Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Martha Betty Crocker Stewart

My all-time favorite way to entertain is to have one special someone or a special couple over for a semi-formal, sit-down, candelabra-lit dining-room dinner for which I have cooked and prepared everything from cocktails and hors d'oeurves all the way through every course (including carefully selected wine served in cut crystal goblets) up to and including dessert and after-dinner drinks, preferably following a particular theme. (It's especially nice if that special someone stays over and then I cook them breakfast in the morning; such a breakfast can be just about anything, but in my view, has to at least include waffles).

But I haven't been able to do that for oh-so-long, especially being in this apartment in which there isn't room for even me to eat. I have to eat at my desk, which I think is disgusting.

But nobody I know seems to entertain that way any more, anyway. Instead, it's all pot-luck parties. I used to despise pot-luck, which you will understand is the opposite polarity from the kind of entertaining I just described that I like doing, everything being organized and integrated, instead it is a hodge-podge of whatever it is that people decide to make (if anything), which almost always has to be something that can be made ahead and then travels well which isn't really the best of dining. I think my mother used to dislike potlucks, as well, because she saw them as a cop-out for the hostess (since my mother was the most awesome dinner-party-giver ever), but she didn't dislike them as much as she disliked cocktail parties, which she saw as something people gave as en masse paybacks for all the wonderful real dinner parties they had been invited to. I don't think my parents ever in their life gave a cocktail party; instead, they had friends over, two or three couples at a time (not the hundreds who come to drop in at cocktail parties), for some real food and awesome conversation and deep, mature companionship. As a child, I loved experiencing from afar this very adult entertainment; the delicious aromas of the food, the tinkling of the bar ware, the joyful laughter of the ladies, and the earnest discussions of the men. They made me eager to grow up into the mysterious and serious world of the adult.

But potlucks are the only kind of parties anymore, so I do go to them and I always bring a main dish that I made (and something different each time I go, since I like to explore, although there was a group of vegans I partied with when I lived elsewhere who would always beg me to bring my textured vegetable protein tamales, so for them I always made those...and tamales you can make ahead and they travel well, in fact, they are a perfect picnic food. I'll never forget the tamales I bought on the Copper Canyon Railroad that runs from Los Mochis to Chihuahua in Mexico. Women would board the train carrying buckets filled with tamales covered with a hot dish cloth and walk up and down the aisles of the train selling them until the next station, when they would get off and another bunch would get on in their place and in this way hop-scotching station by station all the way up the line. Unbelievably delicious and quite safe to eat.). I don't really understand these people who happily get away with bringing "nothing", and by that I mean a bag of chips and maybe some dip, or a six-pack of beer, or napkins and paper cups. Gee whiz, how hard is it to cook something? Even the most pathetic of bachelors ought to learn how to cook at least his special spaghetti or an omelette or maybe a chocolate pie.

Speaking of chocolate pie, when I was so sick with the stomach flu or maybe it was something else a couple of weeks ago, I reverted back to feeling like I was a five-year-old (I wanted my Mommy!) and I began to crave certain foods that I remembered enjoying way back then that I don't think I have had since I was five. For example, I was craving Jello and also Jello Instant Pudding. As I started to eat again after three days of expelling toxins from both ends, the first thing I made was (lime) Jello, because I just happened to have some in the house that somebody gave me a couple of years ago. And then when I was strong enough to go to the store, I bought some chocolate and some vanilla Jello Instant Pudding. I also bought other things I was craving, such as peanut butter and grape jelly for PBJ sandwiches, and tiny bags of plain potato chips (not Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos, or any other "os" that I normally might select now). I got Root Beer and Seven-Up (which is hard to's always Sprite everywhere) and apple sauce. Then, being a little more adult but still self-indulgent, I also bought Carrs Table Wafer crackers and Alouette artichoke and asparagus cheese spread.

I was invited to a party a few days later (pot luck) and WAS going to make some kind of a main dish, but happened to treat myself to some Alouette and crackers and inside the Alouette wrapper was a recipe for cheese-stuffed mushroom caps that looked delicious. So on a whim I made those, instead, and nothing could be easier. You wash the mushrooms, gently pull the stem stubs out of the caps, fill the caps with 1T of Alouette spreadable cheese each, put them on a cookie sheet cap-side down, sprinkle on each 1t of seasoned bread crumbs and cook in the oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. The whole thing was so easy that I made them at work and cooked them in the oven in the employee kitchen right before the party, which was right after work. And people loved them. One woman who is a phenomenal cook asked me for the recipe and she made them herself for a party she went to two days later.

Tonight I made myself chocolate-flavor Jello Instant Pudding...I kid you not, this takes FIVE MINUTES and I can't imagine who would complain about the flavor. Call it "Silken Chocolate Mousse" if you want. They had a recipe for what would have to be a killer pot luck dessert: Chocolate Jello Instant Pudding stirred with Cool Whip and poured into a pre-made Oreo pie crust. WHO CAN'T DO THIS? Now, if you want to be really fancy, you can grind up some peppermint candy and mix it into the chocolate pudding--great for Christmas.

While I love making dishes that take quite a lot of time (and maybe skill), I absolutely do not complain about using plain old American foods that I loved when I was five years old that can be put together to make something that will bring tears to the eyes of any adult. We all need comfort, don't we? And the other guests will be thrilled and impressed, whereas you bringing the six-pack or the bag of chips, not so much.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Expectations: Reliving Some, Fulfilling Others

Bobo's The Steak, Lombard Street, San Francisco

It ended up that yesterday, Thursday, was just about all about eating. Now, given the fact that yesterday was Thanksgiving, anyone reading this might nod his or her head knowingly, thinking, "Well of course, it was Thanksgiving." But no, yesterday wasn't my Thanksgiving; that will be tomorrow, Saturday, which ends up fitting everybody's schedule better. Is it incorrect to celebrate Thanksgiving on a day other than Thanksgiving Thursday? I am sure that when we do celebrate it, I will be thinking that it is about getting together with family and friends and being thankful for our many blessings...and THEN eating.

I started the day yesterday with breakfast at Cafe Lombard, after making sure that they were open (which they weren't the night before). This is the delicious little Italian restaurant that is owned by a Chinese woman who does all the great cooking; she serves regular American breakfasts and lunches. When she saw me, she said, "Welcome home!" after recognizing me from when I was here at this time last year. I loved that "home" (as opposed to, say, "nice to see you back again"). I asked her what she was going to be doing for Thanksgiving, open for Thanksgiving, or cooking at home for family and friends, but she said she was invited to a friend's house so she was able to escape the kitchen. I said, "Ah ha, this time it is for somebody to be treating YOU."

For some reason, this year I am being thankful of all the time off that I get to have in my job and am more keenly aware than ever of all those who are working to make the holidays work for those who are off. I've been leaving larger tips on such occasions, and also making mention of my noticing that they ARE working whenever that seems appropriate. I think it must be hard to be working when everybody else is playing, but a little extra recognition might make it better.

I got to sit in "my" seat in the restaurant's window (which will now be the fourth time I have sat in that one and only spot there). Kind of behind me were the only other diners in the restaurant, a man and a woman, whom I never really got a good look at because to do so would involve a very obvious and pointed turn-around-and-look. Whenever I am dining out alone (which is about 99% of the time), I am keenly aware of how easily I can hear every single thing that is said by others nearby, which I assume is a general principle with all lone diners unless they are utterly insensitive to whatever surrounds them. But I make a big point of acting like I am paying absolutely no attention whatsoever (and sometimes whatever they are talking about is of no possible interest to me), but my ears are not turned off so people's conversation are similar to a radio that is on in the car. I just want people to understand that if you are talking in a restaurant and there is a lone diner nearby, every thing you are saying is being heard by that diner. Does this now make you paranoid? Well, it shouldn't...but I thought you would like to know.

What makes it hard is if one of the speakers is outrageously funny, or perhaps extremely fascinating; I want so much to laugh, or to join in, but either response would spoil the carefully created illusion that people have some measure of privacy when out in public.

Based on their conversational style, I happened to like both of these diners sitting behind me at Cafe Lombard, even though the man had a very whiny voice. I wondered deeply about that whine; it wasn't that he was complaining about anything or was even demonstrating very much of a negative nature, but it seemed that this voice might be a carry-over from a childhood raised in a household where the culture was one of extreme disappointment and while he had absorbed that affect, he counteracted it by having an attitude of "the silver lining." Another description of this might a Pollyanna-ish "glad game," which is a perception of always turning around the bad things that happen to see what good is really inside there. I find that unfortunately people are more commonly the opposite of that, keenly aware of or carefully seeking out the negative that is lying in wait inside of the good things that happen. So, in some peculiar way, I realized that despite what might ultimately become screamingly tiresome to others, this voice could be described as the "sincere voice of Thanksgiving," saying in its tone, "I may have been hurt all my life, but there is always something good to be thankful for." So his was the perfect soundtrack for Thanksgiving morning.

The woman, on the other hand, was quite free-spirited, taking whatever in life came her way, and often made a clever joke of her companion's "glad game". For example, the man was quite complementary about various things about the restaurant...he loved the light classical music that was playing in the background, he loved the crispness of the home fried potatoes, his eggs, though a little runny for his taste, were nevertheless quite delicious in a way that he wouldn't have expected. He said to her, "So I had thought you might like to eat here instead of the coffee shop in our hotel, even though it was an eight block walk, I hope that was okay." She said, "It was fortunate that I had put on my walking shoes."

When the owner came to bring the man some more coffee, he said, "Oh yes, PLEASE, this coffee is just SO good!" Then he leaned over to his companion and said, "But you are drinking tea." And she said, "They have the best hot water here." I nearly burst out laughing when she made that comment, but he took her humor in stride and said, "You know, you are in so much trouble!" which, when spoken in his Eeyore-like voice, also nearly made me burst out laughing.

After breakfast, my mission was to cross over the bay via the Golden Gate Bridge and drive around in Tiburon and Belvedere, two of the more famously appealing across-the-bay waterside communities that I used to love when I lived in the area. Both of them, along with the better-known Sausalito, and well, anything water-side in the bay area, is utterly out my reach, I who couldn't even afford a falling-down tract house in a gang-infested area of L.A. But for some reason that I cannot quite yet explain, it was important for me to reconnect with this kind of thing, as if they represented some life-line that I could grab onto to pull me up out of the mire that I felt stuck in.

After marveling at those fairy-tale communities (and SOME people actually commute via ferry-boat from those lovely Marin County docks to San Francisco's downtown financial center skyscrapers,
so I could just as easily refer to them as "ferry-tale" communities), I crossed back over the bridge and headed south into San Mateo County to go look at the restored Carolands Chateau in Hillsborough:

Carolands, the 65,000 square foot home of Harriet Pullman Caroland, heiress of the Pullman railroad car fortune, once sat at the top of a major peninsular estate in what is now the Town of Hillsborough, which I loved to go look at from time to when when I lived in the area, but as people died and various heirs took over and money became tight, the place fell into disrepair. It used to be you could actually drive right up to the house and, if you were brave, walk around on the property, but now I see that it is fully landscaped again, gated and closed, and all but-invisible from the road.

Hillsborough, and another similar town in the Peninsula, Atherton (where my parents lived from when I was in sixth grade all the way through to when I was in my mid-thirties), are as equally out of reach for me and 99.9% of all the other Californians as are the fabled bayside cities, but I have fond memories of these communities having lived there during my "prime" years, so they are in my blood. This makes me kind of the opposite of the whiny-voiced man having breakfast at Cafe Lombard. I did not grow up in an atmosphere of disappointment, but in one filled with nearly impossible expectation.

I hadn't slept well the night before and felt exhausted with doing even more driving the day after having made the long drive up here, so I decided to drive back to San Francisco to take a nap and then relax until time for my dinner reservation at Bobo's, which really ends up being the day's main event.

I found Bobo's (Boboquivari's) to be everything it was touted to be. The restaurant, itself, was a melange of different rooms on different levels all in a fun, dark, romantic atmosphere. I was seated at a table in a room that was partitioned into intimate areas by heavy velvet curtains. There was an array of various-sized heavily-framed artwork on the walls, all in a hodgepodge of DISarray, as if the joyful energy of the various diners over the years had knocked them hopelessly off-kilter. I thought that was decorating genius. The colors and patterns of the Harlequin, the Italian comedic/operatic clown (such the rows of diamonds, or black and white stripes), was also a decorative theme of the restaurant, and a little research on the subject revealed that harlequins, while gluttonous, were also acrobatic, given to flips and cartwheels. Well, I will surely agree with the GLUTTONOUS part, but if after eating there I even attempted a cartwheel, that would have been the last act of my sixty-one years of life.

The waitress wished me a happy Thanksgiving and I said, "So, what about YOU?" and she told me that the restaurant had provided a Thanksgiving party for all of them earlier that day, which I thought was a wonderful touch. "But how are you going to be working stuffed and sleepy?" I asked her, and she laughed, saying that she had had time for a nap and now was subsisting on gallons of espresso. But we both agreed that sometimes your co-workers are more of a family than your own family, so a Thanksgiving with them can make sense.

My exposition here wouldn't be complete without a summary of the other diners who were in this room whose conversations, of course, I was privy to. Next to me were two men, a young college-age man with a phenomenally deep and sexy voice, and an older man. Naturally I wondered about why those two would happen to be together on Thanksgiving night, but I ended up figuring out that they were father and son, and surmised that the father had divorced his son's mother long ago and really doesn't know his son all that well. One was visiting the other, but I couldn't quite figure out which one lived there and which one didn't, but if I had to guess, I would have said that it was the father who was from out of town. The son seemed more secure whereas the father was unsure of himself. They discussed the ISSUE of religion, God, and what happens after you die (but not any of the specifics), which I guess came up because the father is an atheist whereas the boy was raised by his mother to be a church-goer. However, once the boy reached college-age, he determined that Christian behavior was hypocritical and therefore he lost faith in the faith. It was kind of a peculiar conversation, actually, in that the father never had had a thing to provide on this subject and now that his son was questioning, the father couldn't add anything to it, since to him there is nothing there to even ask about. For his part, the son wondered how a person actually went about answering these questions, realizing that most people never really do seek, but simply accept whatever they were taught.

At the other table in the room were three drunk middle-aged men and one fat middle-aged woman. They were simply having a good time eating and spent their whole meal discussing the relative merits of various steakhouses and how steaks are best cooked. It was their conclusion that Bobos' was consistently the best steakhouse they knew, and that Ruth Chris's was often a disappointment and ALWAYS snobby (and horribly expensive). After their dinner, they were going to further add to their fun by bar-hopping for the rest of the evening.

As for me, I really treated myself to the full nine yards--mixed drink, the bread that they automatically brought, salad, steak, side, dessert, and coffee. In retrospect, I would have been perfectly happy with just a steak and maybe a simple dinner salad.

Regarding drinks, the menu offered a variety of clever creations, most of which seemed to involve margarita-like salt around the rim (which, if I get a margarita, I always ask the bartender to skip) except here there were various combinations of salt and pepper, or various other spices, or even ground chocolate. I ordered a blueberry margarita that various restaurant reviewers recommended except that the only blueberry I managed to taste wee the actual blueberries that they had placed IN the drink. This margarita had nothing around the rim. Well, it was unusual and refreshing, but I didn't need to have it.

The bread they brought was practically a whole LOAF of olive bread that was heavily infused with olive oil so that one did not need to, say, put on butter (besides, there was going to be BUTTER to come elsewhere in the meal....). The bread was the only thing I was unable to finish, so I "brought the rest of it home" to the hotel and actually, I have yet to finish it. It's very good and also very filling, but somehow I sense that it is very healthy. It has pieces of both green and black olives in it.

The salad was a wedge of baby romaine lettuce with sliced apples, seasoned walnuts, and raspberry dressing. I told the waitress that I could get addicted to those seasoned walnuts. She told me that they also serve them as snacks at the bar and she, herself, always finds herself reaching for them.

Then came the steak, a bone-in filet mignon cooked medium rare, sitting in the middle of a large square plate, and the "side," which was sauteed portofino mushrooms. Here was where the butter came in, since both the steak and the mushrooms had been cooked in butter.

I could very well say that this was the most delicious steak I had ever had. I, for sure, could say that it was the most TENDER steak I had ever had. In fact, upon alternating between a bite of steak and a bite of some portofino mushrooms, they both were as equally tender. Since for me steak is often a chew-chew-chew ordeal, I just can't imagine how they managed to cook it so deliciously and so tenderly. For sure it has to do with the cut of meat, but it is more than just that. Anyway, that was utterly wonderful and would bring anyone to his knees, I am sure.

For dessert I had blood orange sorbet in a waffle basket and this was actually a dessert that did not taste sweet; the blood orange is almost bitter like a grapefruit. I kind of enjoyed having a dessert that did not make me feel like I had to immediately brush my teeth after. And, in all honesty, I am getting so that I hate chocolate, so it was nice to have a dessert choice that didn't have anything to do with chocolate.

The coffee was, of course, also delicious, but what I liked about it was the sculpture of the coffee cup in which the porcelain rectangle that was brought around to make the round sides of the cup had one end of it that was also extended out to form a handle. And they didn't just bring you a cup of coffee, but it came in a stainless steel carafe for the table that held three or four cups.

So, after this meal (which, before the tip cost $108), I had no further ambition than going back across the street to the hotel and lying down for the rest of the evening, which is exactly what I did.

But finally I could fully understand the suggested diet of one of my doctors. His trick, as he so proudly reveals, is "soup for lunch, salad for dinner, and steak once a week". That "steak once a week" makes him wink at you, as if THIS is the key to dieting success. But that secret hadn't communicated to me until my dinner yesterday at Bobo's. NOW I understand the reward that is implied by the "you can suffer anything all week just so long as you get a steak" steak.

And a diet is for sure something I need to go on again.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Redux

Here I am sitting in the exact same room in the exact same hotel in San Francisco where I stayed last year, the Lombard Motor Inn on Lombard Street one block west of Van Ness--a perfect location and a great deal, price-wise (within walking distance of the San Francisco Bay, Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf, plus public transportation (busses, cable cars, and street cars) to any destination imaginable. I'm here for three days, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and then Saturday will drive to the house of one of my sisters for Thanksgiving dinner with her family. (We expect this to be at her house in Clear Lake like last year if some construction she is having done is complete on time. Otherwise, it will be in her apartment. Either one will be great.) Sunday, I am driving back home.

The drive up here had a different "feel" than normal due to the fact that three weeks ago I had had my car's engine rebuilt by my expert mechanic (and wow, does it ever run beautifully!). I asked him if he recommended a certain "break-in" (I've had rebuilt engines before) and he said, "It's probably not essential, but it might be a good idea if you don't drive over 60 for the first month." I figured if I wasn't going to drive over 60 on this trip, it would be better to take 101 instead of I-5. On I-5 you can go 70 from the bottom of the Grapevine to where I get off at the Tracy turn-off for the Bay Area (all of the trip that is in the Central Valley). It would just be too miserable to be traveling that slowly while all but trucks were speeding by at 70, which would also mean that I would be stuck with all the trucks the whole time. US 101 is a longer but prettier route, but keeping it below 60 wouldn't be so intolerable. And I was right. I basically set my cruise control for 58 and then sat back and "watched a movie of beautiful hills, forests, and vineyards" as I smoothy headed north. There were LOTS of cops everywhere, standing by the side of the road pointing radar guns as if they were hunting rabid dogs or else actually giving tickets, their cars all flashing red and blue, but I just sailed on by them, not the least bit concerned. No tickets for me, going under 60 everywhere!

Oddly enough, the slower speed seemed better matched to the rhythms of the music I was playing on my iPod. Never before had that music sounded like such a beautiful soundtrack. Though I don't know from experience, I felt that a drug trip could hardly be better. (I ought to confess right here, though, that I have reached a peculiar stage in my life where I feel that I ought to take an acid trip. That was something I missed out on even though I was a college student in the 60s, but perhaps that was just as well as people really didn't know what they were doing, then. I've read enough stuff about it recently, though, to make me think that I would benefit from it. I would have no idea how to seek it out, though, so probably never will actually do it.)

While California is frustratingly expensive, when I go on a trip like this, I am certainly reminded of why people like it so much. There's just nowhere else quite like it.

It took me 10 and a half hours to go from my apartment to the lobby of this hotel. Of course, I had stopped for gas twice, had breakfast and lunch on the way, and had three bathroom breaks. I never did take a nap at a rest stop, though, something from time to time I felt that I desperately needed, but there was only one rest stop on the way, a tiny one twenty miles north of Santa Barbara, but it was so crowded with people waiting in line just to park so that they could go to the bathroom that I thought I ought to not hog a parking space by taking a nap. But doing other things (such as simply going to the bathroom, or getting a McDonald's "McCafe") gave me second and third winds, so it was all okay.

When you make reservations for this hotel on-line, they have a section where you can select certain options. The options I chose were (a) to be on the Lombard Street side (that has the balconies and the view, whereas the other side is quiet), (b), to be on the third floor, (c) to have a king-size bed instead of two double beds, and (d) a refrigerator. But when I got here, the desk clerk was all concerned because she said that the only king bed room left on the Lombard side on the third floor was the smallest room in the hotel. If being in a small room bothered me, I could choose the second floor where there is no view, or the third floor but have two double beds. In attempting to make this decision, I asked the desk clerk why the room happened to be so small, and she explained that it was right next to the elevator. I said, "I think that was the room I had last year; I had no idea that it was small." It ends up that that WAS the exact room I had last year and I thought the experience was great enough to return this year, so there certainly was nothing about it that bothered me. Now that I am in it, I see that the room is shaped in an "L" around the elevator shaft, but all that does is make the room feel cozy, like the bed is in an alcove. It's really very nice and instead of being something to complain about, I think it is a plus.

Once I got settled in, I went out onto the street to get some dinner. I figured I would go to Cafe Lombard just up the street, which, even though is owned by a Chinese woman who is also the cook, serves delicious Italian dinners and I was eager to eat there again this time. However, they were closed. That left as the only other restaurant anywhere that I could see Bobo's Steak House ("Bobo's" is its nickname; it is officially called "Boboquivari's The Steak and The Crab"), but going there is a big deal (dress up, spend lots of money) and I am already going to eat there tomorrow and have reservations for it. So I walked around the block and spied a little neighborhood market and deli just around the corner from the hotel. The young man working there made me a delicious meatball sandwich on an amazing roll (about half the size of a full-on loaf of French bread) and I added some potato salad and some orange juice. I took these items upstairs and ate it at my hotel room's table while I watched the valet parking attendant across the street at Bobo's. I've got to say it, this guy is really very, very good-looking. I'm enough of a good looks worshipper to think that a guy that good-looking shouldn't be parking cars. However, if I could tell him (which I could not), I would tell him that he does serve as a great "advertisement" for Bobo's. He stands there in front of the restaurant looking all beautiful and I imagine that a certain kind of person just has to stop, and, well, "Let's go eat there!" He's one of those perfectly lean muscular guys, sharp and strong and thin as a nail (not bulky and all bull-like, a look that I despise), looks like if you pounded him on the head you could drive him right down into the sidewalk. Unlike the valet parkers in Los Angeles who all seem to work for the exact same company and wear the identical uniform of red valet's jackets that make them look somewhat like hotel bellhops (plus they're all Mexican, which the one here is not), he's dressed as only someone made like him can dress, with a skin-tight white pecs-and-abs-form-fitting dress shirt, sleeves rolled up to below the elbow, black dress pants that look as though his bottom half were dipped in a vat of black latex. And he's got on a black tie, somewhat narrow that is perfectly proportioned to his half-percent of body fat torso.

I'm thinking that isn't fair that a person be that good-looking (despite the fact that I am so thankful that some people are) and just as I was wondering how he happened to be as fit as he is, a car filled with diners arrived and at the exact same time, another party of diners had finished eating and now arrived with ticket in hand, wanting their car back. In order to accommodate the demands of two parties, he RAN up the hilly street to quickly retrieve the leaving diners' car and I got my answer; he couldn't get more aerobic exercise if he were at a gym taking a spin class.

But between cars coming and going, he's got nothing to do but stand there out in the evening chill looking beautiful. Why on earth don't they give him a chair to sit on, at least? I see that in an effort to relieve the boredom and his aching bones and muscles, he leaves his post from time to time to go lean against the wall of the Travelodge that happens to be next door, as if he were a hustler who comes already with a room to have sex in. All I can say is that I hope he receives generous tips, because I think he earns his money. If I had some way of providing him with a chair, I would do so.

I hope to write more as this trip progresses, but I failed to do so last year, so I'm not counting on much...but we'll see what happens!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Moderate THIS, Karen De Coster: Busy-bodies and Busy Bodies


One of my favorite lines in literature was from To Kill A Mockingbird, in which Harper Lee describes Mr. Ewell, the man who lived at the junkyard, who in the story, unjustly accuses a black man of raping his daughter (which line I approximate here): “The only thing which allows Mr. Ewell to hold his head high is that if you scrub his skin really hard, deep down underneath all that dirt, that skin is white.” I grew up understanding that if the ONLY thing you can feel proud of is that your skin is white (and, by extension, if you feel proud of that fact at all), then you don’t have anything to be proud of. The color of ones skin is a given fact, not a personal achievement.

Nowadays, I apply that same principle to people who vilify fat people. Fat people are the only people in our society left whom haters still feel they can publicly hate with impunity. These same haters probably typically still also hate various other races, religions, or cultures, but, being conformists and therefore cowards, they are too afraid to be public about it. But about the obese, they just won’t shut up, but instead, expect praise and amens for the vocalizations of their prejudice.

With obesity, they can have a field day, because their deep-down sense of inferiority requires that they accept and further the myth that fat people are fat because they are lazy gluttons (which the hater feels that he or she, at least, is not), and therefore are actually deserving of such vilification; their condition is something that they brought upon themselves.

But, just like we all know that homophobes are closet homosexuals (sexually secure men and women aren’t the least bit concerned about what other adults consent to do in bed, they’re too busy enjoying their OWN relationships and are glad that others can have them, too, regardless of whatever it is that floats their boat; true love is a force that multiplies, doesn’t divide), so too, those who so vocally hate and fear the obese are harboring some intractable sense of resonance with the condition. In other words, deep down inside, what you really fear is what you fear you really are.

Now, I don’t mean that those who want to ostracize, outlaw, tax, punish, hide, exclude, ban, imprison, or exterminate the obese (or simply get off on writing negative articles about them) fear that they, themselves, are “really” fat (although in some way they may be way too obsessed over their own appearance and secretly fear that some “but the Emperor is wearing no clothes”-saying kind of a person will spill the beans on them by pointing out how really very ugly they are). Usually, they have no specific relationship to fat at all, but are, instead, those who can and do eat anything imaginable without the slightest fear that they will gain an ounce. They are people who have no weight problem, but somehow imagine that this is because they have worked at it and have therefore achieved this condition (whereas everybody else is some kind of out of control glutton), yet in actuality it is no more praiseworthy than the color of their skin.

What it is that they really fear, is the concept that some shameful, hidden desire or hunger within themselves is one that will someday rise, grow and out-picture itself on their body for all the world to see. What they fear is that some evil vice, thought, or obsession will become public knowledge, and in their mind, the only reason this hasn’t come out yet is that they have held onto it with a vice-grip of self-control. They fear that if they would ever let go for a second, they would then send out into the world an unstoppable torrent of vileness, much in the same way that they view adipose tissue overwhelming the carrying capacity of the human body. This is, perhaps, akin to the grieving male who is terrified of crying, because if he ever dared to let go and express or release his grief, his tears would be enough to drown the world. The female version of that is a fear to give in to anger; for to do so might be the explosive release of a whole pandora’s box of destructive ills onto the world. To people like this, the obese are an abomination, because in their mythological view, they are examples of people who have let go, and in the lives of the obese haters, such letting go would mean the annihilation of their illusory lives. So, to them, the obese somehow MUST BE STOPPED.

But this is not what obesity in the real world (the world beyond the fantasies of the lean) is about at all. Obesity is but one of countless examples of a single affect caused by a myriad of reasons, many of which are still unknown. To blame all obesity on a single combination of two causes, eating too much and exercising too little, is not only incorrect and unobservant, it is actually insanely wrong, and every overweight person KNOWS this, whereas it seems that NO non-overweight person imagines anything else. And how unseemly of a situation is this: countless non-overweight people who know NOTHING about this condition, arrogantly lording it over and advising overweight people with principles that the overweight people absolutely know are false (or at least misleading, or only a tiny part of the story). Why should people open their mouths at all on a subject they know nothing about, or when whatever it is that they know is wrong? This would be like me lecturing physics to Richard Feynman, arguing philosophy with Lao Tsu, or telling Michael Jordon how to play basketball.

Well, what else could be the causes of or contributing factors to obesity? Unhealthy food, toxic food, food laden with chemicals the body has no idea how to process (substances that didn’t exist millions of years ago), emotional stresses bathing the cells with cortisol or other hormones causing imbalances that cascade into various maladies such as insensitivities or burn-out of insulin, leptin, adrenaline, or other hormones that now no longer can carry regulatory messages that the body can act upon, reproductive cycles that stimulate the storage of fat, bad or diminished sleeping habits that confuse the natural processes of the body, feelings of insecurity or lack of safety (actual or imagined) for which the body knows only one solution that was appropriate in ancient times, to put on pounds for warmth or cushioning or greater size, or for protection; eating too few calories (dieting) that leads to a signal of famine and therefore a food storage response, too much exercise that is over-stressful to the body and therefore worsens the internal chemical imbalances, false dietary information promulgated by the government or food corporations, or by people who have always been lean and therefore know nothing whatsoever about the process of weight loss, unproven genetically modified foods, anti-biotic, growth-hormoned, estrogenated feed lot protein sources, rancid oils, mercury in fish, vitamin shortages, damaged immune responses, damaged liver, gall bladder, badly functioning intestines, toxins in the colon, pharmaceutical side effects effecting massive weight gain…is this enough to give you the idea? And combine these causes with all the mis- and dis-information on how to lose the excess weight once it is gained. I have at this point seen every single kind of food blamed for the problem in some diet plan or another, going beyond the usual culprits of sugar, white flour, and certain fats, to even include ordinarily-considered benign or essential substances such as certain vegetables, fruits, and even water (yes, I even found a diet plan that was against drinking water). And for all I know, there may actually be some truth to these various complaints. So what is an overweight person to do? It’s probably easier for them just to give up trying to fix this condition and try to live with their body condition, particularly considering the fact that the impulse to eat is fundamental (you could almost just as easily make yourself breathe less), especially when a person is starving, and if an overweight person is unwittingly consuming non-nutritious food (or food substances that the body doesn’t need at that particular time), then no matter how much they eat, they are still starving and therefore the impulse to eat cannot be stopped.

I have become disturbed by seeing this ignorant viciousness toward the suffering obese happening more and more now that people are being emboldened by the possibilities of socialized medicine. Now no longer is it “they might make me sick if I see them on the beach” (this is a subset of the very weak characteristic of “Oh, I am so offended”), or “they’re going to be sitting next to me on the airplane”; now it’s “they’re going to unfairly raise our social costs of medicine”, or maybe even (from the greens who crave population diminishment, which can only be described as a yearning for genocide) “they’re going to eat up all the food in an economy of shortages…and I’m going to need that food to power my car!”

Well, to be disgusted by the sight of fat people on the beach, one may as well claim revulsion at babies born with cleft palates, or to be repulsed by paraplegia, or horrified by acne. Life, unfortunately, is loaded with misfortune and bodies are scathed. What, it’s all a matter of aesthetics then? You find fat bodies “distasteful”? Sorry, but few Americans can justifiably lay claim to that; we’re not Parisians, after all, or even Masai warriors, for that matter.

You fear an unpleasant seat neighbor on an airplane? That could be somebody undeodorized, or a boor who won’t stop talking, or a couple of unruly, undisciplined kids, or scores of other circumstances. Life, venturing outside your own living room, is filled with any kind of unpleasantness. If you’re that worried about who’s going to be sitting next to you on a plane, maybe you ought to fly first class…or secure a private compartment on Amtrak. Sure, YOU have to pay more, but YOU are the one with the problem with life not being nice enough for you.

Regarding the cost of medical care, maybe you ought to not lend your support to socialized medicine; there are far more reasons to not want that than the presence of fat people in society. Maybe you are also suggesting the elimination of a much worse drain on medicine, the elderly? Which would include YOU when you get older, of course.

While all this has been around for quite some time, it now seems to be amped up more than ever, with very shrill people screaming very loudly and very frequently. Suddenly, other people’s obesity is being considered a national problem (instead of an individual problem, which is what it is). All this came to a head for me where I finally had to write about it, because there is a blogger that I used to enjoy and admire, Karen De Coster, who writes for various libertarian causes. I liked her, because she seemed to understand economics and the principles of personal freedom. For quite some time, it was refreshing to hear her sensible and personally empowering point of view; I would have said that Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson (what we think we know of them, anyway), to name only two out of many, would have loved her and welcomed her voice in our present times when so many people have given up self-control in favor of the nanny state. I thought we needed writers like Karen De Coster to counteract the soporifics emanating from mainstream globalist media.

But to be successful and genuine in this arena is to walk a razor’s edge, and bloggers have to be careful, because they offer much greater opportunity for dissection than do columnists writing by the column inch, or broadcasters speaking in sound bites. Sooner or later, the more a blogger writes, the more his or her warts will come clear to the public eye, and this is all the more obvious in the case of those bloggers who attempt to put forth the illusion that they are perfect, all-knowing beings pontificating for the benefit of an imperfect, ignorant public, which is Karen De Coster to a “T”. As a blogger, I’m safe from that, myself, because I have always been up front about my confusions, questions, and attempts at moving forward from my place of error and brokenness. If my thoughts seem strange (or just plain “wrong”) to people, as they almost always do, it is because the ordinarily accepted realities (group-think illusions) do not need to be spread by me—I am speaking from an entirely different, alien, and possibly brand-new (or seldom spoken) position, but one which I think takes us closer to the truth. (And when my direction ends up being wrong, I am quite clear about being willing to alter my view and my direction.)

Libertarians have successfully been branded selfish and uncompassionate by liberals, as also have conservatives and Republicans (President Bush thought that he could stand out and garner liberal votes by claiming to be a “compassionate conservative,” thereby underscoring that conservatives were normally NOT compassionate). This is because the libertarian end of the spectrum supports the inalienable right of private property and absolute personal freedom of behavior up to the threshold that nothing is done that steals from or interferes with or hurts the rights of others. A tax that raises money for a welfare program, for example, is for government power to steal private property from one group of people for the benefit of another group of people. Libertarians view this as wrong, but liberals ask, “What, you don’t want to help your fellow citizen? Are you not your brother’s keeper?” Libertarians are not against helping their fellow citizens when they are the ones voluntarily deciding to do it; it’s the being forced to by another group that is the problem. But for liberals, “helping their fellow man” is an easy sell, especially to those who will be the recipients of this aid (under the determination and control of the liberal elites). This is the “progressive” way, which has been accepted by the majority voter as the “caring” and “evolved” way to run a society, despite the fact that it is ultimately destructive both to the producers from whom all this largess is taken, and to the recipients (some would say “parasites”) who, while gaining some level of subsistence, nevertheless lose their initiative and self-reliance, often for generations.

Unfortunately, the blogger Karen De Coster has demonstrated that she actually IS as uncompassionate as any liberal would accuse her of being, and in actuality she doesn’t agree with libertarian principles at all. In fact, in typical LIBERAL fashion, she only wants freedom for herself and for others who completely agree with her, but she would deny that freedom to others whom she thinks are somehow distasteful, but who may be anything but, and she would deny that freedom to those who support those others whose freedom she denies. (This is pointed out by the fact that she moderates the comments that are left on her site, and I know from personal experience that she will delete comments that conflict with her position. I consider that cowardly, especially for one who thinks she is such a "female stud", and for one who espouses freedom, hypocritical. How can you say you espouse freedom when you manipulate a one-sided discussion, and particularly when the point of view you eliminate is the one that actually presents the truth? This indicates that you have an agenda and therefore your blog does nothing but add to the disinformation stream, which makes it not worth reading...not worth it for me, anyway.)

She recently wrote a negative blog decrying fat people riding motorized wheelchair scooters at Walmart. To hear her description of it, Walmart is inundated by hordes of fat people traveling the aisles, people “too lazy to walk” and utterly without shame. This is something that for some reason bothers her very much…I guess because she sees it as yet another sign of our society’s diminishment into a state of chosen helplessness in which these “lazy obese” will require, demand, and expect help from others, which presumably includes Karen De Coster’s personal treasury.

But there is much amiss here in this complaint.

First of all, just because an obese person CAN walk does not mean that they are lazy when they do not. Our whole society is one that, when offered the opportunity to do so, will most often choose a machine to assist us with our labor. After all, we generally drive our cars to the store, park as close as we can, and go up and down stairs via escalator or elevator. We will also use a washing machine for our clothes instead of taking them down to a river so that we can beat them on a rock. If we are to write a letter, we more often than not will chose to do that writing on a computer rather than getting out clay tablets for cuneiform. If we mow a lawn, we will use a power mower instead of a scythe, and if we clean a carpet, we will use a vacuum cleaner instead of ripping the carpet up and hanging it outside so that we can beat it with a carpet beater. If we are cold, we will adjust the thermostat on our forced-air heater instead of going outside with an ax to chop down a tree, and a maul to split the wood so that it will fit into our wood-burning stove.

Is this laziness, or is this convenience and time-saving? Presumably, in Karen De Coster’s world view, if it is an obese person doing these things, such as riding a scooter around Walmart, then it is laziness, for she believes that they “should” do much more walking because she feels that it is proper for them to exercise in order to lose weight, a goal that she demands.

Ms. De Coster attempts to sweeten her argument by stating that her amputee brother who really NEEDS a scooter often can’t get one, because all the lazy obese have commandeered them, instead. Well, who’s not being self-reliant, here? Presumably her amputee brother needs a scooter ALL the time (his amputations do not come and go), so why doesn’t he have one of his own for use everywhere he goes, but is, instead, relying on Walmart to provide him one? How does he get through other stores, or is Walmart the only place he shops?

Think for a minute, if you will, of a Walmart shopper who is a hundred pounds overweight. No, let’s make it ninety pounds overweight…ninety pounds is the weight of a bag of cement. Okay, now you, the healthy, in-control, beautiful and perfect skinny person, are going to go shopping at Walmart. But what you must do the whole time you are over there is carry around with you a bag of cement. You like exercise right? Well, let this be your exercise. This is a bag of cement that you NEVER can put down, by the way, so you have been carrying it for months and months and months before you even started this particular Walmart shopping excursion. This bag of cement, you will sleep with, you will make love with, you will sit with when you watch TV, you will carry it with you into the shower, and you will have it with you at all times while you are at work (do you have a job that requires you to be on your feet?). Hum, are you getting just a little bit tired? Don’t you just want to put that burden DOWN? Well too bad, bucko, you’re just TOO LAZY, then. Don’t even THINK of lightening your load for even a moment by riding that scooter, you may frighten the easily offended Karen De Costers of the world and what you need is to exercise to lose weight! (But I wonder, why hasn’t that exercise lost the weight by now? An exercise that you are doing ALL the time, and yet not one pound comes off? Is there something wrong with the formula?)

I have a friend, who happens to be a phenomenally talented writer—published in real books and journals, not on-line blogs (need I say that she puts De Coster’s journalist hacking to shame?), who, when I met her, was in the process of getting her PhD at U.C. Berkeley. Is getting a PhD at Berkeley something for the lazy? Well, she got her PhD, but the most difficult thing for her was walking across that huge campus every day. Why? Well, she was overweight, overweight enough for someone like Karen De Coster to sneer at her as she passed. Overweight enough for her to have several broken bones inside both feet, bones that her podiatrist told her would never heal so long as she continued to put a load on them. The agonizingly painful broken bones in her feet would never heal unless she dropped out of school and stopped walking to class for several months. But the idea of that was impossible, because my friend was not only committed to her PhD program, which she hoped when it was completed would lead her out of the financial trap she was in, but she also was raising three children by herself after she and her children escaped from her violent and physically abusive husband. So she just lived with the painful broken feet and walked across campus, eventually earning her PhD and getting a job as a professor at another college where she was then able to work on getting her feet healed. If U.C. Berkeley happened to have a fleet of scooters for students to use for getting around campus, I can assure you she would have used them, and with great gratitude in her heart for the university’s compassion.

One might ask how this person happened to “allow herself to let herself go so much that she ended up obese and with broken feet”. Well, the lack of money was the largest factor (if we fail to take into account the stresses suffered by a battered wife trying to save the life of herself and her three children). Cheap food is incredibly fattening food. Is it smart to eat that way when you are poor, or trying to save money, or living on student loans? Well, obesity is an insidious condition, it creeps upon one slowly, whereas poverty is large and glaring and immediate and obvious. So what do you think a person in that situation will most likely do? (And notice that most people this obese are poor; does this show that they are lazy and therefore their laziness makes them BOTH poor AND obese, or is it just that their poverty leads to less healthy food choices?)

I have another friend, a hugely successful sales rep whose territory covers Washington State and British Columbia. This friend is always earning “most sales” or “most new customers” or “increased sales goals most often met” awards at her company. She makes quite a lot of money and I would venture to say that this person is not lazy, either. Yes, she is overweight. Why? Because she eats out in restaurants a lot…almost every meal, actually. You tend to do that when you are on the road all the time. Do you think that when she is selling her wares at some island off the coast of British Columbia, that when it is lunch time, she will drive back home to her apartment in Seattle and fix herself a healthy lunch? No, she will go out to eat, then continue to meet with her various customers, then go out for dinner, then check into a motel for the night. There’s a lot of walking involved in this job, too, from some hard-to-find parking space on a city street to a small store several blocks away (or up a steep hill), or to several stores inside of a huge shopping mall. I wonder why all this walking didn’t help her to lose weight? Instead, it led to her needing to have her knees replaced due to wear and tear on her joints. Do you also understand that each time she had a knee replaced (these operations are done separately, one knee at a time), this meant that she had to STOP working for several months and this then meant that her income STOPPED, too? So it took her quite a while to finally go ahead and schedule these surgeries, which in quite a practical way meant that she was in danger of losing her job, or her well-won territory. Meanwhile, until she could complete both surgeries, she continued to walk and travel and sell with agonizing knee pain…yet if Karen De Coster or one of her non-feeling compatriots happened to see my friend obtaining a moments’ relief by riding a scooter, they would frown and look down on her and shake their heads in dismay at the gall of one so able demonstrating such laziness…for something that really was none of their damned business. Just be thankful YOU don’t need, or want, to ride an a scooter.

I could go on and on and on with these stories, which could be repeated countless times in a universe of other examples, but the principle should be clear without further examples, anyway. Unless you have walked a mile in an obese body, then you ought to shut the hell up. You don’t KNOW the daily misery of being in an obese body, and I’m not going to describe it to you. Maybe if you sit and think about it for a while, you’ll begin to figure out a part of it, but even then, you wouldn’t be able to imagine the whole of it if you had never actually experienced it.

You may THINK you know the business of a fat person, what they did wrong to get that way and what they should do right to get out of it, but if you do think that, then you are an idiot. Only a liberal, nanny-state-loving Nazi thinks they know how another person should live. A person who believes in freedom doesn’t sneer at those who are exercising that right (which in the case of the obese, is only exercising the right to exist and get around the best way they can during this present time; and then, maybe when the right combination of events and circumstances occur, they will choose to commit to a program of their own choosing and an effort that suits them that will succeed in getting their excess weight off; or maybe not). And while you may view their condition as unhealthy and life-threatening (the obese understand this far better than you do) and you therefore wish to justify your suggested controls on their lives as being for their own good (such AS, for example in other arenas, MANDATORY health insurance or retirement fund savings), you must understand how society could likewise turn against you and apply some “for your own good” controls for some other “unhealthy” habits, conditions, and activities that involve you.

In Ms. De Coster’s case, among her various interests, she is into machine guns and riding Harleys. I think that’s her perfect right and I would work to see to it that she is allowed to pursue these, and other, activities unmolested. But don’t you think that to some nosy busy-bodies, this might look like an accident waiting to happen? To people like those, machine guns and Harleys would be Ms. De Coster’s “obesity”.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Missing Michael Jackson

I work quite near where Michael Jackson's parents live and have driven past their house countless times over the years without actually knowing which house it was. But today a friend of mine at work showed me her iPhone photos of the crowd around that house, so I decided to drive by it on the way home from work to see what was going on. Actually, it wasn't possible to drive down the block the Jackson house is on, as the police have it barricaded. But you can park elsewhere and walk down there if you want, so that's what I did.

One whole side of the street (the side opposite the Jackson house) has news media satellite trucks from end of the long block to the other. I'd never seen anything like that before; there must have been maybe thirty trucks lined up, maybe more. The trucks, with their satellite upload dishes on the ready, all aimed skyward, were pretty cool to see, but it actually seemed like a pretty slow news day. It made me wonder just how much "hurry up and then sit and wait" is involved in the average news person's day.

There was a pretty big crowd of people out in front of the Jackson house. The gate to the parking area was open, but people respectfully stayed outside in front (but there were a few police in the area keeping things orderly). I felt like the people were expecting somebody to arrive at or leave from the house, but instead, things seemed quite quiet. I wondered what it must be like to have a constant presence of people like that, but of course, the Jacksons are quite used to it. When my mother died, and then when my father died, I wanted absolute privacy for our family to grieve, but the Jackson family surely knew that these people waiting around outside their house were fans who loved Michael, which maybe helps some.

There was an immense amount of flowers, stuffed animals (including a gigantic stuffed cartoon gorilla), balloons, banners, posters, notes, and pictures all along the wall in front of the property. The basic themes of the notes were, "Gone too soon," "You're at peace, now, sweet one," "You meant so much to me," and "Thank you for the wonderful music, which we will treasure forever." It reminded me of pictures I saw of what people had left for Princess Di after her tragic death. I had been disappointed at the news media for failing to mention all the charitable works that Michael had done, but the signs and the notes out in front of the Jackson house did not repeat that same failure--his fans remembered, for sure. There were reasons beyond Michael's music that his fans loved him so; part of that was how much he gave to others, and another part of that was how much pain he had been in, himself. People could relate to that.

My friend who had shown me the iPhone pictures said she wondered if Michael would have been as creative as he was if it hadn't been for the pain, and I thought of others who had begun as child stars, such as Judy Garland (found dead on her toilet at the age of 47 with an overdose of quinolbarbitone). If they had had happy childhoods, they maybe never would have had the deeply affecting careers they had, so that which benefits so many others perhaps costs too much for those who give us what they do.

I thought about how lonely Michael had been, upon his own admission. It was terribly sad to think that with all his popularity all around the world, that it seemed that he did not have one real friend who truly cared about HIM (instead of what they could get out of him). A friend who might have warned him to stop having children sleeping over at his house because of the accusations it opened Michael up to, or to cool it on all the damaging plastic surgery, or to not let concert promoters sign him up for a 50-city tour when he was tired and frail. But then again, maybe he did have people trying to help him and he didn't listen, I don't know. Or, again, he just wouldn't have been "Michael Jackson" without all these things.

It's funny, Michael Jackson was always one of my favorites, and I was one who always felt that he was innocent of any crimes, but I didn't confuse him with a person that I have a personal relationship with. And yet now with him suddenly gone, I feel the same kind of guilt and regret that one can feel when friends and loved ones die--"I never told them I loved them enough...I didn't visit them enough or write to them enough or call them enough...", whatever the regret it is. For example, I never went to any of his concerts (surely he must have had them in the United States, but I wasn't really on that wavelength). I guess what the feeling boils down to is, "I always took them for granted," and in Michael's case, I always took him for granted, too. I guess he was always going to be there, pumping the music out.

It seems that no matter what we do, that lesson keeps on coming, and coming from unexpected places. I guess what it really boils down to is that we take LIFE for granted. And, like so many things that happen that result in a loss, Michael Jackson's death is one more thing reminded us of how precious life really is, and how much we need to be thankful for it every single second.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

So Much Misbehaving

Is it Los Angeles, or the times we are now living in? It is hard for me to judge, since I have been here so much longer than most other places I have lived, but it seems that Los Angeles contains some of the rudest people in the world. But maybe it is the times we are living in, instead, because now seems to be a time where what is presented to people as examples of success are liars and criminals (that’s government), or rabidly aggressive, selfish, pushy people (that’s celebrities on television). It’s kind of like people are made to think that the model of a life successfully lived is the reality game show, Survivor, where there is only one winner for the million dollars, and the way to win is not to be the strongest, most resourceful, and most competent in the face of challenges, but the one who is most able to fool and then shaft everybody else.

This kind of thing is neither inspiring nor entertaining to me, and so I don’t watch it on television and I don’t participate in it in life.

But I sure do see it all over the place, mostly in little ways that shock me even more than all the gross sociopathy that surrounds us. Of course the forest is rotten, but it is truly disturbing is that the tree roots are, too.

One example I experience all the time is how people merge onto the north heading side of the 405 freeway from the Skirball Center exit. This would be my way of going home if I take the freeway, which I rarely do, because I do not have the constitution to deal with the behavior at that entrance. For some reason, this long entrance consists of two lanes of traffic, but merges into one lane about two car lengths from the highway. It is the left lane that is the main lane, and the right lane that is supposed to merge into the left. One can clearly see this from the design of the roadway, but one problem with this is that the roadway designers must have presumed that conscientious and forward-thinking drivers would look ahead and see that the better and correct lane to be in is the left lane. So, of course, I get into the left lane as soon as I can, which usually means at the very top of the road when I make a right turn into it.

However, what that does is leave a relatively empty right lane, a perfect and unavoidable opportunity for the stupidly short-sighted and the aggressively selfish. All they see is that if they go into the right lane, they will move past (ahead of) seven or ten cars waiting patiently in the correct left lane. And then what those in the right lane face is the bottleneck at the end where they are two car lengths from the freeway, yet are next to a solid wall of cars in the left lane, all of whom had gotten there before those in the right lane did. So the effect is that those in the right lane want to butt into line ahead of the wall of cars in the left lane, yet they have no right to do so, and how many in the left lane, do you think, are willing to let them in?

Okay, so maybe a driver from time to time will be genuinely “stuck” there in the right lane because they weren’t paying attention and will look pleadingly at the drivers in the left lane for a space to get in. That’s when I will give up the battle and let them in…but that then seems to invite the rest of the whole row of cars in the right lane to then aggressively push into the space that I have allowed for the one nice, pleading driver. But more often, however, the tack of those in the right lane is to just play a game of chicken with those in the left lane and push their way in any way they can, devil may dare. I have been in several of those contests, myself, in which what I am thinking is, “If you really want to buy me a new car, then keep on going because I am in the right of way and I am not letting you push your way in no matter what you do.” I have seen cars continue on anyway by driving up onto the hill of dirt on the right shoulder and then drive on down the freeway that way until they can manage to force their way into a lane later. These are the same drivers, I am sure, who will perform any dangerous stunt on the road just to get one car length ahead of you, and one car length ahead of you is where they will stay for the next hour, because their actions had secured no significant advantage at all…but they will constantly be on the lookout for the next such useless opportunity. Honestly, who wants to live that way? What kind of person spends every waking moment looking for the tiniest advantage of getting one car-length ahead? Is the proper focus for one’s journey through life to be that tight and small, looking just one inch ahead of their nose?

The truth is that more and more people are acting like they are the ONLY people in the whole world.

For example, a couple of days ago, I was at a bookstore looking for a magazine. I wasn’t looking for any specific magazine, was just aimlessly scanning what they had, hoping for something that might interest me. I guess at the back of my mind was maybe a travel magazine featuring some place I might want to go.

As I did this, I came upon a section where a little girl was sitting on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack, on a cushion of magazines, and surrounded by piles of discarded illustrated children’s books. Hey, one doesn’t sit on, in, and among the merchandise, and there were plenty of couches and chairs in that area. And if that wasn’t bad enough, her father was busy looking for books he hoped might interest her, taking them off the shelves and bringing them over to her where she was ensconced on the magazine rack, pleadingly giving them to her and then watching as she rejected them, discarding them one by one in a mess on the floor, and then he went back to the shelves for more. (What a mess they were making for the bookstore staff who was going to have clean up all that after these people left, empty-handed, of course. The girl was going to end up with ice cream, instead.)

Fortunately…but I don’t know if the good fortune was for me or for the girl and her father…she was sitting on, in, and among a section of magazines that didn’t interest me—magazines for video gamers. But if, instead, she were in the travel section and thus was blocking my view of about seven different potential magazines, there would have been a confrontation. In my mind, the confrontation might have gone along the lines of me speaking to the little girl, “Get the fuck off the magazines so that other people can look at them, you hideous freak,” which would, of course, have created quite a stir. I would have hoped to have scarred the girl for life, maybe impressed upon her indelibly the level of comportment required in a bookstore, and if I had succeeded in scaring her out of bookstores entirely, so much the better, for honestly, if you can’t behave, then I don’t want you anywhere around me, and from the looks of this, this girl had absolutely no hope in life of ever growing up into anything better than a despicable bitch.

I took one look at her father, a blond-haired guy in his 30s wearing a beige baseball cap (makes me want to vomit), and pegged him as a certain brand of “Los Angelino hope to make it big as a producer in the film industry” whom I despise. When he isn’t messing up bookstores with his sickening princess of a little girl, he’s busy attempting to pass people on the road in his Porsche—he’s got a “pitch session with the studio” that he’s late for and everybody else better get out of his way. I could see his whole story—divorced, his wife got custody, so he only has alternate weekends to “impress” his daughter and his method is to cater to her every whim and thus ruin her for life. If she’s pretty, some other poor schmo will marry her for sex, get so he can’t stand her, divorce her, lose custody of the child and so the whole thing goes generation after generation.

I’ll just skip by people talking out in pubic on cell phones. I hope they actually are getting brain damage as the alternative health practitioners continue to warn…in fact, I’m sure it’s already happened. I realize that I am now a generation or two behind, but I just cannot fathom the need to be connected to somebody by phone every waking minute, walking down the street, shopping in a store, waiting in a doctor’s office. And I sure don’t want to listen to them in a restaurant making business deals or arranging their child’s bar mitvah. Do your work in the office or have your conversation at home. Leave the rest of us at peace. Egos are shallow enough as it is, do you really have to pretend to be the big cheese or social butterfly to a public of absolute strangers, who hate the sound of you and would love to mutilate your face with a fistful of forks if they could? And this happens EVERYWHERE, ALL the time.

Then, yesterday, it was around 11:00 at night and I was hungry, so decided to walk over to the convenience store at the gas station a few buildings over. I hoped it was open; the previous owner would lock it up after 10 PM and you had to shout your request through a little hole and exchange money for snack food through a sliding drawer. But hooray, this new owner is more welcoming and even the front door was wide open; there was busy traffic of people getting gas (it was Friday night) and the store had quite a few customers.

I went in, picked out some things I wanted to buy and then got in line. Finally it was the turn of the guy directly in front of me, who held up a plastic bottle of Naked juice and said he wanted a refund. The clerk, who is some kind of Asian/Mexican mix, looked at him blankly. I know and like this clerk, have been buying from him for years, and know that he often lapses into a pretend “I don’t know the language that well” when problems arise. The guy continued, “I bought this here a few minutes ago and now I want to return it, I want my money back.” The clerk continued to stare at him in disbelief and finally said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

The guy continued, “How could you not know what I am talking about? Don’t you remember me, I was here fifteen minutes ago, I bought this juice and some other items, but now I don’t want the juice, so I am here to return it.”

The clerk said, “I don’t remember you.”

The guy could not believe this, and continued to berate the poor guy, acting upon the assumption that he was in the right and all he needed to do was spark the clerk’s memory over the transaction and then he would be able to return this bottle of juice. But I could see that he was getting nowhere, and why should he? (Just keep the damn juice; if you don’t want it now, save it and drink it some other time.) For one thing, it looked to me more like he had just then taken the juice out of the refrigerator and gotten in line, but even if what he was saying were true, one could not expect the clerk to remember him among a constant stream of junk-food buyers, and who thinks that these snack items are returnable, anyway? The clerk asked him for a receipt, which the guy didn’t have. So then the clerk told him to come back tomorrow morning (when, I guess, the owner would be there), but that was unacceptable to the asshole, who wanted his money NOW.

It was clear to me that the guy was going to get nowhere, and nowhere was where he should have gotten. I wondered whether I should step in and come to the aid of the clerk, but I also wondered if this were a prelude to a gun being drawn and thus didn’t want to escalate the negative energy with my contribution. Instead the guy had an idea, he would go back outside and get the other stuff he bought to “prove” to the clerk that he had bought the juice in that same transaction and thus could get his refund. His leaving then brought me up to the cash register.

I said to the clerk, shaking my head, “I’m amazed at some of the stuff you have to contend with.” Then I suggested, “Simply tell him that the juice is non-refundable, that it violates a health code, that you have no idea what he had done with it after he took it out of the store, that you can’t sell it again.” All these would be logical explanations in my mind, but the clerk was more set on the bullheaded approach, and all power to him. The guy came back in as I was leaving and I hoped that next time I came back to this store late at night, we wouldn’t be back to the locked door and speaking through a hole in the glass. And if so, I knew whom exactly (what type of customer) to blame for that.

If I had my way, I’d send every one of these people back to kindergarten for a year. They failed to learn even the most fundamental rules of how to live in a decent society. Or else I’d like for there to be a special kind of “fatal swine flu epidemic”…one where whom the virus infects are those who act like swine. Unfortunately, life doesn’t operate that way, and the ones who have to suffer are the innocent and the polite, while the guilty and the rude continue on their merry way.

P.S. Here's a great article about the exact section of freeway where I have to drive home every day when I take the freeway.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Lover

It must be the testosterone therapy. Why else would I be so especially excited about the onset of summer? I mean, not that I’ve never loved summer or anything, but this year, I am really feeling it and the feeling is good. I’m even loving being in LA, and that’s funny, because only a few days ago I checked out a calculator on the website that showed me how much I could increase my disposable income by moving somewhere else. I calculated it for every city on an American coast, for which I included Great Lakes cities as coastal, too. It works really well for moving away from Los Angeles, one of the highest cost-of-living cities in the country. About the only coastal cities I would lose money moving to were Santa Barbara (the worst), Honolulu, New York, and San Francisco. Even moving to other California cities would put disposable income in my pocket, even cities in Orange County, or cities like Santa Cruz.

Interestingly, based on these calculations, the best cities to move to are in Texas, and second best would be Connecticut. Well, Texas really was no surprise, and any one of Texas’s coastal cities would put an extra $20,000 to $30,000 in my pocket annually, presuming I could find a job similar to the one I have now. Sure the salaries would be less, but the cost of living is SO much less that the net effect is a hefty gain. And Texas is a state I would consider. My experiences there have always yielded very friendly people and a pride of place that I consider admirable. And I am one who likes hot humid environments and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes, though, I could do without, but other than the west coast, you can’t find coastal cities without hurricanes whose weather isn’t freezing cold in the winter.

Moving to cities along the Long Island Sound in Connecticut would put about $15,000 to $25,000 extra in my pocket. I never would have thought of that with Connecticut, but the deal there is that salaries tend to be high (they’re in the vicinity of New York), whereas cost of living is lower than Los Angeles. I just wouldn’t like Connecticut winters, though.

A state loaded with coastal cities that I would consider, Florida, ended up being less impressive when it came to increasing disposable income…the figures there were around $10,000 to $15,000. Not bad, really, it’s just that the Texas figures were so much better.

Yet even with this, this onset of summer is making me love LA. Summer this time didn’t suddenly blast itself onto us, but has slowly crept in almost like an eastern season change, yet the season is definitely Californian. In California, as the sun goes down, a cool, sometimes chilly breeze comes in to fill the gap, which is why even in summer restaurants with outdoor patios have overhead heaters. This is something I am sure people from eastern climates find hard to understand, for in the east, when the day is hot, so, too, is the evening. Now, there is hardly anyone I know who likes a hot summer evening better than me; sitting on a porch with, say, a Southern Comfort in the hand, rocking back and forth as the lightening bugs flicker and the tree frogs shriek. If the thunder cracks and a rainstorm suddenly pours, well, so much the better, I’ve got a cover over my head.

In California, the version is a cool but sweetly refreshing chill that washes over the salt-sprayed and sunburnt skin. I can almost feel the sand between my toes and smell the bonfire that we have started on the beach. Watching a sunset as the sun makes a golden pathway across the water before it finally sets into the ocean, especially as you are entwined in the arms of a loved one, the two of you cozily wrapped up in a set of beach towels or a blanket, what could be more beautiful than that? If you’re watching this sunset from a private, hidden cove, you’ve probably got a jug of cheap wine chilling in the ice cold Pacific, held in place by a line tied through the glass handle ring. It doesn’t have to be a fancy California wine in order to enjoy this beautiful setting, and the beautiful setting enhances anything you are drinking.

Yes, it must be the testosterone, the only medical therapy I can ever remember that clearly brought on instant positive results. I haven’t felt this good inside my body since I was college age, something I never thought I would ever feel again. I had to ask my doctor if what I was feeling was genuine, or was I just somehow fooling myself, and he confirmed it as a reality, saying that he hears this from his patients all the time (he himself, a Malibu surfer when he isn’t practicing medicine, is too young to need testosterone therapy). And this, unlike injected pharmaceutical testosterone, is a therapy that is pretty safe—bioidentical hormones that are custom compounded individually for the patient and rubbed on as a cream.

From the look of me, I’m just about the last person that should be feeling sexual, yet this feeling seems to be translating to others from me; maybe the true secret of attractiveness is simply feeling good yourself. And that, I do. Even if my only possible lover is the city, and its delicious seasonal change brushing across my body, a body held and carried back and forth by a fervent, frothy ocean, the joy within me seems to say that that is more than enough.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Money Danger Opportunity

Now here is something that I was fortunate enough to come across that is not exactly what you might think--when you see the word "conspiracy", don't get immediately turned-off by thinking that is something like "the 9/11 conspiracy" or "the New World Order conspiracy"...not exactly, anyway. Here is the link, but read my explanation:

The Eight New Rules of Money

I'm sure some of you have heard of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books by Robert Kiyosaki, and you might have even read a few. I've read three of them and liked them all very much. Here, for free, is his newest one that it is being posted on the Internet, chapter by chapter as they get written, because the author believes that the normal publication time (about two years to hard copies being available in bookstores) would be just too long; in the light of the kind of history that is being made right now today, it would be too late for this information to help anybody.

Robert Kiyosaki's most important point is that people are not educated about money. The schools don't do it, and he feels that there is definitely a reason for that: the schools were made by rich industrialists to train WORKERS, not rich people. Another man I admire greatly, John Taylor Gatto, has been saying this for years, which is why the schools are so awful (they are factories designed to keep the people DOWN).

Kiyosaki's real dad (the "Poor Dad" in his books) was practically a socialist (in this new book, Kiyosaki actually calls him a socialist, although I doubt if his father "knew" that he was that directly). (Please forgive me if I have gotten some of these details's been a while since I have read these books. The gist of what I am saying is correct, even if some facts may be wrong.) He worked for the government (I think as a teacher?) and depended upon the government mediocre salary and government security in order to survive. While he was a nice and smart man who taught Robert a lot of important stuff, he was NOT someone who understood how a person could become a huge success in life. Robert's "Poor Dad's" idea was to be a drone--secure, and it is hoped, safe, but nevertheless a drone. (But such safety is a delusion as many people have now discovered.)

However, in contrast to the "Poor Dad" philosophy, Robert had a friend whose father was very rich. This friend's dad had (if I remember correctly) a large string of stores and maybe also commercial real estate. (By the way, let me interject here that Robert had been saying for years that people had to watch out when they considered their house to be an "asset" instead of a "liability". Again, this has proven to be nearly prophetic.) Robert's friend's dad had a enterpriser's or entrepreneur's concept of how to live, and he impressed Robert very much. Robert started out as a kid working in one of the man's stores and learning everything he could from him. He "adopted" him as his "Rich Dad," and the one who really taught him what he needed to know about money.

The lessons in Kiyosaki's books are immediately obvious, and yet they make you think, "Why didn't I ever understand that before?" That's because NOBODY ever taught us any of that before, and, in fact, there is a definite ENERGY in the country to KEEP us from learning it. Kiyosaki wanted to change that, because he believed that an educated and fully productive society benefits ALL of us (even the super-rich, who don't seem to get that...although I will add here my own contention, and that is that most of the super-rich of the "Rockefeller" type don't have the slightest idea how to go out and make money; they've inherited all their millions or billions and are ignorant of the real process, which makes them very afraid of those who DO understand it. Unfortunately, these people nevertheless do have a LOT of power.)

I was inspired enough by Kiyosaki's books to put together my own "money course" for after school at the school where I work, using Kiyosaki's two different "Cashflow" games as a method of instruction (one game for little kids and the other game for older kids). Unfortunately, the kids really weren't interested (maybe I wasn't a very good teacher?); they'd rather just play. While I did have several very smart and interested students, the majority of them were disruptive and undisciplinable kids that made it impossible to function, so after two exhausting trimesters, I stopped offering the course. One lesson that I learned from that experience is that most of the wisdom offered is really only for a very few students, anyway, which is why "forced schooling for the masses" is such a failure. In the early days of our republic, students only took courses in and learned material that they were interested in and really wanted to learn; for the rest of their time, they were making a living, such as helping on the family farm or in someones enterprise, in whatever capacity they could (of course nowadays, our child labor laws would prevent the latter).

Despite my having read three of Kiyosaki's other books, I had no idea that he had the particular background in thought that he talks about in this new book...that is to say that he is philosophically one of "what I am", or maybe I ought to say that I am "one of him". He was greatly influenced by a book of Buckminster Fuller's; he seems to share the same understanding of education as John Taylor Gatto; he says that the only honest politician running for president and the one who had correctly warned us YEARS ago about what was going to happen was Ron Paul, the one I supported (with donations and my vote in the primary). So I'm feeing a real kinship with Kiyasaki that I didn't know was there.

And I think he is entirely worth listening to. So far, of course, I have read only the first and currently available chapters of this book, but several times I found myself having an "Ah-ha" experience about things I THOUGHT I understood but didn't really. He explains things so simply and logically, that even if at times he maybe seems to be talking down, that is exactly the level I need to be talked at (wow, badly written sentence, but I think you know what I mean). Simple is fine with me if it gets me to understand!

You, too, can read this book as it comes out, if you want to. There is a certain level of "signing up," although I THINK that just setting up a user name and password is sufficient. However, I went all the way with a complete registration (name, address, etc.), because I knew that along the way, I was going to want to participate in the forum's discussions, which is another aspect of this. If doing that worries you, I think you don't really have to...but check it out and see. As for me, I thought it was worth it.

Okay, in many ways I am easily impressed (but I appreciate that about myself, because it shows a level of humility). For example, a few days ago I had an appointment with a new doctor in Malibu, and afterwards, I decided to treat myself by coming back home via the Pacific Coast Highway. Of course, I am eternally envious and amazed at those people who have houses RIGHT ON THE SAND along that route, something that seems IMPOSSIBLE to me. I decided to have lunch at Duke's, a restaurant on the coast that I had long wanted to try out, but so far never had. I got there just as they opened for lunch (11:30). It was a beautiful Southern California day, the kind of thing that people pay so much money to be here and enjoy, but which I don't enjoy as much as I should because I resent not owning a house (but yes, circumstances ARE changing). I sat outside at their "Barefoot Bar" and had a delicious macadamia-encrusted Oho (or is it Ono?) fish from Hawaii with saffron rice and salad, and with a coconut-milk and pineapple juice rum drink, all of which my personable waitress referred to as "The Consummate Duke's Experience" (which I also understood meant that I was a perfect patsy for the "Consummate Duke's Marketing", but so what, I DID enjoy fact, it was ALL perfect).

I sat there right up against the plexiglass partition directly on the lava boulders upon which the waves were crashing and surveyed the scene that curved out before me. Just beyond the flat, empty portion of beach began again a string of houses directly on the beach with their decks jutting out over the water and their intimate stairways down to the very sand, ah, how wonderful, and then across the highway and high up on the hills above, even way up on the mountain tops, were other multi-million dollar houses. I marveled at the people who had successfully done such a thing, placed a house right on the beach or else infinitely high on a mountain I didn't even know you could reach by car. I was reminded of my idea about "how late" it was now to do this in L.A., and how marvelous it might have been to have come here in the 40s or 50s when things were only just beginning, and yet I also chastised myself for fear and inaction; I thought about the many notices I continually see on Internet sites such as "The Sovereign Society" or magazines that I receive such as "International Living" where they discuss waterfront property for sale in Brazil or Panama or Uruguay, or islands off the coast of Asia, or in developing former Communist regions of Eastern Europe along the Mediterranean (Dubrovnik, etc.) for prices like $30,000, and I think "Well, aren't these like 'LA in the 40s or 50s?"; in other words, I understood how easy it was for me to succumb to "fear and inaction" in the face of genuine opportunities elsewhere. Something I really need to fix about myself (and I think more understanding of money and how it works will help with that).

But then Robert Kiyosaki did a video on his site that was taken in his backyard in Hawaii, and he made no bones about the fact that it was ON WAIKIKI BEACH and I knew that those waves crashing up against the border of his property and that sand had to be among the most expensive oceanfront land on the face of the EARTH, and Robert Kiyosaki is a self-made man, having started out working in a store and whose real father had a government job. Robert Kiyosaki is not a Bill Gates, for example, who managed to ride the crest of one of the world's major economic and technological developments, a "once in an eon" opportunity that Gates happened to be at the forefront of. Kiyosaki achieved his achievements in a way that virtually anybody could also do if they knew how, and had the foresight, courage, and energy to do so. This is not to denigrate Kiyosaki's achievements at all, because primarily what he did was fill an essential need that had long needed to be filled and he was the one who did it...but my point is that such opportunities are infinite and do not require any special place and time.

And even when times seem dark and getting darker, we must not make the mistake of riding the waves of those times down into a treacherous whirling sinkhole of personal resignation and destruction, but should, instead, see that the opportunities to fill hungry needs are even more numerous than in the good times. So when the things are the darkest, so do rays of light shine the brightest.

So, if Robert Kiyosaki's newest, and perhaps deepest "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" book seems to interest you, please sign on and let's see how far it will take us. No more worrying about surviving, but putting our attention onto thriving. That's the "opportunity" half of the "danger/opportunity" ying and yang of the word "crisis".