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Monday, October 19, 2020

William Digby on Abundance


A few years ago, a man named William Digby sent me an email.  He is an Australian chap, a senior investment professional, I gather.  I didn't know Mr. Digby; my business email address ended up on his list somehow.  I was cleaning out old emails and re-discovered his message.  I am dropping it into my blog, mostly for myself but maybe others might find it worth reading.

Abundance makes me poor

Reality could be described as a series of limitations on every living thing, the final boundary being death.  In other words, we have only so much energy to expend before we tire; only so much in the way of food and resources available to us; our skills and capacities can go only so far - these things are inherently finite.

An animal lives within those limits: it does not try to fly higher or run faster or expend endless energy amassing food - that would be unsustainable and leave it vulnerable.  Rather, an animal tries to make the most of what it has.  A lion, for instance, instinctively practices an economy of motion and effort, and avoids wasting energy if possible.  People who live without means, similarly, are acutely aware of their limits: forced to make the most of what they have, they are endlessly inventive. Necessity has a powerful effect on their creativity.

The problem faced by those of us who live in societies of abundance is that we lose a sense of limit. We are carefully shielded from death and can pass months, even years, without contemplating it.  We imagine endless time at our disposal; we imagine endless energy to draw on, thinking we can get what we want simply by trying harder.  We start to see everything as limitless – the goodwill of friends, the possibility of wealth and fame. A few more classes and books and we can extend our talents and skills to the point where we become different people.  Technology can make anything achievable.  Abundance makes us rich in dreams, for in dreams there are no limits.  But it makes us poor in reality.  It makes us soft and decadent, bored with what we have and in need of constant shocks and stimulation to remind us that we are alive.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Tim Maia - How the Hell Did I Miss This Guy????

 Brazilian singer Tim Maia, circa 1971.

I am a parochial American who has never traveled south of Mexico and haven't paid much attention the popular music in South America.  This is a shame, because this is the first day I have become fully aware of Tim Maia, the giant of Brazilian funk/soul/psychedelia.

Tim Maia has an epic "rock star" life story.  He was born in Tijuca, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro's Northern Zone.  This neighborhood includes the 3rd largest urban forest in the world. Tim was a WWII baby, born in September 1942. He started writing songs when he was 8 years old and picked up the guitar soon thereafter.  He came to the United States in 1959 to try to break through as a rock star, but got busted for smoking weed in a stolen car (total dumb wannabe rockstar move).  He was deported back to Brazil and started making fantastic music that merged American funk, soul & rock with traditional Brazilian forms.

Tim did some weird stuff.  He joined a religous cult for a couple of years in the 1970's - their core belief was that humans are aliens from another planet and we have to reconnect with our extra-terrestrial bretheren.  I guess Tim got bored with that - he left in 1976 and started releasing records.  He sang in Portugese and English.  Here is one of his more awesome English language tunes, "Nobody Can Live Forever."

Tim Maia wasn't very tall - maybe 5'7".  He was pretty round, too. His live shows were allegedly amazing.  I really like this video - it is a tune called "Descobridores Dos Sete Mares" - Discoverers of the Seven Seas.  Very funky and it also has that Brazilian vibe.  

Tim lived hard - alcohol, drugs, gluttony the usual '70's/80's stew of debachery.  This led him to miss gigs - just not show up - which caused his career to crater.  He ended up with diabetes, hypertension, obesity and a pulmonary embolism.  He died in 1998. His cultural legacy in Brazil is huge.

I am going to dig into this guy's catalog - he had something special.

Monday, August 31, 2020


 Escalation or De-escalation — Stock Photo

I escaped my hometown of Evanston IL for a few days, with two adult children and four small dogs in tow.  My thoughts and emotions have been escalating dangerously in the past few weeks.  On the personal front, my sister-in-law died, leaving my infirm brother broken-hearted and bereft.  One of my adult kids spent a week in the hospital to get major depression under control (it seems to have worked, thank goodness).  I am disconnected from my gang of friends and acquaintences due to the on-going pandemic.  I am facing a minor surgical procedure that it is causing me a bit of anxiety.  But hey - I am a very lucky guy overall.  I have a safe home, plenty of resources and a loving family.  Lots of people would love to swap their problems for my problems.

Outside of my personal circle, things have been much worse.  Jacob Blake was shot in Kenosha - weird location for this violence; we used to call it "Kenoplace." Jacob has deep ties to Evanston.  His family includes  prominent local civil rights activists and he went to Evanston Township High School (he graduated one year before my middle kid, Andy).  The unrest in Kenosha is heart-breaking and predictable.  It is an added agony, hard on the heels of another outbreak of anger and looting on Michigan Avenue in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and the George Floyd protests earler in the summer.  So yeah, I have bailed to Galena IL to run away from all of it, to hopefully calm down a little and clear my head.  I might be a coward, but here I am.

Escalation is happening every day on almost every level.  Something awful happens, people take action (i.e. demonstrate, break things, etc.), there is a disproportionate response, which leads to more escalation, and the cycle is launched.  The noise attracts other actors (counter-demonstrators, armed civilians, multiple groups of security forces, allies of the original demonstrators, etc.) and soon we have chaos.  What is remarkable to me is that our illegitimate president is totally unwilling to defuse things.  He throws gas on any fire that he think will help him get re-elected.  

If a guy cuts me off in traffic these days, I might get irritated but I let it go.  Not long ago, I would have laid on my horn, flipped the bird, rolled down the window to cuss the guy out at the next stoplight and generally acted like an asshole.  The guy that cut me off might have responded in kind.  If we had firearms, one of us might have pulled them and someone could be dead.  It took me way too long to realize that my reactions made things worse.  By refusing to escalate, everyone is safe.  I can't control someone from cutting me off in traffic, but I can control how I react.

This is not the same as reacting to yet another criminal shooting by a police officer, but the underlying theory applies.  If the authorities want to preserve calm, they have to be calm.  This seems to be impossible for most police organizations to pull off.  And Trump loves the conflict and yells "Law and Order" while escalating at every opportunity.

I have no idea where current events might be taking us, but I have a feeling that we won't get to a more peaceful place by more escalation.  De-escalation does not mean surrender!! I think that the most effective form of resistance is voting and removing the elected officials that want to divide us - no matter where they reside in the political landscape.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

N.K. Jemisin - I am late to realize her greatness


I am a SciFi/Fantasy nerd.  Star Trek, Star Wars, Ursula K. LeGuin, Heinlien, Asimov, Dune, Lord of the Rings - I love all that shit.  My son knows this about me.  About six weeks go, he said, "Hey have you read N.K Jemison?"  I had not.  Shame, shame shame on me.

I bought The Broken Earth trilogy.  It sat on my kitchen table for a couple of weeks. I am a linear reader - I focus on one book at a time.  I was wading through a light-weight beach book that was occassionally funny but insubstantial.  NKJ had to wait until I was done with that trifle.  I picked up the first book of the trilogy, "The Fifth Season," three days ago.  I just finished it.  I inhaled the 468 page quickly; I could have binged it in a day but I had a life to live, unfortuately.

I am late to realize N.K. Jemison's greatness. I won't talk about the book - if you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and get it today!  What I will say is that this author has constructed an alternative reality that is incredibly rich with detail and emotional weight.  Her life shapes how she thinks about science fiction and fantasy.  That world is still dominated by one demographic (yup, white males). She has pumped out the best work in this genre that I have read in years because she is outside of that demographic.  

Many others recognized her towering creativity years ago (three Hugo Awards in a row, for each book in the Broken Earth Trilogy!!!).  I add my puny voice to the chorus of priaise.  I know how I will be spending the next few weeks - reading her entire bibliography.

Friday, August 07, 2020

My Home Town


There is a suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area that is a paragon of diversity.  According to the 2010 census, the town is 23.3% White, 10.7% Black, 27.3% Hispanic/Latinx, 34.5% Asian and 6.6% multi-racial. I suspect that it will be even more mixed when the 2020 census is tallied up.  The name of the town is San Leandro; it is just south of Oakland in the East Bay.

It was once a paragon of racism.  I know, because I grew up there during that phase of San Leandro’s existence.

Historians estimate that the first humans arrived in the San Leandro area about 5,000 years ago.  It was a hospitable environment, on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay.  There were lots of food sources – the bay was full of seafood and marine mammals; the mild climate was friendly to edible plants and edible wildlife.  The Ohlone people lived in the East Bay Area – peaceful hunter-gatherers.  They were oppressed when the Spanish colonists arrived and were slaughtered by state government authorities when California entered the Union in 1850.  This was another chapter in the genocide of Native peoples in North America.  Prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the late 18th  Century, there were about 300,000 Native people in California.  By 1900, the number had dropped to 16,000.

I grew up in San Leandro from the mid-50’s to the early ‘70’s.  During that timeframe, only White people lived there (with a smattering of Asians and Hispanics).  It was about 99% White.  Of course, this wasn’t an accident.  The city to the north, Oakland, was about 50% Black and the city of San Leandro did everything possible to keep the Black folks out.  The city had restrictive covenants for decades, which made it illegal to sell or rent housing to Black people.  When those restrictions were declared unconstitutional, the system became informal – red-lining/steering by realtors, “gentlemen’s agreements,” collusion on the part of the 10 homeowner associations in the town, etc.  There was one Black person at Pacific High School when I was there from 1969 through 1972.  I felt sorry for that girl.

In the Bay Area, San Leandro was well-known for its in-your-face racism.  The Black folks in Oakland called it “Klan Leandro,” and they were afraid to go there.  When a Black family moved to the town in 1980, someone actually burned a cross on their front lawn. San Leandro was the Alabama of the liberal Bay Area.  Brian Copeland wrote an excellent one-man play and a book about being one of the few Black kids in San Leandro in the early 1970’s – he arrived as I was leaving.

Not surprisingly, San Leandro attracted a certain type of resident when I was a kid.  Most folks were lower middle class.  There were many transplants from the American South.  One of these folks was my father, a Tennessee native who worked as a payroll clerk at a food warehouse.  My dad was a stone-cold bigot.  He was quiet about it, but it was part of his heart and soul.  He was raised to see Black people as inferior and he never let go of that twisted worldview.  There were many things I disliked about my father, but his racism was at the top of the list. He has been dead for almost 30 years, and I understand now that he did the best he could given his upbringing and mental health issues.

I was a 1960’s hippie kid, a “peace and love” knucklehead.  I didn’t know any Black people, but I loved their music.  I figured they must be superior people if they could produce jazz and R&B. I moved to Berkeley to attend college and ultimately ended up in Evanston IL. Evanston has also struggled with racism but has a history of diversity. Black people have lived in the town since the early 19th century.

So what’s my point?  I look at San Leandro today and realize that the old system of oppression has broken down, but aspects of it are alive and well.  The police killed a Black man in the town recently – six weeks before the murder of George Floyd, San Leandro police shot and killed Steven Taylor, a Black man in the middle of a mental health crisis at a Walmart.  There is more -  San Leandro also had some of the worst looting in the nation during the unrest over the George Floyd murder.   San Leandro has its problems, but red-lining isn’t one of them anymore. 

There are still tons of work to do all over our country, but remembering some of this local history can be a source of hope.  It is bad now, but it has been worse.  Things can get better. Someday we might even recognize that we are all human beings and make amends for past injustices.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Dogs Relieve Quarantine Blues

Covid-19 has completely upended our lives.  The virus has killed over 149,000 people; it looks like we will be well over a quarter of a million deaths from the disease in the not too distant future.  To get a sense of the scale here, there were 16,204 homicides and 48,344 suicides in the US in 2018. We have lost the equivalent of 3 years of suicides in the 5 months of the novel coronavirus pandemic! The virus can be avoided by staying away from people so I am staying away from people.  Since I am over 65 years old, I am in one of the higher risk groups.  I also live with two adult kids with health issues; I don't want to bring the bug into their lives.

As I sit in quarantine day after day after day, I find myself doing surprisingly well most of the time.  This is probably due to the critter pictured above - Tai, my 12-pound, one-eyed shelter dog.  I brought the little pooch into the household back in early 2013. My family was in total crisis at that time; I was at the front-end of a long and contentious divorce process, one of my kids had just attempted suicide and another kid was suffering from debilitating panic attacks.  It was a 4-star shit show, but Tai was pretty chill about it all.  Life is much less chaotic now.

Just like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, there has been a run on shelter dogs during the pandemic.  This makes sense, I guess - people are stuck at home, starving for companionship/distraction and a dog (or even a cat!) can provide both of those things.  For me, Tai has eased my anxiousness during this very unusual disaster.   He has a quirky personality and is damned smart (compared to most dogs I know).  So here are 10 things about Tai that have relieved my quarantine blues:

  1. Tai is always up for a walk:  Tai is getting older so he is no longer fond of 4-mile hikes in the summer heat, but he is happy to wander for 20 minutes or so, 5 times a day. This gets me out in a safe way; no one is in my 6-foot bubble.
  2. Tai knows how to pay attention:  This little one-eyed mutt is always alert.  Even when he is asleep, he notices and reacts to any noise or significant environmental change.  He may be small, but he is a terrific alarm system!  I think he has scared away prowlers on more than one occassion.
  3. Tai thinks he is a very large dog:   If a pit bull or doberman crosses his path, Tai is not afraid.  He is happy to live and let live, but if a big dog gives him shit, he will go into attack mode in a heartbeat.  I keep him on leash all the time so he won't get eaten by one of his humungous cousins.
  4. Tai is a nervous eater:  Most of the dogs in my life have been highly food-motivated; Tai is not.  He will let the fancy dry dog food sit in his bowl all day until he gets super hungry, or when some exciting event triggers his appetite.  Is there a noise outdside that makes Tai bark and freak out?  He hits the food bowl.  Are we heading out for a walk?  He hits the food bowl.  And so on.  Its weird, but I kinda like it.
  5. Tai must have been a circus dog in a previous life:  He is a 12-pound king of agility, able to walk for long distances on his hind legs, can hold the sit-up position indefinitely, can leap about 3 times his body length.  
  6. Tai is all about his ball:  He would rather fetch his ball than eat.  Whenever I do certain things (like get on the floor to do my crunches or sit on the couch in the living room), Tai shows up with his ball and requests that I throw it.  I have never known a dog that has this type of fixation.
  7. Tai howls when I play the harmonica:  While this can be annoying, it is also interesting. Tai is incredibly vocal when I start blowing my harmonicas.  He has quite a vocabulary of howls, and he is extremely loud for such a small animal.  He only howls when I play the harp; if I record myself and play back the recording, he does not howl.  It is a mystery.
  8. Tai has the spooky one-eyed stare:  When I first saw Tai at the Anti-Cruelty Society on LaSalle Street in Chicago, he was in a tiny cage and his recent eye surgery was in the process of healing.  I don't know what happened to his left eye.  You can see in the photo above tht the vet sewed his eylid over the socket.  I guessed that he picked a fight with a bigger dog, but it could have been some other injury or infection.  It gives Tai just a touch of spookiness.  He will sit and fix me with a one-eyed stare.  I will often feel like I am being watched in my apartment; I turn and there is Tai, shooting the Evil Eye at me.  Its kinda cool.
  9. Tai sleeps tight against me:  At the end of the day, I say to my dog "let's go to bed."  He absolutely understands this phrase and runs into the bedroom and jumps up on my bed, tail wagging and tongue out.   I lay down on my stomach (my preferred sleeping position) and Tai snuggles between my legs.  He doesn't budge all night.  It is odd, but I find this to be very comforting and endearing.
  10. Tai is still a hunter:  We have an epidemic of bunnies and squirrels in my neighborhood.  While Tai hates both of these species, he knows he can't catch a squirrel (although he will joyfully chase them up trees).  Bunnies are a different story - if I let him off leash, he will take off like a bullet from a gun, chasing rabbits.  He could catch one, but they are as big as he is.  Tai always slows down so they can get away.
My little buddy is getting grey in the muzzle, just like me.  He is somewhere between 9 and 14 years old; I think he is probably around 11 or 12.  Little dogs can live for 16- 20 years so I am told.  I hope Tai sets a new dog longevity record...he is absolutely my most treasured companion.  He fills an emptiness that I didn't know that I had until he came into my life

Thursday, July 23, 2020

"Welcome to my world."

Here is a true story that opened my eyes to a rather basic fact.

From 2003 until 2010, I fronted a blues band.  When you are a harmonica player, the only way to play in a band is to be the front guy - singing, playing harp, getting the gigs, hiring the musicians, etc.  It is hard to have any success as a harmonica sideman.  Most bands, even blues bands, see harp guys as unnecessary.  Since I wanted to play, I started my own band.  It was Mr. G and the Mystery Band.  I played 2-4 times each month in relatively small and obscure venues.  It was a good blues band, but there were a ton of good blues bands in Chicago.  It was a competitive scene.  I expect the post Covid-19 scene will be even more cut-throat, since some venues won't survive the shut down.  Desparate musicans might kill each other for the few remaining gigs.

When I was fronting the band, I always guaranteed the musicians a fair wage, paid in cash, at the end of the night.  I often came out of pocket to keep that promise since the club owners generally gave us a percentage of the door or the bar sales during our sets and the pay was skimpy on a slow night at the club.   Since I was a reliable paymaster, I was able to attract some amazing blues musicians to the Mystery Band.  One of the great musicians was an African American guitarist in his mid-fifties who I will call Bill (not his real name).  Bill grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Otis Rush was a West Side guy; so was Magic Sam, Mighty Joe Young and a host of other terrific artists.  Bill was cut from that cloth, and he had his own sound - a sizzling rock-ish tone with a broad vocabulary of licks and creative musical ideas.

One of the obscure places we played on a semi-regular basis was C.J.Arthurs, a restaurant and bar in the leafy suburb of Wilmette IL.  If you have never been to Chicago, you might not know about Wilmette.  It is the second suburb north of the big city and it is quite a bit different from the West Side of Chicago.  Wilmette is a wealthy town, but still much less wealthy than its neighbors to the north, Kennilworth and Winnetka.  There are almost no Black people in Wilmette.  Most Black people didn't have the dough to buy houses there, and those that did have the dough didn't want to be the conspicuous Black person in a sea of White faces.  The White folks of Wilmette would claim to be "not racist."  Anyone could move in if they had the money.

The Mystery Band consisted of an aging White harp player (me) and seriously great Black blues musicians (including Bill).  The C. J. Arthur's owners and staff were very nice to us, as were the patrons.  We got good food and a decent number of adult beverages when we played at C. J's.  The pay varied from generous to almost nothing depending on how much product was being sold by the club.

One Friday night, the Mystery Band finished its gig at CJ's at midnight.  We got paid, packed up our gear and headed south to hit the sack.  Bill was my neighbor, so I would give him a lift to and from the gigs.  We were driving south in the left lane of Green Bay Road around 1 AM Saturday morning and a Wilmette cop car pulled along side of me in the right lane.  I noticed, but didn't think much about it - I was being careful to obey the traffic laws because the Wilmette cops were happy to issue speeding tickets.  The cop dropped back, shifted behind me in the left lane and turned on his lights and siren.

I was startled, but pulled over immediately.  The officer walked up to my car with his big-ass flashlight in hand.  I rolled down the window and said "Good evening, officer - did I do something wrong?"  He shined the light in my eyes and made a soft grunting sound.  He pointed the flashlight at Bill.  Then he said "we had a robbery called in and your car matched the description of the car driven by the perp."  He looked at me again.  Took my license and ran it through his system.  He came back and said "OK, you can go.  But your license plate light is out - fix it or you will get a ticket the next time I see you." He pointed his flashlight at Bill again.

The cop took off and I started to drive again.  "What the hell was that?" I asked Bill.

He smiled and said "Welcome to my world."

So, yeah, cops target Black people. Duh.  Bill said, "Since you were driving, he backed off.  If you had been Black we would be in the shit right now."

I have thought a lot about that night in recent months.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Last Day

This is a bad selfie I took of myself some time back, riding the North Line Metra train from Main Street in Evanston down to Chicago's Loop.  Back in the olden days, B.C. (Before Covid-19), masses of eerily quiet people dressed in suits and sensible dresses would cram into these aging coaches daily, to be  pulled by ancient locomotives spewing diesel fumes to their offices or cubilces in high rise buidings.  I convinced myself that I liked it.  I used to call it "a civilized commute" since I wasn't stuck in my own passenger car, in traffic on the Kennedy Expressway.  I did this for many years.  The routine was broken by frequent trips to other cities, when I would schlep to O'Hare and go through the multiple indignities of air travel - mobs of people, security screening, crowded planes, the wait for ground transportation at the other end.  I spent 42 years living this life of white collar striving.

Today is my last day.

It is a weird transition, to be sure.  The Coronavirus pandemic derailed my routine,  I have been in my apartment, working from my home office, since March 14.  I decided to accelerate my retirement because I have conducted business through direct connection, face-to-face interactions,  I find it difficult to make that type of connection via Zoom.  The past 108 days have been a slow wind down.  I decided in May that I would retire a little early.  I don't think the fancy-pants executive life I lived will be possible for quite a while.

Looking back on my career is only helpful if it allows me to draw some lessons on how to behave today and how I should prepare for the future.  I made so many mistakes through the years - bonehead business errors and screw-ups in my personal life.  But I am glad for all of the experiences, both good and awful.  It was the excruciatingly painful events that finally made me a better human.  And now I can feel reasonably calm as I face uncertainty as a non-entity, an old retired guy.

I don't know what will happen.  I am totally comfortable with this ambiguity.  I know I won't miss trying so hard to satisfy and impress people that don't really know me as a person. I spent way too much time deriving my self-worth from the opinions of others.  Maybe I will finally get to know who I am.

One thing for sure - there will be more music in my life now.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Time to talk music -Vulfpeck

I guess I learned about Vulfpeck about three or four years ago.  This group has attracted quite a bit of attention, and there are some great articles about the fellas.  The origin story is appealing - a group of killer musicians met in Ann Arbor while studying at the University of Michigan, started playing together and dialed into the tightest funk groove I have ever heard. 

Vulfpeck was launched in 2011 sort of by accident, I guess.  It is a DIY effort - no manager, no record deal,  all millenial viral internet genius at work that led to a sold out gig at Madison Square Garden on September 29, 2019.  They are really the gold standard of the funk genre now, and many awesome artists have sat in with the group - vocalist Antwan Stanley, guitarist Cory Wong, trombonist Melissa Gardiner and saxophonist Joey Dosik collaberate regularly.  So does MacArthur Genius Grant mandolinist and NPR star, Chris Thiele.

My old bandmate, the late, great guitarist Osee Anderson, used to tell me, "Look for the pocket masters."   The guys in Vulfpecks are  the Jedi Knights of the pocket.  Joe Dart's bass lines are absolutely ridiculous - funk bass is really tough to play well, I think. The band can also lay down some heartbreaking R&B - check this out.

So if you love funk and high-skill  R&B, get deep into Vulfpeck.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


What is Reboot?

Sometimes I just stop doing something for no particular reason.  I used to have a blog.  It was a vanity project, something I did in an effort to seem wise and important.  I was, and am, neither of those things, of course.  But I did put some time into it.  For a while, I posted regularly and with some passion.  Then three years ago, I stopped.

No one noticed.  That isn't a surprise.

So today, for no particular reason, I have decided to re-boot the blog.  I am less wise, and certainly less important, than I thought I was when I was an active blogger.  But I can make time for this.  I do have a lot on my mind.

Covid-19 and extra-judicial murders of Black people by policemen has created an apocalyptic vibe in the U.S.  In Chicago, we also have the everyday carnage that results in many more deaths of Black folks - on May 31, less than 2 weeks ago, 18 people were murdered as the Chicago police disappeared from the south and west sides of town to attend to the demonstrations and looting in other neighborhoods - the lack of police presence gave shooters a free pass to kill, according to folks in the neighborhoods (they were quoted in the Chicago Sun Times).   

Like almost everyone, my life has been upended by the pandemic.  In the past few weeks, the outpouring of grief and anger triggered by the killing of George Floyd has added more heavy stuff to ponder.  I am an older white man, but I do have a deeper connection to Black folks than others in my demographic.  I have two bi-racial grandchildren; they are in the next room, watching National Geographic on the Disney Channel right now.  Will they be targeted by the police someday?  Or by gangbangers?  My ability to keep them safe is limited once they hit their teenage years.

It makes sense to ration one's consumption of news reports in order to hold on to some vestige of calmness.   I'm hiding at home, dodging the virus, tamping down the nausea caused by all of the violence - it makes me feel like a coward.  But I am in one of the Covid-19 risk groups, so I wash my hands a lot, wear my face mask and avoid crowds.  No demonstrations for me - I can't afford to get sick, let alone die.  I have work to do.

I return to the core truth - I can only control myself.  I can't control anything else, or anyone else.  I can take action to protect the people I love.  I can take action to persuade others to change their behavior or viewpoint.  I have little control of the outcome of my efforts when I am trying to protect or change others.  I only have control over my own actions and reactions.  

This is a wild and crazy time, but the core truth doesn't change.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Pobre Puerto Rico

I have been fortunate - I have visited Puerto Rico several times.  I am particularly fond of Culebra, a small island off the east coast of Fajardo (the main island of Puerto Rico).  Culebra is a wonderful, sleepy place with marvelous beaches and very friendly people - a combination of long-time locals and gringos that have escaped the rat race in El Norte.  I have hung out at the Dinghy Dock and Zaco's Tacos, strolled Flamenco Beach and snorkeled off the coast; I have danced on New Year's Eve in the town plaza with the locals and the tourists.   So I have been personally dismayed by the disaster of Hurricane Maria - not as bad as the 5.3 million Puerto Ricans living in the U.S., of course, but I have a connection. I have heard via the internet that Culebra did not get hit as hard as Fajardo and Vieques (another small island, but not as small as Culebra), but everything on Culebra is tied to Fajardo - the fresh water is piped over via an undersea aquaduct.  All of Puerto Rico is in a massive crisis - pobre Puerto Rico, este hermoso paĆ­s despreciĆ³ este desastre.
The U.S. Government's response to this has been, at best, lumbering and slow.  It takes time for the Federal apparatus to start moving.  Since Maria took out the local relief capabilities, there hasn't been much rapid response.  And yes, the local infrastructure was not as strong as one might like (but I am not sure that any infrastructure could have stood up well to Maria's onslaught).  The tone of discourse from President Trump has been awful, of course.  He is an awful person and generally does not try to comfort anyone.  But I suspect that the folks in FEMA and on the ground in Puerto Rico and working frantically to pull the territory out of the abyss.

And I am left with a question - why are we yelling at each other?  There is a crisis; it is no one's fault.  Of course the people who are in extreme distress are afraid that they have been abandoned and legitimate logistical challenges feel like deliberate delays.  It is reprehensible for anyone to blame the people and government of Puerto Rico for this disaster - that is like blaming a carjacking on the victim because they were driving in a bad neighborhood.  And the racial overtones of Trump's tweets can't be ignored.  The folks in Houston and Florida did not get accused of laziness.

And I, too, have been guilty of self-indulgent anger and righteous rage.  I have degenerated into name-calling and vilification.  How does this help?  Of course, it doesn't. 

The United States is in a cultural crisis that is at least as bad as the one that was raging during the Vietnam War when I was a teenager.  We have a president that is not a kind and calm human being, which adds to our difficulty.  Legitimate issues across the political spectrum can't be rationally discussed in the current environment.  Our nation has always struggled with the tension between individual freedoms and group interests.  With calm deliberation, folks that disagree can find ways to accommodate each other.  We are far, far away from calm deliberation.

The core principles of the United States of America are honorable, and the country has yet to live up to them.  From the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  From the Constitution:  We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and for our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.  If any government or president seeks to upend these core principles, that government or president must be defeated.  I do think that the current Trump administration is violating our nation's core principles.  I am an optimist, so I think this situation will be corrected in time. But regardless of "who is in charge," our country will still fall short of living up to its principles.   The legitimate disagreements will continue.  And that is the way it will always be.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On Regrets

One of the things that we all hear from someone in our lives is "I have no regrets."  On the face of it, this sounds admirable.  After all, what's done is done, and it can't be changed so why ruminate about it?  And besides, if you are self-confident, you are proud of your actions, not insecure about them. Sorry, but I don't buy the pugnacious "No Regrets" philosophy.  I think that most people that claim that they regret nothing are lying.  Well, unless they are sociopaths - sociopaths generally have no regrets.

This topic is on my mind for several reasons, but I will focus on just one.  When I sold my marital home in 2015 and was packing up after my divorce was final, I couldn't find the case that held my old journals.  I have kept journals since I was a college student (in notebooks until 2004 when I switched to Microsoft Word; I forgot about the old written books completely for years).   Many old volumes have been lost, some I destroyed to foreclose the possibility of discovery by some curious family member or friend.  But I was pretty unhappy that the case of journals disappeared and I couldn't figure out what happened.  I let it go, however - chaos reigns for a while when a long-term marriage disintegrates; things can go missing.

Well, the case of old journals was in a neglected rented storage space controlled by my ex-wife.  She was clearing stuff out and came across them; returned them to me.  I plopped the case in my home office, opened it, grabbed a journal from 1982 and started reading - I am now up to 1990.

I was repulsed.  What a whiney, petty SOB that guy was!  Grasping, self-centered, ambitious (in a bad way), wallowing in self-pity and not much fun to hang out with, I suspect.  Also needy, and pretty lost.  He bulled forward when he knew better.  He often saw the facts clearly and ignored them. He claimed to love people, but he lacked the ability to consistently be loving.

One of the nice things about the human memory is its fallibility.  Many of the thoughts and events described in these old journals no longer reside in my head, thank God.  But after reading this stuff, I spent time thinking about who I was, what I did, what I thought.  I regret a lot of it.

But as a wise person said to me recently, "It is acceptable to look back, but it is impolite to stare." And humans are always changing, our bodies and minds now are different than they were several years ago.  So it is encouraging that I find the stuff in these journals to be repulsive.  My cosmic performance review still includes the phrase "needs to improve," but I am no longer on probation.

And I also forgive the guy who wrote that shit.  He was doing the best he could at the time. And he got up each morning and tried again.

Monday, November 21, 2016

My One And Only Political Rant

I have never blogged about politics.  There are so many folks that work that turf on a full-time basis, and most of them are loud and venomous.  I am not a very partisan person - I am an "independent," have voted for Democrats and Republicans (I even voted for a couple of third party candidates when I was young and foolish).  I am a moderate person politically - socially liberal (Same sex marriage? Fine. Abortion?  Tragic, but women get to decide, not the government. Unconscious bias leading to racist outcomes?  Yup, I have my own set of unconscious biases so I get it.) and fiscally conservative (Are Federal government expenditures out of control?  Absolutely.  Should we borrow to fund programs that Americans want but are unwilling to pay for via taxes?  Hell no. Should budgets balance and debt decrease?  Abso-Goddamn-lutely.).  I also am an old-fashioned believer in meritocracy in America.  Everyone should have an equal opportunity in America; the best and the brightest should be allowed to rise regardless of income level, race, religion,  ethnicity, gender or sexual preference.  I also believe in earning your way into positions of power, wealth and authority.  If you work hard, do your homework, have the right insights and luck, you should win.  If you are winning because you come from a wealthy family, or marry the right person, or you lie and cheat - well, I won't like you very much.

You can see that our current President-Elect is not my kinda guy.

Good old Donald Trump.  He was born on third base and has been telling everyone he hit a triple.  He is a commercial real estate developer (not an especially successful one compared to his peers), a casino owner and operator (went bankrupt several times in this business), a reality television star ("B" list celebrity, able to put on an entertaining show) and a huckster slapping his famous name on all sorts of products that pay him royalties until they flop.  None of these career experiences prepare a person for the terrible and awesome responsibilities associated with the presidency of the United States of America.

SO first of all, Trump is unqualified.

Good Old Donald Trump.  He has said the most outrageous things imaginable and his supporters don't seem to care. He insults everyone that finds fault with him.  He sues people that offend him.   He has winked at the white supremacists, sucked up to the alt right (Stephan Bannon, an alt-right nutball, as Chief of Strategy? Jeff Sessions, a well-known racist, as Attorney General?? Are you serious???) and stoked xenophobia until the fire is red hot.   As John McCain said, "he has fired-up the crazies." Major U.S. banks (J.P. Morgan, Citibank, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs )won't do business with Trump due to past losses on his business; he has had to go offshore for financing. He cheated on his spouses and treats women like objects.  When he settles lawsuits (including his divorces), he shuts everyone up with onerous nondisclosure clauses. He is not a Bill Gates or Warren Buffet - type "nice" billionaire. His mission is more wealth and fame for Donald Trump.  He likes to fight and holds grudges.  I cannot think of a worse guy to be president of the United States, and his election is plunging us into uncharted water - his secrecy regarding his tax returns and business holdings is a massive red flag, and his sprawling international business activities represent unmanageable conflicts of interest.  This guy can't be trusted with the massive power of the U.S. presidency.

SO secondly, Trump is unsuitable and potentially dangerous given his lifelong behavior pattern.

I do believe that character matters.  The U.S. President is our spokesman and the public face of the USA to the world.  Regardless of what you think of his policies, Barack Obama was a terrific spokesman for our country.  He has dignity, his family appears to be peaceful and loving, he is articulate and can inspire others to be better people.  I refused to vote for Bill Clinton in 1996 because I thought that his behavior would get him fired at any corporation in America.  I can't say that about President Obama.

I am confident that the United States is sound and that this current experiment with an ill-suited leader will not destroy our country.  But I am also quite convinced that this person will need to be resisted constantly, fought tooth and nail, and if his fellow Republicans fail to stand up to him, they will need to be tossed out of office.  Trump won because Hillary Clinton got votes in the wrong places - her popular vote win is a bitter pill to swallow.  Trump also won because half of the voters in the United States don't bother to vote.  And this terrible level of civic participation plays into the hands of extremists.

I have signed up to do what I can to get rid of Trump.  He is an undignified, vulgar, selfish disaster of a man.  He will never be my president.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

For my father

Tomorrow is Father's Day.  It is one of those made-up holidays,  a guilt-inducing, greeting card industry sham.  I have always told my four kids not to worry about it - I don't need special attention on the third Sunday in June.  But it can be useful to reflect on your origins, so that is how I use both Mother's Day and Father's Day.

My father, Al Gillock, died over 25 years ago.  My two youngest kids never met their paternal grandfather. The internet was not up and running in 1991, but I decided to Google my dad's name to see what popped up. One of the items that was in the search results was a document called "San Leandro Shoreline History."  San Leandro was the town in the San Francisco Bay Area that was our home.  My father was active in the community, particularly when it came to the town's parks and recreational facilities. The picture above was in the San Leandro Shoreline History document, and my dad is in it. He is the guy with his hands in his pockets on the far left.  I was about 12 years old when this picture was taken; Dad was 52.  When I looked at the photo, I was surprised to see how trim Dad looked in 1966. I remember him from his later years, when I was in high school and college - he grew a beach ball stomach and did not take care of his physical health.  His lack of fitness was a motivating force in my life - I vowed not to become an old pot-bellied guy like my father, and that is the primary reason I drag my 61-year old butt out of bed at 5AM to hit the gym.  My dad was born and raised in the south in the 20's and 30's  - you can guess what that means (**cough--racist--cough**). I made it a point to settle in an integrated community;  my son-in-law is black - and I love him.

Fathers have an impact - we try to emulate them, or be as unlike them as possible.

There were other crumbs of information that came up in the Google search:

Born:  November 4, 1914 (World War I was in full swing, and the famous "Battle of the Bees" was fought on November 4, 1914).
Died: April 14, 1991
Place of Death:  Alameda CA, USA
Birthplace:  Tennessee
Gender: Male
Mother's Maiden Name: Yeargin
Education: 1 year of college (Southern Methodist University, I think; he dropped out to join the Army)
Military Service: Serial Number #3804354, enlisted March 12, 1941 (9 months before Pearl Harbor)
Professon: Salesperson (He actually spent most of his work life as a clerk in a canned food company warehouse in Oakland CA)
Social Security Number:  409-01-4709 from Social Security Death Master File

Al Gillock was a mystery to his youngest son.  He didn't talk to me much about his past or hopes for his future.  He was out in the evenings quite frequently - at various community board meetings, city council meetings, etc.  He smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish, had a mild heart attack in his late 50's and gave up both habits overnight (that is when he gained weight, I think).  I don't remember him tossing a baseball with me or doing all the little things that dads do with their kids.  He wasn't particularly successful in his career.  He was diagnosed with "manic depression" (now known as bipolar disorder) and went on disability when I was around 18 years old.

He did the best he could.

He was a gentle person and I don't think he ever spanked or struck me (if he did, I don't remember).  His mother died when he was young; I think that was the trauma that led to his mental health issues.  When Dad died, I was stunned by the size of the crowd that showed up to pay their respects at the funeral.  There was much about my father that was unknown to me.  I did know that he loved to collect coins, and he very much wanted to pass his collection down to me when he died.  During my recent divorce, my ex-wife got her hands on Dad's coin collection and sold most of it.  I am glad that my father did not live long enough to experience that little drama.

I have worked hard not to be like my dad, but he is part of me.  I look like the old man, I have his goofy sense of humor and I, too, used to drink like a fish on occasion.  I had negative feelings about my father, but those are all gone now.  He gave me my life.  I am sure that his life was a hard battle for him.

It has taken a long time, but I honor my father, at last.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Statements that caught my attention today

Here are some things I read and heard today that grabbed me, caught my attention:

"To pay for their first date, he sold a pint of blood." (from obituary of Tom Coughlin, a disgraced Wal-Mart executive)

"Tyranny grows from ambitious people grabbing whatever levers of power are available." (from an interview with Eric O'Keefe, Republican grass-roots activist)

"The attitudes that drive domestic violence are deeply embedded in our culture, and are very persistent." (quote from Liz Roberts, Chief Program Officer, Safe Horizon - a victim services group in New York City)

"By the simplest and most basic economics, a price artificially raised tends to cause more to be supplied and less to be demanded than when prices are left to be determined by supply and demand in a free market." (Thomas Sowell from his book, "Basic Economics", 2011)

"Everything on both sides is still in play."  Peggy Noonan, WSJ, April 9, 2016

"The debate consisted largely of arguments based on circumstantial evidence." Christopher Chabris and Joshua Hart, associate professors of psychology at Union College

"I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."  Thomas Jefferson

"No one should underestimate how easy it is for government to slip into terrifying abuse." (from an interview with Eric O'Keefe, Republican grass-roots activist)

"He behaves like a tribal chieftain, a war-lord of art, riding roughshod over the niceties of conventional behavior, sometimes sulking in his tent, sometimes rousing his people to great heights, now making strategic decisions off the cuff, now mysteriously absenting himself. The egotism is so massive that it becomes epic, universal." Simon Callow. from his book "One-Man Band," 2016

"What is extreme or exotic to one culture hardly raises an eyebrow in another." Jeffrey Greene, from his book "In Pursuit of Wild Edibles," 2016

"The Highway to Hell seems to run directly through my PC." Joe Queenan, WSJ, April 9, 2016

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Years Roll On

This year is winding to a close, and I say good riddance.  This seems to be what I say at the end of every year.  Why don't I ever say, "What a great year!  Sure would like to live it over again without changing a thing!"  Humans tend to focus on their hurts and the negative events.  Read the news - not much uplifting stuff in there, really.  There is quite a lot of hyperbolic, catastrophic prose designed to increase readership/viewership.  We love that bad news and we pick at our scabs.

One of the few advantages of getting older is you stop believing the hype, usually. Our reality usually isn't as bad as some people say.  Things are also generally not as great as the optimists claim.  Every era is Dickensian - "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

In youth and middle age, there are always so many plans to put in place and execute, children to raise, a world to save.   Getting stuff done is satisfying, of course, but the effort and focus takes heaps of energy.  As the years roll on, the planning time frame becomes shorter.  Some things can't get done with the remaining time and resources.  Content  older people embrace this and begin shedding those things that are no longer useful or possible.  Aging malcontents rail at the fading of the light, ruminate on past mistakes/missed opportunities, and spray negative crap on everyone.

Once you hit 50 or so, each passing year brings diminished physical abilities and endurance.  Yes, one can fight back via diet and exercise, but the slide will happen no matter how hard one resists it. The alleged offset to physical decline is the popular cliche' - aging brings wisdom.  I say, bullshit to that - wisdom comes from the right experiences at the right time.  There are wise teenagers and foolish octogenarians. If you are reasonably self-aware, you do learn to waste less time on anger and worry as you age.  Since many humans are in a constant state of angry fretfulness, the fact that old folks have let go of that mode of living makes them appear to be wise.

An interesting piece appeared in the New York Times a few days ago that ponders the reality of getting old.  The article quoted the great neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks, who died in the summer of this year:

“And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.”

So as the years roll on, may we all follow Dr. Sacks' path and focus on finding that sense of peace.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mr. G's Top Ten Christmas Songs

So we are fast approaching Christmas and we have been assaulted by the repetitious holiday soundtrack for the past eight weeks.  The trouble is not necessarily the songs, which are often well-constructed pieces.  It is generally the "dumbed-down" versions of the songs that are pumped through the loudspeakers at the mall that drive us all crazy.  The good news - so many marvelous artists have cranked out Christmas songs that you can find some truly outstanding versions of holiday favorites. So here is what I think we should all be listening to this season as we swig the eggnog and hang out under the mistletoe - my Top Ten list:

10.   Blind Boys of Alabama with Taj Mahal - Silent Night:  This is from the "Talkin' Christmas" album.  The vocal harmonies of the BB of A always sends chills down my spine, and Silent Night is a great vehicle to display the rich sound of this gospel singing group.

9.    Elvis Presley - Santa Claus is Back in Town:  Elvis is shoutin' them Christmas blues.  Great pelvis-shakin' double entendres in this tune ("Put out your milk and cookies, baby. Hang your pretty stockings just right. Santa's gonna come slidin' down your chimney tonight!"). Dat;'s whut I'm talkin' 'bout!

8.     Alice Cooper - Santa Claus is Coming To Town:  Alice just tears up this little kid's Christmas song and brings out its creepy, terrifying aspects.  Love it!

7.    Canadian Brass - Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella:  This is from the first Canadian Brass Christmas album, which came out in 1990, I think.  I love the solo French horn opening, and this sound grabs me since I am an old trombone player.

6.  Stevie Wonder - That's What Christmas Means to Me:  Stevie Wonder!!!! He could sing the phone book and I would love it.  This is a wonderful old-school Motown rave-up with chick background singers and Stevie's chromatic harmonica! Yezzzz!!

5.  Bing Crosby - Mele Kalikimaka:  We have to go into the way-back machine for this old chestnut.  This is the corny Hawaiian Christmas song with the Andrews Sisters singing backup. Good clean fun, folks.
4.  Ramon F. Veloz -  Paz en La Tierra (Joy to the World): This great Cuban artist turns this old carol into a dance tune.  It is joyous as hell, man.

3.  Albert King - Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin':  A hot and mildly dirty blues from one of the "Three Kings" (Albert, Freddie and BB - all gone now, dammit).  Albert could sang it and his blues guitar chops were killer!

2.  Eva Cassidy and Chuck Brown - The Christmas Song:  To be honest, the Christmas Song has never been my favorite holiday tune, but it is a good song for singers to show off their chops.  Eva Cassidy had chops to burn.  I still shed tears over her early death, and her voice is without peer. Chuck Brown is great, too, but he is overshadowed by Eva, IMHO.

1.  Dexter Gordon - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas:  This is my favorite Christmas song done by the my favorite tenor saxophonist.  The ease and beauty of Dexter's tone and improvisations are without peer. He never overplayed, he always was lyrical, his heart came out in every phrase.  God, I miss that guy.

That's it - enjoy these tunes, and look for more.  There are a million wonderful Christmas songs that break out of the Musak and pop schlock mode.  And Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Joyous Kwanzaa/Merry Festivus and a Happy New Year to us all!!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fear and Loathing

I grew up in a segregated suburb in Northern California.  It was mostly white, with a smattering of Hispanic and Asian folks.  There was not one black person in town - they all lived over the city's border in Oakland.  My father was notoriously cheap, so we would drive to downtown Oakland to the Oakland Barber College to get our haircuts every three weeks or so (haircuts for 10 cents provided by student barbers - quality was inconsistent, but the price was right).  We went from a lilly-white environment to a mostly African American environment.  I can remember my seven-year old self feeling disoriented and fearful around these people that were different from me.  My dad's Tennessee bigotry and racist narrative about black people during these trips added to my unease.

Well, life unfolded and I grew up.  In high school, I fell in love with jazz, blues, soul and funk music. If I loved the music, I had to love the people that invented and performed it.  My heroes were Charlie Parker, Count Basie, James Brown, Miles Davis, Al Green, John Coltrane, J.J. Johnson, Roland Kirk, Otis Redding, Thelonius Monk.  I got out of the "white ghetto" and moved to Berkeley, went to Cal.  I actually got to meet and hang out with Real Black People!  I was thrilled.   The fearfulness of my childhood experiences in downtown Oakland became a faded memory.

So here is the obvious truth - fear and loathing springs from isolation and separation.  The cure to fear and loathing is to live with the people you find frightening.  Guess what?  Most of them are regular folks.  Just because our social infrastructure accommodates prejudiced thinking doesn't mean we have no choice regarding  how we behave towards people that come from backgrounds different from our own.  The other obvious truth - it is wrong to generalize about a large group based on misinformation or the actions of a tiny minority within that group.

The typical power move by authoritarian individuals or groups is to create fear and loathing.  This increases separation and inspires hatred. The authoritarians then promise to protect the fearful people from the hated ones, and to deliver retribution.   When people are gripped by fear and loathing, they can do some truly awful stuff - oppression, terrorist acts, all-out war, genocide, and miscellaneous depravity.   They also hand over their personal agency to the authoritarians that generate the depraved plan of action.

We are seeing this play out right now, of course.   The so-called Islamic State extremists are using the old fear and loathing playbook, and it is working like a charm. The terrorists unleash mayhem against defenseless people, creating fear and loathing. Some politicians in the West  inject bigotry into the mainstream,which increases fear and loathing.  The stated goal of the Islamic State is to attract Western armies to the Middle East for the Islamic Apocalypse (that is why they are doing awful shit - to provoke a military response).  There are politicians in the United States that seem ready to fulfill this grand ISIS goal.  It seems pretty obvious and basic, but lots of people are stepping right into the trap.

It is always easier to destroy and cause misery than to cultivate and cause happiness.  People are lazy and opt for the easy path, in spite of its horrible costs.  And let's not forget the "other guy" dilemma - it makes no sense to be a pacifist if the other guy is a warlord.

Steven Pinker wrote a great book four years ago called "The Better Angels of Our Nature."  It is about the decline of violence throughout human history.  I wonder what Mr. Pinker would say about recent events.  Is it a bump in the road or a shift in direction?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mark Murphy R.I.P.

Mark Murphy died last Thursday, October 22, 2015.  He was one of the most influential jazz vocalists in history, but wasn't all that famous.  He is sometimes mentioned along with Betty Carter as one of the key vocal jazz innovators of his generation.  The current crop of male jazz vocalists, the Kurt Ellings and Kevin Mahogonys, are Mark Murphy's offspring. If there was any justice in the world, Mark Murphy's passing would receive more attention than the death of Michael Jackson or Amy Winehouse.  Murphy's singing touched something  elemental in the human experience.  Here is the New York Times obituary.

I never had the opportunity to hear Mark Murphy perform in person, which is a damned shame.  I am told that his recorded work doesn't fully capture the energy and creativity he poured into performance.  I can say that his recorded music had a significant impact on me, however.

So here is the story.

When I was a student at U.C. Berkeley, I played trombone in the university's jazz band.  I dated a female trumpet player in the band - she was a terrific person and I was lucky that she liked me.  I was an idiot, however, and found my attention captured by my trumpet-playing girlfriend's best friend, "CM." CM was a member of the "unattainable" group of women for me - stunningly beautiful, brilliant and with a terrific pedigree (her father was a local news anchor back when local TV news people were royalty).   CM graced me with a little attention since I was dating her buddy.  I was very taken with CM but kept my mouth shut about it since she was way out of my league and I didn't want to be seen as the jackass that chased his girlfriend's best friend.  I also knew that the chase would be futile and I was too much of a coward to try.

CM and I shared musical interests, but she was way cooler than me.  She gave me an LP for my birthday and said "Just listen to this. Listen."  It was "Mark Murphy Sings," his 1975 studio album.  I had never heard of Mark Murphy - I was into the usual (Coltrane, Miles, Bird, Basie, Ellington) and the slightly odd (Mingus, Roland Kirk, Curtis Fuller, Sun Ra).  When I put Murphy's record on the turntable, I was quite impressed.  He put together some very nice versions of "Body and Soul," "Naima," "On the Red Clay," "Cantaloupe Island" and "Maiden Voyage."   But there was one track that grabbed me, and destroyed me - "How Are You Dreaming?" a song written by Bob Crewe, the songwriter/producer that came up with "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You." The lyric and melody of this song are lush and charged with  longing.  It is still one of my favorite songs, and Mark Murphy delivers it with amazing technique and emotion. Murphy's version of this song wormed into my ear, went straight to my brain, then down into my heart.   Whenever I think about my lost love interests, or those women I longed for but lacked the courage to pursue, this song plays in my frontal lobe.  "How Are You Dreaming?" brings CM back into my memory, in her youthful glory.

Here is the link to the song.  If you are a sentimental fool like me, this will knock you over.

Good bye, Mr. Murphy.

Monday, August 31, 2015

What's the meaning of this?

Like many people, I have sought meaning in religion and spiritual pursuits.  After much wasted time, I have reached the following conclusion:   Life probably has no over-arching meaning.  We just exist and do the best we can within our limited understanding of the universe and each other.  It is helpful to believe in kindness and integrity.    We are all locked into a mystery that may not include a grand purpose to our existence, so we should be kind and honest with each other.  

There are small, difficult questions and large difficult questions.  On the small end of the spectrum, I include the following:

1.  Is it a good or bad idea to give money to folks begging on the street?
2.  When a family member or friend is doing something that is self-destructive, what is the right response?
3.  What is the difference between healthy self-care and toxic self-indulgence?
4.  Why do we negatively pre-judge people we have never met?

The bigger difficult questions that bother me include the following:

1.  What is the meaning of music?  It is not necessary for human survival, but we seem to need it badly.
2.  Why does the continued existence of one earthly organism depend on the death and consumption of some other earthly organism?
3.  Is it wrong to think about our personal needs in view of our insignificance in relation to the universe?
4.  Did the universe create life and consciousness or did life and consciousness create the universe?

The small questions clog up my day; the big questions pop up in the middle of the night when I can't sleep.  I have read lots of books that claim to have insights into these questions, large and small.  Most have not been helpful.

When it comes to monotheism, I am a non-believer.  But there is something, there is something.  The mysteries are very deep.  Physicists sometimes sound like preachers.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Dumping the Junk

For the past year or so, I have been walking around in a state of self-disgust. I have been preparing to move out of the family home for many months.  When a family of four lives in a large house for over 12 years  one expects a certain amount of accumulated material goods.  Our accumulated material goods far exceeded expected levels and strayed into the realm of moral turpitude.  Why do we have 5 computer printers (including 2 that have never been used)?  Why do we have 7 brooms??  Why do we have 37 vases???????

No one remembers.  .

After many trips to the thrift store with boxes of books, kitchen utensils and assorted bric-a-brac, I have moved.  The sale of the rambling old Victorian will close in two weeks.  I am unpacking stuff at the new two flat.  I don't have enough room for the junk I schlepped to the new place in spite of the weeding out completed during the move.  I must shrink my inventory significantly.

The act of dumping the junk is surprisingly difficult.  Holding an item and thinking about it carefully causes a trip down memory lane.   There is the small ceramic bowl hand made by my son, now 34, when he was a senior in high school.  There is the Nestle's Quick rabbit-head cup that all four of my kids used when they were small.  There are old guidebooks from Southeast Asia picked up when I was living in Singapore back in the mid- eighties.  There are several boxes of nice business and personal stationary with my old address that I had printed in 2004 when I thought I would be a solo consultant. And there are several boxes of busted harmonicas, saved for the day when I learn how to repair them (HA!! I have to face the fact that I am a "blow 'em and throw 'em" harp player).  I don't need any of these things now, but they are reeking with sentiment and family history.

This accumulation of stuff is a symptom of the uniquely American disease of Affluenza.  The expense of my horrific divorce has cured me of this malady; I am living in much reduced circumstances these days.  Now I just need to complete the right-sizing of my life and feel grateful to be rid of all the shit I never wanted in the first place.