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December 16, 2011

Music in Memorium, 2011

Way too many people died this year. Here are some whose music has given me a kick.

Amy Winehouse
Andrew Gold (see Maria Muldaur)
Benton Flippen
Bert Jansch
Big Jack Johnson
Bill Morrissey
Bill Tapia, ukulele master, 103 (see photo)
Billy Grammer
Bob Burnett (of the Highwaymen)
Carl Gardner
Charlie Craig
Charlie Louvin
Clarence Clemons
Dan Peek
Dan Terry
David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards
Dobie Gray
Don Kirshner
Doyle Bramhall
Eddie Kirkland
Gerry Rafferty
Gil Scott-Heron
Harry Jackson, cowboy singer
Hazel Dickens
Jack Hardy
Jerry Leiber
Jerry Ragovoy
Jessy Dixon
Jimmy Norman
Jimmy Roselli
Jody Rainwater
Joe Morello (Brubeck’s drummer)
John Barry
John Walker
Kenny Baker
Marv Tarplin
Milton Babbitt
Myra Taylor, 94
Nickolas Ashford
Nilla Pizzi
Phoebe Snow
Roger Williams
Sam Rivers
Suze Rotolo (Dylan’s girlfriend)
Wade Mainer, old-time banjo master, 104
Warren Hellman (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass)
Wild Man Fischer (street musician)
Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (Muddy Waters band)
Wilma Lee Cooper

Non-musical deaths:
Andy Rooney
Cliff Robertson
David Nelson
David S. Broder
Giorgio Bocca
Harry Morgan
Jack LaLanne
José Pagan
Ken Russell
Matty Alou
Owsley Stanley
Peter Falk
Richard F. Pedersen  (Uncle Dick)  (see obituary at
Sidney Lumet
Steve Jobs
Theodore Roszak
Tom Keith
Tom Wilson, Sr. (Ziggy)
Vaclav Havel

Edwin Honig
Eleanore Ross Taylor
Hugh Fox
John Haines
Lucille Clifton (2010)
Peter Reading
Piri Thomas
Ruth Stone
William Kloefkorn

Happy trials, Martin

December 13, 2011

Picks of the Flicks, 2011

This is my incomplete list of the best films I saw in 2011 (I watch films on Sky television, so they will likely be from past years):
Crazy Heart
El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)
Fair Game
Henry Poole Is Here
Love and Other Drugs
Moby Dick (2010 mini-series)
Motel Woodstock
Reindeer Games
Shutter Island
The Adjustment Bureau
The Concert
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Swedish)
The Girl Who Played with Fire (Swedish)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish)
The Road
*The Tree of Life
Too Big To Fail
Up in the Air

*Best ever

That's it, whatcha gonna do?

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Good day, my fine feathered friend.
Jeff: Same to you but more of it.
Mutt: Ready for the funny stuff?
Jeff: When's it start?
Mutt: Now. When women enter middle age, it gives men a pause.
Jeff: So funny I forgot to laugh. How about: Prison walls are never built to scale?
Mutt: Not bad. The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.
Jeff: Glad to hear it. If you don’t pay your exorcist you get repossessed.
Mutt: Oh yeah. There was a guy who was fired from the orange juice factory for
lack of concentration.

Jeff: When I was a kid, we were so poor we couldn’t even afford to pay attention.
Mutt: I used to be a tap dancer until I fell in the sink.
Jeff: Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
Mutt: The poet had written better poems, but he’d also written verse.
Jeff: There was a ghost at the hotel, so they called for an inn spectre.
Mutt: Ancient orators tended to Babylon.
Jeff: The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
Mutt: You didn’t hear about the three big holes in the ground? Well, well, well.
Jeff: It was raining cats and dogs. There were poodles all over the road.
Mutt: When chemists die, we barium.
Jeff: And last but not least ... Santa’s helpers are subordinate clauses.
Mutt: You told that one last year.
Jeff: Hoppy Cassidys to you too.

December 10, 2011

This Year of Books

This year I read some books I liked a lot, life-changers, teachers of writing. I also started a number of books that just didn't sock it to me. It may be rice wine to you, but it's still sake to me! I gave 'em the standard fifty pages, then retired them to the basement. Reading's too much fun and life too brief to read books that don't zing to your zoul.

Try keeping score yourself, a reading log can mark the paces of your passage through your years. You might take little steps of mildly enjoyable reads or you might mark your life into before and after X.

Plus reading can help you lose weight and keep in shape if done on a treadmill.

Here are the gooduns, excepting research and work stuff.

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole *
bird by bird, Anne Lamott
Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
Demonology, Rick Moody
Dude, Where’s My Country? Michael Moore
Many Lives, Many Masters, Brian L. Weiss
Moran of the Lady Letty, Frank Norris
Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs
On Moral Fiction, John Gardner
Plan B, Anne Lamott
Ron Carlson Writes a Story, Ron Carlson
The Billboard Guide to Writing and Producing Songs That Sell, Eric Beall
The Challenge of Space, Arthur Louis Joquel II * (my former prof)
The Elements of Storytelling, Peter Rubie
The Inferno, Dante (John Ciardi translation)
The Maytrees, Annie Dillard
The Pacific Crest Trail, National Geographic Society
The Road to Wellville, T. Coraghessan Boyle
The Sot-Weed Factor, John Barth *
The Sweetheart Season, Karen Joy Fowler
The Watch, Rick Bass
The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
Vineland, Thomas Pynchon
Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg
* best

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
Jeff: When an actress saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she’d dye.
Mutt: A scientist doing a large experiment with liquid chemicals was trying to solve a problem when he fell in and became part of the solution.
Jeff: If you leave alphabet soup on the stove and go out, it could spell disaster.
Mutt: When they bought a water bed, the couple started to drift apart.

Jeff: A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was a nurse said ‘No change yet’.
Mutt: What did the grape say when it got stepped on? Nothing – but it let out a little whine.
Jeff: A criminal’s best asset is his lie ability.
Mutt: Be true to your teeth, or they will be false to you.
Jeff: If you give some managers an inch they think they’re a ruler.
Mutt: She was only a whisky maker but he loved her still.
Jeff: The optician fell into the lens grinding machine and made a spectacle of himself.
Mutt: Gravity is studied a lot because it’s a very attractive field.
Jeff: Old lawyers never die they just lose their appeal.
Mutt: Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.
Jeff: So how are you today, my friend?
Mutt: 'Bout the same, 'bout the same. And you?
Jeff: Ditto likewise.

November 20, 2011

Chains of Gold: rap against the Wall

Politically inconsistent. I am often glad for serious moderate competent people running things (like the new Monti government in Italy), but my impulse would be toward drastic immediate radical upheaval. Things are so bad! Things are so bad? Compared, say, to the Middle Ages? Compared, say, to an ideal world?

In a moment of certainty, I wrote this rap about the most interesting movement in decades. And happily it’s not even organized. There’s no head honcho, just a bunch of pissed-off people who won’t go away. We haven’t all lost our moral compass.

chorus:  Chains of gold, bought and sold, chains of gold in a stranglehold
Lose your blindfold, you just been rolled, they stole your payroll and sold your household.
The rich never pay, we pay every day.

Gold in rings, rings in rings, forming strings of shiny things
Chains of fun, glittering sun, I want one, I want two for one
Two three four, count out more, more and more, you credit whore
I want my chains, I can’t abstain, it takes no brains, cigars champagne, to maintain this gangsta domain (Wall Street gangsta, that is)
It’s a human trait, what makes us great, you eat a full plate, an’ load on the weight
Weigh me down, oh golden crown, pool of money, I want to drown
Go down, underground, where the gold is found.

Wall street, your elite street, where you cheat neat, now our sweet street
Main street, mean street, easy street, sleazy street,
Your deceit, your conceit, listen to the flock bleat:
You’re obsolete, you’re obsolete, man, get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand
Who’s to blame? Here’s your name:
Citigroup, Bank of A., Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae
Morgan Stanley, GMAC, General Motors, AIG
JP … Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, disgrace
Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and old Bear Stearns,
Wachovia, watch the Lehman Brothers burn,
Burn, Money, Burn! Wall Street Fire Sale!
Investment bankers in my rhyme, say, “Brother, can you spare a dime?”
Traders on welfare, o.d.ed on their junk bonds, another big scare for the upper echelons
When we cut your chains of gold, watch your golden parachutes implode
Flying bankers, lost their anchors, we saved your asses, you still rich bastards,
We paid your debt, with our sweat, think we’re pissed off? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
99%, 99%, can’t afford a lobbyist, can’t pay the rent
Tax the rich, the wherewithal, Arab spring, New York fall
Break down the walls, open the halls, fight for your future in the Wall Street brawls
Sick of your greed, heed our need, you see that bull, now watch the stampede!

Globalization against our nation, we invented our own ruination:
Sub-prime mortgage, Ponzi scheme, Corporatocracy, American Dream
Toxic hedge funds, Matrix scheme, Bubbles and scams: the American Dream
Like Uncle Sam is now Scrooge McDuck, screw your neighbors, what the fuck?
We work for peanuts like hamsters on a wheel, for the Madoffs to steal
Wheel and deal, bow and kneel, believe your own spiel, spin the big wheel
Banking fees, got us on our knees, credit card debt, but we’re not dead yet
Lower pensions, lower wages, fewer benefits, smaller cages, the assembly line, lining their pockets, never mine
Dwight D. Eisenhower warned, when the military-industrial complex was born
Evil child, mean and wild, don’t be beguiled, by its gentle smile
You broke the unions, you broke the youth, your Fox News sluts broke the truth
Permatemping not professions, time has come for major concessions
If you won’t give a living wage, you’re the one who set the stage
Bars on the banks, bars on the doors, doors on the bars say come in, drink some more
Hey man, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
Who me? Who me? I’m the sleeping giant nation.
And you just woke me up!

Homeland security, economic purity, democratic assembly, a sign of maturity
Our Declaration of Independence, the beginning is near, a compassionate world, with no more fear
I am not a number, I am a free man, (ha ha ha) not your property, not your brand
End war, feed the poor, war’s a racket, don’t back it,
Rebuild the dream, that’s the theme
Let’s turn this whole world around, okay?
Nation build in the USA:
Easy to see what we’re fighting for:
Healthcare for all
Environmental overhaul
Jobs with dignity
Educational quality
So occupy everything, everywhere, Oakland, Pittsburg, Wilmington, Delaware
It’s our country, it’s our government, we’re the people, the 99%
Peaceful protest is a right, you cops know we’re not here to fight
We’re occupied days and nights, defending our free speech rights
Can you hear us now? Can you hear us now?
How much noise till you awake?
How much pushing does it take?
To break these chains of gold.

Want to hear it? It's on myspace:

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: You up for a good one?
Jeff: No, I'm up for the one you're going to tell no matter what.
Mutt: One day, an elderly woman was walking along the street, coming home from the supermarket. Her bag of groceries was especially heavy that day, and as she passed Nathan Hale's Used Cars, she got an idea that she could drive herself to the store and save a lot of shoe leather, time and aching muscles. She walks into the car dealership and, as it just so happens, gets the owner himself. He asks her what kind of car she wants and she replies,
  "Well, sonny, I can't remember the name exactly, but it has something to do with hate or anger."
  The owner replies, "Well, let's see... Oh yes, you want a Plymouth Fury! We have a couple on the lot. What color do you prefer?"
  The lady has some trouble explaining the exact color to him, so she reaches into her shopping bag, takes out an ear of corn, strips down the shucks and says, "I want this color sonny."
  To which Nathan replies, "Ma'am I'm sorry, but we don't have any in this color. Could I show you a nice blue one?"
  "No son, I want this color."
  "But ma'am, they didn't make that color! Maybe a cherry red one would suit you?" says the owner, obviously worried about losing a sale.
  By this time, the old lady gets mad, and starts throwing things at the owner, thereby chasing him out of the office and into the lot. One of the salesmen, coming into the office from the back door, notices the disruption and asks the secretary what the old woman was so upset about.
  The secretary replies, "Apparently, Hale hath no Fury like the woman's corn!"
Jeff: I should have stayed in bed this morning.

November 14, 2011

La Liberazione, part two

“Thank goodness for Napolitano!” is the most recurrent and heart-felt phrase around these days. Berlusconi was head of the government; Napolitano is head of the nation. They are opposites. Giorgio Napolitano has a limited role and stays out of all government/parliamentary affairs unless a law violates the constitution or the prime minister no longer has a majority to support him. But he is a symbol of statesmanship and gentlemanliness even in the political arena. His behavior is always above reproach; his voice is always calm; what he says always makes sense. His choice of new prime minister, Mario Monti, is better than anyone ever elected. He is a man, while Berlusconi was a boy, a naughty disturbed boy.

You may wonder how Berlusconi, this political freak, ever won elections. In our town everyone knows what a vote went for in the last election. The working class, or unemployed class that is, voted en masse for the highest bidder. Isn’t buying votes illegal? There are laws and then there is the enforcement of laws. Berlusconi went for the lowest common denominator, ignoring the thinking minority and gathering huge numbers from the slums. After all, there’s a satellite dish on every shack. He then did nothing for the poor, so they’d be there to vote for him again next time.

Maybe you’ve seen crowds of flag waving, cheering supporters of Mr. B and wondered. They are brought in on busses and special trains from the countryside and paid, one professional fan admitted, to appear on TV. As if whatever happens on TV is real. Berlusconi, even last night, made a polished video announcement, not a real press conference where journalists might ask embarrassing questions. He has a large image-making staff, marketing experts, spin doctors, etc. They dress him up, comb his hair and tell him what to say, all very calculated for maximum effect on those who would buy anything from this confidence man.

Deep down he’s a huckster, a TV salesman of miracle creams and vacuum cleaners. But he nearly ruined a beautiful country. He and his entourage of evil-doers remind me of Dante’s Inferno: The pagans wandering in limbo, carnal malefactors blown in violent storms, blind gluttons lying in the foul slush from ceaseless icy rains, the avaricious pushing enormous bags of money as punishment, the wrathful fighting and drowning, heretics trapped in flaming tombs, violent souls trapped in a river of boiling blood, suicides transformed into gnarled thorny bushes fed upon by harpies, blasphemers and usurers in a desert of flaming sand and fire raining from the sky, then the fraudulent, panderers and seducers marching in lines whipped by demons, flatterers steeped in human excrement, those who bought and sold blessings head-first in holes with flames burning their feet, sorcerers, astrologers and false prophets with their heads twisted backwards, corrupt politicians immersed in a lake of boiling pitch kept down by flying devils, hypocrites wearing lead cloaks they can never take off, thieves guarded by a fire-breathing dragon with snakes covering its back, evil counselors burning, sowers of discord hacked to pieces by demons, falsifiers afflicted by various diseases, traitors immersed in ice, and then at the very center of Hell is Satan, the giant, terrifying beast with three faces weeping, also trapped in ice, ignorant, impotent, full of hatred. Wow, if you knew the people who’ve been governing Italy for the past two decades you’d recognize them all in this Italian poem of 1300 a.d.

Next, my suggestions (to whom?) for social reforms (who am I?). And who’s listening?

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Did you know that old academics never die, they just lose their faculties.
Jeff:  Old bankers never die, they just want to be a loan.
Mutt:  Old basketball players never die, they just go on dribbling.
Jeff:  Old bookkeepers never die, they just lose their figures.
Mutt:  Old bosses never die, much as you want them to.
Jeff:  Old chiropractors never die, they adjust.
Mutt:  Old composers never die, they decompose.
Jeff:  Old frogs never die, they just croak.
Mutt:  Old grammarians never die, they just fall into a comma.
Jeff:  Which reminds me … Old English teachers never die, they just complete their sentences.
Mutt:  Oowah!

November 13, 2011

La Liberazione, part one

I imagine some of my non-Italian readers asking me, “What’s going on over there, dude?” You’ve heard the news: puppet and puppeteer Silvio Berlusconi finally out of power, but what does it mean and how did it happen? I’ll attempt the impossible, explaining Italian politics (impossible because I don’t understand it myself, even after more than 30 years here).

Berlusconi started in real estate development and then, through strong political connections, built a media empire. The first non-public national commercial television channels were all his, as well as several national newspapers, etc. When they were on the verge of collapse, he went into politics and gave them/himself public money to keep going. He consolidated his monopoly. He kept himself out of jail for crimes like bribery, tax evasion and collusion with the mafia with his power as head of the executive branch. He bought the majority in parliament, which block-voted in his favor. He bought the racist Lega Nord party too.

For years he railroaded through laws called reforms that were destructive to the social fabric and the constitutional democracy, while helping himself and his friends with their business ventures. See my old blog about his dismantling of the universities, public schools, public health system, etc.

Along the way he had at his command an army of professional liars, appearing nightly on national TV (still his own property, as well as the government-run RAI networks). As if Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, Coulter, etc., were cloned into the hundreds and sent to invade every public space with their deliberate bullshit. Those were the hysterical voices screaming at us for almost 20 years. Naturally some people grew to believe Berlusconi’s Black Is White tactic, but most voted for him because they thought they’d make more money in his alternative reality.

A pathological but strategic liar, earlier this week he said that there was no economic crisis in Italy; the proof being that the restaurants were full of people. Out of touch? Out of his mind? But was the current economic collapse the cause of Berlusconi’s downfall as all the foreign papers are saying? I think not. There’s more to it than that.

When a couple years ago, the alternative press broke the bunga bunga orgy story, that Berlusconi held nightly Hefner parties during which he had kinky sex with a number of the thirty-something prostitutes that he personally employed for his own use, at least one underage (16, he's 75), that would have been the ultimate scandal in almost any country except Italy. But we knew he’d been at it all along. In the early days of his television career, any young women wishing to work on his shows had to go through his bedroom. Many of the females “elected” (imposed) in parliament had the same apprenticeship. It makes you look at them differently when they’re on talk or variety shows. Berlusconi lives in a world of prostitution and treats all Italians as his whores.

Don’t forget that we’re talking about the richest man in the country. He can buy anything he wants, and he behaves as if he can do anything he wants. Scornful of the law, the institutions, the constitution, political decorum or just common decency, he is famous for his bizarre personality. It is no surprise that Muammar Gaddafi was one of his closest political allies, one that he apparently admired and copied. Never seen in public without thick pancake make-up, with regular hair transplants and face lifts, elevator shoes, comically excessive body-guards, he seemed to be acting the part of a statesman, but came off more like a lowlife mobster-clown, reminding me of Jack Nicholson's Joker in the first Batman movie. His favorite activity, other than those mentioned above, was telling dirty jokes, the filthier the better. A true sleazebag.

So why, you ask, could he stay in power so long? By far the longest-serving premier in Italian history, he stayed in power because the rules are written to allow and encourage cheating. When he needed more votes, for example, he approached opposition parliamentarians and offered between 200,000 and 500,000 euros for them to change parties. It worked, of course. Isn’t that illegal and punishable by law, you ask? Apparently not. He regained his majority by purchasing these traitors. So why did some of his own people vote against him this last week, so that he lost his majority? I don’t know the true answer to that one. The truth is, again, hidden in a cloud of lies.

It happened at the same time as the economy imploded, and Berlusconi didn’t have the strength to win another fight for his political survival. Even his closest allies (he has no friends) were sick of him. Perhaps the Arab spring has been imported across the Mediterranean. Now what awaits Berlusconi are a series of criminal prosecutions that will probably mark his pathetic end. I’d guess he’ll run rather than do time, and the authorities will let him, as they did his mentor Craxi.

Does crime pay? Not in the long run. If we don’t believe that and it isn’t confirmed by history, we’re sunk. But if, even after twenty years of hell, we can finally liberate our country of a disgusting, embarrassing, trashy, immoral, purely self-interested leader, then there is hope for political maturity. Representative democracy in Italy is only sixty some years old; it has a lot of catching up to do.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Once upon a time, a tribe of cannibals caught a saint sent to them as a missionary and ate him. He was very tender and tasty, yet they were all violently sick afterwards.
Jeff:  I’m waiting.
Mutt:  It shows that you can't keep a good man down.
Jeff:  And an incompetent ship captain grounds the warship he walks on.
Mutt:  Oow, clever. Did you hear about the optician? Two glasses and he made a spectacle of himself.
Jeff:  How about the man who ran through a screen door? He strained himself.
Mutt:  One can tell that a tree is nomadic when it packs up its trunk and leaves.
Jeff:  That’s awful.
Mutt:  I know. The truth may ring out like a bell, but it is seldom ever tolled.
Jeff:  Okay, when you lose something, why do you always find it in the last place you look?
Mutt:  Help me out.
Jeff:  Because you stop looking as soon as you find it.
Mutt:  Did you hear about the guy that lost his left arm and leg in a car crash?
Jeff:  I did. He's all right now.
Mutt:  So what do Eskimos get from sitting on the ice too long?
Jeff:  You got me.
Mutt:  Polaroids.
Jeff:  Sounds painful, but less than these jokes.
Mutt:  Jokes? These are legitimate questions.
Jeff:  Fer instance?
Mutt:  Fer instance, how does a spoiled rich girl change a lightbulb?
Jeff:  She says, "Daddy, I want a new apartment."

October 21, 2011


Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I was a teenager I loved to debate or spout off or hear myself talk. Not chit-chat but substance, important things. They were dramatic times, before and after 1970. We didn’t have formal debating at my high school like my father did—he told me about his days as captain of the Stockton High debating team—but plenty of schoolyard arguments occurred. Logic and rhetoric pitted against logic and rhetoric in a duel to the death. Yessir.

And one of the major questions we discussed, or that I subjected my friends to was/is: Is humanity progressing? Is society improving? Are all the efforts of good people succeeding? Generations dedicating their lives to making a better world, is it working?

Often it doesn’t seem so. We can see the power of a tiny match to destroy a car, house, city, forest pitted against the slow, hard work of building, planting, nurturing, reaping. The symbol of our times is the suicide bomber. Peace explodes in an instant. Back then it was the atom bomb, which destroys without even going off, except twice.

And I still remember my answer: yes, the world is progressing. And I still remember my supporting evidence: because in the 19th century there was a movement against human slavery, many of my relatives were involved with, and it was finally victorious. Human slavery was abolished, erased from the world, our dark past immorality cancelled to allow a brighter future for all, free and equal!

That was my adolescent argument. Now? Now I wish I still believed that. I need to believe that. Why work if not for a better world? For one’s own belly? To keep trudging along towards the hole you can’t wait to jump into? Why hope for better lives for your children? Is yours better now because of your parents’ and grandparents’ sacrifices? It should be or you’re dishonoring their lives.

There’s bad news. Terrifying news. Human slavery is back. It may even be worse now than the African slavery of the 1700-1800’s because it is worldwide and often sexual. Human trafficking doesn’t just reduce people to machines but reduces the bodies of women and children to scorned objects to use, abuse and toss away. It could involve 30 million slaves. It is a devastating scourge.

I'm sure there are many organizations fighting hard against slavery and some governments that take the problem seriously, though most seem silent, that is, acquiescent. Yet the one that's most visible to me is the CNN Freedom Project. It seems courageous compared to every other network that rarely reports on the topic and then only to say it exists, doing nothing about it. Can a news organization get  involved not only in informing but in contrasting such a horror? Guess so. Good luck to them. Want to help? Check out the website. It's not pleasant viewing, but we need to know and act.

Yeah, but what does that do to my theory of 40 years ago? My symbol of human progress has turned worse than ever in only one generation. Maybe all our other hard fought successes will be brutally overturned and crushed. Smallpox pandemic coming up?

It’s all about quality of life, right? Think yours is high, low, good enough? Overworked, stressed, burnt-out, depressed? What’s the root cause, anyway, of sexual slavery, narcotic drug addiction, war and violence everywhere? Deep down, what’s wrong with us? How did we get to be a world of prostitutes, junkies, and killers? I don’t buy human nature as an answer. We can choose. We can be better. Something in the system has failed.

In Italian the expression is: hope is the last thing to die (la speranza è l’ultima a morire). I’d say if you don’t hope you’re already dead, alive but with nowhere to go. So hope? I hope.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Did you know, my friend, that research tells us fourteen out of any ten individuals likes chocolate.
Jeff: For the love of Mike, please practice safe eating.
Mutt: How so?
Jeff: Always use condiments.
Mutt: Did you ever hear of Dijon Vu?
Jeff: No, you?
Mutt: Sure it’s the same mustard as before.
Jeff: And a hangover is the wrath of grapes.
Mutt: And a boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.
Jeff: And bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.
Mutt: They do, but do you know what is small, red and whispers?
Jeff: ‘Fraid not.
Mutt: A hoarse radish.
Jeff: Do you know what turns without moving?
Mutt: ‘Fraid to ask.
Jeff: Milk. It can turn sour.
Mutt: And where does a jellyfish get its jelly?
Jeff: Go on.
Mutt: From ocean currents.
Jeff: Okay then, what do you call cheese that isn't yours?
Mutt: Give.
Jeff: Nacho Cheese.
Mutt: All right, last one. What kind of coffee was served on the Titanic?
Jeff: Go for it.
Mutt: Sanka.
Jeff: And what kind of lettuce?
Mutt: Uh, oh, uh oh, I can hear it coming … ICEBERG!!!

October 15, 2011

Neal in the Members Only Club

Or ‘Neal Plays the Organ’, ‘Neal Bites the Wienie’, ‘Neal and Little Peter’, et cetera.

This is a true story. It’s embarrassing, like most of Neal’s life, but I think both males and females can relate and empathize. Maybe something similar has happened to you.

Neal was having a birthday Saturday. His girl-friend Mitzy wanted to surprise him. What better than a surprise birthday party with about twenty of their best friends? But Neal would suspect, he’d be on guard all day. Friday he wouldn’t be around all day because he had a seminar at work, one of those boring things where you sit all day and drink coffee while some jerk talks about ‘Toyota-style high-efficiency’--in English ‘working harder’--at the company which just cut your pay by 10% for the second time, so that they could save people from lay-offs during the economic crisis without, naturally, cutting pay or benefits for the owners and stock holders. In sum, a day of unbearable hypocrisy.

So Mitzy’s bright idea was to have the surprise birthday party on Friday night. Sounds pretty good, huh? For someone who doesn’t get bright ideas very often, this was a winner. Neal got up and left for the seminar saying he’d be back around 7 or 8 o’clock, suspecting nothing. Then Mitzy and her friends Babs and Jan went to work. They made a devil’s food cake from scratch about two feet high. They made hors d’oeuvres. They mixed punch and arranged colored napkins in circular patterns. Babs brought Martha Stewart magazines for inspiration. They drank the spiked punch and laughed even when there was no joke. It was a beautiful girls day together waiting for Neal. Pop radio on, dancing in the kitchen.

Excuse me, reader, if I interrupt my own story, but have you ever noticed what you never see in films or on television? Unless they’re European or pornographic? Well, you see almost everything, but you rarely see female nudity, lots of tits and asses but little in the genitalia category. That’s fine. Children and the oversensitive might be shocked. But the male apparatus? Ever seen one outside of “Boogie Nights”? Not often, in any case. The penis is alluded to and suggested, but you don’t actually see one hanging there. So my first answer would be the elusive male member. But there’s something even more secretive, more dirty perhaps. Unimaginable but true. Enough suspense already? Breast-feeding. A human mother suckling her young. What perverted morality finds breast-feeding something to hide? Most actresses have done it in real life, but I’ve never seen them do it in a film. Me never.

In Europe and elsewhere, outside the U.S., women will open their blouses and unhook their bras and offer the teat to their babies with no shame or ill-ease. What is it with America that they hide this most beautiful and natural of operations behind a curtain shield or go into a separate room or feel so horribly uncomfortable? I’ve been to parties here in Sicily with mother and child both doing their thing and smiling. It’s nice. That’s what the mammary gland is really for, you know?

Anyway, I digress. Neal is driving home and realizes that he has an urgent need to urinate. It’s nearly unbearable, and he squeezes his legs together to attempt retardance. He’s afraid when he parks under his apartment that he might lose his bladder control while getting out of the car one leg at a time. He squeezes his pants hard enough to cause pain and then carefully steps out. Then he walks on stiff legs and short strides to the door, but can’t find the key. He finds the key. It won’t go into the lock. “Come on, come on, I gotta pee.” He opens the door and gets into the elevator to go up to the fifth floor. “Gotta pee, gotta pee, gotta pee BAD!”

Neal attempts mental distraction, but cannot think of anything except relief. He attempts his theory of absorption, which is that you can use mind-power to command the urine to flow backwards, until, to quote his high-school buddies, “your back teeth are whistling ‘Anchors Aweigh’.” Nothing works, it’s so bad it hurts. He suspects permanent penile damage unless the situation is reversed in the next few seconds. He opens his apartment door, saying out loud, “Gotta pee, gotta pee, gotta peeeeee!!!” Neal unzips his trousers to save time as he takes the last twenty steps toward the toilet.

Now, my friend Neal is, um, let’s say, well hung, endowed. He has above average length, quite substantially above average. When we were younger and took showers together at the gym, all the males would marvel in envy and yearning for what was probably our double. Or more. Aw, that’s not important. Forget that.

So Neal is walking through his front room with his extensive penis outside his pants, actually squeezing with thumb and forefinger to prevent premature leakage, when the lights flash on, and Mitzy, his beloved, and twenty of his friends, including some colleagues from work, scream on command: SURPRISE!

Neal stands frozen in space. He looks at them looking at his penis. They are as shocked as he is. Finally, he whispers, “Today’s not my birthday.” And runs.

Whether he made it or not to his final destination is not essential to this tale. The point is that what was seen was what should have been seen and is never seen because deemed obscene. Next, a story about breast-feeding, but, unfortunately, Neal will not be the protagonist.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  I was having dinner with Garry Kasporov (world chess champion) and on the table was a checkered tablecloth. It took him two hours to pass me the salt.
Jeff:  I went to a seafood disco rave last week and pulled a mussel.
Mutt:  I know how Christopher Columbus really financed his trip to America.
Jeff:  How?
Mutt:  With the Discover Card.
Jeff:  If you know so much why is Saudi Arabia free of mental illness?
Mutt:  There are nomad people there.
Jeff:  Okay, which president was least guilty?
Mutt:  Lincoln. He is in a cent.
Jeff:  Well, you know everything. Show me where Stalin's buried …
Mutt:  And I'll show you a communist plot.
Jeff:  Have you heard about the lawyers’ word processor?
Mutt:  Of course. No matter what font you select, everything comes out in fine print.
Jeff:  Have you heard about the pharmaceutical company that developed a new drug which, when administered to women, compels them to go join a convent?
Mutt:  I know all about it; the FDA refused to license it, though. Seems it was habit-forming.
Jeff:  You do know them all.
Mutt:  I wrote them all.

October 5, 2011

Curmudgeon’s Joy

Ranting can be a true source of enjoyment and self-entertainment (you thought I wrote this blog for the readers?). My mother used to call it, ‘getting on your soapbox’, and I never miss a chance.

After ringing phones, what other pet peeves can I go on and on ad nauseam about? Hmm, I know, fireworks. I strongly dislike fireworks. I don’t revile them; I’ve watched fireworks many times and enjoyed them occasionally. They are extremely common here in Messina, almost a nightly, certainly a weekly occurrence. The best fireworks show I ever saw was midsummer in West Yellowstone, Montana, right over the airport where we parked and laid down on the car hood. It seemed like we were part of the explosive color spectacle. It went on and on, wasting money for tourism. The worst was in Hermosillo, Mexico, where they shot them straight up over the crowd of thousands and they came straight down, starting fires and killing people right in front of me.

What is the point of fireworks? Nothing. We shoot rockets that blow up just to watch them. They can be beautiful or terrifying, if, for example, you, like me, saw the Challenger explosion live. Exploding stuff is an extremely popular form of entertainment for most people. Entire films are based on it, mere excuses to blow stuff up.

But not everything that blows up is fun. I was in Zimbabwe during the Civil War, as you can read about if you scan down about a year, and every day we heard bombs going off and machine gun fire, grenades, small arms and land mines, out in the country, over the copse, just outside our compound. On the one hand, I was too young to feel as frightened as I should have, we had assurances from both sides that we were in a safe zone, but, on the other, I got the disturbing sensation of hearing a war being fought within a mile of me every day. It shook the earth.

Then I went to Angola. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. It was 1975 during the violent transition of power from the Portuguese to the African government. All factions against each other and all against the Portuguese who just picked up and ran. It was bloody chaos.

I was flying from Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro, and the pilot announced we’d be stopping briefly for humanitarian reasons, to pick up refugees, Portuguese and foreigners escaping for their lives. Flying low over Luanda, we saw fires and battles, smoke and destruction. The city was being rocked and shelled, as were we.

They took us off the plane; we were scared we wouldn’t get back on. I looked out on the runway and saw a man offering a bag of cash to a small plane pilot who had bullet holes all over his plane. In another section of the terminal, thousands of people were pressed to the glass hoping to get onto our plane. We only had about 8 or 10 empty seats. After hours listening to the shelling around us, we got back to our places and took off and flew over the Atlantic. Safely.

Then I was in Israel or Palestine a couple years later, aware of the conflicts without understanding the exact dynamic. I was camping by myself on the Sea of Galilee, not far from the border with Lebanon and somewhere near Syria and Jordan. I slept under a lone tree by the water, knowing there were armed adversaries all around me. In the night, bombs awoke me. This time I was stunned because I didn’t know whether to get out of my sleeping bag and which way to run to get out of the middle of the battle.

Maybe this was the end, I was in or near the middle of a series of explosions I couldn’t identify or understand. It was pitch black. I imagined Israelis and Palestinians shooting machine guns over my head. The bombs or grenades almost blew my ears out. My eyes focused in the dark. I saw a boat on the water near the shore. Coming at me? Are they all trying to kill little ol’ me?

After straining my eyes and sleepy mind, I finally got it. I’d heard about this but never seen it done. The middle-of-the-night fishermen were using dynamite to kill or stun all the fish in the area and scoop them up, easy but disastrous for the future of fishing in that giant lake. Oh man, you guys scared me to death. Damn dynamite. Damn Galilee fishermen.

So, having been in three wars already, without fighting myself, I hear those thuds and booms and am reminded every time of the real thing, not the simulation. Flowers of sparkles in the dark sky is a nice idea, but it is just too similar to the sights and sounds of war, pain, death.

Anything else I can bitch about? I’ll let you know.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  How about this weather we’ve been having?
Jeff:  Everybody complains, but nobody does anything about it.
Mutt:  If a farmer raises wheat in dry weather, what does he raise in wet weather?
Jeff:  An umbrella?
Mutt:  Question: What kind of coat can be put on only when wet? Don’t know? I’ll tell you. A coat of paint.
Jeff:  What do you call a frightened skindiver? I’ll tell you. Chicken of the sea.
Mutt:  Good one. How can a leopard change his spots?
Jeff:  Oh, I don’t know, by moving?
Mutt:  Very good, my man.
Jeff:  My turn. What day of the year is a command to go forward?
Mutt:  Huh?
Jeff:  March 4th.
Mutt:  What did the razor blade say to the razor? No guess? Schick 'em up!
Jeff:  I don’t get it. Uh, what has four wheels and flies?
Mutt: P.U. A garbage truck.
Jeff:  You like the old ones, huh?
Mutt:  Okay, what goes up into the air white and comes down yellow and white?
Jeff:  I know this, but can’t remember.
Mutt:  An egg.
Jeff:  Oh yeah.
Mutt: What four letters could end a game of hide and seek?
Jeff:  O. I. C. U. You still play hide and seek?
Mutt:  With my wife I do. All right, here’s a great one.
Jeff:  Really?
Mutt:  Yeah. What is the difference between a cat and a comma?
Jeff:  No idear.
Mutt:  A cat has claws at the end of its paws, and a comma has a pause at the end of its clause.
Jeff:  Did your English teacher tell you that?
Mutt:  My English teacher has no sense of humor.
Jeff:  They never do.

September 25, 2011

That Sound, That Sound!

In August I spent several days in the mountains (as if you didn’t know). I had a new $19 cell phone to let my loved ones know I was still alive when I emerged (Did they care? I pretended they did.). I charged it in the Valley and kept it turned off during my Mountain walk to save the battery. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. Luckily, there are places where ‘back to nature’ means no phone service. Places where if a tree falls on you in the forest no one will have to hear the crack of your skull. Or film it for the seven o’clock news.

So this dumb little phone sat in my pack waiting its turn. I made it to Quincy and turned it on. We have power. Then I realized I had no one’s number with me and none in my head. I hadn’t saved them in the new phone; I’d never called anyone. I thought I knew one number but was only unsure of a couple ciphers. Good job, Odd Job.

Days earlier, I would sit by a babbling brook in measured bliss and recognize in the water sound something mistakable for a cell phone ring. As I reached a paved road, cars would whiz by (nobody picked me up) and the engine could make a slightly ring-ish tone. I got closer to town and the sprinklers on the lawns did the same. A radio in the distance. Little bells to keep away the birds.

Then I really got into town and there really were cell phones. They were ringing all around me, or was it the ice-cream truck, or was it the traffic light signal for the blind, or the electric beeper when you enter a place of commerce, or somebody practicing the hurdy-gurdy? It wasn’t my phone, it wasn’t even turned on, I checked a couple times.

And even when the ring wasn’t the same as my phone, which I didn’t know, I’d hear one ring and pull mine out of my pocket, like a quick-draw artist. I did this for many days wherever I went. The washing machine can make a similar sound occasionally. Better check. Or there’s a mystery chord on the guitar that sounds phone-ringing-ish. Checked.

No one could have called me as no one had my number. But a couple people texted me anyway with odd messages about sleazy encounters. Did I get a dead man’s number? Did I get a death row convict’s number he wouldn’t need again? I don’t want these calls. I don’t want any calls. Later, I slightly changed my stance on that, but just out of the solitude of the high elevations I really couldn’t stand that ding-a-ling.

The shopping centers, supermarkets, airports, when you get back to earth in the hot little tram waiting to chug down the runway and everyone’s cells go off at once like an electronic conspiracy. And the worst, by far the worst, wanna guess? is television. When phones are ringing all over every hour on every channel, but they’re not in the room, they’re fictional. Better check your own phone just in case.

In case of what? How many really important calls do you get? I don’t get any. The last one I didn’t answer, then he called back. Calls from relatives of the old and sick. But life-changing joy-producing business over the phone? What we’re all waiting for, but does it ever come? “Hello this is the Publishers Clearing House, congratulations …” That never happens. Isn’t it more like, “Wanna do lunch?” “Can’t. I’m meeting my other mistress.” “’Kay, seeya.”

Take my blood pressure and heart rate and see the earthquake jumps every time a real, imagined, fictional, or flowing mountain stream phone rings. So I ask why and I get an answer I don’t like. DO NOT ASK FOR WHOM THE PHONE RINGS, IT RINGS FOR YOU.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt:  Are you stressed out too?
Jeff:  Not me, I’m a man of leisure.
Mutt:  I’m a man of Topeka.
Jeff:  Want to hear a good joke?
Mutt:  No, I want to hear yours.
Jeff: One day a Czechoslovakian came to visit his friend in New York. When asked what he wanted to see, the Czechoslovakian replied, "I would like to see one of the zoos in America." To his delight, the New Yorker took him to the zoo. While they were touring the zoo, and standing in front of the gorilla cage, one of the gorillas busted out of the cage and swallowed the Czech whole. Shocked, his friend from New York quickly called over the zoo keeper. He explained the situation and asked the zoo keeper what he planned to do. The zoo keeper got an axe and asked the man, "Okay, which gorilla did it, was it the male or the female." Pointing out the female as the culprit, the zoo keeper quickly split the female gorilla open and found nothing of the Czech. With which the man from New York shrugged and said, "Guess the Czech's in the male."
Mutt:  Oowah.
Jeff:  Another?
Mutt:  To get the bad taste out?
Jeff:  Recently a guy in Paris nearly got away with stealing several paintings from the Louvre. However, after planning the crime, getting in and out past security, he was captured only two blocks away when his lorry ran out of gas. When asked how he could mastermind such a crime and then make such an obvious error, he replied: I had no Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh.
Mutt:  Abba dabba, abba dabba, that’s all folks.