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December 27, 2010

My Equatorial Trip Log

I rode a bike around the world. Finished today (Christmas 2010). I rode a ring at the equator, 40,075 kilometers over land and sea. A gift to myself. It took me so many years I don’t remember when I started, but I did it. Around the world in my study.

I read a lot of books sitting on my exercise bike. Jotted notes, watched some baseball on the computer, enjoyed some music. I don’t know if I had any great ideas in that position, but it’s always hard to pin ideas to time and place. I spent a long time there, long time and hard work.

The only things that really give satisfaction take a long time and hard work. So scratching a lottery ticket doesn’t count. A marriage does, raising kids, building a home, education, business, public service, art. Real accomplishments. But if you walk from Mexico to Canada or collect a ball of twine twenty feet high or ride a stationary bike around the world are those real accomplishments or are we in the world of Guinness records?

I’m not going to answer that question. I know nobody else cares about what I did, but it means something to me. That’s enough. I’m proud of myself, even as I recognize the silliness of the undertaking. You laugh too, but what have you done?

I will answer the question: now what? Now the ending of my first lap is also the beginning of my second lap. I’ll go round again, go back for seconds. Wouldn’t be a complete, good day without my hour of spinning my wheels.

So if I’m saying that this is my private pleasure, why am I even writing about it? I’m not expecting a pat on the back from anyone (oh go ahead, pat). But I’m happy right now, I achieved my goal. Now shut up. Enjoy the holidays. Back in the saddle again.

Happy trials, Martin Stronglegs*

Mutt: Good day, Sir Jeff, let me tell you a funny story.
Jeff: That’d be a first.
Mutt: This guy goes into a restaurant for a Christmas breakfast while in his home town for the holidays. After looking over the menu he says, "I'll just have the Eggs Benedict." His order comes a while later and it's served on a big, shiny hubcap. He asks the waiter, "What's with the hubcap?" The waiter sings, "There's no plate like chrome for the hollandaise!"
Jeff: I don’t get it.
Mutt: "There's no plate like chrome for the hollandaise!" Come on, it’s a Christmas joke!
Jeff: It stinks. All right, Darth Vader … You know who Darth Vader is?
Mutt: Sure, he used to be my barber.
Jeff: Darth Vader says, "Luke Skywalker - I know what you're getting for Christmas. I felt your presents."
Mutt: I don’t get it.
Jeff: Tough.
Mutt: Buy me a beer and we’ll call it a tie.
Jeff: This duck walks into a bar and orders a beer. "Four bucks," says the bartender. The duck answers, "Put it on my bill."
Mutt: A skeleton walks into a bar and says, "Gimme a beer, and a mop."
Jeff: A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says: "A beer please, and one for the road."
Mutt: And a happy and healthy new year to you, my friend.
Jeff: Same to you, my distinguished colleague.

*There's a video version of Martin's arrival at the finish line for followers only (see side bar). Become a follower and get a reward.

December 23, 2010

Godzilla Lives!

Where Godzilla is the Italian government, which is Berlusconi and the best politicians his money can buy, and underfoot is the country he’s destroying. Nature of the beast.

The weird part is that he’s been dead for years, and everyone pretends the contrary. The emperor has a stick behind his back that holds him upright, a Jokerman smile thanks to plastic surgery, hair made of steel quills that they press down with a hot iron (to cover his horns), and recorded slogans played by pulling a little cord hanging out of his pants. It works better than live politics.

The rumors that he has sexual relations with his four female ministers, any actresses that want to be on the tv shows that he controls (all of them), overage and underage prostitutes and generally any willing Barbie doll are all untrue. The girls he sleeps with (sometimes one, sometimes several, Ruby, Noemi, Patrizia, etcetera) are not prostitutes! He pays them cash, yes, but it’s a gift. He gives lots of gifts, like Saint Nick.

So, as the richest man in the country (this year he may have “slipped” into second or third place, no diff), Berlusconi can do anything he wants, right? He’s above the law and common morality and clearly better than everyone else. And, as we saw today, he bought the country and he can damn well do anything he wants with it. We’re all his sex slaves now.

Our local congressman from Messina, for example, noted for his enormous personal debts (liens on all seven of his houses), was more than willing to change his vote to please Mr. Money-bags, along with several other Judases who reversed the confidence vote against Berlusconi in Parliament. So, one might think, he lives to fight another day.

But he’s dead, remember? Morally and politically and legally dead. Morally for the above stated reasons, politically because he isn’t really the leader of the people but a phony mannequin leader who leads himself, his paper-doll copies and the flag-wavers he pays to turn up at his rallies. And legally because of the vast variety of serious crimes he’s being tried for and that he keeps passing laws to save himself from (see Wikipedia for a list).

And the worst? You won’t believe this. The Italian parliament, with a Berlusconi majority, on a Berlusconi government proposal, recently attempted to pass a law that eliminates obligatory arrest for anyone engaged in ‘minor acts’ of pedophilia. A pro-pedophile law! Could it have been inspired by the priest caught getting serviced in his car by a 12-year-old girl? (that is, figuratively, the Catholic church, which admits to only 1.5-5% guilty criminal pedophile priests: 5%!) Or by the president of the council of ministers himself? I’d bet they’re not the only interested ones. Rumors of coke parties and Lolita orgies involving Berlusconi’s cohorts and guests have circulated for years.

The press, controlled by Mr. B (you know he owns all three big private networks and controls the three public ones through his puppets, right?), has been mute on this topic. Deafening silence. No scandal at all for the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard of. Back to the days when the local noblemen were supposed to de-flower all the teenage girls of the village.

In Italian there’s an expression which roughly translated goes: There’s no limit to things getting worse. Okay, but could we not have a leader who’s articulate, calm, politically skilled and statesman-like instead of a raving, degenerate fool? As Mutt and Jeff would say, “you get what you deserve.” Yeah, but when have we been punished enough?

Keeping you informed … your informal correspondent in Italy …

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: In Australia, the Local Area Network is called the LAN down under.
Jeff: In France, they cook their omelettes with only one egg.
Mutt: Why’s that?
Jeff: Well, you see, in France one egg is un oeuf.
Mutt: In England, they do not have a kidney bank, but they do have a Liverpool.
Jeff: In Texas, an old rancher was drawing up his will so that he might provide for his three boys when he would pass away. He decided to divide his land up evenly among them. His wife suggested that he name the place The Focus Ranch. "Why should I do that, my love?" he asked.
She answered, “because it is where the sons raise meat."
Mutt: In Boston, you know what you need to start your car?
Jeff: What?
Mutt: Khakis.
Jeff: In South Carolina, two boll weevils were born and grew up. One went to Hollywood and became a famous actor. The other stayed behind in the cotton fields and never amounted to much.
Mutt: So?
Jeff: The second one, naturally, became known as the lesser of two weevils.
Mutt: Are we funny yet?
Jeff: Merry Christmas.

December 21, 2010

Picks of the Flicks 2010

Everyone who has a blog is obligated by international law to post a list of their favorite films. Here goes: (I watch films on Sky television, so they will likely be from past years):

A Serious Man
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Crossing Over
Forbidden Lie$
Ghost World
Pet Therapy
Reservation Road
Temple Grandin
Thank You For Smoking
The Burning Plain
The Darjeeling Limited
The Reader
What Would Jesus Buy?
Winged Creatures
I kept it short. Many films I enjoyed (Inception, for instance) are not here because they didn’t give me that extra oomph, that satisfaction that lasts 24 hours. After a good film I also often feel: “Wow, I wish I’d written that.” Back to work, brother.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Two ropes walk into a western saloon.
Jeff: You’ve been waiting all year to tell this old saw, haven’t you?
Mutt: The first rope goes up to the bar and asks for a beer. "We don't serve ropes in this saloon," sneers the bartender, who picks up the rope, whirls him around over his head, and tosses him out into the street.
Jeff: But everyone on earth knows this joke.
Mutt: "Oh, oh. I'd better disguise myself," thinks the second rope. He ruffles up his ends to make himself look bigger and twists himself into a circle. Then he too sidles up to the bar.
Jeff: Mercy.
Mutt: "Hmmm. Are you one of them ropes?" snarls the bartender.
"No, I'm a frayed knot."
Jeff: Oh, how funny! Ha Ha Ha. I may split my seams…. NOT!!!
Mutt: Okay, your turn.
Jeff: To pull one off the scrap heap? This mushroom walks into a bar and starts hitting on this woman. She, of course, turns him down.
Mutt: I love this one.
Jeff: Not willing to give up, he pleads with her, "C'mon lady, I'm a fun guy."
Mutt: That’s it?
Jeff: All you get.

December 10, 2010

Are You Are What You Read?

These are the books I read for pleasure (I read lots more for research) this year. Do the books you like define you? Would two people with the same tastes in literature naturally get along? That sounds like a stretch, but the bookstores and libraries seem to be full of people looking for their similars. Or is that just my fantasy? I learned a poem by Ogden Nash when I was a boy:
"Boys never make passes,
At girls who wear glasses."
Yet there are folks wearing spectacles, instead of varsity jackets or Barbie outfits, and each would have her/his own list of the volumes that sucked them in temporarily. Or that they dove into willingly. Each escape an adventure. Alley-oop.
A Thru-Hiker’s Heart, Ray Echols
A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
Ambrose Bierce and the Ace of Shoots, Oakley Hall
Ambrose Bierce and the Death of Kings, Oakley Hall
Ambrose Bierce and the One-Eyed Jacks, Oakley Hall
Ambrose Bierce and the Trey of Pearls, Oakley Hall
Beyond the Post-Modern Mind, Huston Smith
Blix, Frank Norris
Confessions of a Barbarian, Edward Abbey
Gutted, Justin Chin
I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
Kosovo/Kosova, Mary Motes
Mama Grace, Dana Bagshaw
Mutt and Jeff are the Funniest Guys on Earth, Mutt and Jeff
National Audubon Society Field Guide to California
Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood
On Teaching and Writing Fiction, Wallace Stegner
Orchid Territory, Mary Motes
Sarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler
Song-Writers on Song-Writing, Paul Zollo
The Alienist, Caleb Carr
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Andrew Sean Greer
The House of Arkhangel’sk (unpublished), Jane Kindred
The Human Line, Ellen Bass
The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty
The Western Writings of Stephen Crane, Stephen Crane
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Wit’s End, Karen Joy Fowler
Writing from the Inside, James D. Houston
So here I am, and here you are. Your list may be longer or better than mine, but it's not the same as mine. My list, my thrills.

Is one a superior person because one reads books? Nah, come on. In fact: DON'T READ ... unless you like to. Then don't let the cotton candy of life keep you away from healthy real food.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Shakespeare walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a beer. "I can't serve you." says the bartender. "You're Bard!"
Jeff: One day an English grammar teacher was looking ill. A student asked, "What's the matter?" "Tense," answered the teacher, describing how he felt. The student paused, then continued, "What was the matter? What has been the matter? What might have been the matter... ?"
Mutt: I used to be a teacher, but found I didn't have enough class.
Jeff: Old students never die, they just get degraded.
Mutt: Old deans never die, they just lose their faculties.
Jeff: Well, yeah, but speaking ill of the dead is a grave mistake.
Mutt: Yes, but as you know the pun is mightier than the sword.
Jeff: And as the great Jedi English teacher said, "metaphors be with you."

December 2, 2010

Killing Godzilla

Where Godzilla is the Italian public university system, and the killer is the Italian government (or vice versa). That may not make much sense, but truth is stranger than science fiction.

Berlusconi and his yes-men, in this case a yes-woman named Gelmini, are dismantling all things public to favor his/their own private interests. It’s not very complex or secret if you can see through the smog of lies and scandals. The sense of the public good that most governments follow (more or less) is nonsense to our Fearless Leader.

I can almost hear the Filthy Rich, during a break from wild partying (drugs, underage girls, mafia friends, etc.), “Let’s destroy the public school system, the universities, the courts, the public health system, and so on and replace it with our own pseudo-institutional inventions. We’ll just make it all up as we go along; hell, we already control television! Then the suckers will have to pay us directly in blood from cradle to grave.” James Bond villains were never this devious.

Well, the protests have had little effect so far, and the law passed in the House. I have mixed feelings about the whole affair, not because the reactionary cuts and power concentration could have a good side, but because the university was not okay before. There’s no better world to return to. It’s not like cutting a gangrenous leg to save the otherwise healthy patient. The patient was already moribund before the Gelmini gangrene made it critical. So what is there to defend? Godzilla? One’s own little paycheck? Looking forward to retirement like an oasis in the Sahara?

I’ve decided to defend my emotional stability. I can’t live in constant anger over the surrounding twister of injustice. That way they win. It’s hard to find the moving eye, but where else can you go to save yourself?

Here’s a bitter paper one of my students wrote:

University Study: most of the time may not help to build your future.

University study is not the best choice a student can make for his future, because it’s difficult, at this time, to find a university which gives good results after the degree. In fact many new graduates can’t often find a good job which is related to their degree, so the effect, in the society, is the increase of unemployment. Besides, most of the teachers at the university are corrupt, so they don’t give an example of good behavior in the society to their students. They just teach them how to prevail on the other colleagues and to give more importance to the wealth. So bad students easily find an important job which satisfies their aspirations, living their lives in the absolute luxury, and in the case of the doctors, killing innocent people; while the good students probably won’t have a good job, and they spend their life in misery. This is the bad side of university study, where all the rich can have a future and the others should stay at home without wasting years and years behind books which will never repay them.
Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: And now they expect us to be funny?
Jeff: Don’t worry. The expectations are extremely low.
Mutt: Well then, let me tell you about a very mean witch in England who was terrorizing the local population. They finally called a wizard to see what could be done about her. The wizard gave them a potion that would turn the witch into a statue. The townspeople managed to put the potion in the witch's food. When she found out about this, she turned green with rage, but it was too late and the potion worked as expected. The jubilant population had a big celebration and parade, and placed the petrified witch in the park as a public example.
Jeff: I can’t bear to hear the rest.
Mutt: Pretty soon, people discovered that the witch had been frozen in a position that made her a perfect sundial, and started using her to tell the time of day. The custom grew and even today …
Jeff: Here it comes!
Mutt: … people often refer to Mean Green Witch Time.
Jeff: Oowah.

November 29, 2010

Neal in a Blind Rage

It was a hectic day at the office. Very hectic and trying indeed. Most of our 1,300 students were outside in the crowded hallway, and they all wanted to know something from us. They all had a question. We weren’t getting anything done.

Neal got fed up and wrote a hasty note about when the new exam date was (or something) and taped it on the outside of the door. He dusted off his hands as he came back in and said, “That ought to keep out the zombies!”

It didn’t. As Neal tried to get back into the towering piles of written exam papers we had to correct, several other students stuck their heads in the door, as they do, and timidly asked about whatever. Neal was about to blow a gasket.

It’s not like he’s never made a fool of himself before. He has a habit of accosting people on the street as long lost friends only to discover that they are total strangers. Then he makes it a thousand times worse by trying to explain. Neal also has a tendency to loudly use foul language when he thinks no one around can understand English, only to discover that a cruise ship has deposited hundreds of fellow Brits right next to him. Shocking.

Flatulence in a crowded lift … check. Standing by a huge mud puddle in the road when car races by … check. Neal looks in the upturned ketchup bottle to see why the ketchup is stuck … slap, plop, check. Glasses of wine knocked over onto people’s laps … a regular occurrence.

This time he was unusually peeved, perturbed and downright hysterical. Got up, as grandma would say, on the wrong side of the bed. It was pointless for me to suggest self-control. “The next person who interrupts me gets his arse chewed off,” Neal promised.

As if on cue, a nerdy looking boy with odd dark glasses pokes his head in the door and opens his mouth to say something. Before he could even talk Neal exploded:


You know the feeling when you hear your own stupidity echo off the walls? Neal let the poor boy have it so viciously that he scared himself. I watched, frankly amused, for the next development. I could see the boy’s white cane tip through the crack in the door near his feet.

“I, uh, can’t read it.”


And Neal just had to stick his whole foot completely into his mouth with one more rhetorical question:


The boy with the white cane entered, thinking it only courteous to answer. “Yes, I am blind. Could you please tell me when the exams will be?”

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: A neutron goes into a bar and asks the bartender, "How much for a beer?" The bartender replies, "For you, no charge."
Jeff: Two atoms meet. One says, "Are you all right?"
"No, I’ve lost an electron!"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm positive!"
Mutt: Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.
Jeff: A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you, but don't start anything."
Mutt: When she told me I was average, she was just being mean.
Jeff: The more things change, the more they stay insane.
Mutt: That’s deja moo.
Jeff: Right. The feeling that you've heard this bull before.

November 19, 2010

Avoiding the ‘F’ Word

Don’t call it Frisco.

Or San Fran, SF, The City, The Sco, Bagdad by the Bay, The City that Knows How, Fogtown or anything else but its name: Yerba Buena (good grass?) or the newer name: San Francisco.

Actually, Herb Caen, local gossip and hero, started the anti-Frisco movement in the early 50’s, I believe, so for over 100 years nobody had a problem with the nickname. Here’s an alternate explanation I like:

“Frisco” is, of course, a contraction of San Francisco, but there are other theories about its origin. Some have suggested it is an Americanization of el fresco, a term apparently used by Mexican immigrants coming to Fog City to escape the heat of the Sierra Nevada.
The late etymologist Peter Tamony traced the word all the way back to the Middle English frithsoken, meaning refuge or sanctuary. Shortened to "frisco," the term was apparently used by sailors to refer to any port where ships could be repaired.
So what is a San Franciscan? Immigrants and refugees, of course, like everywhere. But do those of us squeezed in a few blocks between the Pacific and the Bay really have a collective personality? Are the fruits and nuts native? Do those chilly summers cause frostbite patterns in the gray matter? I’m sure the fog, creeping in the ears, scrambles the synapses. Maybe a list would help answer all these questions (probably not but I’m, as you know, a compulsive list-maker).

Notable San Franciscans:
[born and raised]
Ansel Adams
Gracie Allen
Gertrude Atherton
Ralph Barbieri
Bill Bixby
Mel Blanc
Benjamin Bratt
Stephen Breyer
Pat & Jerry Brown
Darius Brubeck
Carol Channing
Donaldina Cameron
Paul Desmond
Bradford Dillman
Dom & Joe DiMaggio
Edward Dmytryk
Isadora Duncan
Clint Eastwood
Dian Fossey
Robert Frost
Jerry Garcia
Danny Glover
Rube Goldberg
Vince Guaraldi
Laird Hamilton
Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket)
William Randolph Hearst
James D. Houston
Shirley Jackson
Paul Kantner
Jack LaLanne
Bruce Lee
Jack London
Anita Loos
Greil Marcus
Jon Miller
Barry Nelson
Lloyd Nolan
Kevin Pollak
Stafford Repp
Pierre Salinger
Rob Schneider
Liev Schreiber
Alicia Silverstone
Gary Snyder
Kevin Starr
Lincoln Steffens
David Strathairn
Jeffery Tambor
Bob Weir
Stuart Whitman
Kate Wolf
Naomi Wolf
B.D. Wong
Natalie Wood

Other famous residents:
[came as adults]
Maya Angelou
Ambrose Bierce
Herb Caen
Joan Chen
Ina Coolbrith
Stanton Delaplane
Barbara Eden
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Makoto Hagiwara
Chet Helms
Lee Meriwether
Harvey Milk
Emperor Norton
Nancy Pelosi
Levi Strauss
Cecil Williams
Robin Williams

As usual, the ‘so-what’ question has no answer. There’s the list, draw your own conclusion. Because I’m too lazy to come up with it or because there is no answer? Every city has a list and character. But I think the thing is that we know what we mean, who we are, it just can’t be put into words. San Francisco, after all, is not a huge city, about the size of Jacksonville FL, but it is the oldest city in the West and a cultural center since the Gold Rush. People came here to escape from prejudice and misery at home. Australian prisoners, Peruvians and the Mormons came early on, the Chinese too, the Beats, Hippies, Gays, Mixed-race couples, Sicilians, Ship-builders, Yuppies, Dot.commers, Radicals and Free-thinkers followed. As Carlos Santana said: More artists than con artists. Yes indeed. Oh, and add him to the list.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: My wife's gone to the West Indies.
Jeff: Jamaica?
Mutt: No, she went of her own accord.
Jeff: My wife's gone to St Petersburg.
Mutt: Is she Russian?
Jeff: No, she's taking her time.
Mutt: My wife's had an accident on a volcano.
Jeff: Krakatoa?
Mutt: No. She broke her leg.
Jeff: My wife's gone on a singing tour of South Korea.
Mutt: Seoul?
Jeff: No, R&B.
Mutt: Y’know, that reminds me. My wife went to a very bad concert in South East Asia.
Jeff: Singapore?
Mutt: Terrible. And the rest of the band was terrible too.
Jeff: Excuse me, Mutt, are you even married?
Mutt: No, you?
Jeff: I had a girlfriend once.
Mutt: Wanna marry me? In San Francisco. They’ll change that discriminatory law pretty soon.
Jeff: I’m tempted. But if we get married, people will think we’re, y’know, flits.
Mutt: It’s San Francisco, man, same-sex heterosexual marriage is the new wave, the future, the giddy-upcoming! Perfect double transgression. So post-post-modern.
Jeff: Count me in, baby. Just don’t let down your avant garde.

November 14, 2010

Never-ending Game

Mutt: Listen, you know we’ve both loved baseball all our lives.
Jeff: Yeah, so?
Mutt: How about if whoever dies first and goes to Heaven comes back to tell the other one whether baseball exists in Heaven or not?
Jeff: I’m game.
[Unfortunately Mutt died the next night.]
Mutt: Hey, Jeff, wake up!
Jeff: What? Mutt? But you're dead.
Mutt: I know. I came back to tell you about baseball in Heaven.
Jeff: Oh yeah.
Mutt: Well, good news and bad news. The good is that—YES, there is baseball in Heaven and it’s fantastic. More fun than you can even imagine.
Jeff: So what’s the bad news?
Mutt: You start pitching on Thursday.

That’s a joke, right? Baseball in Heaven, baseball as heaven, playing a never-ending game: 9 innings, ten, a hundred, a billion innings. Life and afterlife as an endless season. Isn’t it? (Many of the Giants are already playing Winter Ball to bide the time till spring training starts.) And when a runner gets home and scores and is happy (even without a smile, especially without a smile), if the inning doesn’t end, they get another at-bat to begin again. Infinite do-overs.

And that homer I just hit sailed over the fence, over the bleachers, over the parking lot, over those tall buildings where serious people work, over the mountains and valleys and oceans, never coming down. That ball circling the globe looked down on the green baseball diamonds like connect-the-dots across America and the world. A roadmap to paradise, follow the bouncing ball. Every cornfield hiding a playing field underneath. Every advertising executive “stepping up to the plate” to make a “pitch” for a “home-run” product. Every girl and boy dreaming of player heroes (that’s Buster Posey, Rookie of the Year, in the photo below) before drifting off to sleep. The foul lines continuing on to embrace the universe.

And the bad news? When I’m at the park I sometimes think: What if this was it? What if our whole lives were lived in here? Some sci-fi virus contaminated the city and we had to stay in the ballpark forever. Would that be so bad? Plenty of peanuts. Finally, something to believe in. Fantasy baseball becomes real baseball and vice versa. I’m stepping down there onto the field, turning the double play, getting the infield hit, beating out the throw, lolling out in right, stealing home, smacking the splash dinger. Or maybe I have the ultimate season ticket, where you sleep and eat and make love and enjoy the daily games at the park. No away games, everyone comes to us. Do we ever get old watching baseball? Turn off the clock.

Did you watch LOST? I’ll admit I did. So what did the finale mean? My interp: you go (to Heaven) with all the people you meet by chance on your island or in your stadium or along the twisted trail of your life. Even the ones you don’t like (which for me is many) are all waiting for you in the universal church with the ones you cared for. Or in numbered rows. Or on your plane. Those human contacts are all there is. It isn’t much, just everything.

Ever sit in an airport and watch the people flow by? The features blur. Clothes, hair, nose shapes, skin color, all different until they become all one. I could be in love with that person, but we’ve never met. That could be my dear son, if I had one. What if they were my father and mother instead of the ones I have? If that person was my friend for life? What? Would it all be the same? Are we interchangeable pieces? Plug-in people in one another’s lives? Is it really, 'love the one you're with'? In the stands? (Just so they're not Dodger fans.)

Walt Whitman played and watched the game at its beginnings. He wrote about it in Leaves of Grass, which includes:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Identity, commonality, playfulness, history, family, health, life-death and summer grass—that’s baseball, folks. The poet’s sport. That’s the answer to every question. Try it.

The San Francisco Giants won their first World Series ever. In case you hadn’t heard. I’ve waited my whole life for this. Now I’m ready for Heaven. Hope there’s baseball there too. Otherwise, just send me straight to Hell.

So I posted here on the sidebar a link to my Baseball Poetry article. As my buddy Mike Krukow says (in fake Canadian): Check it ou-ut!

Happy trials, until next season, Martin

Jeff: Did we get promoted to opening act?
Mutt: I betcha it’s temporary.
Jeff: Pay increase?
Mutt: Dream on, boy.
Jeff: I got a question: If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes?
Mutt: Um.
Jeff: If olive oil comes from olives, where does baby oil come from?
Mutt: I got one: Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?
Jeff: Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?
Mutt: What do you call a male ladybird?
Jeff: When they first invented the clock, how did they know what time it was to set it to?
Mutt: How much deeper would oceans be if sponges didn't live there?
Jeff: Do you always answer a question with another question?
Mutt: Do I?

November 5, 2010

Neal Breaks A Leg

“Break a leg,” in English, means ‘Good Luck.’ Not where Neal is concerned.

There are lots of man-holes in Messina (winkwink-nudgenudge-saynomore), and many of the ones on the sidewalks are uncovered. Something happens and the cover disappears so you have a hole about two feet square open to the sky and a thousand miles deep. They are rarely repaired. They can be dangerous and must be avoided.

Neal was walking down the street one bright morning several years ago. Guess what happened. Was he watching carefully where he was going? Did he look down to see the open manhole in his path? You know the answer.

He stepped right in it and broke his right leg. It hurt like hell. Some passersby called an ambulance and helped him lie on the filthy sidewalk until it came. They put a newspaper under Neal’s head so as not to dirty a jacket or something soft. Neal’s head bounced on the cement a time or two as he writhed in pain. They yanked off his cowboy boots, causing a long scream. They brought Neal a glass of water. He wasn’t thirsty.

The ambulance eventually came and picked the heavy Neal up off the sidewalk, picked up his cowboy boots, and carried the crying Neal to the hospital. Not the nearest hospital, which didn’t have the resources to deal with such a rare and complicated accident, but to another hospital much further away. The ride was painful with every bump in the road. In Messina there are many.

In the Emergency Room, Neal waited for several hours. Several hours is a long time to wait with a broken leg. He asked the people dressed like medical personnel (you can never tell who’s a doctor, a nurse or an orderly) if they could help him. Even though he spoke in Italian they acted like they didn’t understand. Finally, they gave him a pain-killer (aspirin) and explained that they had some life-or-death cases to take care of first. Well, nothing to say about that. You wouldn’t want someone to die because the doctors were busy putting your leg in a cast. Would you?

He saw some of them smoking outside, chatting or chewing on candy bars and flirting. Must have been their break; everyone’s entitled to a break. Then, right before Neal passed out, a doctor, Dr. Lempo, finally arrived to take a look. “How are you, American Boy?” Neal is British.

“Okay, here is a bit gonfia. What is gonfia in the English?”

“Swollen,” Neal answered, wondering why the great Doctor was examining the left leg. Probably he wanted to see the contusion and scrape that the sound leg had suffered in the fall. Dr. Lempo was feeling the bone with his thumbs on the ridge of Neal’s left leg—maybe he would then compare the swelling to the broken right leg—but gradually Neal became suspicious that Dr. Lempo had not understood which leg was really broken. As Neal started to say something, the doctor banged the broken right leg with his elbow.

Neal yelped in pain and tears ran down his cheeks. “Oh, don’t being the baby. This leg, this leg … I no think.” Wincing Neal was pointing to his right leg because he could not speak. The doctor said, “No, no, I no think …” and whacked his elbow into Neal’s broken right leg again. Neal screamed again; his right leg was twice its normal size.

Ma insomma, I can no do examination if you cry like baby.”

A nurse whispered something in the doctor’s ear. “Okay, American cry baby, we take the x-ray now.” And he shipped Neal off to radiology to get rid of him. Two more hours waiting during which the nurses had to cut his jeans off. Neal’s leg was purple, and it was dark outside when Neal’s x-rays were finally ready.

Dr. Lempo was still on duty. He made incomprehensible jokes while he applied the plaster cast to Neal’s right leg (directed by the nurse) and complained that those people in radiology always get things wrong.

Neal had to call his friend Gianantonio to bring him some jeans and crutches, and take him away from his 12-hour ordeal in the E.R. The jeans were too small (very few Italians wear Neal’s size), and they couldn’t find crutches until the sanitari opened Monday morning. Neal had to leave the hospital leaning on his friend in a backwards dressing gown, holding his cowboy boots and dimission papers. The staff cracked up watching.

Neal never got the hang of walking on crutches, of course. As he tried to use them the first time, one got caught behind the heel of the cast and he went tumbling to the ground again. None of us were surprised by that, in fact it was pretty hilarious. Neal was hurt, but nothing new was broken.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: A man—maybe Neal—woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, "Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!" The doctor replied, "I know you can't - I've cut off your arms!"
Jeff: Finally a funny one.
Mutt: You know how stress causes falling hair?
Jeff: Yep.
Mutt: When the going gets tough, the tufts get going.
Jeff: Okay, two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says "dam!"
Mutt: Well, I went to the butchers the other day, and I bet him $50 that he couldn't reach the meat off the top shelf. He said, “no, the steaks are too high.”
Jeff: A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West, he sidles up to the bar and announces: "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."
Mutt: Two vultures get ready to board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at them and says, "I'm sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion allowed per passenger."
Jeff: Why did the golfer bring two pair of pants to the game?
Mutt: I’m afraid to ask.
Jeff: In case he got a hole in one.
Mutt: And last but not least, here’s one about you.
Jeff: Really?
Mutt: Yeah, because outside the bathroom you’re American.
Jeff: Uh huh.
Mutt: But inside European.

October 30, 2010

Cults and Creeds, Tumults and Greeds, part 2

Formless spiritual. Father, Word and Holy Breath. Allfather, the heavenly man. Hiesos Kristos, magician of the beautiful, the Logos who suffers in us at every moment. This verily is that. I am the fire upon the altar. I am the sacrificial butter. (James Joyce, Ulysses)

The top ten world religions (according to wikipedia) are: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Folk religions, Buddhism, Chinese religions (Taoism, Confucianism), Shintoism, Sikhism, Judaism, Bahà’ì.

What are religions and are they dangerous? What are cults and are they dangerous? Can new religions be invented or are we doomed to choose from millennia-old, dusty, musty, crusty belief systems? I was surprised to find a list of hundreds of new religious movements on the internet. Are they new religions or cults?

Our country, don’t forget, was formed by cultists: Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, Mennonites, Congregationalists, Shakers, Anabaptists, Amish—little groups of outcasts bound together by their defiance of the status quo.

Cults are defined as : ‘a social group sometimes accused of mentally, physically, or sexually controlling its members.’ ‘A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.’ ‘A quasi-religious organization using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents.’

Words associated with cults by their critics are: indoctrination, isolation, destructive, elitist, separatist, totalitarian, authoritarian, dangerous, fear, violence, brain-washing, mind-control, physical restriction (some adherents have to be abducted by anti-cultists)—in sum, not a very happy picture.

Examples (from various government lists): Order of the Solar Temple, Falun Gong, People’s Temple, Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, Hare Krishna, Transcendental Meditation, Opus Dei, Rastafarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unification Church, Rosicrucians, Satanists, OSHO movement, Aum Shinri Kyo, Concerned Christians, Nation of Islam, Voodoo, Wicca, and many more. I’ve known members of several of these groups, and, frankly, they’re scary.

There are two large cults in the U.S., both of which prefer to be called churches: Mormonism and Scientology.

On a recent trip to Salt Lake City I stayed in the house of a sister-wife, one of the wives in a polygamist harem. The hostess treated us suspiciously. Around town the Mormons seemed a bit like people in a creepy movie, walking around smiling, heads full of holy thoughts. Then I met an ex-Mormon in California, and he went on and on about Mormon underwear and how The Saints pressure and coerce their flock to keep it in line like yapping sheepdogs. Another disquieting zealot.

Are you worried by Scientology? Invented by a science fiction writer, it seems like an elaborate joke. Why the huge draw on actors? And how should we view an actor’s work when we know he/she is a cultist in real life? It shouldn’t matter, right? But it does.

Want a list? (from the internet, may contain inaccuracies)

Scientologist Celebrities:
Adam Beason
Adjowa Hayes
Angelo Pagan
Anita Mally
Anne Archer
Beck Hansen
Beth Riesgraf
Bijou Phillips
Billy Sheehan
Bodhi Elfman
Catherine Bell
Chick Corea
Christopher Masterson
Corin Nemec
Danny Masterson
Darius Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
David Campbell
Doug Dohring
Doug E Fresh
Eddie Deezen
Edgar Winter
Eduardo Palomo (dec.)
Erika Christensen
Ernie Reyes Jr.
Ethan Suplee
Geoffrey Lewis
Giovanni Ribisi
Greta Van Susteren
Haywood Nelson
Isaac Hayes (dec.)
James Packer
James Stacy Barbour
Jason Dohring
Jason Lee
Jeff Conaway
Jeff Pomerantz
Jeffrey Tambor
Jenna Elfman
Jennifer Aspen
Jim Meskimen
John Travolta
Johnny Lewis
Judy Norton Taylor
Julia Migenes
Juliette Lewis
Karen Black
Kate Ceberano
Katie Holmes
Kelly Preston
Kimberley Kates
Kirstie Alley
Laura Prepon
Leah Remini
Lee Purcell
Lightfield Lewis
Lisa Marie Presley
Lynsey Bartilson
Mariah O’Brien
Marisol Nichols
Marissa Ribisi
Mark Isham
Michael D. Roberts
Michael Fairman
Michael Peña
Michelle Stafford
Milton Katselas (dec.)
Mutt & Jeff
Nancy Cartwright
Nicky Hopkins (dec.)
Pablo Santos (dec.)
Pamela Roberts
Patrick Renna
Paul Haggis
Peaches Geldof
Persia White
Placido Domingo Jr.
Priscilla Presley
Richard Elfman
Ruddy Rodriguez
Sharon Case
Sky Dayton
Sofia Milos
Sonny Bono (dec.)
Tom Constanten
Tom Cruise
Tyler Hynes
Xavier Deluc

Former Scientologist Celebrities:
Al Jarreau
Brad Pitt
Candice Bergen
Cathy Lee Crosby
Charles Manson
Demi Moore
Diana Canova
Emilio Estevez
Frank Stallone
Gloria Gaynor
Gloria Swanson (dec.)
J.D. Salinger (dec.)
Jason Beghe
Jerry Seinfeld
John Brodie
Kate Capshaw
Katharine McPhee
Larry Anderson
Leif Garrett
Leonard Cohen
Linda Blair
Melanie (Safka)
Mimi Rogers
Neil Gaiman
Nicole Kidman
Oliver Stone
Olivia D’Abo
Patrick Swayze (dec.)
Paul Haggis
Peggy Lipton
Quincy Jones
Ricky Martin
Robert Hunter
Sharon Stone
Stanley Clarke
Stephen Boyd (dec.)
Van Morrison
William S. Burroughs (dec.)

Rumored Scientologist Celebrities:
Anne Francis
Barbara Carrera
Bernadette Peters
Cassandra Hepburn
Chaka Khan
Christopher Reeve (dec.)
Deborah Rennard
Eileen Brennan
Esai Morales
Gordon Lightfoot
Horst Buchholtz (dec.)
Jada Pinkett Smith
John Savage
Lou Rawls (dec.)
Mikhail Baryshnikhov
Rock Hudson (dec.)
Ron Ely
Ron Wood
Shirley Maclaine
Will Smith

Does this list mean anything? Yes. What? I don’t know.

I’ll leave it to you to expand the topic through your own research. Talk to a current member and an ex-member of any group that interests you to get perspective. Don’t ignore spirituality. Make up your own mind. But don’t go into a room where they lock the door.

Sitting all together with a congregation of like-minded people, dressed up, chanting comforting nonsense, standing, sitting, singing, hoping for the common purpose to be realized before our eyes, praying for victory … wait, am I talking about spectator sports? The Giants in the World Series again? Sorry, got distracted. Maybe the cults don’t have such a hold on me after all. Or maybe being a sports fan is, emotionally, the same drug.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Tell me, my friend, do you know the difference between a well dressed man and a dog?
Jeff: No, I don’t, my friend.
Mutt: The man wears a suit, the dog just pants.
Jeff: Fine. Do you know the difference between a crazy rabbit and a counterfeit coin?
Mutt: I’m afraid not.
Jeff: One is bad money, and the other is a mad bunny.
Mutt: Ahhh. But what is the difference between an ornithologist and a stutterer?
Jeff: Go on.
Mutt: One is a bird watcher, and the other is a word botcher.
Jeff: What is the difference between a miser and a canary?
Mutt: Enlighten me.
Jeff: One's a little cheap and the other is a little cheeper.
Mutt: As long as we’re doing animal humor …
Jeff: Humor?
Mutt: The difference between a unicorn and lettuce? One is a funny beast and the other is a bunny feast.
Jeff: Animal?
Mutt: Okay, what then is the difference between one yard and two yards?
Jeff: A fence.
Mutt: Jolly good.

October 23, 2010

Cults and Creeds, Tumults and Greeds, part 1

The problem—our need to believe while remaining open to better beliefs and what lies beyond belief altogether—must be resolved existentially, through living it … (Huston Smith)

Breaking News: Jesus made the San Francisco Giants win the National League pennant! (point index fingers upwards) The Lord was with us, against Philadelphia (what sins were they paying for, I wonder), so we tore them to pieces, a Holy baseball massacre. Thank you, God Sir. [Don’t you wish he’d help us win that other game over in Afghanistan? Or are the enemies praying harder to their God?] = example of sarcasm

Did you take the religious knowledge quiz? ( I got ‘em all (brag, brag).

Remember when President Obama, in his inaugural address, said: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” He raised his finger for emphasis on the last note, as if to say that the atheists and agnostics and don’t-give-a-damners can finally join the nation. (My religious family and religious friends are rejoicing for me, right?)

In fact, I was taught that separation of church and state is fundamental to good government and that freedom and respect for all religions is the cornerstone of democracy. And that belief is a private matter.

Here’s the test: You live in a country where almost everyone practices a different religion from yours (or your none-of-the-above), how do you want that society to respect you? By singing God Bless America at the ballpark? In God We Trust on the money? Forcing you to pledge ‘One nation under God’? Whose God? Our God, not yours. And if you ain’t got one, you ain’t nobody ‘round these here parts.

Going to hell? Been there, done that? Sounds kinda fun, huh, with all the nasty sinners? Dynamiting bridges, taking psychedelic drugs, consorting with biker chicks in leather chaps. Yahoo! Hell is having no self-control? Yeah, whatever. Is there a separate hell for each religion, since the other religions always believe they’re right and you’re damn well going downwards? Sure hope they don’t send me to Buddhist hell by mistake! Boooring.

Sorry, it’s too easy to expose religion to ridicule. The Shroud of Turin, proven to be a fake in 1988 (as the cloth covering Jesus’ corpse (didn’t he rise from the dead?—never mind)), continued to draw millions of faithful viewers at its recent exhibit. And they knew; they’d heard of the carbon dating that showed it was from around 1300 AD. The need for spirituality, strong as the attraction of opium, overcomes reason again.

Can religion survive the sins of the church? (a hint: Jerusalem, the thrice holy city, 4000 years of strife, still there) I mean, when is enough enough or way way too much? When are there so many scandals, so much evil, so much perversion, that one should abandon an organization like a rotten marriage? Never? Till death, murder, rape or terror do you part? How many people must lose their life savings to con artists? How much common sense murdered by credence in aliens, phantoms and superheroes dressed up as religion? How many boys/girls need to be molested, abused, violated, ruined (use the stronger term here if you dare)? There’s an epidemic of pedophilia worldwide (the abused becoming abusers exponentially) that originates partly from the clerisy, often ‘celibate’ Roman Catholic priests. Is anyone proposing a radical cure? Is the church? The pope has waffled so badly recently that his credibility is kaput.

And the anti-gay protestant preacher who pays male whores to bugger him and then, after his habit becomes public, leaves his mega-church to go start another mega-church? (Ted Haggard, for one) And the sheep who follow their pastor? (I used to get the bus in San Francisco across the street from the People’s Temple when 918 of the automatons drank poison.) Sometimes religious people act like they’re insane, idiotic, gullible fools, daft, bonkers, loony tunes, psycho, wacko, batty, deranged, unhinged, stark raving crazy crackers mad.

Ahh faith, they say, faith (immune to critique), mysticism, ecstasy, the unknowable, the mystery. The big lie, others respond. Big Brother’s double-crossing doublespeak. And like fish they all took de-bate.

All I know: When a religious experience is legitimate it deserves respect in the same measure as we must show disdain and intolerance for cheaters, frauds, hot-air blowers, brain-washers, hustlers, swindlers, buffoons, liars, hypocrites, suckers, dupes, demagogues, charlatans, scam artists, phonies, fakes, manipulators, deceivers, rabble rousers, propagandizers, browbeaters, sound-biters, wheeler dealers, exploiters, abusers, sexual predators, and on and on and on and on.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Old ministers never die, they just get put out to pastor.
Jeff: I beg of you ... please.
Mutt: Okay, Jeff. But you know, I once considered going into the ministry myself.
Jeff: Really?
Mutt: Yes, but I didn't have an altar ego.
Jeff: Awright, guess what’s the religion of the woman who had a sex-change operation. No don’t, I’ll tell you: a hethen. Get it, he-then?
Mutt: For the love of Mike. I had a friend, very religious, who owned a pest control company. Every morning when he sent his workers off on their assignments he said, “Brothers and sisters, let us spray.”
Jeff: These religious jokes are way too pat. Let’s knock it off.
Mutt: One more. Here’s an old-timer. Ready?
Jeff: No.
Mutt: Outside a small Macedonian village a lone Catholic nun keeps a quiet watch over a silent convent. She is the last caretaker of this site of significant historical developments, spanning more than 2,000 years. When Sister Maria Cyrilla of the Order of the Perpetual Watch dies, the convent of St. Elias will be closed by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Macedonia.

However, that isn't likely to happen soon, as Sister Maria, 53, enjoys excellent health. By her own estimate, she walks 10 miles daily about the grounds of the convent, which once served as a base for the army of Attila the Hun. In more ancient times, a Greek temple to Eros, the god of love, occupied the hilltop site.

Historians say that Attila took over the old temple in 439 A.D., and used it as a base for his marauding army. The Huns are believed to have first collected and then destroyed a large gathering of Greek legal writs at the site. It is believed that Attila wanted to study the Greek legal system and had the writs and other documents brought to the temple. Scholars differ on why he had the valuable documents destroyed - either because he was barely literate and couldn't read them, or because they provided evidence of a democratic government that did not square with his own notion of "rule by an all-powerful tyrant".

When the Greek church took over the site in the 15th century and the convent was built, church leaders ordered the pagan statue of Eros destroyed, so another ancient Greek treasure was lost. Today, there is only the lone sister, watching over the old Hun base. When she goes, that will be it.
Jeff: And?
Mutt: That's how it ends, with No Huns, No Writs, No Eros, and Nun on base.
Jeff: Lord have mercy.
Mutt: Did the Giants really win the pennant?
Jeff: You betcha brudda! Youuuuu betcha!