09 August 2012

Wall Therapy

The City of Rochester came up with the wacky idea of a series of murals across the city to help stem violence.  The art is supposed to be soothing.  They brought in mural artists from around the world.  One of them created this:

You can see it a little clearer here.  It was created by Spanish artist Liqen and meant to show American freedoms in chains (I guess).  Have you ever invited someone over for dinner so they could tell you what an asshole you were?  Yeah, me neither, but it seems to be what the City has done here.  I think that Americans are more in danger of being under surveillance than ever before, thanks to the technological developments of the past ten years, but I don't need a Spanish artist to tell me that.  I also resent him coming here from a nation very familiar with Fascism and wagging his finger at us.  On the other hand, maybe no one knows what freedom under fire feels like more than an artist from a totalitarian nation. 

Another mural that created "buzz" was this one:

So what do you think these animals are?  I'll give you a hint:  they aren't rats.  I know what you're thinking:  "Oh, they're not?!"  Nope, they're supposed to be bears.  To the Belgian artist Roa who created this mural,  this is what a bear looks like:

Or this:

Or even this:

This is what a rat looks like:

Or this:

People in the neighborhood have said they were offended by the Roa mural because it shows the animals, whatever you think they look like, in a sexual position.  I am more offended that the artist apparently can't draw a bear.  It was suggested to the artist that he design something soothing and natural and use the Adirondack Mountains as inspiration.  I think he missed the mark by a little.  Looking at the murals has not soothed me in any way but I am a little hungry.  I think I'll go steal a picnic basket.

06 August 2012

I Tell People Off

The moral of the story is: be nice to your bartender.

I work as a bartender and my job is great but there are lots of things I'd like to say to people that I don't.  I am not a very confrontational person, so I have developed different ways to deal with people that I don't like.  When you are serving drinks, whether it's at a wedding or at a hotel bar, you will come across people you don't like.  I like to deal with people passive/aggressively.  I know what you are drinking but will stand in silence and stare at you until you tell me what you want.  I hope that it makes you feel uncomfortable.  I may put your drink in a shorter glass.  If I see you waiting for a drink, I will take an extra long time talking to the person in front of you.  "Where are you from?  Did you have to travel far to get here?  Oh, really!  I heard it's been hot there this summer (it's been hot everywhere).  How was your dinner?  Did you get the prime rib?"  When I see you turn your head away and mutter something under your breath, I'll deliver the drink to the person in front of you and just when you are getting ready to step up and tell me what you want, I'll draw the other person back in for another thirty seconds of meaningless chatter.  It's the same thing Lt. Columbo used to do on Columbo.  "Ahh, just one more thing...."  The key is to make it seem like I am genuinely unaware of what I am doing and I'm just being friendly.  When you finally get your chance to order your drink I may do something like not give you lime with your gin & tonic.  I'll make you ask for it and then say, with great cheer, "Oh, sure!"  And just when you think I'm the biggest dick in the world, I'll ask you an inane question or make a trivial observation like, "Nice day for a wedding, huh?"  When it's worked the best, I shame people into giving me money while treating them like shit.  They never come back more often when you treat them like this.  It's a win-win.  Just remember that if you really piss the bartender off, you run the chance he will stick a napkin in his underwear, wipe off all the sweat he can, let it sit in some olive juice, and then pour the juice in your dirty martini next time you come back.  And when he asks, "You said 'dirty', right?" maybe you'll think he's just changed his attitude. 

If I could say whatever I wanted I might tell off people like the jerk that comes into my bar at 10:15 when we close at 10 and then acts like we're buddies:  Dave, I know you don't know this but you're kind of a dick and a know-it-all.  People are sitting at the bar to relax and have a drink, not so you can argue with them, and no one cares or wants to know about how much you made when you sold your house...To the father of the bride/groom: you are a dick.  When your son/daughter leaves right before dinner is served, everyone is going to wait.  Don't expect thousands of dollars to be taken off your bill because your dinner is overcooked....Also, I know you spent a lot of money on the wedding but you should tip at least once in awhile, you effing lush.  Don't stand at the elevator at 7:59 waiting for the bar that opens at 8.  God forbid you spend five bucks and get a drink at the hotel bar instead of stalking the bartender.  And never say, "If I don't get a drink by 8, I'm gonna get another discount," because it makes you sound cheap.  But you are cheap, so.....To the other aholes in your party:  Open Bar doesn't mean "it's free so I'm gonna drink as much as I can."  "Can I get a double?  Can I get a triple?"  If you are at my bar every fifteen minutes, you are going to get less and less alcohol in your drink as the night goes on.  Go buy a bottle and sit in the alley if that's what you want.  It's almost the same thing.  Are you really that cheap that you can't buy a drink at the bar while the open bar is closed?  People are like animals when they are getting food or drink for free.  No wonder Americans are so fat....If you give me a direct order when I'm working you can be sure that I won't do it, I'll ignore you, and I will make you feel as uncomfortable as possible....To the chick with the boobs: they look okay but nothing about you is real except your grating personality.  I don't know what you charge your johns but they're paying too much for that stretched out....Pussy Galore is my favorite Bond movie name.

Other stuff has been bugging me, like the people voting on IMDB: when I do a search for "list of influential films," it is inevitable that The Shawshank Redemption comes up.  It's not an influential movie.  Battleship Potemkin, The Birth of a Nation, City Lights, La Dolce Vita, Citizen Kane, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, Deep Throat:  those are movies that influenced movie making.  And what men expect out of women.  Shawshank is a good movie but it's not influential.  This is why true Democracy is always a failure.  People are morons.  If you don't believe me just turn on the TV.  Idiots....This should be a headline:  "Did Michael Phelps drown in the pool?  Find out tonight on NBC."  What is with the stupid Olympic coverage NBC?  Just put it on TV live.  The U.S. Basketball team had a five point lead going into the fourth quarter.  They showed 20 seconds then cut away.  WE ALL HAVE INTERNET AND TWITTER!!  Just show the damn games.....To all the Lefties who cry diversity and tolerance but show none: people have the right to believe whatever they want, even Holocaust deniers.  If some d-bag owns a company and he wants to give his employees Sundays off, so what?  If he opposes gay marriage, let him.  If you disagree vehemently enough, go protest.  Live what you believe but don't hide behind tolerance when you are intolerant.....Think about this: white supremacists are always the best example against white supremacy, people that preach hate are the best examples against hate, people who are aholes are the best advertisement for not being an ahole.

This guy, Adam Smith, does not pass the 'Not an Ahole" test.  He's very smug and self-satisfied while he bullies this teenage girl at a Chick-Fil-A protest:

He's so tolerant that he makes it a point to tell the girl that he's totally straight and not gay at all (not that there's anything wrong with that)... America is a big, patched together mess of a nation, with everything and everyone from Protestants and Catholics, atheists and Evangelicals, the Aryan Brotherhood and the Nation of Islam, represented by groups as diverse as the gun and gay lobby (to be clear - there is no Gun and Gay Lobby that I know of - there is the gun lobby (the NRA) and the gay lobby (people who watch Glee) to the Christians, Caucasians, Catholics, Catheterized, etc.  I'm glad people feel strongly enough to support their individual causes, and I want people like Adam Smith and Dan Cathy to have freedom of speech, even if I'd like them to STFU....I can barely get my nephews to do what I want them to do.  Forcing other people to live by my values sounds exhahusting....To the people who ran the banks into the ground in '08 and screwed our economy:  you also suck....Penn State again?  The victims were the raped and sexually abused, not the Paterno family, not the students or retailers who lose out because Penn State won't play for a bowl game.  If it helps, just pretend you were a German citizen during WWII.  Your nation, whether you supported them or not, did some horrific things.  Whenever you are overcome with a sense of persecution or injustice, put it into perspective by thinking about those who were abused....To Emily Goode and the Occupy Rochester idiots:  would you please grow up?  The Chief of Police is dealing with issues like, I don't know, DEATH.  Murder on the streets of Rochester, which is happening every week, trumps your silly parade and your right to block traffic in the name of fighting the same Capitalist system that gives you the means to protest it.  And, moron, you should expect to get arrested and want to get arrested when you are protesting.  You're like children having a pretend tea party while the adults are out working.

OK, that's it.

03 August 2012

Rest In Peace Heather Boyum

Megan Merkel walking into court to be arraigned for vehicular manslaughter

I have a bad temper.  Anyone who has worked with me, played video games with me, fished with me, or golfed with me is well aware of this.  I have taken some steps to deal with my anger issues.  These steps are me thinking to myself, "It's okay, it's just an inanimiate object...." two seconds before I'm overcome by Tourette's and throw said inanimate object across the room.  It reminds me of a funny radio commercial I heard for a computer repair store: Guy goes into store and says to clerk, "My laptop makes a funny noise when I punt it across the room."  I chucked my latest Blackberry across the room a few months ago when I tried and failed, for the emeffing fifth time, to text my friend Melissa.  It bounced off of something into something else and the screen cracked.  Good riddance, I thought.   I don't get mad at people, at least not people in my life.  I get disgusted with politicians, public figures, faceless bureaucracy, the phone people, the utility people, the a-holes that try to gouge me with banking fees, and I get mad and rant at them, but I have a tolerance for the real people in my life.

Fairport teacher Heather Boyum

However, there are real people that I think are lowlife scumbags, like the pair that caused the death of Heather Boyum, a wife and a mother of two, who was killed at 7:45 on a Sunday morning as she was out riding her bicycle.  She was killed by a twenty-two year old 3-time DWI loser who was passing his girlfriend, twenty-three year old Megan Merkel (possible ex-girlfriend who was just "hanging out" with him), on the shoulder of the rode on his motorcycle.  Merkel and 3-time-DWI-loser had both been up all night drinking.  Neither of them has ever held a license to drive and despite their young age both have an intimate and extensive experience of the criminal justice system.  Merkel, feeling like she was being attacked unfairly, went on the radio to defend herself.  She said her boyfriend (or possible ex-boyfriend who she's just screwing around with) was being "retarded" and doing wheelies and generally being the low-life scumbag that he is.  She was driving a car with no brakes and couldn't stop when 3-time-DWI-loser struck Boyum and drove her body in front of Merkel.  Merkel then said she did not know how to express remorse to the Boyum family, which was evident in her Facebook post that told critics they could "suck a d**k and choke on it".  Class act, Merkel.  She has since been charged with vehicular manslaughter and is sitting in jail with no one to bail her out.  It is a story that elicits great sadness from me if I think too long about it, but my bloodlust for Merkel and the 3-time-DWI-loser has kept me coming back to news of Heather Boyum's death over and over.  Is twenty years long enough for these two to serve?  How about a life sentence?

The road to Hell isn't paved with good intentions so much as small ethical compromises that erode character.  Shoplifting doesn't seem like a huge infraction when you are fifteen but what does it lead to?  Dealing drugs when you're nineteen?  Maybe you've stolen something before or resold some pot to make money or driven when you've been intoxicated, and if you have done these things you've probably done so without hurting someone or being arrested.  But the moral of this story is that the standards we set for ourselves should be compromised as little as possible.  Looking back on stupid things we've done and shaking our heads at what buttheads we were is a good sign that we are still here and escaped unscathed, that we got through our transgressions and emerged with a little more common sense.  I think these two are very different than the psychotic person in Colorado who fantasized about committing mass murder and then committed it.  We are all much closer to making a mistake like Merkel than we are to killing strangers in a movie theater.  Merkel and the 3-time-DWI-loser's compromised ethics led to the death of a good person and they deserve a long time in a prison cell to think about what they've done.

30 January 2012

The Eighties

Not Obama.

President Obama said some funny things during his State of the Union address this year.  He declared that there will be no handouts or bailouts while he is President (I think he meant any more). He trumpeted the need for Green Energy (but didn't mention the half a billion dollars (handout) that disappeared down the rabbit hole at Solyndra).  I think the most hypocritical moment was when he quoted Abraham Lincoln and said that "Government should do for the people what they cannot do for themselves and no more."  I guess parents deciding what their kids have for lunch is something they cannot do for themselves because the next day the First Lady's lunch initiatives went into effect.  I really, really don't think it's Big Brother's business what kids are eating for lunch, but apparently Obama does.  However, I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this because sometimes it's just easier to do what your wife wants.  My Dad says he discovered two words that made his life after retirement much easier: "Okay" and "Yes."  For example:
               My Mom:  "I think we should get marble counter tops put in."
               My Dad:    "Okay."
               Several weeks and some money later......
               My Mom:  "Don't they look nice?"
               My Dad:    "Yes" (puts on boots and goes out to the shop).

I don't want to be a contrarian and just say that everything Obama does sucks but I disagree with him on principle on just about everything politically and on a personal level on just about everything else. I think the Government should pave the roads and kill the bad guys, not decide what should be on the lunch menus at the local Elementary school.  That is a political difference.  I don't want a President hypocritical enough to say b.s. things like "the Republicans want dirtier water and dirtier air" and then hang his head in frustration because "they won't work with me."  That is a personal difference.  He talks out both sides of his mouth and I don't fully trust what I hear from either one. 

I like to learn as I go along.  I don't want to ignore what happened on Wednesday just so I can believe the same thing on Thursday that I did on Tuesday.  If you have all the same opinions at forty that you did at twenty, then you don't think.  Liberals and Conservatives may not agree politically but bleating that the other side is 100% wrong, 100% of the time, is just depressing.

 .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

The Republican primary debates continued this week.  Republicans keep jockeying for position to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan when what they should really do is look at the man in the mirror.  Newt Gingrich preached Family Values but served his wife divorce papers while she was going through chemotherapy.   He may be smart but he's also a hypocrite with flexible moral values.  Mitt Romney may have the Right Stuff morally but he's too much like a Republican Jimmy Carter.  If politicians were sold as action figures, Romney and Carter would have to be packaged together, and made out of extra hard plastic to ensure life-like stiffness.  Newt's doll would come with a briefcase full of cash and ready-made divorce papers from LegalZoom, Ron Paul's doll would be at the helm of a U.F.O., and the Rick Santorum figure would only be available with The Complete Will & Grace on DVD.  Will & Grace fans can stick pins in him.

I was young during the Reagan Years although I didn't know it then.  He was my Dad's President and that was fine by me. It made the generational lines a little clearer.  The Sixties revival took place during the Reagan presidency, so there were pseudo-hippies and there were jock-y, Establishment types like the Reaganites (check out Conservative Christian, Right Wing Republican, Straight White American Male by Todd Snider). Me and my friends liked the music of the Sixties but didn't think much about politics. I was anti-Establishment then and I'm even more so now, the difference being that the Establishment then was Reagan policy, and the anti-Establishment now is...Reagan policy.  I believe now what Reagan said then: Government isn't the solution to our problem, Government is the problem.  I had an argument over the summer with a friend of mine when he told me he was smarter than Reagan and I said, “When you do something like win the Cold War then let me know.” He objected on the grounds that there were no winners or losers in the Cold War and I thought it was a purely semantic differentiation. I rephrased and reiterated what I said, that Reagan ended the Cold War on his terms, and if that’s not winning then I don’t know what is. He knocked me for giving Reagan credit and then made a bunch of other b.s. arguments like, “You can’t really prove that Reagan made the world safer. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are nuclear missiles that are unaccounted for, thereby the world is less safe and because Reagan was responsible then he in turn made the world less safe.” To which I replied, “Really?” and rolled my eyes. We might as well blame the Indians for high property taxes because they didn't stick up for themselves two hundred-thirty-six years ago. Eventually I told him to G-F-Y and hung up on him but the argument made me think more and more about the Reagan Years and how much I missed them.

Al Pacino is Tony Montana in Scarface.  As cut throat as Tony was,
he had nothing on Jon Roberts aka John Riccobono.
The Reagan Years began in 1980, leaving the drab Seventies behind in an explosion of pastel shirts with little alligators on them. There were lots of movies about rich teenagers who looked down their nose at their poorer, more creative classmates.
A disproportionate number of these movies involved skiing and a race down the mountain at the end.  MTV set styles as New Wave invaded the radio charts.  A big part of the Eighties was Miami Vice, money and cocaine, from the junk bond traders that went to prison to John DeLorean getting busted in a drug buy.  Scarface came out in 1983 and everything was glitz and glamour.  It's interesting now to read about events I lived through.  I remember the U.S. hockey team beating the Russians in Lake Placid (I was at my friend Pete Dugovic's house), the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding (I had just come home from school and my Mom and sister were watching it on tv), the Iran-Contra hearings (good tv), and the fall of the Soviet Union (I also watched this on tv).  I recently read Rawhide Down, a book by Del Quentin Wilbur about the day that Reagan was shot by John Hinkley (could've sworn I was in Mr. James' English class but I wasn't).  The following week I watched Cocaine Cowboys, a documentary about drug smuggling in Florida during the Reagan Years.  Two men took two very different paths that made history in the Eighties.  One was Jerry Parr, Secret Service agent, and the other was John Riccobono alias Jon Roberts, who became a drug smuggler and helped to flood Florida with cocaine.

Agent Jerry Parr grabs President Reagan as soon as he hears gunshots and dives into the back of the limousine
to shield him from John Hinkley.  March 30, 1981.

Jerry Parr was born in 1930 in Montgomery, Alabama, and raised poor in Miami, Florida.  His parents, a cash register repairman and a beautician, divorced when he was nine.  After the divorce his mother married, got divorced again, then married again, this time to a man who bragged about killing his first wife and threatened to kill her if she ever tried to leave him.  Young Jerry Parr slept with a knife under his pillow for four years in case his hot-headed stepfather ever attacked. It was not a conventional upbringing by any means.  Parr took a job out of high school working as a lineman for an electric company.  He joined the Air Force, got married and attended and graduated from Vanderbilt University at the age of thirty-one with a degree in English and Philosophy.  As a boy he was entranced by the 1939 film The Code of the Secret Service and dreamed of one day becoming a Secret Service agent.  He joined in 1962 and was the oldest cadet in his class.
Jon Roberts aka John Riccobono is his 1986
mug shot.   He tortured, killed and maimed
and only served three years in prison.
John Riccobono also had an unconventional upbringing.  His father was part of the Gambino crime family and taught his son very early on that Evil is stronger than Good.  As if to prove his point, the elder Riccobono killed a man in front of John in broad daylight (the man had been blocking traffic) with no consequences. John was seven. The Riccobono name was associated with the Gambino family (John's Uncle Joseph was consigliere to Carlo Gambino and was one of the men busted in the Upstate Raid of 1957) long before John was born in 1948. Riccobono's father was deported after the raid and John never saw him again but he did take his father's lesson to heart.  When faced with good or evil, he always made the most evil choice.  He was running with older kids when he was eleven and twelve.  At thirteen he was robbing and extorting classmates (he shot someone on the basketball court when he lost. Like his father and the man on the bridge, John faced no consequences).  Neither his mother or grandfather could control him.  His mother died when he was still a teen and John started doing drugs and robbing the drug dealers.  He would gain the trust of the drug dealer and then kidnap and torture them.  They would call their clients with an unbelievable deal that was only available right now.  When the clients showed up, John would rob them too.  He did this over and over.  Eventually, one of  his victims escaped before John returned and pressed charges against him for kidnapping and attempted murder.  He was given a choice by the judge:  prison or Vietnam.  

Riccobono went to Vietnam where he fell further into darkness (he talks about skinning Vietnamese men and women while they are still alive).   When he came home from Vietnam he was only twenty years old.  He got into the nightclub scene in New York City, backed by his uncles in the Gambino family, and went on to rob, maim and kill people as he exerted his power and influence.  When the heat got to be too much in New York City it was suggested that he leave town.  He relocated to the same town Jerry Parr's family did thirty years earlier:  Miami.  He worked his way up the ladder and by the time that John Hinkley read about Reagan coming to a local hotel, Riccobono, who had changed his name to Roberts, was smuggling millions of dollars of cocaine into the U.S. for the Medellin drug cartel.
I'll never pass up a chance to add a
pic from one of my favorite movies
ever -
Taxi Driver.  John Hinkley became
obsessed with the movie and Jodie Foster.
Here is Travis Bickle right before the Secret
Service runs him off.
John Hinkley was someone without friends going all the way back to high school. He dreamed of being a singer/songwriter and moved to Los Angeles several times without success.  He became obsessed with the film Taxi Driver, in which the protagonist slips into a delusional life of loneliness and isolation.  He followed President Carter around for several weeks.  His mental health faltered and his dream of becoming a famous musician was replaced by a dream about being killed in a hail of bullets by the Secret Service.  He tried to date Jodie Foster, the actress who plays the young runaway in Taxi Driver.  Eventually Hinkley's parents cut him off financially and after one more desperate trip to Los Angeles to sell his music, he gave up and decided to end his life.  He took a bus back to Washington, D.C. and planned to go to Yale one more time and kill himself on campus.  Then, just by chance, Hinkley read the newspaper and saw President Reagan's visit to the Hilton.  Hinkley decided he would rather die by Secret Service than commit suicide.

Jerry Parr was not initially deemed “White House” material, perhaps because of his late start or upbringing, but he nevertheless worked his way up the Vice-Presidential detail in the late Seventies. He became the lead agent in President Carter’s detail in 1979 and when Ronald Reagan was sworn in on January 20, 1981, he left Carter’s side and fell in behind the new President. Parr worked the kill zone, the area in front of the President, where he had to be ready to throw himself in front of a bullet or on top of a bomb. Two months later, wishing to get to know the President better, Jerry Parr assigned himself to follow the President to his speech at the local Hilton.

While the President was walking out the door of the hotel after his speech, Hinkley started firing.  He got off six shots in 1.6 seconds.  Jerry Parr heard the pop pop pop of Hinkley's gun and drove Reagan headfirst into the backseat of the limousine.  Agent Tim McCarthy turned towards Hinkley and spread his body out to act as a human shield.  He was shot in the abdomen.  As Reagan lay in the back of the limo he complained of pains in his chest.  Jerry Parr saw no blood on the President's body but there was blood in Reagan's mouth.  Had he been shot or did he simply bite his tongue? Did Parr break a rib when he launched the President into the limo?  Should he take the President to the White House, where he would be safe, or to the hospital?  What if there were other shooters waiting for the President at the hospital in an attempt to finish him off?  How secure would the hospital be?  Parr quickly decided to go to the hospital.  The President may not have been shot but there was clearly something wrong with him.  When they pulled up to the hospital Reagan insisted on walking in under his own power. One of the EMTs wondered why the heck Reagan wasn't lying flat on a gurney.  He looked gray and ashen. ER attendants hooked up an IV to the President and several doctors examined him.  Finally, one of them noticed a small incision, about the size of a dime turned sideways, under the President's arm. The bullet ricocheted off the limo door and into the President's side, and had been flattened into a disk shape in the process. It was lodged in his chest and the resulting damage shut down the President's left lung. The President continued to lose blood and was in danger of going into shock.  By the time he entered surgery at 3:08, exactly forty-one minutes after he was shot, he had lost thirty-five percent of his blood.  If Agent Jerry Parr had taken Reagan back to the White House, he would have died along the way.  But Reagan may have also played a part in saving his own life.  In the 1939 movie that inspired Jerry Parr to join the Secret Service, The Code of the Secret Service, the always cool-under-fire agent that Jerry hoped one day to be was played by Ronald Reagan.  Oddly enough, it was the only one of his movies that the President found so awful that he refused to watch.

Jon Roberts, aka John Riccobono, continued smuggling cocaine into Florida and eventually became the top American in the Medellin drug cartel.  When the Colombians started doing business in South Florida, it became the Wild West.  A shootout at the Dade County Mall in 1979 brought national attention to Miami and the drug trade.  Jon Roberts ran cocaine for the next seven years and didn't get arrested until September 20, 1986.  He was released on bail, spent five years as a fugitive and after he was captured turned informant for the government.  He was a despicable person, not because he ran drugs, but because he thought nothing of crippling a Hippie girl to teach her friends a lesson, whipping an ex-girlfriend with a belt for hours while she was tied up, telling his mother to f-off, shooting people in the knees, and a thousand other acts.  He did more bad shit in one afternoon when he was a teenager than I've done in my whole life. He died in December 2011 of cancer.  He only did three years in prison.

Jerry Parr and Ronald Reagan were both changed by the events of March 30, 1981.  Reagan felt that he had been saved by God for a purpose greater than himself: to end the Cold War.  The Eighties and the Cold War ended when the Berlin Wall fell in 1990, thanks at least in part to Reagan's defense spending and his support of Mikhail Gorbachev.  Jerry Parr also believed that his life had been directed by God.  He received a Master's degree in pastoral counseling and became the pastor and spiritual director of a Washington, D.C. church.  He also served on the Board of Director's at Joseph's House, an organization for men with AIDS.

I liked the Eighties. Times were simpler then. The Russians were our only enemy, Reagan was our only President, and my only worry was getting back in time for work after visiting my friends in Pennsylvania.  It was the decade in which I passed through all my rites of passage.  But mostly I miss it because I was young and everything was new.

 .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .


Taxi Driver was my favorite film for a long, long time.  I often thought it was a good companion piece to Pink Floyd's The Wall.  I saw both movies less than a month apart in 1989/1990.  I felt a lot like Pink, closed off and isolated.  Then I saw Taxi Driver and felt a lot like Travis Bickle.  There is a scene in which he stares into his coffee cup and people are talking to him and he is a million miles away.  That's what I felt like.  I was living in North Tonawanda and it was the dead of Winter.  Across the street was a rusted chain link fence that protected the grounds of a run down factory.  There was trash everywhere and things were bleak and ugly.  An early Spring brought me out of my funk.  I started going for walks along the river and imagined myself as one of the old men that sat on the park benches.  That will be me one day, I'd think to myself.  I watched the Travel channel every day at 10:30.  They were always somewhere else.  My Taxi Driver/Pink Floyd isolation ended one morning when, after standing up too fast, I fainted.  When I awoke I wasn't sure where I was for a few seconds.  I felt like Jack Kerouac, waking up in a hotel one morning when he was hitchhiking across the country and unsure of who or where he was.  A few minutes later D.J. called me and I took it as a sign.  He told me we were going fishing next weekend and he was coming to pick me up.  After that I started making more frequent trips to Edinboro to see my friends, and then to see Genienne, a girl I found unique, sincere, and enigmatic.  The summer that followed was one of the best of my life.  I worked at my Mom's cafe during the day and rode the four-wheeler like a mad man in the late afternoons and evenings.  Genienne came up to see me and she was with me when I bought Blood On the Tracks.  The Eighties were over and the Nineties were just getting started, just like me.

15 January 2012

This is a reprint of a classic column that none of my readers demanded.

A glass plate negative I found in an attic circa 1890's.  I love the formal wear.  This was most likely in the Parsells Avenue neighborhood in the city of Rochester.  

I started a new job a few weeks ago and one of the payment options, since we are all "going green" (whether we want to or not), was payment by a cute system called the Global Cash Card.  There is no paper involved, no paycheck to pick up, and all the money you earn goes directly onto your card.  The taglines for the upside of this service are bites like "Accepted Everywhere" and "Grow Your Money Through Your Global Cash Card".  Sounds great, right?  The first transaction after your deposit every week is "FREE".  So, I thought to myself, every transaction from the second to the ninety-ninth is not free?  As Sarah Palin would say, "You betcha!"  I paid a bill this morning.  It cost me $114.75 to pay $111 towards my balance; $3.75 was for "service" and "convenience" fees.  When I stopped to get gas I wanted to use my card because, like it says in the brochure, "Get Cash Back For Free".  Except that there is a two dollar charge to get cash back from a debit transaction.  I would have paid $2 for $22 worth of gas.  Disgusted, I paid with cash.  At this point in my day I was getting ornery over the use of my card.  I called the company and tried to check the local ATMs, where there is alleged to be no fees.  Again, not true.  The good people at the Global Cash Card company directed me to Target, CVS, and other convenient locations.  "So, there won't be a fee if I go to one of these locations and use the ATM?" I asked the lady.  "No sir, there won't."  She is a big, fat liar.  It cost me $2.50 to get my money out.  I had a balance of $95 and wanted to get $90 but I could only get my money in increments of $20 bills.  I stood in the front of the  Target store mother-hucking the stupid ATM machine.  I called back the hucksters at the GCC corporation and pressed them on the issue.  "No sir, if your very first transaction after your deposit is a withdrawl, only then is there no charge."  So, at the end of the day, I paid a total of $6.25 just to use my own money.  And the remaining $15 balance on my cute cash card is trapped until I get paid again and bump it up over $20.  It is going to stay on there because there is also a fee, $3.50, to put money onto the card.  I think that the Occupy Wall Street people are goofballs, but I could really get behind them on burning this place to the ground.  The G-D banks and everyone else that handles my money should be paying me for the privelege, not the other way around.

Speaking of the Occupy Wall Streeters, they are goofballs.  One of them (in Atlanta?) demanded free food from a McDonald's at two in the morning.  "I'm protesting! Give me my fair share!"  I don't know if he really said this but he did throw a fit like a sissy girl, enough so that the police were called. The OWStreeters in Rochester demanded to meet with the Mayor so he could listen to their list of demands.  He acquiesced and granted a leadership coalition his time to discuss their occupation of Washington Square Park.   They refused.  They thought that he should come down and address everyone, since they were all equal, and they balked at the offer of his time.  After the slight standoff, the rallying cry, the purpose of the protest, became a First Amendment issue: they wanted the right to protest all night and the Mayor wouldn't let them.  At least, not in the park.  I applauded the Mayor's use of common sense.  Until last night when he reversed his decision.  The OWStreeters - Rochester Chapter - can now use a third of the park for a permanent settlement.  The Mayor actually broke the law when he decided this because the only person that can approve this is the Board of Something, but it's not him.  He is a big lawbreaker.  The rule of law is getting run ragged lately.  The Founding Fathers founded this country as a country of laws, not men.  We do not have an all-powerful King who rules on a whim.  It's why, when you are accused of a crime, the State must prove your guilt.  You aren't required to prove your innocence.  When I choose to break the law, which I do all the time, I am aware of the consequences.  If I tell you I don't then I am a big, fat liar.

The preceding was written at the beginning of November.  Since I got my laptop fixed yesterday, the ninth of January, I decided to post it today.  From my kitchen.  While listening to Mike and Mike online.  I love my laptop.

Richard Nixon, the foremost criminal of Watergate, shaking hands with an unknown man, 
possibly G. Gordon Liddy in disguise

It looks like the OWS people have gone the way of the Pet Rock, the Hula-Hoop and Newt Gingrich's Presidential Run: just a passing fad.  About time.  A friend cuts me off when I start ranting about them and says, "Why do you care?"  It is a good question.  Maybe it's because taxpayer resources have to be used to deal with them, maybe it's because  they don't have a clear agenda, and maybe it's because I'm an old crank in the making, just getting warmed up to rock in my chair on the porch and shake my fist at the neighborhood kids.  But I think it's because, even though they care enough about something to do something about it, they're idiots.  I remember going to see G. Gordon Liddy lecture at MCC and the reaction  I had to this snarky, doughboy R.I.T. student who asked him a condescending question.  He was wearing a scarf and one of those gay, round hats on his pointed head and looked like he'd never seen the sun in his life.  Liddy, as you may know, was one of the main criminals involved in Watergate.  He may be a blowhard and shameless self-promoter but I didn't care about that.  I was there to see a historical figure that will go down in infamy (infamy being defined as being well known for nefarious reasons).  My reaction to Mr. PorkPie hat was that I wanted to give him an atomic wedgie.  He was a weenie.  That's how I feel about the OWS people.  I'd like to hold all their heads in a giant toilet and give them a swirlie.

The holidays were great this year but I am glad to be back to a routine.  From the beginning to the end of the Holiday season, the calendar fills up with Stuff You Gotta Do, like meeting people out for drinks.  (I'm reminded of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip in which Calvin's dad boots him out of the house and away from the tv and Calvin throws a fit.  His dad says, "I know, I know.  How cruel it is to be forced to go outside and play.")  For me the holidays start right before deer season in November.  This year it was the 19th.  I took the day off from work and went to bed early the night before.  I know from this day forward, until the beginning of January, my life won't be normal.  Drinking on a Wednesday night.  Eating in the middle of the day on a Thursday.  A few weeks of meeting up with friends, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, and wrecking my stomach with Bailey's and vodka.  My routine for the holidays, and I never deviate from it, is to do all my shopping with three days to go.  This year I pushed the envelope and went out on Christmas Eve day, too.  It was awesome.  I put some miles on the stationwagon but it was worth it.  We downscaled our Christmas this year and I wasn't supposed to buy for everyone but I did anyway, but just little things and a Christmas card.  My family is awesome.  

I watched The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as soon as I could over the holidays.  It was pretty loyal to the book and it was good.  I've read the book and seen the Swedish version twice so it lacked some tension but, if I had never done either, I think it may have been hard to follow.  Yesterday I saw The Descendants from Alexander Payne, the director of Sideways.  I was really looking forward to it because Sideways is on my list of Compulsively Watchable Movies, like Scarface or The Godfather, one  of those movies that you can't stop watching if it comes on.   The Descendants is a film that's not afraid to take a moment of silence and let it linger.  There is a scene in which the family goes to see the 25,000 acres of prime Hawaiian wilderness they are turning over to developers and Payne gives the viewer an extended, silent look at the beauty that may be destroyed.  George Clooney looked saggy and a little beaten, definitely not the scoundrel he was in the Ocean's movies.   His pain played across his twisted face and his eyes conveyed a sense of loss of conviction, a "what do I do now?" expression.  I cannot be manipulated by movies but I have been extremely moved by Toy Story 3, My Dog Skip and I was moved by a scene in The Descendants when Clooney's ten-year old daughter learns that her Mom is never going to wake up (Okay, okay, I did get choked up during Toy Story 3 and My Dog Skip).  I don't have the normal, American gene for liking crap (How to Lose A Guy In Ten Days, any movie with Maid or Made in the title - Made of Honor, Maid in Manhattan) and sequels (Sherlock Holmes and the Blahblahblah sequel to the first Sherlock Holmes and the Crappy Rock Soundtrack featuring Nickelback) and feeling disdain for anything that doesn't assault my senses for ninety minutes or resolve every question and plot line for me, so the movies I like might not be your thing.  Next on my list is Drive with Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks.  It looks like a 1970's flick that could have starred Steve McQueen.  My friend Kristina from work saw Martha Marcy May Marlene and she liked it.  I may see it and I may not.  I just wanted to mention my friend Kristina from work.  That's Kristina, not Kristine.  Or you could say "Kristine....uhhh," like I did a few weeks ago.  She made us all warmers for Christmas (stares off into space dreamily....).  She's so sweet.  Did I mention I work with a girl named Kristina and she's really sweet?  Ok, just checking.

I lived in the city of Rochester for about ten years, give or take the time spent with a few girlfriends that lived off Monroe Ave.  I worked at the corner of St. Paul and Main St. for ten years too, and the closest I got to the "bad parts" of the city was when I'd take my buddy Tony home to Lill Street off of Clifford (his neighbors almost called the cops on me my first time there - suspected drug buyer).  On the way home I'd have to pull up and stop at the corner of Clifford and Conkey, one of the more dangerous corners in the city for sure, but that wasn't my neighborhood.  All up and down Monroe Ave., (I lived no more than two blocks away at any given time) can be shady and dangerous, but I felt safe walking from Jeremiah's all the way down to Mark's Texas Hots.  There were some characters around.  Homeless people, drunks, homeless drunks, panhandlers, hippies, and lots and lots of young people getting their drink on, especially on the weekends.  Random crimes took place every day but that happens everywhere.  Whenever I read the paper and saw a shooting or a homicide, I'd always gauge my safety by seeing how close it was to Mark's Texas Hots, my favorite place to eat.  Then one day I got a shock when there was a shooting and it was at Mark's Texas Hots.  Some idiot, drunk, tussled with the bouncer, went across the street to his apartment and returned with a rifle.  He shot and killed an innocent bystander, just a kid home from college getting something to eat after hanging out with his friends.  Violence can happen anywhere but where I have been working in the city, it is not a fluke.

The red blocks represent the murders last year in the Remington Street neighborhood and the black box is the house where I worked.  A young man was shot and killed on the steps of the house next door.  The purple bullseyes are shootings and the tan fists are assaults.  These have all taken place since November of last year.  The red line is Avenue D, the most notorious street in the city.

My very first work site was Durnan Street, a one-way street a block north of Avenue D.  Avenue D is the Rodeo Drive of violent crime in Rochester.  I assume the nature of Durnan being one-way is attractive to drug dealers because they were out there, standing two driveways away from the house we were at, and there were lookouts on both sides of the street.  They looked at me a few times and I looked at them.  I've taken to wearing coveralls that make it obvious I am there to work and nothing else.  Another wonderful neighborhood I worked was Remington Street near the corner of Avenue D.  I got a very uneasy feeling about this place and I was right.  Three murders on that block in the last calendar year, the most recent being in October.  I've grown accustomed to working in the city but not to the destruction of the beautiful old neighborhoods that once existed.  I find it sad; sad for the houses, sad for the people, sad for our society.  People once dressed up and wore their Sunday best on Sundays.  The loss of formality in America has led to our moral downfall, the disintegration of the family unit, and is directly related to "bitch", "ho", teenagers in the 50's, Elvis the Pelvis, Watergate, and the moral disgrace of the Clinton presidency.  I'm not judging but that's my opinion.  Tommy Lee Jones character said in the great film No Country For Old Men, "It all goes downhill when kids no longer address their elders as 'Sir' and 'Ma'am'."  I think he has a point.

I have also been working on Parsells Avenue in what I believe was an old German neighborhood.  I believe that because there is a German market there that serves fantastic food and has all things German.  The schnitzel was especially good.  It's like chicken fried steak and I bet Elvis ate some when he was in Germany.  When I was in the attic I found some old glass plate negatives, about forty in all, depicting life in the neighborhood.  They are really cool.  While I was up there one day I noticed some cop cars out front.  I waited to see what was going on when the officer went to the rear door to let someone out.  It was a K-9 unit and the german shepherd bounded out of the car pretty excited.  They caught this guy and his buddy in an abandoned house presumably there to salvage the copper pipes that were torn out long ago.
I witness my first arrest in the city.
Three nights ago someone was shot and killed two blocks down from the most recent worksite at the corner of Avenue D and Hudson.  It is really interesting working in the city but I am glad I am out of there every day by 4pm.

The Broncos got steamrolled by the Patriots last night, putting an end to their incredible, odds-defying run.  When Tebow threw the game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Steelers, I jumped off the couch and shook my friend by the shoulders.  It was awesome.  I caught Tebowmania at some point during their 6-game winning streak.  I had to see for myself how a team could complete just two passes and still control the game from beginning to end.  It was a good run while it lasted.  Maybe I haven't seen what Tebow does on the sidelines that gets people so upset.  He takes a knee when he scores a touchdown, but is there more to it than that?  Message boards and Facebook have blown up with comments about him praying during the game and people act like he hired a contract killer to murder his pregnant girlfriend.   They are offended and disgusted and say things like, "Religion should be kept in the closet."  I say, "Whatever."  Which leads me to the last subject of today's blog.  I liked The Descendants, and I hate Kate Hudson movies.  I loved The Royal Tenenbaums and hated the new Sherlock Holmes movies.  I like Adele but I hate Nickelback.  But if you love Kate Hudson, and the Sherlock Holmes movies and Nickelback, I don't think you are wrong.  I think you have bad taste, but I don't think you're wrong.  Maybe you think I have bad taste.  We'll call it a draw.     

Ok, that's it.

20 August 2011

Ghosts, Summer and IEK

The Phi Sigma Kappa crest

Me and Tyler on his first day at the dorms.
Even the Lil Wayne t-shirt and throwing up
gang signs does not help me look
 like I belong here.
I took my nephew to school last week.  He's a Freshman on the soccer team at SUNY Canton. He's 18 and skinny. I'm 45 and have a head like a melon. I don't miss the 18 year old skinny me that much but I would definitely go back and do it all over again. Moving Tyler into the dorms brought back some memories of Edinboro and Scranton Hall and living with D.J. and living next door to George and Eric: the time they stole my door, the time Eric put a used condom on my door handle, the times we would call the guys who lived next door and then hang up on them. Over and over. They would start to shout "Hello!" in the phone and then slam the receiver in the cradle so hard that it shook our wall. So g-d funny...I told him not to worry too much about getting the perfect roommate.  Some things are just better left to fate.

I like The Cure more and more as I get older. I like the Doobie Brothers less and less.....I am ready for some football. However, can the Buffalo Bills get it together? Put it together? Don't we have someone in management that can fight for a Michael Vick? Yes, he killed dogs, but I can separate that from his performance on the field. Hunter Thompson was a great writer but he slapped women. So did Hemingway.  Maybe that should affect how much I like their writing but it doesn't. I guess Ralph Wilson possibly put the kibosh on signing Vick. He's going to his grave with his prinicples and a losing football team....I was mourning the end of Summer a few weeks ago. I'm doing better now.....A shout-out to the girl I massaged last week. Call me....Facebook is a fun place to mess with people. Really? I can't call people retarded anymore? That is so gay....I am watching my nephew and my sister's place starting tomorrow and I am really excited. Pool every morning, then after work and then after dinner and then before I go to bed. Been working out all summer and I keep building muscle but not losing fat. Curious. The pool is great but am more looking forward to hanging out with my nephew Kyle. Gonna get some bikes and ride the Lehigh Valley Trail either down to Lake Ontario or the other way to Geneseo and Piffard where monks make bread. I also want to take him to see all my favorite things in the city: used book store, Mark's Texas Hots, Mt. Hope Cemetery, maybe East Ave....He wants to read The Catcher in the Rye. Hopefully we can get him a copy.

Johnny, D.J., Eric and George during our second semester at school
but first semester as Phi Sigs.  George is sitting on Deanna's lap,
a girl who almost spent more time in our rooms than we did.
Been reading up on the end of the Cold War.  Been reading about the rise of Southern Soul music, mainly my man Otis Redding. Been reading The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter Thompson. Raymond Carver and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I keep having dreams that I'm in school and working on a project that's overdue. I think my brain is trying to tell me something.....I really, really like going to work, especially if it's outside and I work with people that make me laugh....Can't bring myself to be home long enough to make my small apartment visitor friendly. Stuff all over the place. It has become a place to shower, watch dvds and store ice for my drink while watching said dvds....I visited my brother and his family last week at Fairhaven. They rented a house between the bays and it was really spectacular. A huge old place with many windows. It's odd to me what people put effort into. Making money is fine but it doesn't matter if you have money and no family and no one to share life with. Why make money at the expense of time with your family? I know everyone has to pay the bills but pay them and then spend some time with the Fam. Talking about this with a friend of mine the other day.  He said: "If I have a chance to take my daughters out to dinner and spend time with them then I'll take half a day off and do it. I don't want to look back on my life and regret times I could have had." Someone say Amen! My brother has quite the brood and they're all interesting. They spent the week fishing and sailing and boating and going to the beach. Someone say Amen!....

Buzz and the nicely racked Marge at the
Toga Party, circa 1990; 
Eric is drinking out of a Massengil bottle

Gonna have a killer, killer music collection very soon. Got a ton of music from D.J.  Been burning cd after cd from the libary. Adele, Otis, Rilo Kiley, Fleet Foxes, Roy Orbison, and (like the guy on tv says) more! Now I just need an Ipod....Have not been drinking much this summer....Haven't gone to Camp much....Haven't fished much.... Saw a great free show the other night. Tommy Brunett opened for Shooter Jennings. I liked Tommy Brunett more. Shooter was not the rocker I thought he'd be. But still good. My nephew Ben says, "There's alot of old people here," and he wasn't talking about me. There were a lot of old people there....So I went to the skin doctor a few weeks ago. Last time I went I wasn't wearing underwear and had to put on the paper gown. Definitely not enough material to cover me comfortably. This time I wore underwear and felt alright just hanging out in my gown. Got the feeling that she was checking me out which did not make me feel weird at all.  Is that wrong?  She is a hardass doctor. Raised on a farm south of Buffalo, her father was very harsh with the kids, making her self-reliant at an early age. A drinker also, it makes me glad I had two good people for parents.....Spent some time at my neighbor's house a few weeks ago. I grew up there. Not literally, but I spent many, many hours there. First the Pooley's lived there, then the McGurer's. They moved away in 1994 but I had been visiting there since 1971. Twenty-three years. I think that spending time at a place ties your emotions to that place and maybe that's why places are haunted. Not saying there are ghosts but I'm not saying there can't be....I'm surprised that more college dorms aren't haunted.  Ok, that's it.

14 July 2011

My Mom Will Kick Your Ass


The Grandkids: Spencer, Luke, Sam, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Kyle, Ben, Tyler, Cole and Josh on the silo behind the barn

          I stopped by my parents’ house last week and was hanging out in the driveway shooting baskets when my Mom came walking from around the front of the house. “Mom,” I shouted, “let’s play H-O-R-S-E.”
        “I can’t,” she said. “Maybe when I’m done.” She was puttering around in one of her flower gardens. She has a lot of flower gardens. Last year she put a decorative brick border around the pine trees in front. Last week she planted some new flowers down near the barn but had to dig them up and move them when the faucet in the barn broke. There is a little area behind the garage, off the driveway, that looks like a garden at the Smithsonian. It’s made up of flower upon flower, mixed in with some bushes and decorative laurel, none of which I know by name. My Mom makes sure the yard looks nice, but it actually looks fantastic.  She likes that stuff. When we would drive by the house we lived in in Rush, many years after we had left and moved to the farm, she would spy the bushes she planted along the house. “How are my bushes doing?” she wondered aloud. She has a nurturing essence that has made her a good landscaper and a great mother and grandmother.
       When my brother and sisters and I were in high school, and college, and junior high - and really, ever since - my Mom took our appearance seriously.  I would often hear comments like “What the hell are you doing without shoes on?!" or  "You look like a vagrant!” directed at me.  My appearance has been a point of contention since we moved to Lima and I stopped wearing shoes.  In the summer the soles of my feet would become black with dirt and grass stains and she would make me scrub them night after night.  They would be clean and white when I was done but by noon the next day they would be back to their altered state.  In fairness to my Mom, I often looked like a vagrant, especially when I had long hair and a penchant for wrinkled shirts.  It was only, I believe, my youth, my innocent face and my ability to play dumb that kept me out of any serious trouble with the authorities, but that didn't fool my Mom.
        She doesn’t like looking at photos of herself but on her wedding day she looked like Audrey Hepburn if Audrey Hepburn lived next door and wore cat glasses.  Her and my Dad are young and handsome and happy in those photos, with everything in front of them.  Last year I was in the church where they got married, St. Joseph’s in Rush, and I crept up in the balcony and thought about them and the day they got married.   After they married they lived on West Rush Road.  My parents fixed up the first house, sold it, and then moved to my grandmother's old place across from the golf course in town.  They were barely in their thirties when we left Rush and moved to the farm in Lima.  Their place sure didn’t look like it does now.  There are some buildings that no longer stand, having been buried years ago now, but that’s not the real difference.  The place was rough when they bought it.  It might be a family legend, but I believe that the former owners had chickens in the house.  I know that I moved into a house that was clean and had new carpets (I still love the new carpet smell), a new kitchen, a new bathroom, pretty much new everything, and I got to pick the color of my room (I liked purple).  I spent a lot of time making forts from couch cushions or throwing blankets over radiators to make a hot house (we trapped the warm air until we were sweating) or playing with hot wheels in my Dad's office.  Kids spend a lot of time in the nooks and crannies of a house, time that makes a house a home.  The bathroom was always clean, the dishes were always done, and the clothes always washed and folded.  As a little kid, a clean house is a cozy house, and our house was always clean. 
        My Dad was at Kodak every day, then home at five, and then on the tractor or in the shop until dark. We spent a lot of time with him because he was fun to be around and because there was always work to be done.  He was like the Godfather - he was the head of the network. My Mom was more like Sonny Corleone. She ran the day-to-day operation from the front lines.  She made the doctor and dentist and orthodontist appointments, took us shopping for school clothes, bought the food we liked and didn’t like, took us to our friends' house, paid the bills, cleaned the bathroom, and set the standards.  Not only did she drive us to the orthodontist appointments, but she was also the one who decided that we were getting braces.  We were her domain.
         When we fell short of her expectations she let us know it.   How many times did I get whacked in the back of the head when I was walking out the door?  Her rants were like a mad lib. “Now you get your ass (“out there” or “in there”) and you (insert task - clean your room, take out the garbage), or I’m gonna (insert threat - i.e. “tan your behind”),” she’d say, and then she’d position herself strategically so she could smack you in the back of the head on your way by.  It also irritated her when we dragged our feet.  She would tell me that "you are slower than molasses in January," and "you take forever and a day to do anything."  If you had screwed up enough for her to say, “Just wait ‘til your father gets home,” then you had won the battle but lost the war.  The mention of my father was the big stick.  My Mom got results.  We were polite and well-behaved in public (and most other places) like it was second nature.   We didn't know any other way to be and for that I have to thank my Mom.  Of course, beneath my Mom's intolerance for foolery was a Mom whose heart was as big as the outdoors, who always thought the best of her kids, always wanted the best for her kids, and always did her best for her kids.   She was the Mom who was on point against every fever, every crooked tooth, every smear of dirt, and every teardrop.          
        My friends kind of laugh now when I talk about growing up on the farm and they say, "Geez Bean, when are they gonna rename your parents' street 'Bean Road?  There's enough Bean's on there."   My brother and my sisters live on the road and there is a path that runs from my Mom's to my older sister's house.  We are close enough that we compare the situation to Everybody Loves Raymond (most of the time in a humorous way).  Everyone comes and goes.  I can stop in at any time to find both my sister's talking to my Mom in the driveway, or my nephews in the shop with my Dad, or my brother picking someone up or dropping someone off.  There's a kind of randomness and ease that doesn't require a formal occasion for any number of our family to find themselves together talking.  I like to joke that my Mom never took me to the circus and that's why I turned out the way I did, and of course I'm being sarcastic.  I turned out the way I did because of my Mom and while the jury may still be out on me, I don't know many families that are still so connected even into adulthood that they would want to have a day-to-day interaction with the rest of their family.  For that I have to thank my Mom, and my Dad, but my Mom is the center, the coordinator, the default babysitter and the quality control specialist.     
         It’s really neat to see my Mom with the grandkids.  My Dad is pretty cool but the little kids think that Grandma is where it’s at.  She paints and colors and draws with them, they sit in her chair and watch movies on her tiny dvd player, and she always has candy.  Whenever I babysit the kids for my sister, I ask seven year-old Cole what he wants to do. “I want to go to Grandma’s.”  And that would be that.  Watching her with the grandkids, I can see how she raised us.  My Dad noticed it too and one day mentioned how great my Mom was with them.  I always thought that my perpetual optimism and happiness was something that was hardwired inside me, that I was just born that way, but I was mistaken.  Somehow, someway, my Mom made me a happy person.  How many people can say that?
        When she got done hauling brush from her gardens, she took off her work gloves and we played a game of H-O-R-S-E.  My Mom, at seventy years old, was leading by a letter when we quit.  She is still taking me to school.

25 June 2011

Karl Marx Is Not Gay. Not That There's Anything Wrong With That.

"Two guys wanna get married?  Well, that's just stupid."
                                                                                   Eight year old Luke Bean

"The Take Back the Land Movement is rooted in the following principles: housing is a human right; local community control over land and housing."
                                                                                   Take Back the Land Mission Statement

New York State is really making headlines lately.  Former Congressman Andrew Weiner finally stepped down after weeks of Weiner jokes following his sexting of almost every woman in the U.S. under the age of twenty-five.  The odd thing to me was that our capacity for outrage has become so burned out that news of Weiner's texting a high-school girl was met with a shrug of the shoulders and a "Congressmen will be Congressmen" indifference.  Yeah, the guy is/was a deviant.  I don't think he is the type of public servant that Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he envisioned our Nation's representatives.

New York made the national news again last night when it passed the Gay Marriage Bill into law.  In thirty days it won't be just Adam and Eve getting married, but also Adam and Steve (as well as Guy and Manny, Neil and Bob, etc).  My nephew's reaction to the uproar was classic eight-year old brevity: "Two guys wanna get married? Well, that's just stupid."  I don't think that my nephew is biased against gay people but those on the fringes of the political spectrum may disagree.  There is suspicion and distrust everywhere of every representative of the straight, white, male social structure, even (I'm sure) amongst the elementary schoolers.  Wake up people!  Our children are being brainwashed that eating meat, driving cars, earning money and trusting the police are all okay and socially acceptable.  What will become of our society with these sorts of values?  Just think of all these elementary school kids as adults, obeying the speed limit as they drive to work, paying their taxes and coming home to eat a steak with their families, or worse yet, some venison tenderloins from a deer they shot and killed.  It's a Lefty's worst nightmare.  Personally, I miss Ronald Reagan.  He was steady as a rock.  Sure, he cut welfare spending and increased our military budget tenfold, but he was a good foil for a young kid like myself that was anti-Establishment.  Like D.J. says, "If you're twenty and you're not a rebel, you have no balls.  If you're thirty and you're not part of the Establishment, then you have no brains."  I have had both and neither.
Bill Clinton and Al Gore share an intimate moment

I was conflicted when I heard that New York may allow two women to get married, and I wasn't sure what to think, so I did a little research.  College-Girls and Pinkbabes were both useful websites with some very informative videos regarding the marriage issue, apparently also known as "Girl On Girl".  I did not know that so many teenage girls had friends' moms that were willing to hold them and comfort them and do other things to them just to make them feel better when they were going through some rough times emotionally.  I still don't know if two women should get married.   Sure, two ugly women getting married wouldn't bother me but, as for the hotties, I am still determined and willing to watch as many videos as it takes to arrive at an informed opinion.

Emily Good was another New Yorker to make the national news, having been featured on the Huffington Post, Glenn Beck, MSNBC, Newsday, Fox News, and USA Today, as well as many other news outlets.  Ms. Good was arrested on her own property for videotaping members of the Rochester Police Department making a traffic stop.  She wanted to get evidence of racial profiling in her neighborhood which, she says, happens all the time.  In this case the officers were white and the person they pulled over was black which, of course (according to Emily), would be racial profiling.  During an interview with the Democrat and Chronicle she noted that the officers making the traffic stop were white and she ran into the house to get her camera to record evidence of their crime.  The cops come off a bit short-tempered in the video and it appears that the arresting officer acts quickly once he makes up his mind to arrest Ms. Good.  She keeps shouting "I don't understand what's happening," as he is arresting her, which would have been funny if it wasn't so......okay, it was kind of funny.

I have been subjected to racial profiling once and non-racial profiling another time.  My friend Tony Mouzon (may he rest in peace) lived off Clifford Ave. in the city.  There was a crackhouse at the end of his street.  I was driving an old pick-up truck at the time and was (and still am) white.  The first time I went to his house to pick him up for work, I sat in my truck outside his house and waited there.  After waiting for a few minutes, I aroused the suspicion of his neighbors.  What is this white guy doing on our street?  The short and most logical answer to them is that I was there to buy drugs.  That is why most young, white males came to this African-American neighborhood.  When Tony came out of the house I saw him have a quick conversation with one of his neighbors that was standing on their porch.  When he got in my truck he was laughing and said that his neighbor was getting ready to call the cops on me.  I liked the idea of Tony having vigilant neighbors who cared about what was happening on their street.  I liked it even more that they would do something about it.  My other profiling incident was when I had long hair and was a passenger in a car that was traveling in a well known drug corridor headed to Washington, D.C.  We didn't know we were in a "drug corridor" as the officer called it.  It was the same route that my parents took when I was in fifth grade and we were driving to Florida.  We were just on the highway, going to see the dinosaurs at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.  The cops said that they pulled us over for speeding but I am pretty sure they pulled us over because we had New York license plates.  It was an undercover car and I think they had shadowed us for a ways to get a good look at us.  Like I said, I had a lot of hair.  They made us wait while they brought a drug-sniffing dog onto the scene.  Did we do anything wrong that would warrant our getting pulled over?  No.  But we did fit the profile.   

Distrust of the Establishment was a given in the post-Sixties/Watergate society that I grew up in.  My first year away at college was 1986 and we were still in the wake of the 1960's.  The Grateful Dead were making a comeback, Hunter Thompson was essential reading, and the drugs of choice were still pot and acid.  Politically and socially, the Sixties cast a long shadow, like an overachieving big brother that me and my friends would never measure up to.  Not that we cared much.  We were doing our own thing.  We still carried a distrust of the Man, the Establishment, and Big Brother, but I don't think that's what Emily Good's deal is. Sure, if you read her Facebook page you will see comments like "very corrupt and they are out of control!" and "RPD must love wasting money and resources by just being douches" and  "Your story is living proof that America is looking more and more like a Police State" but I think that she thinks the problem goes deeper than that.  I think she subscribes to the theory that the police are just a part of the problem in our society, a tool of the Establishment to keep the needy and impoverished in their place, and to maintain the status quo for the Haves, the people who run or support Big Oil, Big Banks, and Big Fill-In-The-Blank.  I am certainly not the first person to defend the police.  I have had plenty of run-ins with cops who were jerks but I don't think the guy making a traffic stop is doing so because he's defending some secret network where white, priveleged males get everything handed to them.  He's just a guy enforcing the law who wants to get home alive at the end of the day.  The arresting officer in Ms. Good's case may be wrong but I don't think he's part of a bigger conspiracy.

Karl Marx
The Rochester Police Department was also put on the spot earlier this year when Ms. Good and others were protesting the foreclosure of a home in the city.  On March 28 of this year two dozen RPD officers executed an eviction notice at the former home of Catherine Lennon, a Rochester woman who had her home foreclosed on.  She hadn't made a mortgage payment in nearly two years and either she ignored warning letters from the bank or the bank refused to discuss refinancing with her.  She was called the "Rosa Parks of the Housing Market" because she stood up to the Big Bank (in this case Fannie Mae) who foreclosed on her house.  Fannie Mae was bailed out with taxpayer money two years ago, lending a murkiness to the morality of home foreclosures of taxpayers who supposedly are paying the bills of the institution kicking them out of their house.  Along with this, Fannie Mae is currently being investigated for fraud.  With the help of an organinzation known as Take Back the Land, Ms. Lennon returned to her home, and awaits further action.  Or something.  I don't really know.  I do know that Take Back the Land, or TBTL, has a mission statement that reads as follows:

Take Back the Land Rochester believes that housing is a human right, not a commodity. We believe that land and housing should be controlled by the community, not the banks. In order to elevate housing to a human right and secure community control over land we defend people from foreclosure-related evictions and assist homeless people to move into vacant, bank-owned homes. In this process we are wresting land from the control of the banks and turning it back to our community in the form of community land trusts—where land can be taken off the speculative market. As long as housing occurs at the whim of the banks and the market homelessness and poverty will plague our community forever. In short, housing should be for people not for profit. That‘s why we’re taking back the land!

These houses - which are the private property of the bank - must not be sold "for profit" (because making a profit is just wrong apparently) but rather be held by a "collective" and given to homeless people and others in a lower economic strata, particularly women of color.  I have just a few issues with the TBTL, and when I say a few, I mean everything they stand for.  To wit:
               - Housing is not a human right any more than having a car is a human right. It is not a human right that you should have what your neighbor has even though you don't work for it. However, if you can't afford to pay for your own housing, sign up for Social Services and the New York state government will subsidize your housing. That's pretty nice of them.
               - Land and housing costs money. Whoever owns it, gets to control it. It's called private property. Go to school, get good grades, get a scholarship to go to college (or take loans like everyone else), then get a job. Save your money, pay your bills, establish good credit and then buy a house. Or don't.
               - If you are a homeless person, you should be able to squat on someone else's property and the TBTL will protest that it's not fair that you, who are an alcoholic/drug addict who has never worked for more than three months at one job, don't have the same living conditions as the person who worked and saved their money.  Huh?

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness does not guarantee that you get to own a house, especially not a house that you don’t pay for.  I know that everyone has an excuse nowadays.  Weiner sexts underage girls and then checks himself into rehab. For what? To cure himself of being a creep? Yes, the job market is barren, but that doesn't mean you can quit paying your mortgage. If banks like Fannie Mae are using predatory interest rates then foreclosing unfairly, then there should be investigations to see if laws were broken. If we need legislation to prevent predatory bank practices, then let's pass those laws. We were founded as a nation with the power of law, not man. We have no King and there is no Judge that does not have to answer to the rule of law. If our system works properly then we cannot be convicted on a judge's whim. If the system works properly.  But the citizens have to be held accountable to the law as well.

It's insulting to Rosa Parks to call Lennon the "Rosa Parks" of the housing market. Owning your own home is not a human right.  Being able to work and go to school without prejudice or fear of reprisal because of your race or social status is.  Human rights are generally the right not to have awful things done to you. You can determine your own fate. You can vote and you can vote without getting your head bashed in. You have a right to private property and you have the right to be protected from unlawful searches and seizures. You have the right to be protected by the law, regardless of your color, creed, or sexual orientation.  You can't be beaten or tortured by the police or held without cause.  In New York, you have the right to marry someone of the same sex with equal protection under the law.  I don’t think that people have a right to free housing or free food. It is by the largesse of our brothers and sisters in society that we are charitable enough to help the less fortunate, even those who refuse to meet society half way.

It has become fashionable to bash Big Oil (the Gulf spill), Big Banks (where did the bailout money go?), cops (why are they harassing that poor girl?), people not of color (they lack compassion for immigrants even though our families were all immigrants), people who try to make money, carnivores, people who don't recycle, people who don't believe in global warming (I'm not convinced) and people that like Sarah Palin (this I understand).   I am never going to apologize for making money or eating meat or driving my car.   I'd like to live in a world where college education is free, healthcare is free, museums are free and frequent, and libraries and parks are the center of every town.  My dream society is a true meritocracy, one that rewards hard work and skill and talent and vision, a nation in which the best man or woman gets the job because they do the best job. We are all lucky to live in America.  Of course if society goes the other way then I would like to request a house now.  Preferably somewhere near a lake. With a patio, because I like to grill. Oh, by the way, I'll need a grill.