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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.

Meta Chapter, Verse and Check Swing

Facebook is changing its name to some closely-guarded secret. No, this isn’t an early-stage revamping or dropping of “The” from in front of “Facebook.” This is a nod toward .. wait for it .. the Metaverse. And what, dear luddite, might the Metaverse be? According to those in the know, it’s a “shared virtual 3D world, or worlds, that are interactive, immersive, and collaborative.” It’s an alternate universe where the physical and biological can be uploaded and upended; tailored, altered and improved. It’s like the Internet minus the option of killing the screen and walking away. Put simply, it’s a place where Mark Zuckerberg can get laid.

What could possibly go wrong here? We’re already navigating an increasingly hostile digital landscape where falsely generated dopamine is tied to shitting on the other guy then waiting anxiously for validation from phony followers. The last vestiges of human interaction are being quarantined, passported, and doxxed. The walls of democracy have been bulldozed and remaining framework left hanging by poorly-nailed two by fours. What better flashlight to stumble upon in the dark than Zuckerberg, a  squirrelly dude who’s less than totally transparent when being grilled on his internal policy. Sure, he’s thrown a few of his billions toward hospitals and the like, and, depending upon your slant, put the ‘adults’ back in the D.C. room. But this is something else entirely. This is putting a cupcake on the nuclear trip-switch and trusting Adele to stick to the diet. This is handing Alec Baldwin a movie set gun based on prior displays of anger management.

On the other hand, it might mean I still have a shot at 1973 Wickerman-era Britt Ekland. So there’s that, too. Fully immersive digital reality minus the physical consequences feels like the last step before a completely shattered mind. Sure, maybe we’ll still exercise our bodies to keep the brain regulated, but why go outside or to the gym when all interaction can be simulated? There will be no vanity-based motivation. In the Metaverse we will all have perfect physical characteristics that can be altered at will. Our earthly selves will be rendered obsolete and we’ll be reduced to brains in boxes navigating this new dimension. Until the Zuckerberg brain box decides to digitize the rest of us and pursue his ultimate Burgess Meredith Twilight Zone librarian destiny.  OK .. maybe got a little out of hand with that last bit. Point is, I don’t care for it.

In one of my final nods to real-world activity, I attended the Giants-Dodgers do-or-die playoff game last week with my brother. This was game five of a five game series tied at two apiece. This was the Giants and Dodgers. This was two teams with 106 and 107 regular-season wins, respectively. This was unprecedented and on the heels of Covid-lockdown games with cardboard cutouts in place of fans. This was forty-one thousand actual human beings jammed into Oracle Park on a brisk October evening, all seemingly connected to the life and death importance of staying in touch with something of consequence; something that matters. It was also a game I had briefly considered not attending. After all, it doesn’t really “matter” by any humanly consequential measure. Life goes on afterward and, well, it’s only sports. A win would have meant brief exaltation and a sense of false stability, of all being right with the universe. And a loss would mean instant depression, a drop in testosterone, and an empty feeling likely to persist for the better part of the week.

Well, it was a loss. A close game, but a loss. In reality, I had no choice but to attend. This was pointed out by my friend Tom Myers, who said that I “had” to go. And of course, he was correct. I’ve constructed a life of avoidance when it comes to compulsory acts. And yet, they do arise from time to time. Had I not made the effort to get into the city, down to the ballpark, and in that seat, the thin line between me and Mark Zuckerberg’s pussy-ass utopia would have been obliterated.  Everything I’ve avoided in order to make my case that “this” matters and only “this” would have been meaningless. Every shred of identified “self” would have fallen away in favor of Metaverse Rick. Two inches taller, ten pounds lighter, and with Bryce Harper’s hair.

And so it was, my brother Rob and me, shuffling out of the stadium in silence after the last out ( a wrongly-called strike three on a check swing missed by the first base umpire.) A young Dodger fan in front of us taunted the crowd at large and there was that brief urge to hurt him, to make him pay for my own immaturity and inability to deal with disappointment. But this was still the real world and all that remained was the final required act of questionable adulthood: sucking it up and finding your way home. Rob and I didn’t speak, not for the slow climb up the steps, not for the shuffled walk among the deflated masses through stadium bowels, not until we emerged outside and he asked if I wanted a ride back with his wife, who was coming to pick him up.  We are different guys, as I noted at the parents’ funerals, but we share certain deeply connected truths. There was nothing to be said after a loss like this. “No,” I told him “I think I’ll walk home.” He opened his mouth, as though to offer some parting line, some obligatory, perspective-lending single sentence. But then he stopped. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” we both offered simultaneously. And I walked home to North Beach, the quiet crowd thinning and fading with each passing half-mile.

Normy, Normy, Normy.

Norm Macdonald, the comedian/philosopher/humorist/social commentator and present-day-horseshit-eviscerator, died last week at 61. He was loved by many, most of whom figured they got him in a unique, idiosyncratic way that the others missed. “Beloved” and being “laid claim to” are two different things, much as most of us would take either. Norm was both. Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, was so able to connect with the human experience that other cultures claim him as their own. Chinese scholars have asserted that he had to be from China. This was the kind of reaction Norm Macdonald could elicit. I shared this fondness for Norm. To quote from my last blog post, just weeks before the sad news: “Van Morrison, Clint Eastwood, Norm Macdonald, Dwight Yoakam .. I have few icons left and once they’re gone, they’re gone. You can’t alter who or what it is you deem iconic; it’s pretty much a one-shot deal at registration.” An overstatement, perhaps, but still a reflection of his select and personal appeal.

Ah, but Norm had a way of putting you in your place, even if you were some anonymous fan. With all of the heaped praise in the past few days, hundreds of Youtube clips being shared, jokes being quoted, etc, it was a token civilian who cut through the brilliantly banal for me and got to the essence of the man. This guy wrote on Twitter about how his dad, a union worker building sets for NBC in the 90’s, scored backstage passes for a Saturday Night Live episode. He was a kid at the time, eight years old, and didn’t know who any of the celebrities or comics were. Tim Meadows, a cast member and bit-player, rolled his eyes at the father as he signed an autograph, realizing that the boy couldn’t distinguish him from Adam. Of course we’re acutely aware of these things at eight years old and pick up on adult cues with great sensitivity. Then, he said, Norm Macdonald caught glimpse of this awkwardness before approaching and addressing him directly. “Don’t worry, kid.” Norm assured. “Some day when I die you can make it all about you.”

So, in deference to Norm, I won’t even try. We’re living in an undeniably divisive age. Laughter is a uniquely human reflex. Norm Macdonald’s powers in this realm were so acute that he was able to say things you’re not supposed to say, to hold opinions forbidden to public figures. Some of the people praising him loudest at present were those he busted on mercilessly. He espoused Christianity and defended the wit of political figures whose names can end careers with mere mention. He went back and guest-hosted SNL, the show that made him famous, and noted the irony in being asked to return after getting fired for not being funny. It wasn’t possible, he posited, that he’d “become funny” in the short period between losing his job and being asked to host. “Then it occurred to me,” he said live on-air in his opening monologue. “I haven’t gotten funnier .. the show has gotten really bad.” It wasn’t just a bit or Norm flexing his nerves of steel. He was right. The show did blow.

OK, enough doing what I said I wouldn’t do. If, in my select and small readership, there is anyone unfamiliar with Norm Macdonald, do yourself a favor. Go on Youtube and look up the channel “I’m not Norm.” Watch the clips. This guy was not just a comedian, not just someone with outsized balls who didn’t give a fuck and kicked back against the dying light. He was human in every flawed and remarkable sense and talented on that exceptional level that sneaks up on people and makes us come closer together in the subtle, shared realization that we’re all full of shit. And like all of us, he was vulnerable. I really liked the guy.

Plain Peanut Rant

The social stuff you’ve been doing lately is a good sign. You had me worried for a while .. every night playing country, drinking whiskey and eating M&Ms ..”

Got the above advice from a buddy this week, and I listened while sipping Glenmorangie with Johnny Cash spinning softly in the background. I’ve been trying to switch from M&Ms to all-fruit popsicles, which seems a positive nod to health. But the ‘social stuff’ .. I’m not so sure. Seems to me there’s been nothing gained from opening my mouth to state an opinion or two this past year. It’s only widened divides and cast me in a perhaps inalterable light for those of a more enlightened nature. Deplorable, delusional and deepening daily. Speaking of country, Dwight Yoakam is starring in the latest Clint Eastwood vehicle, “Cry Macho.” Clint is a hundred and seven now and Dwight’s put on a few el-bees since his butt-shaking Honky Tonk Man days. (Come to think of it, that’s also another Eastwood title.) But I couldn’t be more pleased. As a card-carrying member of the post-ninety brigade, Clint is officially entitled to do whatever it is that pleases him, up until his somewhat labored breathing and steely late-geriatric glint give way. Van Morrison, Clint Eastwood, Norm Macdonald, Dwight Yoakam .. I have few icons left and once they’re gone, they’re gone. You can’t alter who or what it is you deem iconic; it’s pretty much a one-shot deal at registration. Inevitably, and like you, they all get old, and the retort from punk haters always points as much out. To them I say “who’s your Clint Eastwood?” 2021 and those replies are still a long time coming.

But we’ve all got it coming, as The Man himself warns in “Unforgiven.” I put that reality off until a later date the other day, adroitly side-stepping an oblivious motorist on my daily jog. It was at an intersection under heavy construction where most pedestrians opt for an alternative path to the painted lines. I threw myself out of harm’s way as the driver hit the accelerator then barely regained my step and composure before the passenger — a ham-faced broad with more testosterone than that on reserve at a WWF event — screamed at me: “THE CROSSWALK IS THERE FOR A REASON, SIR!!” I’ve done a decent job since my mid-20s of keeping rage intact, having grappled with a sizable assholic temper up to that point. But something about the combination of nearly getting hit, a pounding heart, self-conscious instincts, almost tripping over a traffic cone as I steadied, and being berated by the same car that almost hit me, fueled old instincts. The vehicle sped off before I could say much besides “why don’t you come back and we can discuss it?” But I wasn’t coming down anytime soon.

Then, a few blocks down the road, I spotted the same car coming out of a driveway. I hadn’t made out the driver, an older fellow with a somewhat clueless expression, but there was no mistaking his belligerent sidekick. I stopped in front of them and walked calmly over to have a word as he rolled the window down. My words were measured but my blood pressure was still off the charts and I’m quite sure whatever expression I was sporting would not have made the cover of Serenity Today Magazine. “Look,” I said, in a seethingly calm manner, “you don’t almost run somebody down and then scream at them as they’re recovering.” I had a few other pieces of choice advice, all delivered minus any implied threat, but were I either of them I’d have been silently thanking California for its strict concealed-carry laws. The driver was a bit shaken but able to decipher that I wasn’t going to do anything and the woman in the passenger seat turned her head away in either fear or disgust. Then, as I continued past them, a few nagging questions persisted. “Was the car in question off-white or tan?” … “How many doors did it have?” … “Did the original screaming lady have on long or short sleeves?”

The more I thought on it, the more convinced I became. I’d pulled the threatening psycho card on a couple of innocent bystanders. I wasn’t certain but there was enough nagging doubt to add “shame” for dessert to my raging, fearful entree. If there was a lesson to be learned from all or any of it, I’d pick something along the lines of “don’t scream at anyone, ever.” There are times it may be warranted, but you’ll never go wrong skipping it all together. As a matter of fact, don’t even speak to anyone in a heated or threatening manner, tempered or otherwise. While we’re at it, don’t voice disagreement with anyone’s opinions of a political or otherwise passionate nature. Ah hell .. just keep your mouth shut altogether. Clint Eastwood’s more or less made a career of it and he’s still kicking.

Runnin’ Around With The Rag-Top Down

“Gonna drive to Atlanta, live out this fannn .. ta .. sy” – Gillian Welch

I wasn’t thinking a rag-top, but this was the general plan: head south and do some charity work. Maybe rent a muscle car and play the out of town asshole. I checked out Habitat For Humanity and several others, and had the loose idea to teach writing in Georgia or Louisiana or some such spot. I know California, I know New York City. The south was the third piece of my personal puzzle. These plans were derailed by way of Wuhan, but things are opening up a bit now. It may require a vaccine passport and selling a bit of my soul but hey, I pursued British citizenship a while back for similar purposes. “Willie tells me that doers and thinkers say ‘movin’s the closest thing to being free.’ ” And all that good stuff. The South will rise again whether I ever do or not. That’s the thing about plans, they tend to change. You can head down to the station with a suitcase in your hand but best to have no expectations. That’s four somewhat obscure song lyrics before making it out of the first paragraph. A sure sign of lazy writing.

At least it’s writing. And at least it’s still Il Pollaio, my favorite Argentinian grilled chicken spot, operating on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. They’ve apparently now got a sister outlet in the Mission as well. And here I thought this pandemic would be the end of all that was familiar. Turns out to be a force-multiplier. I stuck my head in last week for the first time in over a year and my waitress asked where I’d been. “How long you been open?” I asked, and she looked at me strangely. “Long time,” she said, “I thought you left town.” Sure they’ve been “open” for takeout and sporadic outdoor seating but everything seems to operate in degrees these days. On this particular day there was an available indoor table so I walked in and pointed to the courtesy mask on my face, asking “Will I need this?” “Only walking to your table or the restroom,” she explained. Makes perfect sense. I can sit with fellow maskless diners, yacking away in this tiny hole in the wall bistro. But something about rising to my feet signals viral danger.

No worries, though. I’m fully vaccinated (though I refuse to brag on it or list it in personal ads profiles.) I’m no kid anymore, so I went with the “I’m no kid anymore” reasoning. This train of thought basically asserts that you’re more at risk from a lab-leaked Chinese virus than you are from a largely untested vaccine. But it’s a personal choice, at least for now. Can I see clear to not calling those who would balk at getting their five-year-old vaxxed selfish conspiracy theorists? Of course I can, but I’ve always been a little rough around the edges. A “plucky contrarian” according to one friend this week. I was quite satisfied with that until a few days later, when listening to Christopher Hitchens comment on the word in an interview. He was objecting to the title given one of his books by a publisher — “Letters To A Young Contrarian.” He said the word is often used in the same vein as “eccentric uncle” or “colorful kook.”  He also pointed out that we are in desperate need of real contrarians these days. (And this interview was quite a while back, as evidenced by the fact that he wasn’t dead yet.)

So I’ll take “contrarian” in light of the likely alternatives (“crank”, “asshole”, etc.) Maybe I can combine it with my delayed Dixie sojourn and write my memoirs. “Southern Contrarian” has a nice titular ring to it, inaccurate as it may be. These days, I seem to be testing my few remaining friendships left and right, but like my vaccine-reasoning I’m going with being the better of two self-determined personal evils: jerk or phony. (There’s another book title.) The chicken was a bit dry, and I’m chalking it up to the young, tattooed woman, womaning the grill. Il Pollaio has always had male chefs anchoring the cooking nook, usually south-American ones. Maybe they’re stretched thin, given the pandemic and new location in the Mission. I’m perfectly willing to give the young lady a chance, but it’s always been a “do one thing and do it right” kind of spot. After the chicken there isn’t much left, save questionable chops, fries and salad. All things in time.

Keep On The Sunny Side

He Has Risen.

No, not our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but Dwight Yoakam. At the risk of sacrilege, I make this observation in light of my personal timetable. “We all have it coming,” to quote the great Lord Eastwood (hallowed be thy name.) But it’s in how and when we have it coming that things get interesting. I had my life (or what passed as such) uprooted some time after switching into double-digits in the 2000s. Light (read “death”) shines at the end of every tunnel and that seismic shift kicked in about two years back. But less than a year into this new chapter, asses were kicked again in the form of a pesky virus sweeping the land. Back inside I went, feet and head first. None of this is terribly fascinating, but it is a lead-in to Mr. Yoakam.

Somewhere in that dark valley, round about four years ago, I went to a show in Saratoga. I couldn’t steal away back then for more than a day at a time, but I made a habit of it for eight or nine Yoakam shows over the course of those troubled years. I was looking for something consistent, and having modeled the Bob Dylan “tour always or die” theme, Dwight was it. To Stockton I went (and Sacramento, and Sonoma, and Sparks, and San Francisco, and New York, and so on.) All short trips, all greatly appreciated. Funny how those old cliches stand up: life never burns so brightly as in the face of death.

But even a balding, Kentucky crooner isn’t oblivious to a worldwide pandemic. Dwight’s roadshow packed it in about a year back. He seemingly made decent use of the time, getting hitched and having a late-life first child. (I was hoping they’d name the lad “Hoakam”, but alas, no dice.) But what would become of me, you’re all asking. A year came and went: riots, protests, contested elections, and three thoroughly uninteresting sports seasons. A vaccine appeared on the horizon. I fell in line despite hesitation (hey, if they can’t get the mask thing straight what good can come of letting them inject something in my arm?) But still we were told “don’t blink .. don’t leave the house without your rubbers .. don’t forget to check your privilege ..” etc etc.

Where am I going with this, other than revealing a likely permanent sabbatical from what used to be questionable writing skills? OK, OK ..

I’m scanning Youtube last night, as I’m prone to do, and what should come up in my feed? Mr. Yoakam, back on the road in wide-open Texas, restoring some semblance of order to my universe. He’s apparently chucked the Chuck Berry tribute “Little Queenie” for an opening number and decided to go with the Ada Blenkhorn 1899 traditional (popularized in 1928 by the Carter Family) “Keep On The Sunny Side.” But in true cowpunk fashion, he’s doing an ass-kicker, redneck version that seems to say “hey, if you can’t manage the real deal, motor through.” In any case, here is a link to the video that put a smile on my face (“Sunny Side” is the first number.) As Herve Villechaize once said, “it’s the little things.” (P.S. : What kind of M&Ms does Tattoo eat? — The plain! The plain!!)


If I Could Turn Back Time

Think I’d like to go, back home, and take it ea-sy – Neil Young “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”

What does a post-Covid world look like? The mind wanders after one concludes that he probably isn’t going to die, at least not today. “New Normal” has become an increasingly relevant phrase over the past year, but what was the ‘old’ normal? Way back when, it wasn’t uncommon to see those who weren’t intimately related shaking hands or even embracing on the street. Cities like New York and San Francisco teemed with people, buildings were full, and bustling commercial neighborhoods with five-day workweeks were common. Yoga classes met in person, people crammed into crowded basketball arenas, and those entering commercial establishments while masked were regarded with suspicion (as opposed to the other way around.) There were no markers on the supermarket floor instructing us where to stand and outdoor eating was a pleasant option for warm weather. Parents sent kids off to school and went to their jobs or catered to matters best handled when the house is empty. Governors and mayors stuck mostly to ribbon-cutting, budget-signing, and the occasional forest fire. Generally speaking, they didn’t wield such sweeping, authoritarian powers.

So what are the odds that some of this new normal has seeped inside our brains? What are the odds that going back won’t be the cakewalk that some envision?

Minds are malleable. It’s been proven in countless hypnotherapy sessions and in Germany during the ’30s and ’40s. ‘Normal’ is a relative concept, susceptible to such things as age, weight, sexual orientation, and what cable news show you watch. Such a delicate process is self-identification, it can be radically altered by local riots or by your football team signing a new quarterback. I used to be that guy but, you know what? .. now I’m this guy. Get used to it.

An effective vaccine produced in record time may be a modern miracle, but it doesn’t turn back time. (Think Cher, significantly past her prime and busting a move in a see-through leotard on a battleship.) The unempowered and the powerful tend to move decidedly in opposite directions and never more than under circumstances like these. Jeff Bezos’ wealth was halved in a divorce, only to increase exponentially during a pandemic. That’s but one minute example of how a pesky microbe changed the world. Entire political movements were swayed, careers made then ended, and what used to pass as science was, both rightly and wrongly, held in doubt. Friendships were shattered and new alliances formed. The CCP and Communist China scooched over to the driver’s position and adjusted the seat to better reach the pedals. An overstatement? Too much? We’re about to see.

Oldsters tend to revert to the small when the larger picture shifts. They look after themselves and their own and shore up the homefront in anticipation of more radical change. If you have money you tend to guard it, if you have children you tend to protect them. Those with neither sometimes reach for more radical markers like tinned food and guns. This may seem counterproductive in the face of global crisis and urgings to consider ‘the other.’ But people react to the messenger as much as the message and tend to grow weary if constantly flogged. Selfish? Untrusting? Hey, we’ve been going about in masks for a year and have seen our basic liberties stripped. We’ve been pitted against one another in previously unimaginable ways. Think not? Roll the footage. Maybe it’s been for our own good .. who knows. But to be in a place where even the questions are disallowed seems unhealthy. Like that old Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.” Twilight Zone? Anybody? OK, I’m putting my mask on and heading to the CVS for some smoked almonds.

Potato Head Reveal

Mr. Potato Head got banned yesterday. Or at least the “Mr.” part did. They canceled him, or de-platformed him, or de-mistered him. Gave his wife the same treatment, too. The toy company Hasbro (and really, isn’t it time to drop the ‘bro‘?) tried to backtrack a bit in the face of public outcry. They explained that the Mr and Mrs would, in fact, continue to exist, but that the “brand name” had changed in order to be “more inclusive” and so that “all could feel welcome in the Potato Head world.” Too late fellas (ladies, dogs, chairs, eyebrows .. insert your appropriate designation here.)  This Potato Head world ain’t for me.

For a very long while now I’ve attempted to keep this blog free from the more hardened and reflexive aspects of my personal opinions. It isn’t that they didn’t always exist; those who know me best could attest to this. But even in its nascent stages, I realized that the Internet Is Forever, and no amount of deleting, canceling, or erasing would change that fact. I worried that, if I stated an actual opinion without carefully acknowledging its counter, I would forever be labeled an extremist, nut, or kook. But if you’ve read some of my writing you’ll also see that the people I most admire often turn out to be extremists, nuts, and kooks. What was it that I was afraid of and how long would this fear persist?

A good friend of mine recently revealed some advice from his ninety-year-old mother, who had conveyed to him that, the older she gets, the less she worries about what others think of her. What a liberating conclusion this must be. Somewhat ironically, this same friend and I had been engaged in a spirited debate over ‘politics’ (this word is entirely insufficient but will have to do for now) in the lead-up to the last election. The opinions revealed did little to alter my view of him and were more or less in line with what I’ve always suspected. But the same didn’t apply from his perspective, listening to me. There was a good deal of cognizant dissonance in that direction, and he had to rebalance the person he thought he knew with what was being revealed.

Another friend and I were recently discussing some of the more Potato Headesque elements of modern culture. I was expressing my shifting take on inveterate institutions like the New York Times as the inevitable occurs and its editorial positions are filled by 20 and 30 somethings. Still an avid ‘Times’ reader, he referenced his two daughters, liberal arts college students firmly planted in woke culture, and suggested that we (he and I) had “held the microphone long enough.” He said it was time to pass it to the next generation. It didn’t matter that I’ve never seen myself as much of a microphone-holder. I understood his point, and agree that it has some validity.

We all get labeled in life. Somehow, initial impressions tend to peg me as a “guy’s guy,” perhaps because I can talk about sports, am losing my hair, and have a rather stocky upper torso. I’m accustomed to a kind of wariness from liberal sorts when they first meet me, like I’m going to crack a Burgemeister, plant a confederate flag, and start blasting Lynyrd Skynyrd at any minute. Then, if they get to know me, they’re typically surprised to discover I’m ‘socially liberal,’ at least by former, standard designation. After this, they tend to give me a chance, and deeper connections are occasionally forged. On even rarer occasions, after these deeper connections are forged, they find out what it is that I “really think” and it goes to hell all over again.

Here’s the thing: This lockdown is having a bad impact on kids. While it sounds great and liberally-solid to say stuff like “follow the science” it really doesn’t mean anything if the science is inconclusive, constantly debated, and heavily politicized. We’re inundated by pussy bullshit right now like no other time in modern history. We’re constantly being fed crap, either intentionally or otherwise, that distracts us in substantially unhealthy ways. What we’re losing sight of is how tricky the process of socialization and integration is. Hell, I never figured it out and they didn’t shut down my school for long chunks of my formative years. Teacher’s unions have entirely too much power and political influence and often don’t reflect the wishes of teachers themselves. We need to open schools back up as a ground-floor measure, with appropriate precaution, and as a first step in pushing back on this illogical and increasingly Orwellian New World Order.

A bit of a non-sequitur. But wow .. I feel better already.