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About The Novel, “Confessions Of An Honest Man”.

 

About “Confessions Of An Honest Man”

john_coltrane
John Coltrane

 

            Old School. That’s what this is, this book about a dysfunctional family that begins in 1957 and carries the reader through to the present day. I started this book in 1976. In ’78 I made a splash by winning Best Short Story Award from Playboy Magazine. I signed with an agent and there was a lot of interest in this book. I had lunches with my editor in New York City. It was classic author-stuff, from another era. I had an opportunity but I wasn’t ripe, the book wasn’t ripe and I didn’t finish it until 2014. I had to do some living before I could write the stories in this book.

            I’ve drawn a lot of autobiographical material into this narrative. I was the kind of kid that Aaron Kantro is in these pages. I was still in grade school when I first heard jazz on a recording by Louis Armstrong.   Can you imagine a twelve year old closeting himself in his bedroom and listening to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane? Can you imagine that today, or fifty years ago? This is a precocious lonely child.  He doesn’t fit in well with his class mates.  He gets bullied but he doesn’t cringe easily, doesn’t give in.  

            Aaron’s mother, Esther, is horrified. She regards any deviation from her plans as personal attacks. Her sons will become professionals.  They will be doctors or lawyers. Her daughters will marry socially prominent men of wealth and have two or three grandchildren apiece. She gets, instead, a dreamy musician who listens to what is called, in Yiddish,”Scvhatze music”. She is convinced that her oldest son will become a bum playing at Bar Mitzvahs and her younger son…well…he’s crazy, he goes into trances and hurts people and then he can’t remember what he’s done. Esther’s dreams are fueled by a pathological insecurity that develops into full-blown Manic Depression, today’s bi-polar disorder.  On top of her clinical disturbances, Esther is flat-out mean. She’s sadistic and clever.

            This is starting to sound a little depressing.   I promise you, it’s not. The book has darkness, of course. But it tracks the development of two creative children who get no support. They need determination and strength to follow their dreams.  The other two children are interesting in their monstrousness, their violence and greed.  By splitting the four children into two teams I’ve created a laboratory, showing the corrosive effects of parental abuse.  The outcomes depend on the child’s innate moral nature.  Aaron and Sarah survive and become productive only through enormous courage and tenacity.

            This is the Kantro family. A father, a mother and four kids.  Two of the kids are sweet and two of them are monsters. Max knows that something is wrong in his family. It is the 60’s and he has few tools available.  He’s trying, but it’s hard to maneuver through the family’s emotional problems.  There’s always trouble.  Aaron may be experimenting with drugs.  Somehow that’s not so bad as Mark’s propensity to collect weapons and lurk on the outskirts of thuggish mayhem.  The world  has yet to fill with more sophisticated knowledge. There are few books to be had  about family dynamics. Eating disorders are unknown. When Sarah dives into Bulimia, she hasn’t a clue, nor does anyone else, about this compulsive behavior.  It’s a total mystery and the only option is to put her in a mental hospital for a month or two.  

            In “Confessions Of An Honest Man” we travel the Hero’s Journey with Aaron. He’s brave enough to defy his mother. He goes to New York City at the fresh age of sixteen. He’s searching for his jazz hero, the legendary Avian Coulter.

He finds Avian.   The man is Avant Garde, a polarizing figure in the jazz world.  He’s also an addict.  Avian takes Aaron under his broken wings and turns him in the direction he needs to go.   He introduces Aaron to the successful blues n’ bop saxophonist, Zoot Prestige.  Aaron needs to play Black, Aaron needs to be in Chitlin’ Circuit clubs in Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis.  Avian trusts his friend Zoot more than he trusts himself.  Zoot will watch over Aaron and keep him from getting into too much trouble.  The gigs with the Zoot Prestige Trio are wonderfully goofy.  

            This is a fairly large book and it goes a lot of places. We meet Jimi Hendrix and we fight the Soviet Army with the Mujahiddin in the Eighties. Read the book.  F’god’s sake, it’s $2.99. Then leave a review.   Every author needs reviews.   Thanks for being here.

 

Two Virgins On A Disastrous Honeymoon

Do you love to read?  I do.  My love of reading led me to writing like an arrow shot from a taut bow.  Now what do I need?  I need READERS.  I don’t churn out books like a machine.  I consider everything carefully, every word.  I play the drums and I think my writing is influenced by this innate sense of rhythm.  That’s what makes it work.  CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN is about a young drummer who must fight for his music, fight his fiendish mother who thinks that having a musician in the family will bring shame to her.  Only doctors, lawyers, maybe a dentist if things go wrong, those are the only respectable professions for a nice Jewish boy.  Aaron Kantro is not really a nice Jewish boy.  He’s a crazy dreamer, sometimes a drug addict, he’s….well, he’s human and he’s interesting.  All the Kantro family are interesting people.  You’re about to read about oldest sister Mari-lee’s honeymoon.  She’s marrying for money, of course, because she’s as heartless as her mother and climbing is the only thing worth doing.  Let’s see how that works for her, shall we?The book is online as an e-book, it’s at Amazon and Smashwords.com and costs less than three dollars.  Treat yourself and support my efforts.

Source: Two Virgins On A Disastrous Honeymoon

About my Sci Fi novel, The Gods Of The Gift

Gods WP             It was in the late seventies.  I turned   right onto Third Street in San Rafael and my inner vision exploded with a scene.  I was seeing a huge monastic building like a Tibetan lamasery.  Think of The Potala.  Here was this enormous structure flying in the air, floating away from the ground trailing roots and boulders.  It seemed to be headed towards a moon that was chartreuse and hovered above the monastery in a kind of leering way, sinister.  Then a voice began speaking.  Never mind what it was saying.  It was talking inside my head.  Like dictation.  It was describing things like Destiny; the way Destiny is determined by the thoughts of the one who thinks.  Yes yes, very metaphysical. 

            I drove home listening to this voice describing a system of discipline, a system that corresponded to what I know of Tibetan Tantric practice.  I know very little about Tibetan Tantric practice.  I have a clue, that’s all.

            A book grew from this vision and this voice.  At the time I was flush from my recent award from Playboy Magazine and my agent gave the manuscript to an editor and when I was in New York we discussed the book.  The agent, Scott Meredith, moved the book around from publisher to publisher for a year.  There were no takers. 

            Lucky me. It would have been a tragedy to have published that book in 1980.  I take decades to write my books.  They are like big oak trees.  They need time to develop.

The Gods Of The Gift has changed so much over the years that it has become a real grown-up book.  It’s a book for grown-ups.  It’ a book that will be most enjoyed by people who’ve spent some time reading esoteric stuff like Rudolph Steiner, Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant.  The old school mystics. Gurdjieff, Ouspensky.  Most of those books are dense, turgid and old fashioned.  The Gods Of The Gift should be fun, even though it’s loaded with subtle information and the science part of it is completely crazy. 

            You don’t have to be an Adept of The Secret Doctrine to get enjoyment from this book.  It follows many Fantasy and Sci Fi conventions.  There’s the Pinocchio Theme. A race of Androids yearns to be human.  But these androids, or as I call them, Robiots, know they’re not human.  They call themselves New Sentients.  They were originally made to perform work but somewhere along the way a few of them started tinkering with their own nervous systems and found that emotion was possible and even desirable.  That’s one of my classic Sci Fi themes.  I’ve got astrophysics galore, Black Holes, all that stuff.  The book is as much influenced by Kurosawa films as it is by metaphysical lore.  There are sword fights, kidnappings, cosmic gangsters and quasi-immortals called Planet-People.  These are avatars from the Starwind Communion.  When their civilization was doomed they decided to emigrate by squishing all the individuals from each planet into one body.  So one hundred eight worlds became one hundred eight Planet-People.  One of them, Calakadon, was a rogue and a murderer.  He is the book’s main bad guy.  He’s murdering the other one hundred seven of his kindred and stealing their Puzzle Pieces.   These objects are precious beyond knowing.  They will some day be assembled into The Puzzle Of The Endless Gates.  Here is another Buddhist concept, in case you’ve never heard that mantra: Gate Gate Beyond The Gate Another Gate—-Bodhisattva.

 

Star Trails Photography

Shooting star trails with a Canon 20D wasn’t working.  I got the images below using that camera and it took a lot of tweaking with Photoshop plug-ins to get them to look halfway decent.  Today, however, with full-frame cameras or APS-C models like the Canon 70D I’m using it’s an entirely different story.  There is not only a vast improvement in the amount of noise present in my files, but the camera has a robust buffer that will load a ton of shots onto your card without breaks of three or four minutes.  That was my problem with shot #2.  I took 14 frames of ten minutes each.  Somewhere in that process the camera slowed down and loaded files onto the card, which broke up the continuity of the star trails.  What I had were trails-with-gaps.  Using the freeware called  Startrails I was able to clean up the gaps a bit and obtain a more pleasing image.

 

 

 

 

thru-the-arch-hdrstrails-and-coach

Busting A Puppy Mill

 

bear's first pic

  My partner, Fox, is an Animal Communicator.  She’s the real deal, she’s not a poseur playing at “Pet Psychic” and taking people’s money.  Her ability is quite inexplicable unless you embrace some beliefs that tax the empirical world view. I have several of these but I don’t advertise the fact.

          About three years ago Fox was called to the home of a toy and teacup poodle breeder.  It was a long ride but she was getting some strange intuitions that she could not ignore.

      As soon as she arrived she knew the place was a puppy mill. Most of the dogs were hidden behind closed doors but she could feel the suffering.  She could smell it, hear it and she could sense it like low hanging clouds suffusing the house and grounds. The assault on her emotions was overwhelming.  There was such distress, such cruelty, such greed and cynicism!

            Fox consulted the owner regarding two dogs.  Why were they so aggressive?

          ARE YOU KIDDING ME? she wanted to scream.  STOP TREATING THESE BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS LIKE COMMODITIES!

          She kept quiet.  She was scared.  She knew that she was among criminals and she had to tread cautiously. 

            The puppy mill was catering to a market of wealthy Chinese buyers.

This new class of upscale Chinese are fueling a worldwide vogue for tiny dogs. A documented four-pound poodle can fetch five thousand dollars in Shanghai,Canton, Hong Kong and Beijing.

            Fox carefully asked the owner to change the way she treated her dogs.  The owner was not receptive to Fox’s advice.  She was making huge amounts of money.  One of the techniques she used to keep puppies small was to confine them to tiny spaces.  They were drugged on tranquilizers to retard their growth.  They had nowhere to move, no exercise, so they didn’t develop any mass.  The lighter the dog, the more expensive.  The unwitting yet culpable participants in this racket, the customers in the orient, were paying thousands of dollars for a puppy that would be sick and crazy.

            Too bad.  All sales final.  You saw the photo of the puppy you were purchasing.

You saw the AKC documents.  You sent your money and we sent you a tiny poodle.

            While the breeder was taking a phone call, Fox entered a small room and looked down at a little brown puppy.  He was confined to an aquarium, not much bigger than a shoebox.  He had an IV needle stuck into his leg.  He looked into Fox’s eyes.  She heard the words as clear as a bell: Help me!  Get me out of here!

Bear two weeks later

         

          Without thinking, she opened the top, removed the IV and scooped the puppy inside her coat.  The little guy stayed quiet.  He just kept looking into Fox’s eyes.

          In a few minutes Fox left the house with the closed bedrooms and high fenced backyard full of suffering animals.  She drove to a nearby mall and called the police.  The result of her action was that arrests were made, the puppy mill was shut down and forty seven puppies found new and far better owners.            

            Fox made the ninety minute drive home with this shivering puppy inside her coat.  His hair was very long.  He looked like a little Ewok in need of a barber.

            That puppy became our Little Bear.  He is now a seven pound dog of disproportionate strength.  He is also absurdly intelligent, perceptive, stubborn and willful.  He has quirks.  He has bad memories.  He suffers from PTSD.  He can go crazy when grooming implements appear.  Anything like gleaming steel, needles or tubes can trigger a momentary aggression.

          Bear is, however, happy, healthy, spoiled and loved beyond all reason.

Bear as he is today.

 

 

The Message Of The Dogs

 

 

Bear ON Arm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Message Of The Dogs

 

 

 

Somewhere there is a dog barking.

When I hold my breath and listen

carefully, I can just hear it,

high pitched, squeaking, urgent.

My dogs hear it,

they understand the message,

they bark it onward,

to the dog next door, who barks

to the dog down the street

who barks to the dog in the next

street, who barks to the dogs

in the next town, who bark it

to the dogs in the big city,

who bark it across the state.

All these dogs barking,

started by a frantic Chihuahua

lonely for her people,

fearing they’ll never return.

The dogs across the state carry it on,

they bark across the rivers,

tell the dogs of the whole continent.

In the Pacific, a dog being walked

down a polished deck

barks

and soon all the dogs on the ship are barking.

No one knows what set them off,

barking to annoy everyone, waken peaceful sleepers,

startle amorous lovers,

distract the crew from their work.

Dogs must bark, for this is an urgent matter,

a Chihuahua’s terror.   Soon

all the dogs on all the ships, all the trains, all the planes are barking.

Here at home, my dogs continue,

none of my training can stop them,

the bark is more important than human need

for peace and quiet.

Soon the bark has reached Alaska. The sled dogs,

always barking, change their urgent cry of “let’s run let’s run”

to the tune of “ someone please

comfort cousin Chihuahua.”

Russia’s eleven time zones come alive with barking.

Vladivostok to Petersburg,

Irkutsk to Moscow, Russia’s dogs pass it on,

north to the White Sea,

south to the Black Sea.

Soon, Poland’s dogs are barking,

Germany’s dogs are barking,

France’s dogs sniff and lift their heads, piss

on a chair 

delicately, decide whether to eat or bark

and yes, they bark.   No translation is needed.

Barking is universal, dog emotions are powerful.

Even the wild dogs with their different language

stand up and bay,

the foxes and   jackals yip

wolves and coyotes sing.

The bark reaches Easter Island, Tahiti, and

Rangaroa, bark bark, bark bark, roars and squeals and yips

join together, across the earth, dogs are barking

and people are crying “quiet!”, “shut up!”, “shhhhhh”, “No barkies!”

They blow on whistles, snap

clickers, squirt water, shake cans of rocks but the world’s dogs bark.

The whole dog universe

sounds a call that flies with the winds, rises into the clouds to travel

far distances, for one of their kind is distressed and dogs are the most loyal

of creatures.

It is a dog’s duty to bark until the message has circled the world

and the Chihuahua’s people feel a subliminal urge, a stab of worry,

an urge to hurry

home, home, quick unlock the door, the puppy’s gone crazy

the neighbors are furious (dammit why don’t you teach that dog

some manners). They thought she was trained but they leave her

alone, long and often, they think it doesn’t bother her

they don’t know their dog’s terror has gone around the world and

she was invoking the dog power

to bring her people home, and they returned, early,

canceled plans out of vague worry

knowing nothing of the way

the hue and cry of ten billion dogs

was barked across all the time zones of the earth to help

a tiny Chihuahua bring home the people she loves.

 

 

Poems of Lust, Terror and The Abyss

Copy of lotsa smoke

Variety is nutrition to an artist.  I like to write different kinds of poems, explore different kinds of feelings. I know that my mystic, Rumi-esque poems are appreciated by my audience.  I love those poems and the moments they represent. But they aren’t the whole story.  No one has ever seen this next poem.  I was once infatuated with a woman and my feelings were not reciprocated.  In fact, she was a little bit cruel and I suppose my younger and more neurotic self found that cruelty stimulating. It launched an obsession.  I didn’t stalk her, didn’t DO anything reprehensible.  It was a painful time.  I always feel as though if a particular experience of suffering gives birth to even a single good work of art, then it was worth it. Soon I will move this over to the Poetry Page and I suggest that if you like my “variety”, keep your eyes peeled because I’ll be pushing the edges and revealing stuff that has never been published, the dark secret side and, sometimes, the perverse word-hound plays just to play.

 

Is Love What

or

Monologue Of An Obsession  

July 1, 1995

 

This feeling lurks

in the stomach

behind the groin

digestive

this feeling hides

where least desired

when most feared

it leaps

into the head

around the heart

takes you, shakes you

by the throat

stalks and talks in shadows

eludes evades ambushes

devious consuming

this feeling hurts

to surrender

tender as a wound

it breathes

quietly, behind the door

abhors lonely vacuums

terrible cheating heating the brain

it floods with light

so sudden

dazzling colors darkest night

arrests, protests

eternal might

this feeling shaves its head

renounces, abjures,

drains, fills lungs with sound

screams, give me just one dream

or let me stop feeling this way.

It cries for peace

offers and withholds release.

This feeling is what it is.

No end, more to make,

more to spend.

This feeling is what feeling is.

What feeling.

The Two Americas

 

The Two Americas
            I hate this sense of polarization in the United States, this propaganda-driven idea that it’s US Versus THEM.  I thought I might take a look at the groups, the US and the THEM and see if I can’t analyze the difference.
            First of all, let me state that I am firmly one of the US.  I wouldn’t let a THEM in my house nor allow my sister to marry or divorce one of THEM.
            There are many lifestyles in this country and I think the US/THEM divide flows along lifestyle differences.
            There are two kinds of people in this country.  Hostess Twinkie People and Progresso Soup People.
            I heard a snippet of a Sarah Palin speech yesterday and she is a Hostess Twinkie person.  Her speech began with the question, “Dontcha wanna get back to the good ol’ America that we grew up with?”
            This is the archetypal Hostess Twinkie question. It’s the soft white piece of cake on the outside.  It has no meaning, no nutritive value and is uttered to appeal to the most childish type of person.  Then Ms Palin said, “Doncha want to return to the America that respected values, like honest hard work?  Values like believing in God and the family?” This is the payoff, the creamy center, made from shortening, corn syrup, fructose, sodium glycol and unspecified binding agents.  It does not require teeth to be eaten.  It does not require a mind to give pleasure to childish people.  It just needs to be sweet and gooey.
            The Progresso Soup people are looking for an honest lunch in a can.  The packaging of Progresso Soup conveys a return to old-country quality and nutrition.  If it was called “Progress Soup” it would sound cold and industrialized.  The addition of the “O” transforms it to grandma’s home made blend of split peas, onions, celery, noodles and chunks of chicken.  It became so successful that it forced Campbells to make better soups.  You know, the soups that NFL players’ moms force them to eat.
            I’m not saying that a Progresso Person won’t eat a Twinky or that a Twinky person won’t eat Progresso Soup.
            The point I’m making is that there are a lot of people in this country with empty minds.  They have no curiosity, and are too lazy to figure things out for themselves.  They are content to be fed the intellectual equivalent of cake and candy.  Due to their lazy childishness, these people are easy to manipulate.  That’s what scares me.  Twinkie people are being lied to.  They are being told that Progresso Soup people are not real Americans, that they’re trying to undermine the constitution and destroy the values imbued in this country by the Founding Fathers.
            They believe these lies because they want to, because it’s easier to believe a comforting lie than to search out a truth that might not go koochy koochy koo.
            Twinkie People are slowly being turned into mobs who will chase Progresso Soup people down the street, force them to hide in attics, and, sooner or later, put them on trains going nowhere.
            We will look a little odd when they make us wear Progresso Soup labels on our jackets.  However, we will be squirting little doses of Ecstasy into the creamy centers of their Twinkies, so I expect the results to be worth the struggle.

Two Meditative Poems

Buds aplenty 4089 copy

The Gatekeeper

 

I have been knocking at this gate

my whole life,

knocking, knocking, so long

that my knuckles have worn

a hole through the wood,

and sometimes, if I stand

just right, I can see bits of light

coming from the other side.

I am afraid to put my eye

to the hole I have made by my knocking.

It is like looking

directly into the sun.

So I step back and keep knocking

making the entrance a little larger

with each knock,

with each prayer for understanding,

with each thirst

for what lies beyond the gate,

beyond this world.

I must wait respectfully

for the gatekeeper

to answer my summons,

though the temptation to batter

through the hole I have made is strong.

I would risk blindness,

risk incineration

in the world beyond the gate,

if I did not already hear

the footsteps of the gatekeeper.

 

Sylvestri Creek Falls nov 2002

 

 

Something

 

 

Something

imagined us into existence.

That something was

very scientific,

very loving, very wild,

very mathematical,

very chaotic,

very purposeful,

very explosively given to

extravagance and elegance,

profusion and color,

yet so gentle that It knew

exactly how much to breathe

into the fire of life

without burning us all to cinders.

Imagined into existence,

we are here, duty bound

to imagine ourselves back to

that Something,

whose nature must take imagination

as the earth takes wind

for the circulation of its ideas.

I will imagine myself back into

the bosom of that Something

that made me

as a wind-wisp,

as a pink cloud from the most glory-stained

sunset, imaginable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Car Disasters of 2016 or Bad Fortune Cookies

breakdown

            I was driving sixty miles an hour on Southbound 101 when the car abruptly died.  It was my nightmare fantasy come true.  My heretofore trusty ’98 Jeep just  stopped.  The radio went off, all the gauges slid to zero and I realized that I was coasting to a halt in a busy freeway lane.  I tried to restart the car.  I had no lights, no nothing.  I couldn’t even put on the emergency blinkers. 

            I was terrified.  Vehicles were hurtling towards me at sixty and seventy miles per hour and they had no clue that I was dead in the right lane.  All it would take would be one dreamy driver to plow into me and I would be both cause and outcome of a multi-car  possibly fatal accident.  Should I get out and run for it?  Should I wait here?  I didn’t know.  It seemed more honorable to stay with the car, to go down with the ship.

            A Highway Patrol car materialized behind me, its lights flashing.  I was pleased, for the first time in my life, to see Law Enforcement flashing its lights at me. The officer walked briskly to my front window.  He gestured to me to roll down the window. 

            Problem is, I can’t roll down the window.  The Jeep’s driver’s side window doesn’t work.  I had to pop open the door to hear the man’s voice.  Embarassing?  And maybe illegal?

            “Put it in Neutral, sir.  I’m going to push you to the shoulder.”

            Thank god thank god the gear shift works.  It works kind of funny, like there’s only one gear.  The lever slides up and down without stopping.  Oh god I hope this Jeep is not stuck in gear.  The CHP officer squares off behind me and bumps my fender with his big front pusher bar.  The car moves!  Oh! 

            There’s another CHP car about two hundred yards upstream from us, slowing traffic by weaving across the freeway.  I get to the shoulder and the officer appears again.  He shouts at the closed widow.  He thinks I’m a moron. “Have you got Triple A, sir?”

            “I do.  I do. I do.” I feel like I’m getting married.  “I do I do”, I stutter, my nerves shattered, my forehead bathed in perspiration. 

            “Call ’em right now.  What’s wrong with your vehicle, sir?”

            “I don’t know, it’s been running fine and then, suddenly, whammo! Dead.  D-
A-I-D…dead!”

            “If this vehicle is still here in two hours it will be impounded.  Do NOT exit the vehicle unless supervised by your tow driver.  Stay in your vehicle!  You’re lucky I don’t write you a ticket for reckless driving.  I’m feeling benevolent today. Today’s my lecture day.  If this was tomorrow I’d write you up for twenty different violations.”  I’m listening to this through the open crack of my driver’s side door and the opened rear window, and all the other open windows except the one next to me that doesn’t open any more.  I’m praying the policeman doesn’t notice the passenger side front mirror, because it’s taped on with duct tape and is not glass but a piece of reflective plastic whose images are distorted  beyond recognition at any speed.

            I call Triple A and wait for the tow truck.  I get texts every few minutes relaying the progress of my rescuer.  “Recovery Vehicle has departed current location at.etc. etc……ETA 45 min.”  When the tow truck arrives it conveys me to Bowens Automotive Repair, a garage that I picked at random off the internet.  The mechanic does his tests and I absorb the diagnosis: My alternator is shot.  The car needs a new alternator.  Price tag: Five Hundred Dollars.

            I have no choice.  I call my partner to pick me up and drive me home in the other car.

            The Other Car.  The ’96 White Chevy Blazer.  It was once a luxury car.  Leather seats.  Key fob operated remote lock/unlock.  We haven’t driven it in four years because it doesn’t start.  I would presume its got a dead battery but I swapped another battery into the car and it still didn’t start.  So, maybe a blown starter motor?  Bad solenoid, frayed ground wire, failure to make contact somewhere within the fiendish complexities of its electrical jungle.

            The Jeep has always been our go-to car.  I haven’t had the money to repair the Blazer. But now I must buy a new battery.  If there’s something else wrong with the Blazer  I’m wasting my money but I follow this handy rule:  If the car doesn’t start, and the battery doesn’t charge, replace the battery.  Maybe the swapped battery was dead, too. 

            The moment of battery replacement is fraught with tension.  Will it, won’t it…start?  I connect the new battery, turn the key in the ignition and….hallelujah!  It starts right away.  Oh, what a relief.

            I drive the Blazer to work the next day.  We’ve been using the Blazer as a storage bin.  Its rear is filled with linens, dishes, books, tools, all kinds of stuff  loaded up to the line of sight in the rear view mirror.  If we put any more stuff in there, I won’t be able to see what’s behind me.

            I drive to work.  I work.  I prepare to drive home.

            The driver’s side tire is flat.

            Shit!  Where’s the spare?  Is it underneath all that storage?

            No.  It’s under the chassis, riding beneath the rear wheels.  The problem is that the tools for jacking and removing lug nuts is underneath the dishes, the linens, the books.

            And there’s a trick to getting the spare to come free, a trick that I don’t know. I’ve been using a sledge hammer to whack at the wing nut that constrains the spare.  I whack it and the nut turns but it’s not un-threading.  It’s not coming free.

            I begin to unload the stored goods in the cargo compartment.  Maybe there’s a special tool, something to help me understand the spare tire conundrum.

            A motorist rolls up beside me in the parking lot.  He’s driving a Blazer.

            “Are you stumped by the spare tire riddle?” he asks.

            “Totally stumped.” I admit, raising my shoulders.  The back of my t-shirt and pants are black with asphalt and tar.  I don’t know this, yet.  I can’t see it.

            The Good Samaritan emerges, opens his rear hatch and pulls a variety of jack stuff from a compartment.

            “If you take this to a pro tire shop they won’t know what to do either.  It’s the great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle.”  It turns out there’s a hidden slot next to the license plate.  When my new friend inserts a blade-style tool into the magic slot it turns a cog and the spare tire DESCENDS on a cable until it hits the ground and I slip it off the wing nut.  There is no thread.  There is just this clever but now-obscure arrangement.

            Flat tire off; spare tire on.  Drive to the tire place.  Spend $120 to replace the spare.  Okay, the car runs.  As I drive, I see the one thing THAT I MOST DO NOT WANT TO SEE.   The dreaded SERVICE ENGINE SOON light comes on.

            I hate those lights!  Hate em!  They utterly destroy my peace of mind.  They are the manifestation of worry on the Material Plane.  As we all know, The Material Plane is dominated by concerns for automotive hygiene.  If you don’t got transpo,  you don’t got shit.

            I try driving the Jeep.  I’m too scared by the friggin’ SERVICE ENGINE SOON light on the Blazer.

            The Jeep takes me to work the following day.  I detour through Novato and prepare to drive to Petaluma.  I’m going “the back way” because north-bound 101 is a parking lot.  It’s always a parking lot from 3 to 7 P.M. five days a week.  What is this insane life we live?  Why do we spend four hours a day sitting in automobiles?

I’m heading for South Novato Boulevard when a giant cloud of steam erupts from under the hood.  GIANT CLOUD OF STEAM!  NOT GOOD.  NOT GOOD.


blowin steam

            I pull into the parking lot of the last shopping center before I embark on twenty miles of rural winding roads.  I buy a jug of coolant and I fill the Jeep’s reservoir with the gooey green stuff.  I wait twenty minutes and I attempt the drive home.  The Jeep runs, somewhat jerkily, and I spend the next forty minutes of back-road driving in a state of profound alarm. 

            I make it.  I’m home. 

            I know a little bit about cars.  That kind of volcanic eruption of steam can indicate a water pump has gone bad, or the thermostat has failed, or the radiator is toast.  Or all of the above.

            My neighbor, Mike, knows about cars.  “I’ll change your thermostat,” he says cheerfully.  Mike is attending AA meetings and has just got his thirty day chip.  That’s not an issue for me.  It just adds to the air of tension: Mike struggling to stay away from drink.  His wife has quit smoking and is on Day 27.  My neighbors are deeper in poverty than we are.  No wonder Mike eagerly volunteers to change my thermostat.  Mike is all over the place helping people. 

            I purchase a thermostat.  Mike replaces the old one in about ninety minutes.  He doesn’t want to charge me.  I give him fifty dollars.  The new thermostat works, the Jeep stays cool.

            I didn’t want to mention this before but it just happens that the Blazer’s registration is due in a week and I know, for a fact, that SERVICE ENGINE SOON means that it will not pass the smog check.

            Fuck.

            Nonetheless, I feel safer driving the Blazer and I take it to work the next day.

As I’m coming home on North Petaluma Boulevard I hear a sound like a very large and joltingly loud motorcycle cruising up on my driver’s side.  Wow!  That’s loud!  I look to my left and I see no motorcycle.  There’s no traffic at all.  But the Blazer is crunching and flubbling.  It sounds like a propellor blade being demolished by a potato masher.  The Blazer is behaving as if it has the hiccups.  No question: another tire is flat.

            I get over on the shoulder to inspect the damage.  Holy Shit!  The tire is literally shredded, it’s nothing but four inch strips of rubber hanging from a punctured black matrix of nameless stuff.

            Call Triple A.  Second time in three days.  An hour later the big yellow truck pulls up.   A toothless rail-thin old guy gets out, grinning happily, and tells me that my tires are sun-damaged.  They’ve been sitting for too long and the heat has soaked the oils out of the rubber. They’re all about to blow at any second. I need to instruct the tow truck man how to get the tricky spare out from under the Blazer.  Once the tire is changed I drive straight to the tire place and get four more new tires.  That is, after I’ve cued the guys at American Tire Co. about the Great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle.

            There are days when nothing goes right.  When to touch a machine is to wreck it.  Or when one makes an error due to a lapse of attention that causes a ten foot fall off someone’s deck into a bed of blackberry bushes.  I’m having one of those days.  I put on the coffee.  It’s a stove-top espresso maker.  I wait for the boil, wait and wait.  I smell something burning.  Uh oh!  I take a pot holder and lift the coffee maker.  Oh man!  Oh man oh man! I forgot to put water in the bottom part of the Vigano stove top coffee maker.  Now the rubber gasket has melted and scorched the threads and the coffee maker is a casualty of Morning Mind Mush.  In spite of the damage, my partner is greatly reassured.  My error is comforting to her.  She thinks she’s “losing it”.  Now she knows she’s not the only one who’s “losing it”.

            I must locate a smog shop, a Star Certified Service Center, one of those in cahoots with the smog-fighting money-sucking bureaucracy of the DMV.  I pay for the smog test.  The Blazer fails.  How much, I ask, will it cost to fix it so that it passes the rigorous standards of our state’s air-quality guardians?

            The Blazer needs a tune-up, a forward oxygen sensor, a rearward oxygen sensor and a catalytic converter.”That would be about nine hundred and fifty dollars,” answers the mechanic, whose name, Kelvin, is stitched onto his dark blue jump suit.  Kelvin’s wife/receptionist is named Tran.  They’re Vietnamese.  

            How many times have I said “shit” or “fuck” in the last three days?

            “Kelvin,” I ask, “is there some kind of discount for the poor and the elderly?”  I have been poor my whole life.  The ‘elderly’ part occurred while I wasn’t watching, about three years ago, when my left hip began to feel as if a strong man was applying pressure to it with a vice grip.

            There is, in fact, a program for the poor and the elderly to pay $500 towards smog repair.  I get the papers downloaded and send in the application.  A week later the grant arrives.  Five hundred of that nine hundred fifty dollars will be paid for.  Hell yeah!

            The smog repair takes two days.  I wait eagerly for Kelvin’s call.  At last the phone rings.  “You passed your smog test,” says Kelvin.  I’m so happy!  I’m thrilled.

I had needed a victory, any victory, a small victory, whatever, I’ll take it.

            “But there is a problem, I’m afraid,” says Kelvin, and my heart takes up residence at the ends of my toes.  I can feel my pulse down there, bumpity bump, pulsing up through my toenails.

            “A…uh…problem?”  Fuck!  Shit!

            “I think your water pump is about gone.”

            “You think, you THINK.  Is it gone or isn’t it?”

            “I don’t know.  There was a pool of coolant under your car when I came in this morning.”

            How much does he want to repair the water pump?  Well, you see, one should also replace the thermostat when one replaces the water pump.

            HOW MUCH?

            Four hundred seventy eight dollars.

            Stop everything!  HOLD THE PRESSES!

            I’m not stupid.  I check online and a water pump plus a thermostat costs about sixty bucks.  My neighbor, my pal my buddy Mike will do any automotive task for fifty dollars, gladly.  The work boosts his self esteem and it keeps him out of his RV and away from his jonesing wife.

            The Material World is a challenging place.  Our current model, this 21st century science fiction hip-hop deodorant-peddling appearance-worshiping stage set is peculiarly complex, is like a cross-word puzzle without a solution.  No one wins in the Material World.  All endings are bad endings.  If I’m lucky I will die quickly and without indignity.  If I’m lucky.  Meanwhile, as I wait for the denouement of my life, I must endure and meet the challenges thrust into my face by the invisible spirits of Destiny.

            Is the cup half full, partially full, partially empty, or totally empty?  The Highway Patrol Cop did not write me up.  The guy in the Blazer showed up as if dropped from Heaven.  I got a five hundred dollar grant from the DMV. The battery in the Blazer started the car.  The Jeep still runs.

            The cup is the cup.  Whatever’s in it is what I’ve got.  I may as well accept that fact.  It’s all those things, partially full, partially empty.  Life is blessed and sublime and life can be unspeakably vile.

            While I’m at it, I should check my credit rating.  I might want to purchase a recent model used car.

The Fish In The Water

fish-and-umbrella-and-rain

 

 

            We’re just like the fish; we don’t know what water is. But the element in which we swim, the element that is impossible for us to recognize, is stress.

            You may think you know you’re stressed.   This isn’t the kind of stress I’m talking about. We have become denizens of a culture that is actually a Torture Machine. It drives us insane by presenting demands so complex as to be impossible to achieve.   Every day, it issues orders to our nervous systems. Turn your left blinker. Pay your insurance premium. Pick up your kids’ school uniforms. Don’t forget the doctor’s appointment. Where’d you put the McFarland file? Where are the paper clips? Why is this milk sour? Now I have to return it to the store. Screw it; not worth my time, flush it down the sink. Are the dogs’ vaccinations up to date?  Do I have the receipts for my tax audit?

            Why am I always left with the feeling that I’ve forgotten to do a homework assignment? Who is this screaming at me, right next to my ear so that it hurts?

          The Occupy Wall Street people are scurvy hippies. Our government is letting corporations steal on a massive scale.   My bank account only exists long enough for the auto-payments to hit, and it’s gone and I’ve got nothing left to spend.

            I think I’m going crazy. I don’t have any sexual desire at all. The last time I felt truly alive was….when? Have I ever felt truly alive? I truly don’t think so.

          There’s nothing to look forward to. My old age will merely be a time when insurance machines squeeze the remaining dollars from my estate, leaving my kids with nothing. Zero. The globe is warming up. It’s true.   The waters are creeping on shore, slowly. The future is a tsunami.

            OUR SOCIETY IS A TORTURE MACHINE, so complex that it takes a genius to maneuver its daily routine. It tortures by its relentless pressure. We don’t need Stalin or Hitler. We have modern life in Amerika. See that guy with the cardboard sign sitting at the parking lot exit? “Will work for food.”   He isn’t a pathetic loser. He’s you or me or someone we know who just cracked under the pressure and opted to sit in the TIME OUT box in front of everyone.   He couldn’t take the complexity any more. Now he’s doing better. He has a shoe box where his money piles up. He’s doing better than I am! Could I take sitting in the TIME OUT box in front of everyone? I don’t think so. I’m not tough enough.

            Life has always been complex, but not like this…Hunting, gathering, fighting off raiders, that was easy stuff compared to this.   The modern Torture Machine can’t be dodged. Your assignment is late!   Punishment will be swift and merciless!   Your interest will rise, your credit will be cut.

            The injustice of it! I’m choking on injustice. I can’t breathe! Give me a cigarette. Where are all these voices coming from? Let me turn off the radio. The off switch doesn’t work. The voices are coming from my pocket. It’s my Z-Phone. Its off switch doesn’t work either. The argument continues, shouting everywhere, lies compound in blatant and shameless huckstering. Everything is a trick.   Even the tricks we know to be tricks conceal more subtle tricks. Those Black Lives Matter types are going to burn down Los Angeles in a giant riot.   Quick, we’d better launch a pre-emptive pogrom, mow them down before they find out where we’ve stashed the money.

            The fish don’t recognize the sea. The people don’t recognize the element that dominates our lives. I will coin a term for it: Phobagonovia.   Phobe-ago-NOVE-ee-yah. It causes us to curl up inside our homes with the giant TV playing football games and scripted “reality” shows where people are abused by their in-laws. Phobagonovia. We are afraid of new experiences. The Torture Machine has implanted this condition in our nervous systems. We are afraid of relating to one another openly, of crying in front of strangers, of expressing feelings easily, of hugging or kissing spontaneously, lest we be inappropriate, our strait jacket is “Appropriate”, we haven’t a clue how to dance in a circle while deeply in love with members of a clan, to sing ancient songs, to sit around a fire feeling wonderful under the stars. That doesn’t mean we want to go backwards. We want to invent new communities. We are dying of Phobagonovia. Our neck ties are cutting off our breath. Our high heels are warping our skeletons. The future is over. Rush Limbaugh will be reborn as a talking pig that can only sputter nonsense. The people of his remote village will laugh at him holding their sides with mirth. They will postpone the time to eat him. He’s so strange that people come from villages far away to throw him pieces of rubbish. His time will come, at last.

            When the chief takes the first bite, he will spit it out.

            “We laughed too long,” he will say.   “This fat talking pig tastes like shit.”