, you don’t want Barry Bonds standing guard at your front door .. you don’t want Gaylord Perry. You want the unfazed guy. You want Buster Posey.

I could go on quite a while describing how solid Buster Posey was. How “central” he was. But I’ll conclude with two somewhat obscure facts that do it for me. The first is that he walked away from a $22 million option for next season to retire on his own terms .. to do it the right way. Retired at the end of the year to avoid the fanfare and gift-giving ceremonies at other ballparks. Chew on that one for a moment. The second, and perhaps most important: he was my mother’s favorite Giant. My parents were the last of the hardcopy newspaper generation and the San Francisco Chronicle graced the driveway almost every morning of their lives. My mom was no die-hard sports fan, but having three men in her house meant she checked the section daily. Whenever a photo of Buster would appear she’d say “I like that boy .. such a lovely face.” Good enough for me. Best catcher and biggest franchise-player I ever saw. In the discussion with Bench, Piazza, et al, for greatest to ever play the position. The biggest and (along with Brandon Crawford) last remaining puzzle piece of the greatest Giants era ever. Hell of a ride.