Camping It Up – Again!

Today California held what was called the Great California Shakeout, an annual earthquake preparedness drill where everyone ducks and covers at the appointed time.  At 10:20 a.m. PDT sirens rang out and everyone hit the desks.  For those who didn’t, Mother Nature provided a different incentive:  a real earthquake.  Berkeley, near the gar spot headquarters, had a 4.0 magnitude quake around 2:40 p.m.  And, as I started typing this around 8:16 p.m. PDT, we had another.  The second caused two of my dresser drawers to open up.  Such is the way of earthquakes.

In the back drop of this seismic awakening comes yet another spiritual one from Mr. Harold Camping.  You may recall my first bit about Mr. Camping a few months ago just before his last prediction that the world was doomed and only the chosen will survive.  May 21, 2011.  Remember?  Didn’t happen.  Earth still here.  In his original prediction, on the appointed date, all the chosen were to ascended to heaven while the rest of us were to experience five long months of seismic torment before the earth finally imploded on October 21.  Well, five long months have passed now, and Mr. Camping is still saying that the world will end on October 21.  What happened May 21?  Well, he got stuff wrong, he says, but he adds that the end will come “very, very quietly.”  So, the world is still doomed and it’s still to happen October 21.  If you’re reading this, however, chances are he missed the boat again.

The fates have not been kind to Mr. Camping since his last prediction.  In early June, he suffered a stroke which kept him in hospital until September.  But despite his great age — he has turned 90 — he is recovering, still active, making new podcasts, and he’s still predicting the end of days.  How sad.  Perhaps the quakes, which he would have felt at his home in Alameda, gave him encouragement that this time he’s nearer the mark.  Well, we did have two quakes at or near 4.0 magnitude in one day, rather uncommon, but not unheard of.   Maybe the Bay Area is facing ruination, with many fatalities.  Is that something you would wish for, though?  I still find it very sad that someone should live to 90 years and yet spend all his time worrying about death.  And in any case, we’re just talking about the Bay Area.  If we get the Big One tomorrow, the rest of the earth will be just fine.  Japan’s horrible quake earlier this year was bigger than anything the shaky Hayward Fault can dish up.  Though the quake caused the earth to slowdown a bit and change its axis a hair, it hardly destroyed the planet.  Life goes on.

So here’s how I’ll be spending this second doomsday weekend of the year.  In addition to activities in my last post (eating, listening to and playing music, time with loved ones), I’ll be putting together an earthquake preparedness kit for home and car.  We had stuff here in the house, but I’m sure it’s expired by now.  The only sign we should get from earthquakes and other natural disasters is that we live on an active planet that is subject to dish out terrific forces well beyond our control at any time.  Our best plan is to be prepared.

Carousel

I’ve always liked older boys.

One summer day long ago my mother took me to the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round.  I don’t remember if it was my first trip to a merry-go-round, but I remember how excited I was to be able to ride on it by myself.  I felt all grown-up.   Mom gave me enough money to take several rides and then left me to my devices.  I think we went with a friend of hers, and she and her friend went off and chatted while I re-upped on the merry-go-round over and over.

The attendant was a teenager, probably around 15 or 16.  He had long brown hair and a skinny frame.  He didn’t say too much to me at first.  But after my second ride he came to me and told me that I should switch up horses between rides.  So I gleefully went from horse to horse from one cycle to the next.

I remember wishing that he would ride with me and talk to me.  I thought he was rather pretty.  I liked his hair.  Who knows what we would have talked about.  I was only 8 or 9 or something.  Maybe 10, tops.  What would I say to a big kid like that?  But still the thought possessed me as I went round and round.  I lacked the slick moves that my godson apparently has in spades.  My partner, his parent, and me took him and his younger sister to the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland a few years ago and as we were waiting in line to look through the telescope, he was clearing making the moves on the girl in front of us.  He was 8 at the time; she may have been older.  My friend, his father, and I were looking at each other and saying stuff like “check this shit out!” in whispered tones.  I can’t describe exactly what it was, but we knew what we saw.  He had been hyper that evening, but all that vanished.  He was smooth talking in a low voice, his body loose yet in control, his eyes making contact.  Heaven knows where he picked up these moves, but it was rather impressive.  I expect it was just innate.

Nothing of the sort existed for me at that age.  I had no moves, at least not like that.  Though I did notice boys early on.  I remember Underroos TV commercials from when I was 7.  Boys and girls my age and a bit older ran around in their tighty whities to demonstrate how much fun Underoos were to wear.  I remember not caring about the product as much as I did the boys advertising it.  I doubt I tried to talk my parents into buying some.  It wouldn’t have felt right to ask for a certain brand of underwear.  They might have asked why this brand, and self-consciousness would have made me fumble over an answer.  I was generally too earnest a kid to prevaricate, but at the same time I would not have wanted to say “because I think the boys on TV look cute in them and I want to look cute, too.”  So I never talked about them with my parents or anyone.  I just silently waited for the commercial to air during Saturday morning cartoons and hoped that no one would notice my acute interest in it.  Heaven knows where I learned to censor myself like that.  I expect it was just innate.

I remember the last ride on the merry-go-round clearest.  On this occasion, I got on a horse that didn’t jump.  I had been on a bunch of jumpers and I thought I’d try one of the stationary ones.  Today on the Griffith Park website they boast that each one of their horses are jumpers.  Maybe they always were and this last one I got on was busted.  I don’t know.  But I remember the teenaged keeper came over to me as the ride was starting up and told me that I should only get on the horses that moved.  He didn’t explain why, but he wasn’t mean or scolding.  In fact he was quite nice about it.  And he smiled.  Ah! Be still my heart!  I got all warm inside.  I lacked any moves, but I’m sure my eyes twinkled a bit as I smiled back and said, “OK.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was out of tokens and it was my last ride.

I was sad that it was the last ride.  I had gotten my fill of the merry-go-round, but we had finally connected.  Maybe on the next ride, he would have ridden with me.

Forging Pitchforks

“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” – President Obama, April 2009

First we saw Wisconsin and the movement to save union rights for public service employees, a justified reaction to a gross conservative overreach.  Citizens in Ohio followed soon after in reaction to a gross conservative overreach in that state to enact similar legislation.  Citizens in Michigan reacted strongly to a gross conservative overreach that strips local municipalities of their local governing authority if the municipality, be it city or county, falls into financial turmoil — if that happens, Big Daddy, in the form of an unelected, state-appointed controller, comes in and runs things by fiat.  In olden days they would have called such a person a despot.

Meanwhile, as all this transpires across the country, the financial institutions that precipitated the financial crisis in 2008-9 continue to rake in obscene profits, continue to pay premium salaries and bonuses to those who caused the crisis, and continue to speculate, speculate, speculate, thus ensuring that we’ll have another financial crisis in the near future.  Wall Street is fine.  Main Street, not so much.

Some have complained that Occupy Wall Street is too chaotic, too unfocussed.  They have no coherent message.  Blah, blah.  Really, the message is not too hard to fathom:  the status quo cannot continue.  This is a protest that is long overdue.  Too many have been out of work for too long.  Folks who were doing reasonably well are facing days of reckoning because the once affordable rent or mortgage isn’t, thanks to loss of income.  Nonetheless, there are some who say that there must be shared sacrifice, that everyone must take a haircut to help improve the economy.  Hmmm.

I remember, in my waning days at UCLA, when the tuition was starting its upward climb.  An acquaintance at the time said ‘eh, it’s not that bad.’  Folks didn’t make much of a fuss when $1400 became $1500.  Or when $1500 became $2000 and then $2500 and then $3000 after that.  Today we find that tuition at UCLA has risen over 800% in the past 23 years from about $1400 when I left to over $12,600 today.  800%?  That’s crazy.  Meanwhile, middle class wages have certainly not risen at an analogous rate.  If anything, they’ve remained stagnant, or worse regressed.

Haircut?  These days, its the conservative, moneyed ruling class, and not the hippies, that are the long hairs.  Everyone else is bald.

In the face of a generation’s worth of wealth disparity, it’s little wonder that many are taking to the streets.  The financial crisis put a big fat magnifying glass on the disparity by showing who managed to make it out OK and who didn’t.  And though Mr. Obama rightly stated that his policies were keeping the pitchforks at bay, in the end his administration has done little to reign in the rapaciousness that rules over Wall Street.  What else to do but take to the streets and say enough’s enough?

The days of unchallenged gross overreaches are coming to an end.  And that’s a good thing.

Two Straight Lines

Mr. Speaker, I ask for unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks in the Congressional Record.

Without objection, so ordered.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  Now I’ve come to the floor of this body not to dispute or politely disagree with a particular point that has come to my attention.  I have come to scorn.  I have come to ridicule.  I have come to mock.  Because I believe, Mr. Speaker, that it is only through these less genteel and more direct forms of speech that I can make my point as clearly as possible.

If you look at the graphic behind me, you’ll see two lines.  Two straight lines.  Both of them have arrows on either end.  One has arrows that point away from the line. Here you see, Mr. Speaker, the arrows pointing away, touching the line here at the crotch of the arrow.   And the other line has arrows that point towards the line.  There, you see, Mr. Speaker, the tip of the arrows touch the ends of the line here.

Now, Mr. Speaker, you can see and I can see that these are two straight, parallel lines. And we can also see, Mr. Speaker, that the bottom line, with the arrows pointing inwards, is clearly longer than the top line, with the arrows point outwards.  You can see this, Mr. Speaker, and I can see it.  It’s as plain as day.  But there are some so-called “learned” people, people with fancy degrees and letters behind their names — “geniuses” I guess we’ll call them — who, for reasons of their own, will try to tell you that these two straight lines are in fact of the same exact length.  They are homogeneous lines, they’ll try to tell you.  The lines are homogeneous.

Well, I may not be a genius, Mr. Speaker, but I can tell you that there is nothing “homo” about these two straight lines whatsoever.  Look at them again.  The top line is smaller than the bottom line.  Period.  End of discussion.  That is what my God-given eyes see, Mr. Speaker, and by God, that is good enough for me.

Now the homogeneous people will try to tell you, well, it’s an illusion.  Just use a ruler and measure the lines, and you’ll see that they are, in fact, the same.  As we have come to see time and time again, Mr. Speaker, the homogeneous sect will always fall back on “science” to legitimize themselves.  The world is heating up!  It’s science.  Evolution is fact!  Dinosaurs roamed the earth before man!  It’s science.  These lines are homogeneous!  It’s science. It’s natural.  They were created that way, they say.

I cry foul, Mr. Speaker!  I cry foul!  I can see no clear way to measure these lines accurately with any ruler that I am aware of.  What is the reference point, Mr. Speaker?  Do you measure from arrow tip to arrow tip?  Do you measure from arrow crotch to arrow crotch?  Do you start deep in the crotch of at one end, measure along the long, straight shaft of the line and stop at the very tip at the other end?  Or vice versa?  Who’s to say, Mr. Speaker?  With all this confusion, then, how are we to accurately — or “scientifically,” a word many in the homogeneous sect like to bandy about — how are we to measure these two straight lines?  You can’t!  You cannot. But the homogenous crowd will tell you that it is possible and that when you do, you’ll see that each of these two straight lines are the same.

Well, Mr. Speaker, I am here to say that I am tired of all this fancy science stuff.  It is a smoke screen, Mr. Speaker.  It is a smoke screen used by certain segments of our population to further their own political agendas, to the detriment of our society and its basic, fundamental values.  As I stated, my God-given eyes see two straight lines that are of different lengths.  I will thus accept that conclusion as a matter of faith and not be fooled by the “illusion.”  Maybe it is time, Mr. Speaker, at long last, maybe it is time that we stop kowtowing to the so-called homogeneous and start following our core, heterogeneous values in our day-to-day lives.  And it may not be politically correct to say, Mr. Speaker — as I said at the offset, I am being blunt and direct — but I believe that in the end, if we practice more heterogeneous ways, we will keep our society on the straight and narrow, as straight as these two lines, where it duly belongs.

I yield back the balance of my time.

Classless Warfare

Graffiti I recently spied in the men’s room at one of my favorite brunch joints said it all.  In gaudy yellow felt on the toilet seat sanitary cover dispenser was the phrase “TAX THE RICH,”  in all caps and fat letters.  Written right below it, in thin-lined blue ink were much smaller letters that read “And loose (sic) your job.”  It wasn’t just the content of the words themselves, but their presentation that truly brought the point home.  In the populist message, echoing the sentiment of a large part of society, the letters nearly scream themselves hoarse.  While the other message, let’s call it the establishment message, presents itself with the sort of understatement that only smug self-assurance can afford — which of course would have been more convincing except for the glaring spelling error.  I’ll leave it to you to make the obligatory comments about lack of funding for education, etc.

Class warfare is an expression you rarely hear from anyone but conservatives who are duty bound to protect the very wealthy at any cost.  Mr. Spelling Boo-Boo’s warning about losing ones job if the rich are made to pay higher taxes is one of the greatest weapons conservatives have in maintaining historically low tax rates for upper income earners.  This principle was perfectly demonstrated Monday morning during an interview on MSNBC.  Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) made the class warfare claim against taxing millionaires and stated how he himself was a businessman with several Subway and UPS store franchises.  The host noted that he made $6.3 million gross from his businesses, but he quickly countered that after paying salaries for 500 employees and other expenses that he only brought home $600,000.  And from that he needed to invest another $400,000 into his businesses, leaving his family only $200,000 to live on.  He also receives a congressional salary of $174,000.  When the host tried to get him to see that most folks don’t make anywhere near $200,000 a year, he retorted that “Class warfare never created a job.”  Also during the course of the interview, he intimated that if he had to pay higher personal taxes, he would likely have to lay off some folks.  Because then he’d likely only take home $195,000 or something like that, and that just won’t do.

Mark Zuckerberg gets it.  When President Obama appeared at a town hall at Facebook last April he told Mr. Zuckerberg to his face that, under his plan, he would have to pay more in taxes, to which the Facebook founder famously said “I’m cool with that.”  Warren Buffett gets it.  The President capsulized Mr. Buffett’s declaration that he can afford to pay more in taxes by calling it the Buffett Rule.  Once upon a time, during times of stress and strain, it was considered patriotic to pay taxes.  My parents lived through the Great Depression.  My father fought in the Second World War.  They knew sacrifice.  Yet in the last decade, when the US declared two wars — both of which are still quite going on, incidentally — President Bush lowered taxes.  Families have sacrificed loved ones to the wars while US citizens were encouraged to go shopping.

Years of tax cuts did not lead to a mass creation of jobs during President Bush’s misspent days in office.  Subsidizing wildly profitable industries like the oil industry and mega-corporate farms has not created tons more jobs.  Trickle down doesn’t happen and has been rounded discredited except in the jaundiced eyes of those protecting the very wealthy — like Mr. Spelling Boo-Boo.  Do I believe in making cuts to the budget?  Of course.  The right cuts, not cuts that will impoverish more citizens or throw those on the edge of disaster into the abyss.  But lets not continue to protect the obscene profits of the very rich at the expense of society as a whole.  Avarice and greed are not qualities worth protecting.  But clean air and water, education, police and fire service, safe roads and bridges, and everything else that makes up a decent, civilized society are.

I Knew the Answer

“No one knows the answer to that one?”

I had my hand up, waving the little green flag we’re supposed to use whenever we wanted to be called on.

“No one?”

I started wiggling it a little bit more.

“Going once, going twice. . .”

No one else waved their flags.  Maybe she couldn’t see me for the shadow I sat in.

“OK, moving on.”

I kept my arm up, with my flag in my hand and did a few last waves, until the people sitting next to me started to stare with their eyes cast down on me like I’m stupid.  I’m not stupid.  I knew the answer.  I just didn’t get called on.  I lowered my hand, but still they gave me downcast eyes.  I looked at them, then looked away.  I could still feel them staring at me.  Their eyes had moved on, but still they stared at me.  I could feel it.  They thought I was stupid.  I’m not stupid.  I knew the answer.

So I blurted it out.

“35!”

The teacher stopped.  She glanced over her glasses my way.

“35!”

“Why did you say that?” she said.

“That’s the answer.  It’s 35!”

“We’ve moved on.  Why didn’t you raise your hand?”

“I did.  You just didn’t see it.  The answer is 35!”

“You’re disrupting the class now.  We’ve moved on.  We’re not on that problem anymore.  We’ve moved on.”

“The answer is still 35!”

She turned her back to me and started writing on the chalkboard.  I could feel the downcast eyes again.  The pity glare.  The annoyed glare.  The shut-the-bleep-up glare.  The you’re stupid glare.

I’m not stupid.  I knew the answer.  I got up and stood on my chair.  Now I got the big eyes.

“35!  35!  35!”

“Sit down!  Sit down!” the teacher shouted.

“The answer is 35!  When someone gives the right answer, you say ‘correct’!”

She glared at me.  I couldn’t tell which eyes she used, but the other students wavered between the big eyes and the squinty, giggly eyes.

“35!  35!  35!  35!  35!  35!  35!  35!  35!  35!”

I think some of the other students started to chant with me.  But I didn’t notice.  The teacher came to my corner of the room and withdrew me from the shadow.

“We’re going to the principal, young man.  I will not have disruptions in my class.”

“35!  35!”

“Enough!”

She clutched my wrist and yanked my arm.  The students kept chanting 35.  Now I could hear them as we went down the hall.  The other classrooms heard them, too.  Faces appeared in cracked doorways.  They heard the 35s and wondered what on earth was going on.  Their eyes stared big at me.  A few teachers looked, too.

“35!  35!  35!  35!  35!”

She pulled me down the hall and down the stairs.  I almost tripped a few times, but still she pulled.  More big eyes fell upon me, from the custodians and the hallway guards.

“35!”

We entered the main office.  She flew through the pony wall  gate with me in tow.  She bypassed the receptionist and took me straight into the principal’s office.

“He is disrupting my class!”

“She wouldn’t call on me when I had the answer.  The answer is 35!”

“Really?” the principal said.  “That’s not like you Joseph, not at all.  You’re usually such a quiet young man.”

Then he gave me the downcast eyes.  I couldn’t tell if he thought I was stupid or if he pitied me or if he pitied me because I was stupid.

“It’s still 35,” I said.

Though it was too late.  His office had a shadow and I found myself withdrawing into it.

Majority Whiner? Hell Yeah!

I was honestly not going to do any political posts for a bit — not enough fiction, you know.  But I can’t resist.

Eric Cantor.  I could say all sorts of rude things about him or say what my nickname for him is, but I’ll refrain.

Alright, I call him Gumby-head.  Doesn’t his whole head, not just his funky hairdo but his whole fricking head, remind you of The Green One?

OK, now that I got that out of my system. . .

What motivated me to say something was to give props and hell yeahs and all other manner of praise to Salon’s long time columnist Andrew Leonard who NAILED Cantor.  Check it.

Smirky, smarmy, and apparently not a whole lot going on upstairs — if he really believes that the debt crisis thing is all imaginary —  that pretty much summarizes Cantor.  I was amazed (and yet not amazed) when I saw a clip of him last night where he did not refer to the president as the President or President Obama, but “Barack Obama.”  It wasn’t just that he was calling out the president by name, sans title, but the way he said it, smothered with a snide drawl that reeked of condescension.  Ugh!  Calgon!  Take me away!

In general, though, the country is in a pickle if the best we can do is come up with Cantors and Boehners.  They don’t negotiate.  President Obama might as well be negotiating with potted plants.  A potted plant looks the same, feels the same, and smells the same no matter what you say to it.  So does, apparently, the Republican Congressional Caucus.  If, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated many times, their only real goal is to keep the President down to just one term, whatever it takes, then they are worse than just potted plants.  Potted plants are benign.  OK, may they’re potted Venus flytraps.  It makes me think of the old fable about the scorpion and the frog, where the latter gives a lift across the river to the former, who promptly stings his ride to death and they both drown.  The scorpion’s only rational being “it’s my nature.”

It wasn’t always Republicans’ nature to be dangerously obstinate.  Even a dyed-in-the-wool like myself can admit that this country has seen many great Republican statesmen and women.  But we’re seeing fewer and fewer of them and in this age we really need all hands on deck.  The real culprit of our problems is runaway greed and the consequence of too many having too much and not putting it back in the system for the good of all.  It ain’t trickling, as many sage commentators have said of late, including Mr. Leonard.  It used to be that even Republicans would begrudgingly admit this and raise taxes or spend money on programs that helped people when needed, to keep the wheels going.  But not this crowd.  Uh-uh.  If this crop were around in the 30s and 40s, the Depression would be entering its ninth decade, with no end in sight.

Though, to be fair, a few are very begrudgingly starting to see the light, at least as far as not sending the US credit rating into junk status.  The problem is that it only takes a few, like Cantor, to ruin it for everyone.

Punishment to Fit the Crime: A Black and Blue Fantasy

“TAXI!”

“Where to, buddy?”

“The St. Francis Hotel, please.”

They rolled into town from SFO. The cabbie got off the freeway and coursed the streets of SOMA.

“Look at those degenerates! All those tight pants and leather!”

“Bothered by the gays, buddy?”

“Oh! I just think they are such barbarians! They need to be disciplined! I mean look at them! Have they no sense of decency? They should be disciplined, each and every one of them!”

“I hear you, bud. But you know what? I know a place where they are taken care of.”

“Really? Here? In San Francisco?”

“Yeah, buddy. Right here. Do you want to see?”

“Yes, please! Take me there right away!”

The cab made a sharp jolt and went down darkened streets with few pedestrians.

“This will be wonderful!  Maybe I could interview someone and learn their techniques.  You see, I run a clinic back home where we try to cure people from the affliction of homosexuality.”

“I see.  You a doctor or something?”

“Yes.  We help people with their afflictions.  Do you think they’ll be able to help me at this clinic you’re taking me to?  Is it a clinic?”

“Yeah, in a manner of speaking.  They have their own techniques, you understand.”

“Mmm-hmmm.”

“But I’m sure they’ll be real happy to show you the ropes.”

They pulled into an alley and the cabbie stopped the motor.

“Here we are, Doc.”

“This looks rather nondescript.  Are you sure this is the place?”

“Oh yeah, Doc.  This is the place, alright.  Let me show you in.”

“Thank you.”

They went to a solid, black metal door with a large black doorknob.  It was locked.  The cabbie pressed a doorbell.  A few moments later they heard a buzzing sound.  The door unlocked.  After they went though, the door slammed and clanked behind them.   They entered a black space with dull light and hints of red.  A blacklight hung over a tall metallic counter.

“There’s no one here?”

“Someone will be here, doc.”

A few more moments pass.  The cabbie, in his blue jeans, white t-shirt, and untucked long red shirt stood with his hands in his back pockets, his weight heavy on one foot.  The doctor, in his fine three piece suit and matching tie, twitched and fretted while looking around the empty space that betrayed nothing.  Even the door they entered appeared to have vanished.  Finally, a bald-headed man with a handlebar mustache came to the counter.  His dark brown eyes peered at them, but he otherwise appeared unfazed.

“Good evening gentlemen,” he said.  “May I help you?”

The doctor looked at the cabbie, who egged him to go to the counter, which he finally did in hesitant steps.  The cabbie followed, hands firmly in his back pockets.

After a few more glances at the cabbie, the doctor turned to the bald-headed man behind the counter and spoke.

“Good evening.”

The bald man said nothing.

“I understand your establishment exercises discipline, uh, that is, it dispenses discipline to those, uh, what I mean to say is.”

“The doc here says he’s upset about the gays,” the cabbie blurted out, “says that they need to be disciplined.  Says he runs a clinic back home that does something like that.”

“Well, I may have used the word discipline in a moment of, uh, frustration.  But yes, I do run a clinic that helps people better themselves.  And this gentleman said that he could show me a place that has its own techniques.”

The bald man’s expression did not change.  “So, you think gays need to be disciplined, to become better humans?” he said.

“Well, yes, that’s right.  It’s for their own good.”

The cabbie was pulling faces which made the bald man flinch a bit, until he resumed his stoic pose.

“I think we can help you here, doctor,” the bald man said.  “Come with me.”

“Oh wonderful!  Thank you!”

“I’ll wait for you here, doc.”

The cabbie and the bald man exchanged looks again, and then the bald man disappeared behind a black leather curtain, with the doctor close behind.  The cabbie chuckled.

“Come this way, doctor.”

They stopped in front of a black metal gate.  The bald man pushed a button and cables behind the gate began to move.  Soon a platform appeared and the bald man opened the gate.  The doctor walked towards the lift, but the bald man stopped him with a hand firmly on his chest.

“Now doctor, are you sure you want to see our techniques?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Because there are some hard core cases that we deal with on a regular basis and only the most severe techniques can be used to cure them.  You have to be prepared for that.  Are you, doctor?  Are you prepared to bear witness to what you are about to see?  Are you ready to see the most depraved humanity imaginable? Can your eyes stand the sight of those lesser than yourself groveling and begging for mercy, screaming for the angels above to save them?  We do not shirk from our duties, doctor.  We do not pussyfoot or mealy mouth here.  We do not use platitudes or soothing words.  We punish.  We hurt.  We instill pain and terror.  For the good of all, doctor, it must be so.  Raw, naked, sweaty, terror.  Are you ready to experience total discipline and total control in its rawest, most brutal form imaginable?”

“Yes!  Oh, yes, I am!  Take me!  Take me!”

“Very well, doctor.”  He took his hand off the doctor’s chest and took him on the platform elevator.  Then he slammed the gate closed and pushed a button.  Slowly the lift descended, its large wheel above their heads creaking as it turned.

“We’re going down an awful long way!” the doctor exclaimed nervously.

But the bald man was unfazed.

Finally, they came to a jerky stop.  The bald man looked the doctor in the eye, as emotionless as Mr. Spock, and then he opened the metal door.

“Here we are, doctor.”

They exited the lift.  The space was just as dark as reception had been, but with wisps of cool white smoke dispersing what little light existed.  Brightening the room more than anything were piecing screams from all directions and the striking of flesh.

“Oh my!  Oh, this sounds most severe.”

“I did warn you, doctor.  We cannot turn back now.  This way.”

He followed the bald man as best he could in the misty darkness.  They went through a passageway and into a large cavernous space aglow with spotlights highlighting barrels, planks, crosses, slings, and mattress-less bed frames standing on end.  Chains, ropes, and leather straps dripped from on high like unpruned tree limbs.  And all of these various stations were populated by tied down, naked men with topless, hooded overlords glowering over them, each bearing their instrument of choice.

“This looks sadistic!  Look at them.  They’re beating those men without mercy!”

Their moans filled his ears.

“It’s called discipline, doctor.  Just like you said.  Each of them deserve what they are receiving.  Take this person.”  They walk to one of the barrels over which a man is strapped facedown and a muscled black man lorded over him.  “What did this one do?” the bald man asked.

“He didn’t obey me.”  WHACK!  “So I need to loosen him up a bit”  WHACK!  “Until he learns who’s the master.”  WHACK!  WHACK!  WHACK!

“Is this necessary?” the doctor asked.

The master bent over and grabbed the head of the man over the barrel.

“TELL THE VISITOR HOW BAD YOU’VE BEEN!”

“I’ve been really bad, sir.  Really bad.  I deserve this.”

The master let go of his head and hit him a few more times.

“Is that a shaving strap?”

“Yeah.  Nice thick piece of leather, ain’t it?  It’s the only way.”

“Would you care to try it out, doctor?” the bald man asked.

“Oh, I don’t know.  I’ve never done anything like this.”

“There’s always a first time.  Do you mind, sir, letting the doctor try it?”

“Not at all.”  The master handed him the strap.  “Here you go.”

The doctor looked at it like it came from Mars.  He studied it over, looking at one side then the other.

“You hit him with it,” the master said, impatiently.  “You hit him on the ass.  Haven’t you ever spanked your kids?”

“Well once or twice.”

“Remember,” the bald man said, “the man on the barrel is a homosexual.  Unrepentant.  He doesn’t deny it.  He needs to be disciplined.”

“Yes!  Please!  Hit me!  Hit me!”

“Alright, then.  If it will help with the treatment.”

Whack.

“No, no!  Harder!” the master commanded.

Whack!

“He’s a godless homo,” the bald man whispered in the doctor’s ear.  “He barbaric.  Just like the rest of them here.  Barbarians.  He’s a threat to God and country.”

God and country brought a fury in the doctor’s eyes.  He reared his arm and hand back and let loose with a loud crack on the man’s ass.

W-H-A-C-K!!!

He screamed in anguish.

“YEAH!” the master exclaimed.

W-H-A-C-K!!!

“That’s it, doctor,” the bald man said.  “Give it to him.”

“You will not ruin my country!”

W-H-A-C-K!!!

“You will not blaspheme my God!”

W-H-A-C-K!!!

“You will not corrupt my children with your filth!”

W-H-A-C-K!!!

“You godless, male-lusting, sweaty, filthy, horny homosexual!”

W-H-A-C-K!!!!!!

He gave the man on the barrel a few more licks until exhaustion got the better of him and he passed the strap back to its owner.  The man on the barrel whimpered, his ass black and blue.  The doctor patted his sweaty brow with his handkerchief.

“Do you think he’s cured yet?”

“It’s hard to say, doctor,” the bald man said.  “Some of the cases here are quite stubborn.  They require further treatment.”

“It must be tiring work for you all!  But do you get results?”

“In time, doctor.  In time.”

“Say,” the master said, “you look a little worked up yourself.”

“Well, I am a bit flushed.”

“No, I mean worked up.  You know, worked up?” he said, grabbing his own crotch.

“I beg your pardon!”

The bald man took the doctor’s hands away from his crotch.

“Yes, it does look rather ‘tented’ down there,” he said.

“What are you suggesting?  I’m a married man!”

“Still, doctor, even still.  Tsk, tsk.”

“Seems like you might need a treatment yourself, doc,” the master said.

“You don’t mean to say that I?  I mean that . . . that I’m becoming one of them?”

“Exposure can lead to contamination, unless you are strong, doctor,” the bald man said.  “And even then, sometimes we ourselves, those of us who provide the treatment, can benefit from a session or two.  After all, would you want your wife to know that you’ve allowed yourself to become excited in this way?”

“Oh god, no!  No!  She would see me as a liability and disown me!  No, Christ, no!”

“Don’t sweat it, doc,” the master said.  He undid the straps of the man on the barrel.  The man slid off and curled into a ball nearby.  “Hop on.”

“Really?  You’ll give me. . .discipline?”

“On the house, doc.  Come on.”

The bald man observed as the master strapped the doctor on the barrel, leaving his clothing on.

“We’ll start real gentle like.”

WHACK!

“Oh!” the doctor exclaimed.

“Did you feel that, doc?”

“I certainly felt something!”

“Let’s try it again.”

WHACK!

“OOooh!”

“One more time!”

WHACK!

“Oh mercy, mercy!”

“You feeling it yet, doc?”

“I’m not sure.  I think so.  Better try it again!”

“What’s that, doctor, I can’t hear you!”

“I said, yes! yes!  Please try it again!”

“Alright, then!”

WHACK!  WHACK!  WHACK!

The bald man nodded with satisfaction as a host of masters bearing whips and straps cued up to take turns to help with the doctor’s discipline.  Satisfied that his work was done, he took the lift upstairs and went outside to have a smoke.  He saw the cabbie also smoking as he leaned against his car.  He joined him.

“He still down there?”

“Yeah, he’s getting his ass whipped by everyone down there.  Even a few of the slaves are joining in.”

“He he he he he.”

“Where were you supposed to take him?

“The St. Francis.”

“Of a sissy?”

The both started to laugh.

Dance of the Ephemerals

They go through my head in a flash of color like a summer’s bolt of lightening.  And they last about as long.  In that span exists minutes, hours, days, months, years.  Lifespans.  Names and places.  Streets and cornfields.  Hurricanes and tornados.  Floods and famines.  Boats, cars, ships.  Folks in a hurry and folks taking their sweet time.  Folks who know their destination and folks who just don’t have a clue.

Some open up readily and impart who and what and why they are in a blink of an eye.  Others snarl, remain tight lipped, and dare you to complain about it.  Those are often the most interesting ones — they dare you to catch them in a bottle.

They all come from the same soup as we did back in the long ago.  And thus the spark is a crucial part of the creation process.  But each spark does not lead to an evolving being, only the promise of one.  So exists the Ephemerals.

They hold no allegiances.  Their purpose is to exist and impart.  They do so on their own terms and in their own language.  It is not their job to teach that language or wait patiently for an interpreter.  They reveal themselves, then go.  Once the flash is gone, memory must take over to make something of what occurred.  They rarely grant repeat performances.  But their dance can bewitch and one showing can fill several lifetimes.  This is the way of the Ephemerals.

Sometimes their numbers can overwhelm.  Or they can impart so much in their brief moment of existence that the memory becomes hopelessly bogged down in minutia.  Subtlety is lost.  Finer gray shadings lose their beauty in memory’s harsh spotlight as it scours for details.  Memory gluttonously seeks order and will impart its own if not sated.  Then the flash diminishes.  Delicate are the Ephemerals.

I shepherd memory to curb its ravenous nature.  Through slow reflection, I can see the image left behind by the Ephemerals, like looking at a developing Polaroid.  Then I must use what tools I have to tell what I have witnessed.  Through this process I attempt to transcribe the dance of the Ephemerals and master their choreography.

Start Spreading the News. . .

New York makes it legal.  What a sweet victory.  The thing that likely pushed it over the finished line was the “get out of jail free” card added to the bill that exempted religious institutes from having to conduct or condone same-sex unions in their hallowed halls against their will.  And I’m totally fine with that. During the brief time that same-sex marriage was legal here in California, there were plenty of religious institutes that were only too happy to host and bless the unions.  Those institutes that did not, didn’t.  There it is.

I’ve always said that in the eyes of the state, all marriages are civil unions, not religious ones.  The religious element is added by the marrying couple based on their own preferences and inclinations.  But the marriage license, the piece of paper that declares a couple is bound together legally and grants the couple oodles of rights and benefits, is an instrument of the state.  Churches, temples, and mosques do not issue them.  This is a good thing.  We live in a democracy, not a theocracy.  You know, that first amendment thing:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . .

It’s been very frustrating to me that the religious aspect of marriage has overshadowed the debate about same-sex marriage, because the state, state and federal government, has no business discussing or promoting any religious dogma.  Government’s sole concern regarding gay marriage should be will it harm society.  Daily Kos posted this handy pie chart demonstrating just what effect same-sex marriage will have on the world:

pie chart gay marriage

Six other jurisdictions have legalized same-sex marriage in the US before New York — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington D.C. — and in none of these areas did World War III or plagues erupt, schools start teaching how to have gay sex, or terrorists win.  It is doubtful that New York will be an exception to the trend.

Smart folks know all this.  Smart folks who understand how the law works and what the constitution says have figured this out already.  Governor Andrew Cuomo is smart.  He used his position as NY governor to spearhead this effort through the state legislature.  And in the process he and his colleagues convinced enough Republicans in the New York state senate, the Republican controlled New York state senate, to vote in favor of marriage equality.  That’s huge.

I would like to think that other smart folks will eventually rise to the level of their intelligence and stature and do the same thing.  To do so would be a demonstration of fierce advocacy.  Perhaps New York’s example will be an example for the rest of the country.

Viva New York!