Joseph Campbell warned us older humans that, "We have the comparatively complex problem in educating our young in training them not to simply assume uncritically the patterns of the past, but to recognize and cultivate their own creative possibilities, not to remain on some proven level. . . . . .but to represent a movement of the species forward."
I have also read somewhere that we have an obligation of determining the best records of what we've done and the best voices and ideas to pass forward, not only to guarantee that the mistakes of the past are not repeated but also to provide the groundwork where the seeds of the future will be cultivated. There's is absolutely no use in learning from scratch every time, especially when so many of the lessons we have learned have been purchased with a tremendous outlay of blood, bone, loneliness, death and suffering.
John Lewis Gaddis once asked a group of incoming freshmen at Yale what connection that the main characters in War and Peace could possibly have with their very different lives. He was taken by the the answer that some of them shared, "They make us feel less lonely." How truthful is that statement, the knowledge that we are not the first or the last to face the future alone, uninformed, and untested?
Gaddis also noted that Thucydides echoed much the same sentiment when the historian encouraged his readers to, "Seek knowledge of the past as an aid to understanding of the future, which in the course of human beings it must resemble if it does not reflect it." Gaddis then offered up the idea that future would only become a bad case of collective amnesia and of loneliness amplified to an insufferable degree if Thucydides's words were not heeded.
Our current problem is not that our hopeful young reject some of our past, or that they offer up exciting new ways of looking at things which in turn engender new possibilities. Our problem is when some of their leaders, usually the least intelligent among them, become addicted to the murmuring noise of the crowd and try to lead us forward into realms they know nothing about, then have to maintain their position with oppression and force.
They never care to acknowledge that crowds rarely read and usually get their knowledge from those who wish to use them only to maintain some sense of status quo, nor do they understand, that those behind the scenes of their so-called revolution are usually the relatives and offspring of the same people who pulled the strings in the past that they reject.
This is how a Hitler becomes a Hitler, and a Stalin becomes a Stalin, and a Pied Piper becomes a Pied Piper. The universe has a proven record of putting forward the right people at the right time, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr, or a Gandhi. And even at times, when the whole world needs changing, it offers up someone like Jesus, someone who sacrifices greatly to pay the price for our tremendous stupidity.
Left to our own devices though, we will continue to select the truly stupid, the gloriously self serving, or the proven evil in order to maintain conformity.
Henry Miller wrote, "Man's greatest dread is the expansion of consciousness. All of the fearsome, gruesome parts of Mythology stem from this fear. . . . . The law of the universe dictates that peace and harmony can only be won by inner struggle. The little man does not want to pay the price for that kind of peace and harmony. He wants it ready-made, like a suit of manufactured clothes." How much evil has humankind endured from those who try to buy a plastic wrapped, store-bought sense of meaning?
History states that Xerxes the Persian god-king once punished the sea for its failings, and that the Roman Emperor Caligula once waged war with an ocean. Desecrating statues and canceling culture will not bring us down. But the sentiment behind placing sheep into our classrooms in the guise of teachers, of decrying there is no need for history, or even a need to read literature because it's not actual data and can't be used in an algorithm, surely will.
There was a joke I read in Reader's Digest back when I was growing up. It was about Abraham Lincoln and involved a man lecturing his son.
Father: When Abe Lincoln was your age he was working his way
toward becoming a lawyer.
Son: Well, when he was your age, he was President.
I waited years for my father to say something remotely related to Abraham Lincoln so I could tell him the punchline. A few years later he did, and I muffed it by saying, "Yeah, but so what? He walked barefoot in the snow to get to school. Big deal. I walk to school everyday myself. Maybe I don't have a cold biscuit in my pocket, but the lunches there are pretty damn yucky, if you ask me."
It's bothered me for years that the universe conspired to get me the opportunity to look very witty, and instead, I looked both stupid and petty. Looking back on those years I've noticed that around that same time there was a decided shift in how people, no not people in general, in how the fools who were busy brainwashing us at the time, regarded the institution of fatherhood.
Fathers like Ward Cleaver, Jim Anderson, and Andy Griffith who once populated our culture disappeared and were replaced with the likes of Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Hal Wilkerson and Peter Griffith. And it was also noticeable, that the positive image of men in general had suffered with the growing cries of "Death to the Patriarchy!" It's very plain to see now, and actually has been for years, that the people who run this world are trying to pass the blame for every injustice and every wrong turn we've made as a species unto the shoulders of the male members. They strenuously object to painting whole peoples with the same brush, except when it comes to men, then they expose their agenda by putting forth the idea that men like Charles Manson, Hitler, and Harvey Weinstein are representative of our entire sex.
I've written a lot about how me and my buddies hung out at Pop's Candy Store during our formative years. It was where we tested out new ideas and theories and came to a lot of our conclusions about what life really means. There were no pictures of our fathers hanging on the bare unpainted walls, but if you knew where and how to look, you could see the always present ghostly images of our dad's hovering in thought bubbles above our heads. Our fathers were our first take on how the Old Testament Jehovah played out on a material level, men who told us which wires not to touch, which lies to never utter, and which things to never do. Hardened men of experience who defined the parameters of our existence.
And far be it from me to say that they were perfect people. They never were. They had their flaws, sometimes a whole shitload of them. But it was always more than a little instructive to see how they took on the traumas of their past and juggled them with the obstructions of the present and tried to guide both forces into a better future for their families.
Sometimes they were absent too, and we were supposed to learn lessons about how to function on our own while making crossroad decisions using only the lessons they taught us and the often monosyllabic instructions they left behind.
My friends and I have our own flaws too, some of them caused, no doubt, by our unwillingness to ask our fathers the questions we really needed answers for. But all of our efforts to repair the damages that life inflicts upon adolescent boys were usually based mainly on the knowledge that we could trust our dads, not only to give us straight answers when we needed them, but also to never to turn their back on us when we really fucked shit up.
In literature the absent father motif is often used as a symbol for the absence of God. It was used mainly as a thematic question asking how mankind is supposed to act when God is not around. The modern media though uses it instead to push the belief that there is no God and therefore humanity must learn to rely on the blathering nonsense spewed out the mouths of morons, self-serving narcissistic politicians, and the beneficence of the people who call the shots.
And none of them are the least bit concerned with the lack of parameters in the world that they are pushing us toward, or the long-term effects of the lies they tell us everyday. And we know that we can't trust any of them to give us straight answers when we need them, and we especially understand that they'll be among the first to shame us if and when we make mistakes.
What they don't realize though, is that our dads are always around somewhere advising us to be suspicious of preachers with pearly teeth and slick backed hair, not to get involved with women who think credit cards and bon-bons are the crown of creation, or placing our trust in people who constantly bad mouth our fathers.
It wasn't easy standing there on one leg trying to clean up the blood, the muscle, the bits of bones, the entrails, and even the dripping feces, and it was even harder to turn the handle on the paper towel dispensary using just one hand.
His wife Delia had just told him, while they were eating dinner on their anniversary no less, that she was leaving him. She looked right at him with a steely, heartless gaze and broke the news. Then she stood up, tossed her napkin on table and strode out of the restaurant like she was walking toward a job interview with God.
And, oh yeah, she took half of him with her. The left half. He suddenly felt a lot lighter, so he looked down and noticed that she had sliced him neatly in two, starting at the top of his head and exiting below his crotch area. He was just starting to wonder just how the f**k she could done the thing so neatly and so swiftly when he remembered that Delia wielded words like a highly trained samurai wielded a katana blade, and she also had a natural gift for turning his own words into weapons that drew blood.
As far as the people eating at the surrounding tables knew, he was okay. Sure, they had witnessed the tossed napkin and the storming out, but to the outward vision, he was still in one piece. He played along with the charade, paid the bill, and slowly made his way into the restroom where he stood before the marble counter and carefully surveyed and listed the real damage.
Anybody knows that possessing half a heart is damned near as worthless as having no heart at all. But a lot of people do not understand that the heart is also a seat of memory and the hub of all emotional activities. So, all of his emotions now entered in a limbo after discovering the hub was missing. They wandered about the halls of his consciousness lost, lonely and confused, sometimes hooking up with the half baked ideas that were still being emitted by the still intact right side of his brain. This resulted in a lot of strange behavior on his part. Sometimes he fell in love with an episode of CSI, at other times he would rage at the sight of cute squirrel eating a peanut in the park.
It was his daughter Lacy who had to have the talk with him. She had won the honor because she drew the short straw, actually a piece of spaghetti, in a contest with her sister.
"Dad, people are starting to talk."
"What the f**k do I care bout what they think? Your mother took the half that cared, remember?"
"She's gone, Pop. She died. You, on the other hand are still here, and that means you need to get your shit together."
"You been telling me that for years. And I know it don't look like it, but I'm trying. It's just hard hard to do things when you only have half a body."
"You look fine."
"On the outside, Hon. On the inside, I'm missing a lot of pieces. It takes a lot of time to grow things back to where they were. I was forty-eight years old. I had a forty-eight year old heart, and a forty-eight year old fully functioning brain full of forty-eight years of life experiences that helped me make solid decisions. Now, I can barely see a little nub starting to grow back where my left ventricle used to be, but it's going to take some time, Sweetheart."
"Dad, it would help if you found something or someone to love."
"I do. I love you and your sister."
"You know what I mean, Pop."
Later that night, at the Casino, he thought about what she had said. He wondered what the odds were that he could find someone who was missing the right side of her body. Someone who was left brain analytical and who just happened to need someone with a more spiritual outlook on life. Someone whose own heart had been torn exactly down the middle.
For some reason, he had taken to playing the Romeo and Juliet machine hidden deep on the left side of the building, and he didn't really know why. He assumed that it had something to do with the idea of fateful, ignorant assed love, an aspect that been missing from his life ever since Delia had stormed out the restaurant that night.
He was twenty-five dollars down when he felt the presence of someone standing behind him observing. A minute later, a woman sat down beside him at the Space Journey machine.
"Hello there, having any luck?"
He turned to his left and saw an attractive looking red-haired lady, maybe a little younger than himself, smiling at him. He smiled and replied, "Not a whole lot, but I just got here. How about you?"
"I just got here too. I always start off by playing that machine."
"Oh, I'm sorry. It won't take me long to lose what I've got in there."
She laughed, "Oh, don't worry about me. That's a terrible way to look at things though. You have to have some faith."
He laughed too, "I do have faith though. What I don't have is the sense to realize that none of this would exist if I was supposed to be winning."
"Well, you got me then. I don't really have much faith either. My husband did though. My deceased husband, I should say. He had more than enough faith for the both of us. I like playing that machine because it was his favorite, and it always reminds me that I need to have some kind of faith in something besides the numbers I crunch all day."
"You know why I play it? I play it because when you get the Bonus, or the nine little hearts all lined up, they morph into one giant heart. I know that sounds pretty damned silly, but it's the only way I can explain it."
She looked into his eyes with a sad expression, "You been widowed too. Huh?"
"Well technically, she left me before she died."
They both sat in silence for a moment before she blurted,"Hey, I got an idea. You've got a hundred bucks in there. What say, I put in a hundred and we'll go halfsies on the winning?"
He thought about, "Sounds good to me. Double our odds, or something like that."
"Good! We'll have to do one thing though?"
"Bet the max. It's only four dollars. Jerry used to tell me. If you ain't all in, the machine senses it and takes all your money become you aren't fully committed."
"Kind of like life, I guess."
They won two thousand dollars on the third pull and both joyfully leaped up and embraced.
They split the money right down the middle and decided to share a cup of coffee in the diner. On, the way to his car afterwards, he knew he was going to kick himself in the morning though for not asking for her number. He wouldn't even had known her name if wasn't for the forms they had to fill out.
But, at that particular moment, he was only thinking about the thousand dollars in his wallet, and the fact if he got there before midnight, he could still catch the two-for-one lapdance deal at The Shady Lady on the outskirts of town.
I didn't open up the shades the first thing this morning like I usually do. I sat there on the small sofa in front of the window contemplating the light as it seeped into the room through the gaps in the blinds. Light is funny. It can enter into a room via a series of small horizontal stripes, but it instantly diffuses and permeates the darkness much in the same way that a teaspoon of sugar dipped into a glass of water would do. You could use three grains of sugar or a cup and all the water contained in the glass would contain the same amount.
I've been thinking more about Jesus lately, and I have to admit that is something I don't usually do. I have his picture tucked neatly into the corner of the frame of my dad's picture. They are both looking at me as now as I think. The picture of my dad was taken right before he died when everything outside of his immediate wishes was first considered as a threat. I use it to remind me to suck it up, and by it I mean life's more painful lessons.
Here's the thing about Jesus. There's always a part to his story that seems to point an accusatory finger. Dying on the cross for the sins of others sets a pretty high bar, and one that most of us walk under every day. I've been intensely aware of my failures as a high jumper all of my life, and it's caused me a lot of problems.
It didn't help things that I first came face to face with Jesus in a small Baptist church that didn't offer much in the way of training when it came to Sunday School teachers. I've written about the incident a lot in my blog. A lot of times, when writing, I create characters and stories whole cloth using tiny bits of memory and reality to fashion the design. The story I tell about being told when I was ten years old that I would burn in Hell if I didn't accept Jesus on the spot is something I never ran through any filter. I remember it that well.
It seems to me, that my church used the Cliff Notes version of the Bible, and even then didn't place a lot of emphasis on chapter summaries, it was pretty much the timeline repeated over and over. That made me look at Jesus as if he were a fifth or sixth cousin who only visited one time with another relative that us kids didn't even know.
Mom scolded us, of course, before he showed up and warned us about playing nice. But he was shy in our presence and never said a word; it was the fact that they had dressed him up in the clothes of Little Lord Fauntleroy that made us think of him as a sissy boy and a snitch. I guess, that, at the time, the part about the nails through the palm and the scourging hadn't sunk in, and it was only the part where people kept pointing out that he was so much better than us that caught my attention.
With my dad, it was different story. One day, two guys came into the yard with the intention of beating me up. I ran into our back porch when I opened the back door thinking I had reached safety, my dad was standing there with a belt. He answered the question I was formulating before I even asked it, whipping me one time hard across my butt while saying the words, "Stand and fight," through clenched teeth.
I've always carried the welt but not on my ass. Its somewhere deep inside of me where I've tried to hide it from the view of others. I knew at a tender age what Abel felt when he brought forth the fruit that was spurned. Our fathers are our God when we are only boys. I disappointed him by trying to use rhetoric and logic when a sacrifice of pain was required. He didn't punish me, so much as tell me, "Son, life will be full of pain and if you run at the first sight of snakes, you'll only make things a damn sight harder."
My brother and I watched a movie the other night. It had some blue-eyed European dude in it playing Jesus. The movie for all its pretended glamor and Hollywood trappings looked pretty cheesy. But beneath all that, the power of the story couldn't be restrained. It's a powerful story, the most powerful myth of all, and I use the word myth with its truthful meaning, "Extraordinary events that shake humans to their very core."
The word doesn't mean, as a lot of imaginary spiritual leaders think, something that is not historical or real. On the contrary, it is the underlying reality of the whole shebang, the source of the cause and effect and not the result, and it's a thing much too large to for us to ever understand completely, or, at least not, without the commensurate expansion of consciousness that comes with knowing the truth, the breaking of old jars.
The picture I have is just as phony as the actor in the film, but there is something truthful about the sadness in the eyes. Jesus was never accusatory, or at least, not till he discovered the people selling their goods in the Temple. And he knew well that most of us were more like the turtle in the race with the fox than Dwight Stones.
For years, I thought that the scar on my right hand where my Mom accidentally dropped a hot iron while she was doing my shirts was my only similarity to Jesus. He always said though that he lives inside us all and is always standing there ringing the doorbell, dressed in his Sunday gotomeeting robes, and with a nice bottle of newly vinted wine tucked beneath his arm.
And if anything good comes out of this craziness we're going through now, it might be that we get so sick of tired the fools arguing, the clowns singing and dancing, and hearing the braying efforts of all the unscrupulous sellers trying to breech our temple walls, that we turn our TVs off long enough to answer the damn door.
I looked in the mirror this morning and was appalled by the amount of weight I've put on during this lockdown. My eyes also betrayed the fact that I'm beginning to get a little frayed around the edges too. But, I don't need a bunch of nervous Nancy's telling people that they can't say or even think that I'm fat because that's exactly what I am.
People usually have enough inherent goodness that, when left to their own devices, they can generally work things out for the better. It's only when those who believe they have some kind of advantage over others start putting rules down to protect their inflated opinions of themselves that we start turning small amounts of shit into mountains of the stuff.
I know that there are those who are genetically disposed to being assholes and can hardly be blamed for following the blueprints provided. But if the neighbors band to together and, out of love, form structural walls even the worse shit written down on the bluest of paper can be corrected.
There are also those who have been traumatized, actors in plays written by Tarantino inspired parents. There have probably been a lot of great actors who have failed only because the words they read were written well before the current crop of auteurs with their, "Hey! look at me, I'm saving the fucking world. No me. Over here," mentality started scripting everything that came out of Hollywood's hemorrhoid encrusted arse. Seriously, we can't blame people for obeying the ghosts of their demented ancestors. Blame no, correct yes, and it could be done relatively cheaply by teaching literature correctly and providing one or two more counselors in every school. Just make the kids aware that there is script of their own creation hidden inside of every one them. And, oh yeah, put the Ten Commandments back where they are supposed to be. You'd have to be the biggest, dumbest, Karen in the whole fucking world to say they have no place in our current society.
The biggest problem though is the idea that just because you have 240 characters to use that you need to use them all. We need to say out loud; "Some people just need to stay the fuck off of social media", or at least restrain themselves from commenting on every freaking thing under the sun whether they a clue or not. And when those dumbasses report that shit like its written in stone by the very finger of God, we need to collectively moon their ass while shouting, "Shut the fuck up!" We had way too many damned liars, devious salesmen and crooked lawyers before the internet appeared.
People like Shakespeare, Lincoln, Jane Austen, and even Jesus himself would be appalled, not so much by the restrictions imposed on their own output, but more so by the idea of providing a social standing and a platform for those who really are, in truth, only capable of saying things like, "You suck donkey dicks, asshole."
One of the things I worry the most about during this pandemic is the vast display of ignorance that has occurred beneath its aegis. I look at things mythologically, with an understanding that I don't need a 'smoking gun" to tell me that something groundshaking is going on, an earthquake being readied strong enough to level buildings, bring down bridges, and burn down memory itself.
I try hard not to ever get involved in political debates because it brings out the worst in people, turns friendships sour, and like a big, steaming pile of shit only seems to attract flies seeking sustenance in the nutrients found in feces. But sometimes I get angry and can't help myself. The people who run the media in this country are experts and know how to push buttons as well as they know how to make lying look easy. They are, in fact, only pimps with perfectly coiffed hair and bright, white smiles. They are chosen, you know, more for their ability to fake an incredulous look than any knowledge they may possess. I wouldn't trust in their ability to think their way out of a room with an opened door, much less their expertise in explaining the world to us lesser humans.
But engaging in the political fray only creates more drama. One of the most profound things Jesus ever said, and one that probably gets the least attention, is "Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." He meant that money and the power it represents is the only way that a politician/materialist can ever value life. It further means that Pilate, who feigned indifference on the matter of crucifying Christ, actually colluded with with the spiritual/political leaders of the day into passing the guilt for his crucifixion onto the shoulders of the ignorant masses who had already been told what they were supposed to think and do about the matter.
The episode offers up no ringing endorsement for the intelligence of humankind, and only offers up the truth that if you depend upon the media to tell you what and how to think, you really have no God given right to criticize or hate those who only do the same.
A response to a recent Facebook post of mine reminded me that I've always been a better teacher and coach than a political pundit. So, I've decided to resurrect the habit of talking more about what I've learned, where I learned it, and why it is important than explaining why people are such fools for believing whole cloth in anything that comes out a politician's, or a news person's mouth. It's always about the motives, people.
JFK: An American Coup D'etat
This is my favorite book on the subject of the Kennedy assassination. I thought I knew everything about it but who killed him, but I was so wrong. For example, this is where I first learned that a picture of Allen Dulles with LBJ ran in the Dallas' papers shortly before the hideous deed, or that mayor of Dallas's was also brother of one of Dulles's right hand men, or that the guy that Dealey plaza was named after had a beef with JFK, or that it was Bill Moyer who notified the Kennedy people about the change in the motorcade's route. I often wonder why this simple fact has not been pursued to its real end. More importantly, this book is where I learned that that the CIA employed over three hundred news sources to push out information in the Sixties.
The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors
I always find it surprising that the information contained in this book about the Venona Project was locked up for over fifty years after the war ended. It details (Chapter 13) about the communist infiltration of the American media. The information could have also been used to put to rest a lot of things that were being presented to the public as being 'up in the air'. For example, we could have been told that there was no question about Alger Hiss's guilt as a Soviet agent, or that one of that one of Stalin's agents, Harry Dexter White implemented on Stalin's orders Operation Snow which led not only to the events at Pearl Harbor but also America's involvement in the war. It also blows up the myth that the worries about Soviet penetration into our top levels of government at the time were all based on rumor and hearsay.
Looking back upon the war and the post-war era with a new perspective provided by the information discovered by this rogue intelligence operation is very enlightening and also somewhat worrisome when you notice the parallels to what's happening today.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
This is the book that really opened my eyes to the idea that schools deal with trauma in the wrong way. Every year, we sat through training that only served to indoctrinate us to the idea that trauma was only about the big ticket issues, such as sexual, physical, or hardcore verbal abuse, and also served to mask the real damaging effects of the thousands and thousands of smaller traumas that influence our every reaction to life itself. Kids need to be taught about self-awareness and how important it is to their development, and yet most of our schools probably only have one person, if that, trained to talk about the issues involved. This should be a whole school activity and taught via Literature. People used to understand this, and it is alarming that we have gotten so far away from it. This means that the proper teaching of literature becomes of paramount importance, and that makes me wonder why the educational policies of the last several years has sought to play it down.
The Society of Spectacle and Anti-Education
I place these books side by side to acknowledge them as the source of the concept of how our culture now tamely accepts the the authority of incompetent knuckleheads to explain life to us. Nietzsche chalks it up to the lowering of standards in academia which he claimed led to the development of the 'journalistic mode of thinking' which has led us all to believe that the thirty second summaries of world events was more than enough to explain away every complex issue, a Cliff Notes version of life, so to speak.
Guy Debord expands upon the idea that saying it is the also way that Elites control us by pretending that we have an endless source and variety of views and explanations. each one delivered by someone hired more for their looks and their willingness to say what they have been told to say than any other expertise they may possess.
The evidence is all around us. Whoever hired a narcissistic asshole such as Chris Cuomo knew what they were doing, but it never had much to do with the telling of the truth. And has anybody ever wondered why the thick girls who studied meteorology in college never seem to make it far as weather persons on the networks? Or for that matter, how come only supermodels seem to know anything about professional sports?
It is gotten to a frightening point because now they are demanding that we forget all about history and to even discount our own eyes, ears, and personal experiences in favor of listening to, and accepting as truth, all the perfumed excrement that they spew forth.
I don't know what it was about the guy that irritated me. My brother and I were headed to our favorite breakfast spot in Freiberg. There was a middle aged guy jogging on the side of the rode with a friend who was riding a bicycle. The jogger was decked out in an expensive looking jogging outfit. That could have been it, or it might have just been the fact that he was jogging.
I don't what made me do it, but I rolled down my window and shouted as we drove by, "You ain't no Greg Louganis." Rolling up the window, I laughed and then looked over at my brother who was staring at me strangely.
"Why the hell'd you do that for? He wasn't diving into a pool; he was running for Christ's sake."
"I wanted to make the sumbitch think about things."
"Well, you probably succeeded in that regard. What if someone just rolled up next to you, and yelled, 'You ain't Brad Pitt?'"
"I'd smile at him, thank him, and give him a middle finger as he drove off."
He looked at me with that pained look again, "Well, that don't make any more fucking sense than yelling that nonsense in the first place."
"Makes perfect sense."
"Don't fucking talk to me. Just drive."
So, I drove. We were on way to the Fig Tree Cafe to have breakfast. It was something we did every Sunday, a routine, so to speak. Afterwards, we would go to peruse used bookstores. Coming from Concord, I always left the freeway at where it joined into the southern end of Freiberg's main drag and then followed that road all the way across town. It was journey that took us through the homeless lined streets of downtown Freiberg, then through the narrow oak lined streets of the old town section, past blocks and blocks of mansions and then to the affluent shopping center on the north end of town. Glen and I never knew what we were going run across on this journey, and that's why we did it that way.
We always passed this one bench by the side of convenience store where a homeless man and a woman were always sitting together and talking.
"I wonder how long it would take if we started waving at them every Sunday, until they would wave back?"
"Why would we do that?"
"I'm just interested in knowing. I don't mean any disrespect or nothing. I'm just interested."
"Well, let's not do shit like that. If you want to help them, pull over and give them some money."
"I didn't say anything about helping them; I said knowing. Besides, I already give money to the homeless shelter. Hey, look at that shit over there!"
Off to the right, a man and a woman had stopped at a stop sign in front of the Hyatt Hotel. They both emerged from their shiny, red BMW leaving the door open. There were shouting at a transient who had apparently said something to them as he walked across the crosswalk in front of them. I hung a right so we could get closer.
"Oh God, Danny, you and your curiosity's gonna get us killed one of these days."
We pulled alongside the couple, and I rolled down my window, "What's up!"
They man, a big beefy muscle bound dude with a scowl walked over and leaned down, "That asshole over there, called my wife a rich cunt. We work hard for our money. He got no right to say that about my wife."
"You right, man. But you need to understand something about this."
He guy straightened up a little, "Yeah? What's that?"
"You ain't Greg Louganis!" I peeled out leaving the scene, throwing up some pebbles and the smell of burnt rubber. I was laughing maniacally, but Glenn was angry at me again.
"Have you lost your damn mind? You can't go around doing shit like this! For what purpose? You're crazy."
"If you saw a old lady slip and fall in mud puddle, would you help her up?"
"Just answer the question. Would you help the woman up?"
"Hell yeah, I would. You know that. But that's got nothing to do with you yelling stupid shit out of a car window."
"That's where you're wrong. All these damn people are living in ruts. We're living in a rut. I'm just shaking shit up a little, offering them a hand up, so to speak."
Glenn just rolled his eyes.
I pulled the trick three more times before we got to the cafe. Once, I yelled to a whole group of cyclists riding by us in the opposite direction. The leader of the group popped a wheelie as I yelled. The last time was at a guy in Porsche convertible. It was a cold, wet day, and he had his top down and pulled up to the opposite stop sign and just kept rolling when it should have been my turn to make a turn, so, I shook my fist and yelled as he sped by.
"Now, you're just being motivated by vengeance. I thought that you were all, 'Just trying to shake shit up a little. Get us out of our ruts''' He used air quotes.
Later, leaving a bookstore, he asked me, "Why Louganis?"
"When we passing that jogger, I couldn't think of any well-known runner. The image of Greg Louganis just popped in my head. You know the one where he looked like Adonis standing on that diving board."
"I still don't understand. What you're doing is absurd. It makes no sense."
"I read somewhere that the word myth actually means anything that's out of the ordinary. I'm just creating myth. Profane, you know, means anything that's ordinary. That's where the word profanity comes from."
"You're just creating myth?"
"Yeah. I read something this morning before you came over that said that what we all need to be is more radically amazed at life, to see the wonder in things. It said that ever since science showed up, mankind has been committed to taking the mystery out of things and making everything profane."
"Hence, the ruts?"
"Now, you are getting it."
"I heard this guy say something good on the news this morning."
"He said that you ain't Greg Louganis either, Bitch!"
"Well, no need to get rude."
I knew the moment I ordered that I had screwed up. You just don't order hamburgers served on square bread, toasted or otherwise. You see, I often drop by the Sonic drive-in out by the Winco when leaving Visalia. It's really a matter of the convenience. I do some shopping and grab some dinner and it's right there on the way out of town.
I always get tricked though by the Toasted Bacon Cheeseburger Combo I always order the combo and I never have liked. I thinks it's just the memories of my mom serving burgers on white bread at lunch when I was kid that keeps clouding my judgement. You can get tater tots with the combo and that kind of enhances its appeal somewhat.
I had skipped breakfast that morning and was pretty hungry, so I bit into the burger right away after leaving the parking lot, and right away my inner ego was cursing out my outer ego. "Well, well, well, you dumb sumbitch, you up and did it again." There was nothing tasting even remotely hamburger like in my mouth. Sure, it had some of the ingredients, like a beef patty and the fixings of a burger, but I've eaten pea soup that tasted more like a hamburger than that thing did.
Right away, I noticed that it tasted all onion ringy, so, I looked, and sure as shit, there was big assed onion ring. Once again, my inner voice felt compelled to comment on the situation. "What the hell kind of dummy puts an onion ring on a hamburger?" If it ain't an unwritten rule that you only put regular slices of onion on a burger, than it should be. If it ain't carved on the tablet of the Ten Commandments, then someone made a mistake (no names), and Congress should immediately pass legislation to rectify the error.
Most of the people I grew up with in Corcoran cut their burger eating teeth by eating the hamburger served at Chick's Cafe after midnight. They just lopped both ends off an onion and served it looking like a damn hockey puck. And once you've eaten it that way a dozen times or more, you never really go back to putting shit like onion rings and other foo foo crap on your burger. You just wouldn't think of it.
Then the fixings themselves tasted kind of like relish, with chopped pickles, tomato, and a chopped onion thing going on. That would be okay if I was eating a hotdog, but I would never eat a hotdog on a square piece of bread. I mean, for God's sake, you have to draw the line somewhere, man.
And I don't know for certain if the so-called burger had any mustard on it. It damned sure didn't taste like it, and that is a problem in itself. Mustard is the duct tape of the culinary world, it'll fix most of your problems. But you have to be able to taste it in order for it to do its magic. A Cheeseburger without mustard is something should you only eat if you are hungry, out of mustard, and the nearest open store is in Fresno.
I was already plenty mad when I reached into the bag to grab myself a tater tot, and I'll be damned if the people at the place had not forgotten to put my tots in the bag!
You see normally, I'll use the tots to fend off the urge to eat the burger on the way home. They have an immensely satisfying quality about them and never fail to put a smile on my face as I pop one in my mouth and let it melt as I look at the sunset hues from high atop the overpass out on 99 by where the Tagus Ranch used to be. It's always a great damned view from atop that overpass and when you got a hot tater tot melting in your mouth to boot, it's a Zen moment. Today though, because of the absent tots, all I could think about was how dusty shit looked and how badly the Covid has screwed everything up.
The rest of the way home, I composed the letter of complaint that I would write to voice my displeasure to the powers that be (Operating off of the premise that it doesn't help to keep that kind of stuff bottled up inside).
Dear Mr. Sonic,
I would like for you all to quit making the Toasted Bacon Cheeseburger as I can not help associating it with the burgers my mom used to make for lunch. Or, at least, suspend making it until your people learn that the things that separate a good cheeseburger from any other type of food are kind of consistent the whole world over: two buns (preferably with rounded corners), a little lettuce, a slice of tomato, a couple of dill pickles, a slice of onion, melted cheese of choice, and a beef patty slathered in a good mustard.
Next time you try to pass an onion ring off as a cheeseburger, you need to make damn sure that the tater tots are in the bag.
Breakfast in the Time of Cholera
Bacon, Eggs over medium, Home style potatoes, Wheat Toast and Grape Jelly served with Coffee and Water.
This has been my breakfast choice for the last seven months. I don't know why it doesn't vary. I think it might have something to do with the fact that this would pretty rate as a pretty good damn breakfast in the life of one my ancestors. The bacon was probably thicker then, the eggs fresher, and the bread just out of the oven and slathered with butter.
In any case, it's a hard dish to fuck up. It's been done, I know, but most cooks, regardless of their training and ability, should be able to do a passable job of it. I mean, I cook about as often as Joe Biden completes a coherent thought, and even I could eat the outcome of my efforts without gagging.
It's a breakfast that needs to be judged on its nuances, the texture of the egg yolk, the flavor of the potatoes, and thickness and crispness of the bacon. It helps if it's served with good coffee, and, in my judgement, if the establishment happens to have hazelnut creamer and serves butter with the toast.
There's also the matter of service. I have found that it has been pretty consistently good throughout. Most of the people who have served me during the lockdown seem to be trying hard to please. I prefer the local girls who greet me on sight and bring my coffee and water with the menu. I've also met a lot good servers out of town too.
The added factor nowadays is the total experience. We are living in a different world, but it doesn't need to be an alien experience, or one where we just have to accept whatever is being thrown our way. Some places go out of their way to make things familiar and others just go through the motions. The universe seems to jump in and help the ones who are trying.
Take today for example. I went to the Denny's and got seated next to pair of older gentlemen. I heard one of them tell the other, "This feller I know is a good old boy." He was dressed like my dad and this sounded like something my dad would have said. When the waitress came, he called her Hon and told her a joke where he played the fool. It was a nice moment to start my day.
I've decided to pass on what I've learned about eating bacon and eggs during the lockdown and to rate several area restaurants on the quality of their breakfasts in the process
Best Service - Tie - Reyna's and El Cap
Like I said, I'm partial to the locals. They are all nice ladies who know me and greet me by name, and they always treat my Mom, when she's with me, like a friend who they haven't seen in awhile. I also lose my glasses a lot and they always keep them safe till I return for them. On a couple of occasions, it has been my debit card that was returned
Best of all, they usually hand me my coffee almost before I'm even seated and ask me, "the usual, Mr. White?" That's pretty damn priceless in my book.
Best Ambience - The Patio Cafe in Fresno at the Fig Garden Village
I've always liked this place. Back before the Covid, I used to meet my daughter there for lunch. I was there this last Sunday, and saw a Jaguar luxury sedan pull out of a parking space and a Porsche 911 Carrera pull into the spot that just been vacated. That's not a sequence of events that you would see everyday in Corcoran. Throw in the fact that it was a handicap space, and you could safely say, that isn't something that you would probably ever see here.
One time, I overheard two retired college professors arguing over the state of politics in America while mixing in details of their many trips to Europe and Asia. In comparison, my brother and I were discussing which CNN news anchor that we wanted to throat punch the most. They have health food too, the real kind in case you have a picky daughter.
It is a little more expensive there, but the food is top notch and there are usually several beautiful people seated out on the patio. I don't want to throw my Corcoran peeps under the bus, but I'm talking supermodel beautiful. It's a different world, and in this day and age, it's important that we keep reminding ourselves that such worlds are still out there.
To make the trip even more special, I exit 99 at the southern end of Van Ness and drive right down the middle of Fresno to get there, from the first overpass where the homeless sleep to the beautiful homes in the Fig Garden area and then repeat the journey along different streets on the way home.
Most importantly, it's on my path to Barnes and Noble bookstore at River Park. My favorite part of the week is when I get home and sit down with a last cup of coffee to read the first choice passages from my most recent treasure.
Best Breakfast - The Lamplighter Grille & Bar - Visalia
I don't usually order hash browns, but it is the hashbrowns that pushes this breakfast to the top of the list. The chef there knows how to cook hash brown potatoes, and it ain't no secret that it involves the use of butter. The bacon is thick and perfectly cooked as is the toast, and they have great coffee too.
The surroundings doesn't hurt, as it is outdoors in a garden spot. Before the covid, I liked to come here on Sundays with my mom as there was usually an older crowd which means it is quieter and easier on the ears. The service is great too as they always had a great mixture of older waitresses with the personalities that comes with being in a service industry for years and fresh faced younger employees eager to please.
Runners-up - The Patio Cafe, and The Corner Cafe, Goshen Avenue SafeMart Center, Visalia
Both of these establishments are top quality, rating highly in every category. The food is great, the ambience is good, and the service is impeccable.
Bad Experiences - Black Bear Diner (Hanford and Visalia)
I hate criticizing anybody trying to make it work in these difficult times. But there is such a thing as trying to do too much to stretch a dollar as in not having enough wait staff to seat and serve breakfast in a timely manner. I know that they are trying and are having to adjust to things too, but it's still the same things that will keep you coming back as it was before the virus struck.
Places I Want to Try - The Red Apple, Fresno on Herndon, The Elbow Room, Fresno at the Fig Garden Village
On my way home from Barnes and Noble, I always see people lined up outside the Red Apple trying to get in. I always want to stop in and try it. The Elbow Room has guy playing the piano on the Patio on Sundays. I'm a sucker for a guy playing a piano on a patio. That's class.
Lazarus Russell died all alone on outskirts of Concord, a small, judgmental town full of people who often carved their presumptions out of stone, yet had a hard time scratching the surface of the obvious. Lazarus had lived there so long that he had become to seem of no more substance or meaning than a barely noticed tree, or a warning sign posted on a certain corner that no one ever heeded.
It was cold and bitter the night he died lying on a dirt embankment beneath the railroad bridge along State Route 23. He looked up at the slight, blurry, sliver of silver hanging in a dark black sky then lowered his gaze toward the brackish water pooled below the railroad bridge and saw the same slivered moon undulating lightly on its surface. He then closed his eyes, mumbled something toward the shadows, exhaled and surrendered.
Three days later a pudgy little boy named Juan and his half sister Maria were out looking for aluminum cans while riding double on his red Schwinn birthday bike. They smelled something that made them both want to puke and discovered what appeared to be a man's body covered from the neck down with a dirty piece of black plastic.
They didn't know at first if the man was dead or just sleeping. So, Juan decided to pick up a stick to poke him. The smell was too much for him to get that close, so Maria took the stick away and handed him a dirt clod. Juan tossed it gently hitting the wool cap on the man's head, and it didn't move. They quickly ran back to the house where they lived with their mom and her scary boyfriend.
Their mom thought they were playing a trick, so she went back with them, and they had only gotten half way there before a slight breeze told her there was no trick. She signed the cross and rushed back to call the police.
It was Roman Ramirez and his co-worker and friend George Martin who were sent out from the Coroner's office in Hartford with orders to pick up the body. They almost couldn't do the job and were only able to avoid the embarrassment of failure after soaking cotton swabs with alcohol and stuffing them into their noses. Roman kept his sunglasses on throughout to blur the image of what he was seeing. That night though, he eagerly recounted the scene at his brother-in-law Cruz's weekly poker game.
"D'you know Lazarus Russell?"
"That old, crazy fucker that rides that three wheel bike."
"He used to ride that bike, but somebody stole it from him. That's the dude though. It don't need that bike no more anyway. They found him dead under that old railroad bridge that crosses the Hayes Canal."
"Someone kill him?"
"Naw. Looked to me like he just got tired of living. A couple of kids found him out there. I swear, man, we could smell that dude a half mile away. We had to go bag him up and, let me tell you, that dude was in bad shape, the worst one ever. You can ask George."
"How long he been out there?"
"Doc said at least three days."
"That's too bad. My Uncle Roy told me that Laz used to be a warrior. Said he had a good record as a welterweight then went down South and got his ass kicked pretty good by a Mexican kid."
"You know, I ain't never heard that guy say a fucking thing in all the years I lived here."
"Me neither, used to be hell of a fighter though from what I heard."
"Well, I guess you only get one shot for something like that. You fuck it up, you fuck it up."
Most people in Concord had never paid any attention to Lazerus Russell as he rode his bike up and down Concord's main drag digging in trash for cans to recycle. People either just ignored the old man or averted their eyes like he was a bad omen.
Cruz got a haircut the next day at Ernie's Barbershop on Main Street. He always went to Ernie's because he liked the cigar store Indian that silently stood guard at the door. He knew he would've got a better cut and a cheaper one if he went down to Jerry's a block over on Jackson Avenue, but he had always felt a deep sense abiding loyalty to the wooden chief with his solemn eyes.
"Like usual, Ernie, around the ears and square in the back."
"You got it, Kiddo. What's been happening?"
"Hey, did you know that crazy dude Laz Russell who used to ride that bike all over town?
"Yeah, man. I went to school with him at Cherrywood School. Why?"
"He dead. They found him under a railroad bridge south of town. My brother-in-law Roman had to bag the body."
"Oh, man, that's a shame. You know, I knew Lazarus before he went all crazy. He was a pretty good dude back then, had a way with the women. I used to be envious of him and how all the girls buzzed all around him. That dude was major playa back then.
"When did he start acting all crazy?"
"He was in over Korea. Got himself a big medal too. When he came home he found out his old lady was shacked up with his best friend. Of all his girlfriend's, he married the worst damned one. Get this. She used to call Lazarus up at work while she was screwing the dude. One day, Laz got sick of it and left work and went and killed them both."
"What did they do to him?"
"He did some serious time on it. He was a decorated veteran though and his lawyer made a slick case of temporary insanity, so they cut him some slack at the sentencing."
Later, Ernie closed up his shop and decided, as usual, to stop for a drink at the Four Queens two doors down. The evening sun was sinking slowly in the west, and there were just enough shadows that the town was beginning to flatten out against a pastel sky. It took Ernie's breath away for a moment as he remembered the myths of his youth.
Melvin Lewis, the proprietor of the Four Queens, was talking to a tall, young stranger in a brown suit. Melvin looked up and nodded when Ernie entered.
"Give me a Pabst, Mel." The bartender sauntered over to the taps and filled a tall glass and slid it toward Ernie who took a big drink, wiped the foam from his lips, "Hey, did you hear about Lazlo Russell?"
"The Chief was in here earlier. He said something about finding a body south of town. Was that Laz?"
"Sure the shit was. Remember when we were at Cherrywood?"
Mel nodded sadly, "I remember one day Greg Avalos and his cousin Teo jumped me at recess and Laz jumped in to help me. We used to be good buddies back then. You know, I always tried talking to him when he rode by; I figured I owed him that much, but he wouldn't ever stop and talk to me. I do know that he was a father too; he had a girl. She's lived in Concord her whole damned life, but someone told me that she's never knew that Laz was her daddy."
"Damn, no one ever told her? That's kind of hard hard to believe in this gossipy assed town. Hell, my old lady usually makes sure that everybody knows everybody's else's business.
"I bet you Alice didn't know though. Remember, she came here after Laz got out of prison. I'd also bet that most people round here don't know the story, don't remember, or don't care. I do know that it was said at the time that the girl's granny, her mom's mom, raised her and hated Laz. It was old Felix Miranda who told me she hired someone to put a curse on Laz, a witch doctor or someone like that. Hey, did you hear about that medal he got in Korea?"
"I kinda remember something about it."
"It was a big deal, man. He saved a bunch of people's life over there. Killed a whole bunch of them fuckers too. Doc Jones told me he was over in Korea and heard about it over there. He was kind of laughing when he told me that in the space of an hour, Laz set a record for the most enemy combatants ever killed by a citizen of Concord. I remember that shit because he also told me that Mr. Munoz our old PE teacher killed five German soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge."
"No shit! Munoz was mean old fucker. I hated that dude. You know Laz's daughter's name?"
"Yeah. In matter of fact, I do. It's Carol, Carol Ramos. She works down at the Best Deal Market, that tall, thin check out lady."
The man in the suit was listening in. "Hey, guys. I couldn't help overhearing. I'm sorry about butting in on your conversation, but you want to hear something strange?"
The stranger extended his hand to Ernie, "My name is Dale Young by the way. You guys are talking about that guy that rode around this town on the red three wheeled bike? I first saw him other day. I thought he was just homeless dude looking for recycles. You see, I've been doing some long term subbing in the fifth grade at Cherrywood Elementary. I got a girl named Felicity Ramos in the class. That's Carol Ramos's daughter. I saw Mrs. Ramos talking to a woman in front of the school, and she wasn't really paying attention to Felicity, and the girl ran out in the street and almost got hit by a car. That Laz guy you talking about was across the street digging in a trash can, and he ran out there and grabbed that girl right before the car hit her."
"Damn, that is crazy!"
"Pretty fucking weird!"
"That ain't what's crazy though. The mother ran out and started beating on that dude with her purse and calling him every name in the damned book. Everybody out in front of that school heard her call him a smelly, assed bum and a piece of shit."
"What happened then?"
"Well, the principal and the custodian ran out there and pulled her off of him and gave the old guy a chance to leave. He got on his bike and rolled out there and never looked back. It took them a full ten minutes to get the woman calmed down.
"Damn that's screwed up man. She doesn't even know that dude was her dad."
"Prolly not. That's just the way that shit is though."
"God. I hope fucking not. You guys ready for another?"
Roman Ramirez shut off the backhoe, jumped down and walked over to where George Martin was removing the form. After they placed it on the trailer, they both walked over and looked down into the grave.
"Easy money, George. Easy fucking money."
"One way to look at it."
"Only way, Dude. I hope Ignacio stays on vacation another week, so you and I could make some dough for Christmas."
"It don't creep you out digging holes out here in this potter's field?"
"Hell naw. No reason that it should. Way I figure, it's the same as over there in the real world, not a damn bit of difference if ya ask me."
"I don't know, Roman. I think you might be on wrong side of the fence on this one, world of difference, dude, a whole world and just think about it, according to your uncle, this dude was a war hero too."
"You put it that way, I guess it might. Imagine if he'd died in over in Korea."
"Hell, then they'd buried him over there by that big fucking tree."
"That big one over there where that tall, skinny lady with the two little kids is putting down flowers."
"Oh. Hell, that's this dude's daughter! That's Carol Ramos. the one I was telling you about. Unbelievable."
"Putting flowers on her mama's grave most likely. She probably don't even know we're burying her dad today.
"That's seriously fucked up, Bro."
"No shit, Man. Hey, we got time to smoke a joint?"
"They said ten o'clock. It's nine. We got time. You weirded out by this or what?"
"Naw, man. You know me. I just wanna put this shit in the proper perspective."
Wow, man. That shit's strong, where did you get it.
Kaghh! Kaghh! Cwfh! (exhales) "F-u-c-k. Give me a drink of your sodie pop. (takes drink) I got this shit from Rufus, man. He didn't say nuthin about it peeling the mucus membrane offa your throat."
"Now we got a buzz, we just gonna sit and wait here. We can't leave to do that other thing because we got a close shit up when they done."
"You wait here. I'm gonna go talk to Carol Ramos. Tell her about her daddy."
"W-WHAT! Are you fucking crazy. That shit aint none of our business. Why you want to go sticking your nose in somebody else's shit for? That's how you always getting yourself in trouble, Rome, and you fucking know it."
"Fuck you, I know it. The thing is we know the truth. You might be willing to just sit back, not do nuthin, and let shit happen, but not me. It was me and you that bagged the dude, and me telling my cousin about it that set this shit in motion. Way I figure, the universe just reached out and laid the burden on us to tell her. Why else would she be here this morning?"
"Give me back my soda! She just got the urge to put some flowers on her mama's grave."
"Yeah. On the day they are burying her dad within earshot. Hell, I could just yell the info to her from here."
"My old grandpa always told me not to go looking for trouble and if it came my way to just get the fuck out of the area."
"Your old grandpa always pissed on hisself whenever he got drunk, and you know it. Seems to me, I rather take my cues from the universe when its damned near jumping up and down pointing out what we oughta be doing than your crazy ass grandpa."
"Pointing out what you oughta be doing! I'm just sit right here and watch you make a fool outta yourself."
George was eating pickle out of his lunch pail when Roman returned. He finished it off, wiped his hands on the ground, and belched.
"What'd she say?"
"Pretty much to mine my own fucking business. I could tell though that she didn't know the whole story. She told me that her dad was dead already, and that he died in prison a long time ago."
"Well are you satisfied with yourself?"
Roman looked at his friend without saying anything. It was a full minute later before he finally answered. "Yeah, yeah, yes I am."
The funeral of Lazarus Russell took place at exactly ten o'clock. In the meantime, a miracle of sorts happened. Melvin Lewis's ancient dinosaur of a station wagon pulled up and parked on the road that represented the border between the world of the moneyed and the poor. Him, Ernie the barber, Dale Young, and Misty Dawes, the waitress at the Four Queens got out and walked over to where Roman and George were arguing. They were shortly followed by Cruz Mendez, his uncle Roy, Doc Jones, and old Felix Miranda. A small, earnest looking woman named Martha and her two kids Juan and Maria walked all the way out to the gravesite from the other side of town. Then to top it off, a rifle crew from the army base came right before Rev. Moore showed up with his Bible and his wife Gypsy.
It was, to Roman's mind at least, the best funeral ever preached on the Old Testament side of the cemetery, and probably the best one ever preached on the green side too. The only thing that marred it was the thought that if they'd had a few more days, they could raised the money to have buried Lazarus on the other side of the fence, closer to the big trees, and at a place where his only daughter would not have had to have made the choice of watching the ceremony from the other side of the fence.