Thursday, November 8, 2018

Quo Vadis?


The Old Philosopher Is 78

The life expectancy for a male in the United States of America in the year 2018 is 78.7 years, which means I might have six months left.  I guess it’s time for my whirlwind tour of the Indonesian archipeligo, one last ride on the Sausalito Ferry, a final visit to hallowed Fenway.  I’m not really sure how things escalated to this point so quickly, it seems like just yesterday when I was grousing in the goodie with Rita Peyton in Stillwater, racing around Austin with the Rangeroos, helping to foal mares in nearby Orange Lake.  The bus destination headers used to say “Further,” now they holler “Oblivion.”  Who pushed the aging button to warp speed when I wasn’t looking?

I’ve been trying my darnedest to find the Fountain of Youth these last few years, but I think the thing’s hidden in the lost caves of Gangkhar Puensum Mountain in Bhutan, where they don’t issue climbing permits.  I’ve tried endless supplements, testosterone, weight training, esoteric acupuncture, therapeutic massage, rolfing and Carter’s Little Liver Pills and barely slowed down the Aging Train.  The human body demands to regress, to slow down and shrivel up, to sit on the front porch, drink sarsaparilla and eat tapioca.  It now looks at ten-mile hikes, snickers and snorts, “Surely you jest!”

The ultimate anti-aging weapon, of course, is Human Growth Hormone, which puts the brakes on and sends the train back in the other direction.  Sorta.  HGH increases muscle mass, reduces body fat, helps to maintain, build and repair healthy tissue in the brain and other organs and speeds up healing.  Not bad if you’re the King of Siam and can afford the hefty price tag.  You are also required to be a willing pincushion since HGH must be administered with a prickly needle.  Every.  Single.  Day.  Advocates will tell you okay, but it’s a small needle.  Pesky side effects can include carpal tunnel syndrome, joint pain, fluid retention and increased cholesterol levels, but who’s going to quibble when the cemetery beckons?  There are also expensive alternatives which promise to release vast stores of your own natural HGH, a subject for another day.

There are, of course, contrarians who believe resistance is futile.  They subscribe to the Bob Knight Code: when something is inevitable, why not just lie back and enjoy it?  Death, they tell us, may not be the end of the road but merely a transitional step to another locale.  I’d feel a lot cheerier about this if they had nice pictures.


Heaven Can Wait.  Not To Mention That Other Place.

When we were kids, the nuns assured us of Eternal Life.  It was where a kid was going to spend it that mattered.  Our catechisms had pretty drawings of souls at birth, pure white they were, untarnished by sin.  Then came the pictures of black dots on the soul, tiny ones, moderate stains and big Rorschach blots called mortal sins.  Enough of them and you couldn’t even see the white part any more, the soul was covered with the ebony filth of sin.  If you had the misfortune of dying in this condition, you would descend to the nether depths and keep The Big Red Guy company in the smarmy playgrounds of Hell, where it was almost as hot as Phoenix.  Sin was, of course, pretty tough to avoid.  Just about anything you liked was sinful, from missing Mass to kissing Mary Ellen McDonald, which actually might be worth going to Hell for.  On the other hand, some of the Protestant kids told us “When you’re dead, you’re dead,” which left further options open with Mary Ellen.  It was a poser, this Eternal Life, and we’d better get a handle on it before we blew all our big opportunities in the current one.  Even if worse came to worse, however, all Catholic kids had one final ace-in-the-hole.  The Church called it Penance.  We called it Confession.


“Ten ‘Our Fathers,’ Ten ‘Hail Marys.’”

The Catholic Church had a novel plan for saving one’s soul.  It even worked for ax-murderers.  While the police were hot on your trail, guns a-blazin’, just nip into church and duck into Father O’Mallahy’s confession box, make your Act of  Contrition, recite to the good father a litany of your sins, do your penance and receive absolution.  Bingo!  Homeward bound on the Archangel Express.  It always seemed to me that Heaven could be loaded up with miscreants if this policy was strictly adhered to, greatly sullying the aesthetic quality of the old golden land.  Meanwhile, poor old Sally Forth, pure as the driven snow, succumbs to one little tryst with her boyfriend Eddie, is hit by a muckwagon on the way home and goes directly to Hell, does not collect 200 dollars.  I ask you, where’s the fairness here?  What kind of edgy God would permit shenanigans like this to occur?  We’re talking Eternity, bub.  Where do we find the Afterlife Court of Appeals?

Nietzsche’s Question

You probably won’t believe this but there are more than 4200 religions in the world and that’s not even counting Jim Jones’ ex-cult and the bygone Branch Davidians.  Every single one of them has its own notion of the Hereafter.  Ideas regarding The Great Beyond are not limited to mere religions, of course, every old philosopher worth his salt has one.  Maybe the Afterlife will arrive as Friedrich Nietzsche describes in Aphorism 341, “The Greatest Weight:”

“What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you, ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more: and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence---even this spider and this moonlight between the tree, and even this moment and I myself.  The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust.’”

“Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?  Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’  If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you.  The question in each and every thing, ‘Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?’ would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight.  Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than the ultimate eternal confirmation and seal.”

Well, that’s an easy one for me.  I’d go for it if I could just have Saturdays be a little different. 


One Toke Over The Line

The traditional afterlives of the major religions are not as much fun as those of the outlier faiths.  Take Zoroastrianism, for instance, where the urvan (the disembodied spirit), lingers on Earth for three days before departing to the Kingdom of the Dead, ruled by somebody named Zima, not to be mistaken for the zesty cold drink.  For the three days that it rests on Earth, righteous souls sit at the head of their body chanting the ever-popular Ustavaiti Gathas joyfully while a wicked person (available for a modest rental at Wicked Persons “R” Us) sits at the feet of the corpse, wails and recites the Yasna (First line: “Yasna, we have no bananas.”)  Zoroastrianism, surprisingly not originated by Zorro, himself, states that for the righteous souls a beautiful maiden, which is the personification of the soul’s good thoughts, words and deeds, appears.   For an evil person, a very old, ugly naked hag appears.  If one is not available, they call Phyllis Diller.  After three nights, the soul of the wicked is taken by the demon Vizaresa (English translation: Vinny) and carried to the Chinvat Bridge, where it is ceremoniously carted off by Waste Management.

In Babylonian mythology, Irkalla was the world where the dead existed.  They were allowed to keep their bodies but they continued to decompose, so big whoop.  To get to their final destination, the dead had to travel through seven gates.  Guards were posted at each to make sure the correct path was followed, and as each gate was passed, the guards took an article of clothing from the dead (think Babylonian afterlife stripper bar with lepers).  Once inside the final gate, everyone is left inside a massive dark expanse, naked and forced to eat dust.  It sounds like a weekend at the Mauritanian Club Med.

Jahannam is the Qur’an equivalent of Hell on Methamphetamine.  One punishment is to have the skin burned off the body, regenerated and burned off again.  And you thought the Catholics were bad.  The dead are also dragged through fire or forced to wear clothes made of flame.  The person punished the least will have his brain boil as a result of standing on hot coals, so maybe you’ll get lucky.


Biocentrism To The Rescue

Biocentrism is a wacky counterintuitive theory about the universe that skirts the periphery of acceptable mainstream science.  Exactly the type of thing The Flying Pie delights in.  Pioneered by Professor Robert Lanza, the theory relies on the famous double-slit experiment which suggests that all possibilities in the universe happen simultaneously.  It’s only when an observer chooses to look that all these possibilities collapse into a single one---the one which happened in our particular universe.  According to Lanza, we can take this premise and blow it up to encompass everything.

If we do, then time, space, matter and everything else should only exist because of our perception of them.  If that’s true, then it means things like death cease being solid facts and become merely a part of the perception.  In effect, although we may appear to die in this universe, Lanza’s theory states that our life should then become “a perennial flower that returns to bloom in the multiverse.”  If this turns out to be true, it would mean the multiverse doesn’t just allow us to return after death, it demands it.

Yeah.  Me neither.

That’s all, folks….


Thursday, November 1, 2018

It’s The Environment, Stupid!


The Eeek!  Eeek!  Eeek!  Eeek!  Eeek-o-logical Blues

The irksome Trump administration has stirred up the ultimate game of Whac-A-Mole as frantic defenders with mallets race around helter-skelter trying to bop terrible administrative ideas back into their holes.  It’s a losing fight, the projects are endless and worst of all are the icky environmental reversals.  Donald Vader and his Not So Merry Men have decided it’s a capital idea to strive for Elbonian levels of air quality and poison water, sell off Alaska to BP and ExxonMobil and stick a Chick-fil-a on top of Half Dome, the better to pay off the band of hyenas which finaced their ugly ascension.  The United States has abruptly seceded from the community of nations which has unified to battle the demise of the planet, questioning the accuracy of a threat long acknowledged by Bill Nye, The Science Guy and virtually every other scientist not wearing a silly MAGA cap.

Picture this: a tri-force invading army from offended nations stands poised on the Canadian border at British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, ready to march in and discombobulate the last threat to the Earth’s environmental destruction, the poison-spewing U.S.A.  Forced to make a difficult choice, thousands of Americans stand with them, ready to reclaim their native land from the band of conscienceless jackals which has seized power.  It’s like the Normandy invasion all over again.  So we ask you: which side will you be on?


Return Of The Jedi

While Emperor Trump fiddles and Rome, N.Y. burns, a small rag-tag band of rebels is making progress elsewhere.  Bill Gates, Ban Ki-Moon, Kristalina Georgieva and Princess Leia are leading a new initiative to convince world leaders and businesses to invest in resilience efforts to protect from the effects of climate change.  The Global Commission on Adaptation is tasked with convincing the world to up its game and invest $300 billion annually on such efforts.

On September 10, the GCA opened an office in Rotterdam, Netherlands, then on October 17 another in Groningen.  At the opening of the second, Ban said that adapting to climate change “will require a complete transformation of policies, programs and projects across governments, the private sector and civil society.”  He noted that without urgent adaptation, food, energy and water security will be threatened for decades, and that economic growth and poverty reduction are only possible if more is invested in adaptation.

The GCA is led by countries and organizations which have been leaders in adaptation, including China, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines and the United Kingdom.  The GCA will present its findings and recommendations at the UN Climate Summit in September of 2019.

Even under the current U.S. administration, emissions have been falling and the renewable energy sector is booming.  The fact that an IPCC report is making front page news in The New York Times and The Washington Post and is trending across the Internet is a clear signal that people are waking up to the need to act on climate.

Environmentalists in the Netherlands recently won a major victory in a landmark case that aims to force the Dutch government to increase its cuts to carbon emissions from 17% to 25% by 2020.  Other governments will be similarly challenged in the near future.  The courts present an exceptional opportunity to accost administrations which are dragging their feet.  And there are other signs of hope.  Only days ago, the World Bank refused to invest in a new 500mW coal plant, claiming it couldn’t compete with renewable energy on price.  Other financiers will inevitably follow their lead.

Meanwhile, Princess Leia has organized a modestly-equipped guerrilla band to strike from hidden bases scattered across the vast northlands of snowy Canada.  “In a matter of days,” she boldly declares, “we will retake Half Dome.”  R2-D2 and C3PO are kicking ass and taking names.


More Good News!

Earlier this year, NASA published evidence from their Aura satellite proving for the first time that the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica is recovering.  The satellite observes chlorine levels around the ozone hole and chlorine is the chemical which has been destroying the ozone layer.  The declining levels of chlorine are probably due to the international embargo on chlorofluorocarbons.  And you doubters grumped about your Ban deodorants. 

A November, 2017 trial illustrated that a new method of coral growing could work.  Scientists collected coral spawn and eggs which grew into larvae and mature coral in a lab.  Damaged areas of the Great Barrier Reef had these young coral growths transplanted into them.  Eight months later, the young coral survived and were thriving.  Some of them were riding Australian roller coasters. 

Honeybee populations are on the rise.  Despite doomsday warnings following the apian colony collapses of recent years, the bees are showing signs of recovery.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a 2017 report showing an estimated 2.89 million bee colonies in existence in America, 3% more than the previous year.  Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Elon Musk’s Tesla company is developing high capacity batteries which store energy generated from renewable sources like wind, solar and hydroelectric power.  This means these sources will be able to provide energy when the sun isn’t out and the wind isn’t blowing, which is the primary deficiency with renewable energy.  The batteries are already working in Hawaii, which has set a target of using nothing but renewable energy by 2045.  I hope to be there for the party.  I’ll only be 105.  Maybe Elon has a battery for me.

In 2017 alone, solar power projects received $160.8 billion in investments, a booming 18% more than in 2016.  It also made solar power the most invested-in energy source in 2017.  Countries around the world installed 98GW of new solar capacity in 2017, far more than the net installations of any other kind of energy generation.  Countries commissioned a record 157GW of capacity for renewable energy last year, much higher than the net 70GW of fossil-fuel generating capacity installed in 2017.  China was the biggest investor in solar energy, installing 53GW of solar capacity, investing $86.5 billion, a whomping increase of 58% over 2016.  This makes 2017 the eighth year in a row that global investment in renewables exceeded $200 billion.  Since 2004, the world has invested $2.9 trillion in green energy sources.  Maybe we’ll all be speaking Chinese, after all.

Several species are no longer on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s endangered or critically endangered lists.  Giant pandas were downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable,” as were snow leopards.  Iberian lynx were downgraded from “critically endangered” to “endangered.” But we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep.

In England, the five pence plastic bag charge has had a whopping effect on the amount of plastic found on British Beaches.  The Marine Conservation Society found that the amount of plastic bags on British beaches was down a colossal 37% just a year after the charge was introduced in 2015.  In 2015, volunteers found 11 plastic bags per 100 square metres on British beaches, a year later only 7 per 100 square metres.  In Wales, where the charge was put in place in 2011, a mere four bags per 100 square metres were found.  Further proof of the old axiom: “Money Talks and Bullshit Walks.”


Mighty Mouse Is On The Way!

In a historic milestone for oceanic conservatism, the much-anticipated Ocean Cleanup Initiative created by a mere yout’ from the Netherlands has successfully set sail and is now undergoing final tests before it attacks the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  After discovering this horrible mess in the 1990s, scientists avowed it would take thousands of years to clean it up.  “Not so fast, my friends!” demurred Dutch teenager Boylan Slat in his TEDx Talk.  “I can do it in ten years if you’ll help me with some special machinery.”  Out of the mouths of babes.

Naturally, eyebrows were raised in scorn.  Boylan Slat, however, dropped out of college, gathered $2.2 million in crowdfunding and millions more from interested investors.  He now employs 70 engineers, researchers and scientists for his vessel System 001 (which Slat calls “Wilson”).  Once final tests have been competed, System 001 will be towed 1000 nautical miles to the Great Mess to begin cleanup.  The garbage island, now twice the size of Texas is currently drifting halfway between the coast of California and the Hawaiian Islands.  Over a trillion pieces of debris have collected there because of the swirling vortex of current.

“I am incredibly grateful for the tremendous amount of support we have received over the past few years from people around the world,” says the Boylan Wonder.  “It has allowed us to develop, test and launch a system with the potential to begin to mitigate this ecological disaster.”

Tell you one thing.  When the kid finally goes back to school, he’ll have a hell of a subject to discuss when he writes his paper about “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.” 


The Fading Future Of Flatulence

Leave it to the Swiss.  Ecologically conscious to a fault, Agolin, a firm based in Biere, Switzerland, has started producing a special livestock feed that can reduce a cow’s methane production by up to 10%.  That’s a lot of farting when you consider United Nations research which contends cow flatulence produces 4% of all those nasty greenhouse gases that are fouling up the planet.

“We sell our mixture for around one million cows per year and there are 25-28 million cows in the European Union, so it is a big percentage,” attests company founder Kurt Schaller.  “That represents 300,000 tonnes of CO2 reduction today.”  The feeds are made using herbs, spices and botanical compounds that reduce bovine flatulence and also improve livestock’s milk production and gut health.

If Kurt wants to do mankind an even greater favor, he can do himself one better.  How about some special feed for all those Mexican restaurants?



Take The Bus And Leave the Breathing To Us

The Go-Ahead Group, one of the largest bus and rail operators in England, has just launched a bus that sucks up pollution as it travels.  The Bluestar prototype is the first bus in the UK that can clean city air.  No kidding.  The thing is fitted with an air filter which collects extra-fine pollution particles and spews out purified air at the front of the vehicle, sorta like a book censor.  The filter works with 99.5% efficiency, but nobody’s perfect.

According to studies conducted by the filter’s manufacturer, the bus will clean the air on its route to Southampton at a rate of 16 times a year to a height of 10 meters, so if you’ve got asthma you know where to move. 

“We want this pilot to show that buses should be looked at as not just the solution to congestion in cities but also as a solution to the air quality problem,” says Go Ahead’s chief executive, David Brown.  “As the bus removes the ultra-fine particles from the air as it travels along the route, it is helping solve the air quality problems of the city.”  Good job, David.  Would you mind giving a call to those backward folks at Greyhound?

The Sublime Benefits Of Sewage

Ever wondered what to do with all your old sewage?  It doesn’t bring much at yard sales and they charge ridiculous prices to haul it down the road.  Well, now you can call Ingelia, but be careful, it’s long-distance.  Ingelia is a Spanish business that has created a biocarbon product called “biochar” from sewage waste.  If we Americans are so brilliant, how come it takes all these Europeans to come up with these things?  The little pellets of biochar give off zero CO2 emissions and amazingly small rates of harmful substances such as sulphur, nitrogen and chlorine.

“Under specific pressure and temperature conditions, 20 bars and 200 degrees centigrade, we dehydrate the organic matter and siphon off the humid matter in liquid form,” says company CEO Marisa Hernendez in Business Insider.  “In other words, we concentrate 95% of the carbon in the waste.”  Dang.  Wish we’d thought  of that.

Not only does the biochar offer a perfect sustainable replacement for burning coal, it also offers a more sustainable solution for sewage treatment.  The standard composting process that is currently utilized by most waste treatment facilities requires 30 long days of energy and maintenance.  Ingelia, on the other hand, uses a process called “hydrothermal carbonization” to burn off all of the harmful substances in the sewage until it becomes a hard, dry pellet of fuel.  The process only takes from 6-8 hours to complete and because it is kept within a sealed tank there are almost no bad smells as a result of the procedure.  With the way the company is progressing, Hernandez says that we could be diverting a million tons of carbon from the atmosphere by 2022.  And I’ll definitely be here for that.

That’s all, folks…except for this:

An Afterthought

Excuse us for being so puffed up, but this sort of thing just happens every so often.  Ergo, a fitting poetry outburst.  After that, we’ll go back to our room.

No One At The Bat

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Dodger nine that day:

The score stood 1 to 5 with but two innings left to play.

But Price walked patient Taylor to initiate the eighth

And the top of L.A.’s order would be coming to the plate.


The Red Sox fans were nervous as they watched the pen spellbound

And saw the slight Joe Kelley come advancing toward the mound.

“Oh-oh!” a few contended.  “Oh no!” the rest complained;

“Joe K. will walk eleven and capitulate the game!”


But Kelley was unruffled as Kemp pinch-hit for Barnes,

He struck him out in no time and gaily waved his arms.

He did the same with Pederson, and Bellinger to boot;

The doubters in the gallery began to whoop and hoot.


The Dodger fans grew restless as the final inning came. 

If their heroes didn’t rally, there’d be no more Series games.

But in the home team’s dugout, the tempers were ablaze,

They had rallied oft before and they would again today.


And now, out past the outfield, a battered pitcher rose,

A gaunt and used up combatant came forth to meet the foes.

The bullpen pitchers stood as one and clapped as he marched by;

Chris Sale, the Boston hero, would make another try.


The Dodger fans grew hopeful.  This man was surely through.

His speed was down, his weight was off, what could he really do?

The bearded Justin Turner smiled, advancing to the plate,

He’d been the team’s best hitter, he’d test the Red Sox’ fate.


The pitcher hiked his britches up and let the spheroid fly

And Turner barely noticed as the little pill shot by.

Hernandez followed Turner and received an equal dose.

The Dodger bats were flailing and it wasn’t even close. 


So now up came Machado, a braggart and a lout.

“Do your best,” he shouted, “but you’ll never get me out!”

Sale’s countenance was twisted.  He flashed an evil smile.

Machado missed the fast ball; he missed it by a mile.


The sneer is gone from Manny’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate.

He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.

And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he zips it through.

Machado stands there awestruck; the umpire roars “Strike Two!”


The batter stands in outrage as the smoke pours from his ears,

He makes a pact with Satan, he routs his inner fears,

He promises his ancestors, he grinds his teeth in pain

And swears that fitful baseball won’t get by his bat again.


Sale reaches back with fierce resolve and lets the apple fly,

It screeches halfway to the plate, then flies up to the sky,

It circles twice around the field and does an Irish jig,

Then heads back for Machado with a zag and then a zig.


The batter is astounded as the ball flies swift and free,

He takes a mighty swing at it and crumbles to his knees.

Oh, somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,

But there is no joy in La-la Land, the Dodgers have struck out.






Thursday, October 25, 2018

Capital Gains


Once upon an ancient time, circa 1967, my old pal Michael O’Hara Garcia and I embarked upon a historical journey to the north country, hacking our way through the stubborn wilds of New Jersey all the way to resplendent Greenwich Village, heart of the burgeoning East Coast hippie avalanche.  We had important business here, seeking wholesale purveyors of posters and buttons and funky light machines for the opening of Gainesville’s first “underground shop,” the now-fabled Subterranean Circus.  Garcia, a fiscal conservative at heart, eyed me nervously as I emptied my pockets to pay for these dubious products, more than once pondering, “ I don’t know, Killeen---are you sure you want to spend your whole $1200 on this stuff?”

The store opened to great success in September of that year.  By then, Michael Garcia was in the United States Army in Vietnam, trying to keep his head above rice paddy water.  Garcia was a savvy customer with a lot of street sense, always able to sniff out danger just before it knocked on the door, a quality which stood him in good stead in the hairy provinces of Vietnam.  He made it through the madness, if not without a couple of scary moments.  One night I got a telephone call advising me to be at Jacksonville Airport a couple days hence at the outrageous hour of seven o’clock in the morning.  Michael was finally coming home.  “I’m taking one flight after another,” he said, “…the Phillipines, Hawaii, San Francisco and home.  I want to get as far away from Nam as possible and as fast as I can.”

Once back in Gainesville, Garcia was struck with the success of the Circus operation and decided to open a similar place in Washington, D.C., where he’d spent several years as an aide to Florida senator George Smathers.  He found an affordable basement space on Wisconsin Avenue in funky Georgetown and we spent a hectic weekend stocking the store with items which had proved successful in Gainesville.  Garcia called his shop Elysian Fields, named for the final resting place of soldiers and other heroes of Greek mythology.  Michael’s place prospered and he soon moved down the block to a larger building on M Street, just a hop and a jump from Wisconsin.  Elysian Fields quickly became a mainstay of the lively Washington hippie scene.

A few years later, Garcia’s boyhood friend Steven Stills came a-calling, looking for someone he trusted to help pilot his rapidly expanding musical career.   Michael sold Elysian Fields to Bill Killeen for a modest price and took his leave for a more difficult battleground—the hellfire of the music business.  It was my initial introduction to the District of Columbia, the first time I spent more than a couple of consecutive days there.  The shop continued to do well but within a very short time the Circus had accumulated three other sister stores, one in faroff Denton, Texas, and Bill was spending all his time in airports.  Elysian Fields was eventually sold to its loyal corps of employees and life in Washington was over.  The trip back this weekend for the wedding of a niece, Kathleen Ellison, was only the second time I’ve been back since the seventies.  One glorious thing about the capital, however.  Much of it will always remain the same. 



Walking The Walk

Our hotel was the Palomar, a Kimpton property in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, an older section of Washington, popular and thriving today with a host of embassies, a vast variety of eateries and retail shops; it’s a fine spot for walkers, joggers, young mothers pushing prams, people on scooters, gastronomers fond of eating outside in 60-degree weather.  There is a Metro (subway) stop at Dupont Circle and if the Metro is a touch less available than the subways of New York City and Boston it still beats the dirgelike D.C. bus system which insists on stopping at every corner, concerned that humans might not have been born with legs.

Siobhan and I decided to hike from the hotel to the Lincoln Memorial, via the campus of George Washington University, then on to the White House to visit The Donald and deliver tanning supplies.  It’s a spectacular walk, a mere 1.7 miles directly, a little more wandering around The National Mall and adjacent monuments, including the bittersweet Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall containing the names of most of those lost in the war, 58,220 souls at last count.  When a visitor looks at the wall, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names, which is meant to symbolically bring the past and present together.

The Lincoln Memorial, located on the western end of The Mall, is a colossus.  Both the building for the sculpture and the statue, itself, are properly enormous.  The architect was Henry Bacon, the designer of the statue was Daniel Chester French.  It was carved by the Piccirilli brothers and dedicated in 1922, almost 100 years ago.  The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple.  Martin Luther King chose the spot to deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.  Visiting the memorial, which is never closed, is a singular experience enjoyed by 6 million people annually.  I went there once in the 1970s at 3 a.m. and there were a half dozen others present.  I told the security guard I was surprised to see anyone else there.  He turned to me, smiled, and said, “Sir, I have been here for twenty-two years and there has never been a time when there was nobody here.”






The President Is Missing

The walk to the White House from the Lincoln Memorial is about 25 minutes if you don’t stop to take pictures.  When we got there, Siobhan was horrified and disappointed that there were no protestors wielding angry signs.  She thought she might borrow one to participate in whatever it was they were objecting to, which covers a lot of ground.  The best she could do was to have a meaningful discussion with a permanent tent resident, a Mr. Maccabello, who was advocating for world peace, against nuclear weapons and human rights violations.  He was also very pissed off about elephant carnage, and so is Siobhan, so we gave him a pat on the back and a small financial inducement to continue his crusades.  Mr. Maccabello told his new friends that George H.W. Bush had come to speak with him when he was president, as had Bill Clinton, so he is getting his message across better than the rest of us.  We didn’t ask him if he hung around in the dead of winter, but that tent looked pretty flimsy and exceedingly vulnerable to the January blues.



Here Comes The Bride

We have known Kathleen Ellison since she was a speck of a thing, transported to Florida for annual visits by her parents, Stuart and Mary, accompanied by an older sister, Ashleigh.  Kathleen was a spunky little girl, not afraid to make the world aware of her preferences, assuming that everyone would eventually bend to her will.  When she ate at the kids table, she would regularly swipe food off the plate of her beleaguered sister, who, being a kind and gentle girl, just shrugged and smiled.  To the great consternation of their parents, Uncle Bill taught the girls several songs they could sing on the eight-hour trip from Chattanooga to Fairfield and they never forgot the words.

The girls were decent swimmers but otherwise unathletic, though Ashleigh took a shot at volleyball for a short time.  Uncle Bill, ever the optimist, suggested Ashleigh and Kathleen spend a week at University of Florida coach Mary Wise’s volleyball camp one summer, Mary being capable of the occasional miraculous transformation of athletes from average to super.  When Siobhan went to pick the girls up at the end of camp, she raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Coach Wise.  “Tell Bill not to hold his breath,” said Mary with her usual impeccable honesty.

Kathleen being vulnerable to occasional bouts of irritability in which weaponizing a car was not out of the question, nobody wanted to teach her to drive, so the job fell to Uncle Bill.  We drove the backroads of Marion County for awhile with no issues so I told her to take the next ramp on to  Interstate 75.  “Am I ready?” asked Kathleen, in a rare moment of self-doubt.  “Sure,” I told her.  “It’s easy.  Just stay in the right lane and don’t get too close to anybody.  If somebody blows the horn at you for going too slow, you just drive and I’LL give them the finger.”

Kathleen was a Florida Gator football fan, which is a tough row to hoe in Tennessee.  She went to several games with her father in Knoxville and Gainesville and we all thought she might end up matriculating at UF.  When the time came, alas, she chose North Carolina, despite its inferior gridiron prospects.  There she met her husband-to-be, Yaniv Barzilai, and there was never any doubt about it.  Despite long separations while she attended medical school and Yaniv scuffled through the brambles of Azerbaijan and Afghanistan as a State department employee, the love train never ran off the tracks.  Ten years after meeting, they would finally be married at Brookside Gardens in Silver Springs, Maryland at 5 p.m. on October 20th.  Since Kathleen decided to wed on the only bye week in the Florida Gator football schedule, the least we could do was attend the ceremonies.  If only we could find the damn place.


Has Anyone Here Seen Brookside Gardens?

The least the wedding party could have dispensed to its guests were detailed maps, miners’ helmets, sickles and TNT, the better to blast our ways through the concrete underbrush to the Lost City of Brookside Gardens.  If the Cavendish Gang had the good sense to hang out here, the posse never would have found them.  We drove in with a carload of Mary Ellison’s relatives and their GPS girl was worn to a frazzle trying to find the place.  She gave us late  directions, she gave us faulty directions, she confused S street with South Street and finally she threw up her hands in despair.  “I don’t know where the damn place is!” she screamed, almost weeping.  “You’ll have to find it for yourselves!”  Then she took a pill and went to vespers.  We made it, although a mere twenty minutes before the lighted ball slid down the poll.  Getting to weddings on time seems to be an issue with Bill.

The bride, pretending to be demure, was beautiful, the groom handsome, the parents proud, the minister cocky.  The ceremony was unplugged so there are no sexy avante-garde IPhone photos to show you and we’ll have to stick with the traditional stuff.  The action was outside on a cool, sunny day, which was fine until the sun took umbrage and left.  This bothered the considerable number of young dancers not a whit as they frolicked o’er the lea.  It affected the oldsters a tad more as they leaned over the marshmallow roasting pit in search of salvation.  The happy couple is off to Portugal to drink cheap wine and gobble pastel de natas.  For them, life is just a bowl of cherries.  The rest of us eventually figured out how to get back to Washington.  It’s tough when Siri takes the night off.


That’s all, folks….      

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Slowing The Descent


When we were kids, we abused our bodies in every way possible, crashing bicycles into unyielding objects, sliding headlong into second base, falling out of defective trees, ignoring the scary potential of misaimed fishhooks.  Whatever happened to them, our bodies would heal.  We took it for granted.  A kid’s body is constructed of some combination of rubber, plastic and jousting armor and is impervious to lasting damage.  Split your head open?  It will heal up in days and be harder than ever.  Fall off a roof and sprain your ankle?  You’ll be back playing second base in a week.  Cut off a finger?  It will grow back in no time.  Space aliens had nothing on us, we were impervious to all harm.  Well, as long as we stayed away from those werewolves (and our mothers told us they seldom showed up in Massachusetts).

As we grew older, we saw our cloaks of invulnerability gradually disappear.  People got horrible diseases and had to move to Arizona.  People had automobile accidents and lost their spleens.  People misplaced their minds and were entombed in “crazyhouses.”  Scary business.  My sister, Alice, contracted asthma, which left her short of breath, cranky, and led to her becoming a Republican.  What happened to the Good Old Days when life was slow and oh, so mellow.…when grass was green and grain so yellow?  Is there a bus which goes in the opposite direction?

Robin Martinez, a gym pal of mine who is ten years older than me (and yes, there are such people) told me one day, “Bill, when you get to be eighty, every morning you wake up there will be something different wrong with you.”  Well, I have news for you, Robin.  It didn’t take that long.  The seventies bring along with them a clanging brass band of physical irregularities and compromises, from gout to gastroenteritis to gallstones to gangrene.  It makes a fellow feel like one of those few humans left in a zombie movie trying to fend off the undead at the gates.  Just when you disembowel the last three or four of them, another one pokes his head through the door.  Is there no end to this madness?  Well yeah, but we don’t want to talk about that.


Exercising Your Perogative 

After 23 years of attendance at the same gym, it occurred to me one day that nobody at Lifetime Fitness in those two decades-plus had succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.  Is that a record?  Oh, we’ve had a few folks buy the farm and a couple others carried out on a stretcher but nobody has contracted the Big A.  We’re talking about hundreds of people here.  Does that mean you should rush over and join up to be similarly protected?  Maybe.  But if you’re already beginning to show signs of fuzziness, try somewhere else, we’d rather you didn’t ruin our nice streak.  By the time the flag is up, you’re on your way.  The idea is to cut the varlet off at the pass and one of the best ways of doing that is to hit the gym three times a week.  If you can’t find a pal to go with you, don’t worry, soon enough you’ll be yakking it up with the other lifers.  Even if you insist on gorging yourself with doritos, live with a husband-beating wife and work in the pest-control business, exercise will mitigate the negatives.  It is the single most important thing you can do for your wellness.  Stop screwing around.


Not Necessarily Namaste

Women like yoga.  Chic women, Trailer Trash For Trump, svelte sylphs, circus fat ladies, all of them buy mats, take classes, learn the secret handshake.  If a man goes to a yoga class, he may be the only male there.  Go anyway.  As beneficial as the fitness center is for cardio health and strength training, most gymgoers are short on flexibility and balance.  Remember the old duffer at the football games who couldn’t make it to his seat without leaning on half the people in his row?  That could be you any day now.  Bill has waited far too long to begin this journey to enlightenment and is high in the standings of the Rigidity League.  This stiffness has everyday ramifications in simple matters like unparking a car.  Rigidity League leaders have a disinclination (or inability) to turn around and properly examine the parking lot before backing up, among other nagging problems.  You know what happens then.

One needn’t be a subscriber to the spiritual aspect of yoga, although there’s nothing wrong with that.  If you are a mere pragmatist who appreciates the need for stretching, your instructor will not turn you in to the Yoga Police for insufficient knowledge of the Sutras of Patanjali.  You will be tolerated even if you don’t know a chakra from a chalupa, a Child’s Pose from a Downward Facing Dingo.  Yoga people are patient and forgiving.  If they accost you with strange-sounding greetings like “Namaste,” just smile, reach out your hand and say “Indubitably” or “My sister used to work there.”

Stretching Your Limits

You’ll remember Siobhan, who works here from time to time.  She has a problem called Frozen Shoulder, also known as Adhesive Capsulitis, a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joints.  With most people, signs and symptoms typically show up gradually, worsen over time and then resolve within three years.  Siobhan’s version began abruptly, worsened over time, then decided to hang around, Siobhan being such an interesting person.  She tried everything to get rid of the problem.  She went to a phony Rolfer.  She hung on a dungeon wall for months.  She even had experts on medieval torture build her a rack, a rectangular wooden frame with a roller at both ends.  The ankles are fastened to one roller and the wrists chained to the other, then a hooded operator turns a ratchet mechanism attached to the top roller, very gradually increasing the tension on the chains until the shoulders are either freed or dislocated.  Siobhan, usually not one to give up easily, finally quit because she just hates the sound of snapping cartilage.

Massage Envy to the fore.  The chain purveyors of Deep Tissue Massage, tickly Reflexology and the mysterious Cranial Sacral Therapy, now offer stretching sessions to people in need.  First, they warm up the back and shoulder area with an hour massage, then they pull on your appendages for half an hour.  Siobhan says it seems to be working and let’s hope so before she turns into Gumby and can no longer pass the butter.


Would You Like CoQ-10 With That?

You’ll be needing supplements, of course.  The question is, which ones?  If a person was to believe the advertisements, somewhere in the neighborhood of 765 a day might be enough.  I mean, who doesn’t need a batch of Brain Energizer Formula before wading into the New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle?  You’ll sleep better at night with Uncle Henry’s Optiprostate Treatment, and if that doesn’t do the job try Superpollen (from only the finest, most cultured bees, all with degrees from Ivy League colleges).

Many doctors advocate statin drugs for everyone over 65, but that’s just silly.  If you have no cholesterol issues, skip the statins, which often cause muscle pain or soreness.  A friend of ours had this problem and had to smoke several joints daily to appease her peeved muscles, making her one of the earliest beneficiaries of medical marijuana, or so she said.  If you do have heightened cholesterol, substitute a safe red yeast rice product like Cholestene, available at all Vitamin Shops.  Since red yeast rice rudely saps the CoQ-10 right out of you, you’ll need to use that in conjunction with your Cholestene.

Your doctor may tell you vitamins are a waste of time, that you’re getting everything you need from your food, even though he has no idea what the hell you’re eating.  Take a multivitamin.  If it doesn’t have 1000 international units of vitamin D3, add the balance.  The whole world knows by now that curcumin is beneficial, so don’t forget that.  If the smell of fish oil drives you to distraction, try krill oil which is kinder on the nasal passages.  Anyone with stomach issues might consider ginger capsules, which are inexpensive, safe and effective.  That should be enough unless you have specific problems dictating other reinforcements, which just about everyone does.  But don’t overdo it.  Before adding any supplement to your list, check for side effects.  Glucosamine, for instance, might pacify aching joints but it also has a penchant for irritating stomachs.  You don’t want the supplement to be more trouble than whatever it is you’re taking it for.  Buy a small amount of anything new so you’re not stuck with an expensive product you can’t tolerate.  The Salvation Army does not take donations in pill form.

Okay then, which labels to buy?  Who do we trust?  The first thing to consider is the rampant fraud on the internet.  Many supplement companies set up straw men in the guise of independent reviewers, sources which boost their products and denigrate their rivals.  Probably the most reliable appraiser is Labdoor, an outfit which originally rated supplements in various categories and sold nothing.  Today, they sell most of the better-rated products on their lists, but they promise to behave.  We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for the time being.  The Life Extension Institute in Fort Lauderdale has excellent quality products but they’re a smidge more expensive than their competition.  Don’t be shy about asking your dealer what he knows about a particular brand.  If he doesn’t know much, wish him good morrow and go somewhere else.


The Heinie Monster

What about testosterone?  If you’re as old as the rest of us, you’re probably running low.  Get it measured and discuss the situation with a progressive doctor, not an old snerd who doesn’t trust any ideas proffered after 1950.  Testosterone is a marvel.  It’s good for your heart, your disposition, your sense of wellbeing and your ability to avoid looking like Wilbur, the guy with the skimpy ass and giant gut, who needs suspenders to keep his pants up.  Two cautions.  First, if you have prostate issues, skip the T until your prostate is sufficiently radiated or removed.  Second, keep your eye on your hematocrit number.  When it approaches 50, go donate blood somewhere.  Your hematocrit will slide back into the low forties and you’ll feel like an altruistic hero.  Besides, they’ll give you a t-shirt which allows you to show off your fake benevolence.  The neighbors will ooh and aah.

Your wife, Gert, may initially be troubled by this testosterone threat.  She’s afraid that after years of reasonable behavior, you’ll turn into the Heinie Monster.  You’ll remember him from reading Tales of The Subterranean Circus.  The Circus once had an employee named Sheila, who was retro before retro was cool.  She looked like a prettier Betty Boop and enjoyed haunting the Goodwill Stores and the antique clothing shops with my then-wife, Harolyn.  Sheila was a sly clothing salesman, alreays ready with a wink, a nod and a funny tale.  She had a husband named Kenny, a good-humored, frazzled sort of guy who came to pick her up when the store closed each night.  One evening, she regaled us with a story of a lustful Kenny chasing her through the house, grabbing at her rear end, calling himself the Heinie Monster while she screamed in mock terror.  Later that night, Kenny walked in the door as usual and seeing him, the place broke up.  Kenny, as might be expected, was stunned and confused as he held his arms wide and questioned “What?….What?….”  What is so rare as a day in June?  Probabably a bewildered Heinie Monster.

Relax, Gert.  One of the lesser likelihoods of testosterone therapy is a radical change in sexual energy.  If your man Charlie has been in the tank, you’ll probably notice signs of life.  If, on the other hand, your name is Sally Mae and you were hoping for big action, we can wistfully report than Sheila and Kenny are no longer an item and we have his card.  Kenny is pretty much filled up on weekends but Tuesday is always good.

That’s all, folks….



Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Evil Dissipation Blues


Here It Comes Again

Late July is a hectic time on the West Coast of Africa.  Little child storms---Allie…Bradley…Cornelia---come bobbling down the steps on the last day of Hurricane School, laughing, joking, making plans for the Summer.  They say their goodbyes and load onto separate aquabuses in alphabetical order, finally prepared for their trips to the islands, the playgrounds of Mexico, perhaps even a visit to the States.  They grow quickly on their voyages, some much more than others, their fates determined by geography and the fickleness of meteorological phenomena.  Some will travel to jaunty Cuba, others to Cozumel, a few lucky ones to New Orleans and the stragglers to the East Coast of Texas.  The less determined will dissemble in the cruel Atlantic or be buffeted north and east by unforgiving weather fronts which have no time for such foolishness.  By mid-October, it will all be over.  The sea will grow less inviting, the temperatures lower, the proud African hurricanes gone for another year.  Ah, but it’s not quite the time to exhale.  This is the sniveling season, the time when ill-bred punk storms gather on the shores of Havana and make devious plans to roar north through the Gulf of Mexico on their rugged tricked-out hydrocycles, dropping in on unsuspecting victims celebrating the end of hurricane season.  Outlaw storms, unacceptable in polite company, sneak in the back door, cackling, oozing slime, stealing your valuables.  It’s time for one last battening of the hatches, a final curtain call for the trusty generator, maybe even a visit to Aunt Mabel in Detroit.  Nobody worries too much, though.  These latter-day invasions are just flies on the windshield, minor annoyances, rarely possessing the wherewithal to make it to Category 1 status, let alone blow down your she-shack.  Hey, call the gang!  The hurricane party is at Marcia’s place.


Michael Throwed the Boat Ashore

Or he soon will, with customary disdain.  As we write, it’s Tuesday morning in North Central Florida and the sun is out.  If there was no communication with the outside world, we’d laugh at the possibility of a late-onset typhoon.  The weather outside (somewhere) may be frightful but in here it’s just delightful, a typical day in the neighborhood.  Since we are, however, inundated with 24-hour weather TV, internet radar and screaming newspaper headlines, we’re all aware that Hurricane Michael is on his way to mess with our week, especially if we live in the Florida Panhandle between Panama City and Pensacola.  The rest of us are cautious.  We have oft been told optimistic tales about likely landing spots and Cones of Reliability only to have our illusions shattered when the monster suddenly pops up at our door.  “Sorry about that,” says Mr. Weather, safely ensconced in his Wurtzite Boron Nitride bunker seven miles below ground.  “I’ll be here all night to keep you posted,” he promises, “and to guffaw uproariously at your dumber-than-dirt questions and silly peccadilloes.  Feel free to call in.”

We do have to admit being amazed at the progress of television meteorologists, particularly the ones at WKMG-TV in Orlando who follow the worst parts of the storm right down the street where you live.  “Okay, Mork and Mindy at 576 Greenleaf Avenue, you’re next, get the kids under the sofa!  And don’t smirk, Ezra Cornfield at 62 Lemondrop Lane, you’re not out of the woods yet.  Whoops, Cora McAdoo—isn’t that your settee flying over the Donovans’ roof?  Mayday!  Mayday!  Tree coming through the delicate studio skylight….aarrrggh!”  Meanwhile, feisty reporters out in the elements hold tight to umbrellas and sing, “We have often walked down this street before…but the sidewalk always stayed beneath our feet before….”  It’s better than the Ringling Brothers Circus, which may be why they’re gone and weather reporters are still blowing in the wind.

Since, as we all know, these storms can turn on a dime, anyone in the tyrant’s path must make arrangements.  Those of us outside the Cone of Ignorance will be a tad lackadaisical, perhaps filling our vehicle gas tanks, measuring the generator fuel and trying to decide whether or not we will slog to work.  For our area, this does not appear to be a board-up-the-windows storm, so thanks for that.  The miserable wretches in the teeth of the hurricane have bigger fish to fry.  Do they stick it out at the old homestead poised for a rooftop rescue or do they motor up to Grandma Claudie’s place in Estaboga?  What about looters?  Will it take three weeks until the local smart alecs let everybody go home?  What will we do with Puff and Spot and My Friend Flicka?  It’s a nightmare.  My sister, Alice, who lives north of L.A., where they have drought, Santa Ana winds driving cataclysmic wildfires and monumental mudslides says she would never live in a place with these horrible hurricanes.  We’re going to hang around and see what happens.  Maybe it’s our rugged individualism.  Perhaps it’s those raucous hurricane parties.  Could be we’re just over the moon about having a full aquifer.  We look up north and see snow beginning to fall in Michigan and Montana.  The International Falls temperature right now is 38 degrees.  They’re greasing up the snowplows in Erie and breaking out the galoshes in Schenectady.  So what’s another hurricane in usually sunny Florida?  We’ll let you know.



“BOOM!” Goes The Dynamite 

Well, score one for the worry-warts.  Little Hurricane Michael latched onto a syringe full of manly steroids crossing the Gulf of Mexico, bulked up to Hulkish proportions and laid a cataclysmic beat-down on the barely prepared Florida Panhandle, annihilating poor little Mexico Beach and swamping Panama City.  Turns out Michael is the fiercest storm ever to strike the area, sucking the roofs off many a building, leveling others and washing the remains down the street and off to Neverland.  ABC weather maven Ginger Zee, reporting from a supposedly hurricane-proof room in a Mexico Beach hotel, admitted being shaken by the sight of a large blue house across the street from her perch lifted from its moorings and propelled down the avenue by the storm.  “I saw the roof on its side,” Ginger trembled, “rolling down the street.  Anything that was on this coast is gone.  It is going to be washed away.  It is going to be one of those concrete slab situations when all this is calms down.  My heart is racing.  I’ll tell you now, it makes you shake.”  No kidding.  Adding to the fun, part of the roof fell in on Ginger’s hotel while we watched.  Next time, can we have volcano duty in Indonesia instead? 

To everyone’s surprise, almost no deaths have been reported so far.  Unlike tornadoes and earthquakes, hurricanes have the decency to give a fellow a reasonable amount of packing time, a couple of days to weigh the pros and cons of evacuation.  What seems like an easy decision to self-righteous outsiders, is far from it for citizens who must watch every nickel, are physically compromised or have pets, especially big ones.  Petunia the Potbellied Pig is not welcome at any of the shelters I know and neither is Bonzo the Boa Constrictor.  Does anybody know how much it costs to spend two weeks in a motel whose rates have been influenced by a nearby disaster?  There are only so many shelters to go around and not everybody lives near the Super Dome.  Save the comments on the stay-at-homes, they’re not just sitting around the firepit whooping it up, high on smores and fine Cuban cigars.  Well…not all of them.



Oh, somewhere deep in Africa, the sun is shining bright.  The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.  And somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children shout.  But there’s no joy in Cape Verde---Hurricane Michael has won out. 

The elders look grimly over the horizon in disbelief.  The children stare at the gruesome phoographs on the front page of the Novo-Jornal in utter shock.  Who would ever believe the proud African hurricanes could be upstaged by bourgeois mavericks from the other side of the tracks?  It was an affront to convention, an earthquake event, the upset of the century.

The bosses gathered at shore’s edge with a new determination.  “We have to go back to the drawing board,” one said, “come up with a new game plan.”  Their disappointment was palpable, it’s tough being King.  Every year for the past ninety at the annual celebration in Matanzas Key, an African Hurricane has won the iconic Blowhard Award.  But, alas, not this time, not for the Season of 2018.  The eldest of the elders raised a meaty fist and gazed west over the vast Atlantic.  “They have stolen our thunder,” he complained.  “They are spitting on our grave.  But we are not finished, not by a groot hans.  We shall regroup, we shall practice the basics, we shall up our game.  And when the time comes, when Summer is in full flower, we shall rise again and take up the challenge.  Wait Til Next Year!”

‘Twas ever thus.


That’s all, folks….