Extenders

In this episode, Geoff recalls a time when he was boarding a cross country flight and realized he’d gained enough weight that he needed a seat belt extender. This, of course, caused some serious soul searching and a new determination to set thing right in his life. Which is almost never a good idea.

In Praise of Mayonnaise

In this episode, Geoff confesses to his unnatural addiction to the nectar of the culinary gods, Mayonnaise.

I Remember Cheese

There was a time in my life when one of my favorite things to do was eat cheese. A small wedge of gooey Brie could nearly bring me to tears. A mild cheddar, bright orange, sliced and melted, was as close to heaven as I think I have ever gotten.

There was a time when my answer to a mild depression was to hack off a chunk of that mild cheddar, which I bought in long loafs, put it in a bowl, microwave it and eat it with a spoon. I can still feel the soft, hot mess in my mouth, that tiny little pop as my teeth cut through a spoonful.

A grilled cheese sandwich, one with almost any cheese in it, saturated with butter and fried to a golden, greasy crispness, could send me into paroxysms of ecstasy.

One Christmas, my Aunt Lou hosted the family at her home in Cranford, New Jersey. She and Uncle Sid had arranged the table in the basement, and there was one long table to the side that was covered in every kind and shape and color of cheese you can imagine. I can still remember the glorious first bite from that round of Gouda. The remembrance of that table has become for me a lasting impression of the meaning of Christmas.

Pizza, the kind my grandmother made, with real, full-fat mozzarella that stretched in hot strings as you tried to separate one slice from the pie, or tried to pull a bite from the steaming slice, was a perpetual rite of passage that I passed through an infinite number of times. The combination of steaming cheese mixed with scalding tomato sauce created a kind of wonderful pain as you ate. Foodies now talk about mouth feel. That was mouth feel.

I started to notice, however, that eating cheese did odd things to my energy, my sinuses, my skin. The day after eating cheese, I started noticing a pronounced sluggishness. I developed gout, a particularly unpleasant condition, and started needing a cane to get around. One day decided to see if cheese had any effect on it. I was sure it wouldn’t, but I was desperate and willing to try anything.

A week after giving up cheese (and other milk products), I was able to get around without the cane. This created a real dilemma for me. Was I really willing to give up all that melty wonderfulness? Well, yes, of course. I’m a sensualist but I’m not an idiot. Gout hurt. A lot.

It’s been years since I had cheese. I don’t usually miss it, but there are times when I simply sit and remember, and laugh sadly at the cruel, cruel joke that something so exquisite could also be so uncivil.

But I’ll always have Cranford.

 

#3

Robin Williams

Robin Williams is dead. Somehow, that doesn’t seem quite possible. A lot of the noise on the Internet is about how talented he was, about the devastation of depression, about his past successes, how he entertained, enlightened and brought joy to us all, but couldn’t find it himself.

I am left with several conflicting emotions and thoughts. Whenever one of our creative icons dies, especially when they are relatively young, I think of the work we will never get to experience. But in this case, if it does, indeed, turn out that he killed himself, I wonder how many who are on the edge will use this as an excuse to end it for themselves. I also wonder how many will see this as an impetus to get help, and stick around for a while.

My good friend Randy Cassingham has some rather devastating things to say about the selfishness of people who take their own lives. Other people I know talk about how mental illness, especially with the stigma attached to it in modern society, often leaves people no choice, or very little choice, but to take the course of action it seems Mr. Williams took.

I am battling health issues (physical, not mental. This time, at least) that I haven’t shared with anyone, and one of my first thoughts was, that could be a way out. But it was a brief thought. One mixed in with the myriad other thoughts ranging from the dark to the sublime to the philosophic to the wildly ridiculous. It’s how a creative mind works, and if you want to live a creative life, you must let those wild imaginings have their moment. Resisting them will only make them mean more than they do.

So Robin Williams is dead. My heart aches for him and for his family and for his public. I grieve for the people who had work lined up in his upcoming movies and TV shows, who will now find themselves, at least temporarily, on unemployment. I grieve for the genius laid low. I grieve for his wife and children.

But, after most of a day considering it, what I choose in my own life to do with the incomprehensible news that he is no longer with us, is to rededicate myself to making my own mark, however small in comparison, so that, when I do pass, there will be people who will say that I touched their lives in wonderful, powerful or, perhaps, strange ways, and who will remember me and keep me alive with that remembrance.

Two Doves

In the last week, two people who meant a great deal to me passed away. One of them, you probably know, one, you probably don’t. One, I knew personally, and loved dearly. The other, I only know from a public persona and a body of work. They both influenced anyone who came in to contact with them.

The one that you probably know, of course, is Maya Angelou. She was iconic enough that I don’t need to expound on her accomplishments. If you weren’t aware of her or what she did in her life, you probably do now, with all the articles, tributes and random Facebook posts about her. Ms. Angelou was almost universally loved and admired and the tributes reflect that. I say “almost” because there have also been some hateful comments. As with anyone who, at some point in their lives, said uncomfortable things (and she most definitely did say uncomfortable things), and, more to the point, anyone in this country who is black and dares to become successful, there will be hateful things said. But the majority of comments are truly reverent and inspirational.

Yes, occasionally, Ms. Angelou annoyed me. I doubt you could find a public figure who hasn’t, at some time or other, annoyed me. But mostly, she inspired me and made me think. And I saw her inspire and provoke thought in so many people, her greatness was obvious to me.

Here is a video, part of a series, of a conversation she had with Dave Chappelle after he suddenly left his very successful television show many years ago. In it, toward the end, he asks her how she could have lived through what she did and not be consumed by anger. Her response, and her distinction between bitterness and anger, moved me to tears.

This was a wise woman. One who gained her wisdom through a constant examination of her life and of the lives of those around her. Her life, the simple fact of it, not to mention her work, changed the world. The one good thing about her passing is that a whole new generation will now hear her voice, examine her art and investigate her history (which will bring them headlong into a whole, new, rich story of some of the most influential people of the mid-twentieth century.)

SteveMooreThe other person we lost, you may not have heard of. His name was Steve Moore. He was a pianist, a standup comic, a “warmup act” for more than one major television sitcom, an opening act for Vegas headliners, a raw, shining talent and a gentle man. I knew, on some level, that he would pass away soon. He contracted HIV many years ago. He dealt with it in a way that was unlike anyone else I’ve ever known or witnessed. He brought it to his standup routine. But not in a bitter way. Not even in an angry way. He was ribald and he was funny and he gently allowed the people in his audience to examine their own thoughts about and relationship to the disease. Then he supported others in bringing their challenges into their own art.

He turned his experiences into an HBO special, called “Drop Dead Gorgeous: The Power of HIV Positive Thinking“.

The standup community can be bitchy, catty and unsupportive, but I have never heard anyone say anything but glowing and loving things about Steve. He pretty much loved everyone he touched, and everyone he touched pretty much loved him back. He was giving and generous and kind and left happiness in his wake.

When his illness got to be more than he could manage by himself, he moved back home to Virginia to live with his folks, but still left his mark on the people around that community. It was a smaller community than Hollywood, but that didn’t matter to him.

I lost touch with him after he left town, but, thanks to Facebook, we reconnected and I was able to be a part, although a very small one, of his life again. His passing was a shock. Even given his condition, it doesn’t seem possible. Now that he’s gone, I will never again get to sit and gossip with him, never joke and laugh, talk trash about other people. I will never sit in his tiny cabin on that huge plot of land off Laurel Canyon Blvd. in the Valley, eating “white trash mashed potatoes”, which were loaded with, of all things, mayonnaise. I will never hear him call me “lover” with that sly glint in his eyes and that grin that took over his entire face. (No, we weren’t lovers. No, I won’t tell you why he called me that.) I will never again get to see him do his stand up routine with his easy and confident style, so lovable that even when he got ribald, it seemed, somehow, innocent.

I learned of his passing on Facebook. And as soon as the first post crossed my stream, with tears and a tribute, more and more were added. Photos were posted. Experiences where shared. The extent and caliber of people sharing was beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Someone even posted a transcript of the text of his memorial service, which I couldn’t finish reading because I couldn’t see the monitor through the tears.

I am amazed that I can be so moved by the passing of someone I never knew and by the passing of someone I have not seen or talked directly with for years. But when people leave their mark on your soul, and you share that mark with so many other people, the final separation can be jarring and disorienting.

May you both have peace.

A Winter Blindness

In the marvelous, delightful play “The Lady’s Not for Burning” by Christopher Fry, young Alizon Eliot comes in out of the sun to the dim room and says, “I’ve an April Blindness, I’m all out at the eyes.” Yes, I know it’s already May, and yes, my title is “A Winger Blindness”, but there you are. Inspiration comes at you sideways, sometimes.

When I was young, my mother got sad and cranky during wintertime. We moved from the East Coast to Spokane, Washington partly because she had heard that the winters there were incredibly mild. Ironically, the year we settled in, they had the worst winter on record, with snow drifts taller than I was, but that’s another story.

The Lady's Not for Burning - Seasonal Affective Disorder

The Lady’s Not for Burning – Broadway, 1950

The move helped a little, but winter was always hard on her. From November through February, and sometimes even into March and April, she had to physically fight against sever depression. Later in her life, she discovered that it was an actual medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or Winter Depression, and many people suffered from it. She bought a full spectrum lamp and sat under it in the mornings when she got up, and it seemed to help a bit.

As a child, I only sort of noticed her dips during winter. I had my own life to explore and grow into. As a young adult, I started noticing it, but was mostly just confused by my observations. As I got older, I started to understand more, and sympathize, but it seemed something remote. I spent a lot of time outdoors, got lots of sunlight year round, so I couldn’t quite imagine how the disorder could be possible.

These last two years, I’ve spent more and more time indoors. I work on my computer, often through the night. I go to bed late in the night (sometimes early in the morning) and wake up late in the day, occasionally as late as early in the afternoon. Last winter, I noticed that it was increasingly hard to get motivated to sit down and work. Of course, I did it anyway, and as the months went by, it again became easier and I didn’t think about it any more.

This winter, it was more than just getting motivated to work. Again, I did slog through. Once I’ve started a task, it takes over and I work until it’s finished. It’s a useful, if obsessive trait. Taking care of myself and my environment, however, took a back seat. I’ve never been a great domestic god, but as I look around now, even I’m slightly appalled. No, I won’t describe it to you, even though I tout the benefits of details in good writing. Just imagine the worst you’ve let your place go and turn the volume up a bit and that should give you an idea.

This last week, the sun moved so that it now hits my living room window earlier, more directly and stays longer. (Yes, I know it’s really the Earth moving. Don’t be pedantic, it’s metaphorical.) As the air warmed, I opened my blinds more and earlier and closed them later. I opened the front door more often to allow a cross breeze. And something odd happened. I find myself sitting down to work and actually getting work done. The whole working myself up to get going step is almost completely gone.

Is it possible that, along with the stubby fingers, love for all things absurd, a skewed sense of humor, reverence for science fiction and a pear shaped body, I also inherited my mother’s winter sadness? I’d never considered it before. Never even thought it really possible. But evidence is mounting.

Knowledge is power, as they say, so, as I straighten up my place, get caught up on nagging tasks, and move ever forward, I’ll have to keep in mind that I need to put things in place before next winter to lessen the strain and the symptoms. Spend more time outside as a habit fostered over the year so it is firmly in place by the winter months, find a full spectrum lamp. Start revising my schedule slowly so that I get more of the full force of the sun’s magnificent rays. And have things in place so that, if I do succumb, I am reminded and can easily find my way out.

As Jennet Jourdemayne says at the end of Lady’s Not for Burning,

The world is looking frozen
And forbidding under the moon; but I must be
Out of this town before daylight comes, and somewhere,
Who knows where, begin again.

Even in Los Angeles, it seems, the world can look frozen. When it does, I can get, if not out of town, at least out of the shadows, and begin again.

Paul Harvey – America’s Sweetheart

Recently, a friend posted one of those YouTube videos with a static photo over a recording of a speech. This one was a radio opinion piece by Paul Harvey done in the mid sixties. It seemed to be predicting a whole raft of possible social evils that, since, have come true, making it look like Mr. Harvey was some kind of prophetic genius. It was done in the guise of “If I were the devil, this is how I’d corrupt America.”

It was attractive because it seemed so prescient. What most who listened didn’t realize was that Mr. Harvey was talking, not about possible future ills, but ones he saw around him at that precise moment. And, in my mind, a lot of those “ills” were actually society coming to grips with how things don’t really work, and trying to find ways in which they could work, and work for a larger portion of the populace. In other words, they were good things, or at least potential good things.

It seemed classic Harvey. His whole shtick was that the old values were the best and change is bad. That there was a bedrock of decency that the common man clung to but that was being eroded at an increasingly rapid rate and we’d better watch out and get back to basics. He did it in a folksy way that communicated well with a population that was extremely afraid of change in a time when some major changes for the good were afoot. In my mind, he was patronizing and cynical.

Yes, everything he pointed to in the clip was true and prophetic. However, his solution was to return to the (very conservative and restrictive) church, and to not question it in any way. His audience was the white, working class male who, in the 60′s, was beginning to be afraid that their hegemony was starting to be threatened. And it was, of course.

A year or so back, Ford truck used another Paul Harvey bit on the greatness of the “salt-of-the-earth” farmer, the bedrock of human decency, morality and productivity. It was called, “God Made a Farmer.” Again, it was folksy and inspiring and the first time I heard it, it made my sphincter pucker. We love the romance of the hard-working, stalwart American farmer, and there are certainly many of those that fit that ideal and fit it well.

But the romance seems to fade a bit when you look at the way farming is done nowadays, with corporations forcing farmers to use questionable but momentarily profitable methods, when you see those methods polluting the ground, water and air (and, some would assert, the food supply), when you see the fights over land and water rights, and when you see that in farming communities in this country you find rampant racism, rampant sexism, spousal and child abuse, where the expression of faith is often in terms of what we need to fear and hate rather than what we need to love. Yes, those ills are in every community, not just the farming community, but it puts a bit of a damper on the whole, “the farmer is a special, noble breed” talk. Just like every group, some farmers are special and noble, some, not.

The whole speech seemed designed to placate his core audience, make them feel good about a life of hardship and strife because, well, God needed them to. It seemed to me cynical and doubly so for Ford to use it so many years later, when that kind of farmer mostly no longer exists, but the romance of it is still really alive and attractive.

The folksy “heartland” that Mr. Harvey evoked with such abandon, never really existed, and the “average American” he referenced was only average in a very small segment of the country.

You may have guessed that I find Paul Harvey kind of reprehensible. I find the new trotting out of his hypnotic voice a surreal nostalgia, a pining for something that never was because what’s there now is too difficult to understand. I absolutely don’t think our society is any more (or less) evil than it was in the 40s, 50s or 60s. We think of those as more innocent times, but that was merely because we didn’t have mass media to point a lens into every fetid corner, cave and basement and point a spotlight on to every misstep, mistake and misdeed, real or imagined, by every famous, notorious or regular person.

Quite the contrary, I think that, since we now see what has always been going on all around us, we have the ability to make the world a better place, and I truly believe that is happening. I see it daily. I see it locally, regionally, nationally and world-wide.

We are here in this life to learn, I think, and the best classroom is one that throws up obstacles. A lot of what’s going on now that seem off or more intense than anything we’ve been aware of in the perceived “Better Time” of the mythical past is kind of the final death throes of the old way of thinking, scrambling to regain a hand-hold. Looked at in that way (and from a higher perspective), it’s all to the good.

So if you want to bring out Mr. Harvey’s cynical, reductionist view to make it all seem better, who am I to say there’s anything wrong with that? His mythical view of middle America is both soothing and seductive. Be soothed. Be seduced. Then get back to the real world and try to step back far enough to see the patterns of good that are spreading.

My First Flat Screen Monitor and A Guilty Conscience

Many years ago, I had a cat named Cat. She loved being around me when I worked, but learned early that the easiest way to make daddy mad was to step on (or try to sleep on) the keyboard. She got really good at jumping up on my desk without disturbing my papers, stepping over the keyboard and climbing up on top of my monitor. It was the old-fashioned CRT monitor and had the double advantage of having a nice perch upon which to lie down and being incredibly warm. (Cat was slim and had taken finding the warmest corners of the house to a fine art.)

She would stay up there most of the time that I was working at my computer, which was most of the time.

And then I got a flat screen monitor.

I didn’t even think of her usual resting place until the first time, after I’d hooked the thing up, that she jumped up there. And instantly (and rather inelegantly) slid down behind it with a frantic scrambling, then looked at me from behind the monitor with a confused and slightly hurt look on her face.

To my shame, I laughed. Yes, I laughed. To my credit as a human being, I quickly felt guilty that I had laughed and proceeded to rescue the poor, contorted beasty from her predicament and placed her on the printer. She sat upright with as much dignity as she could muster (which was a lot of dignity. Cats can be an insufferably dignified species), then lifted one forepaw and nonchalantly cleaned it. After being satisfied that the paw was clean (and that she had well and completely communicated her casual indifference), she jumped down and found another warm spot in the house upon which to nap.

After that, she took to the printer as her new throne and got very good at realizing, as it warmed itself up to do it’s duty, that paper would soon be extruded from that slot by her tail, moving away until it had finished the horrible magic and I had removed the paper, then curling back into place with a quick lick of her paw or the tip of her tail. We always worked well together that way.

Maggie the Cat deciding if I'm worth bugging this time.

Maggie the Cat on the computer tower, deciding if I’m worth bugging this time.

My new companion, Maggie the Cat, also learned early not to trod on the keyboard. She is a more robust specimen and doesn’t need the warm spots as much. Her favorite place to settle when I work is on the computer tower, which is under the desk by my left leg. She will sit there staring at me for a few moments, then paw at my arm to be sure I know she’s sitting there staring at me, then, if I ignore her, drape herself over my arm, looking up at my face with a pitiful expression. If I pick her up, she will allow me to hold and pet her for several whole seconds before climbing back down to the tower, then the floor. If I don’t pick her up, she will finally get bored of pawing and draping and climb down to go find a spot on the back of the couch across the room from which to pointedly ignore me.

They are very different animals from each other.

As for Cat, I miss her, but often remember that ungraceful leap up to the top of the flat screen monitor. I always laugh. Then, because I’m a human being, I always feel guilty about it.

But It Says So On Facebook!

The world is coming to an end. You can see all the evidence from all the infographics and quotes and links to articles on Facebook. Our seas are so polluted by radiation, all life as we know it will die within the month. Our food supply is so corrupted by non-food, we may as well either just stop eating or just give up and live on Twinkies and Snickers.

facebook-angel

Our banks, government, international relationships and religious institutions are so far gone, we are quickly spiraling back down to the stone age. Corporations, gun lobbyists, anti-gun lobbyists, the religious right, the fringe left, have all grabbed hold of our collective short hairs and are shaking us to within an inch of our poor, put upon lives.

It’s in fancy graphics on Facebook. That means it’s true. That obscure “news” source you’re linking to agrees with that particular view of life, religion and the political landscape. I don’t care that they’ve never done any real journalistic investigation, we now have incontrovertible proof that we were right all along and all others are just too stupid and naive to live.

Here are a list of things I now believe because of the deluge of notices I get from my loving and more informed friends on Facebook:

  1. You should only eat carbohydrates
  2. President Obama is a socialist/communist/Nazi/Hitler wannabe/closeted homosexual/foreigner (Sometimes several conflicting of these are in the same article. That doesn’t matter, it’s on Facebook!)
  3. You should never eat carbohydrates
  4. Radiation from Fukushima has already killed most of the marine life within a 100 mile radius of Japan and is swiftly heading our way, but NOBODY WANTS TO ADMIT IT!!!!
  5. You should eat a balanced amount of carbohydrates and proteins 
  6. Nothing we do has any real affect on the planet
  7. There really is no such thing a a carbohydrate, it’s a ploy to get you to eat more spaghetti 
  8. Science is complex conspiracy to defraud corporations and the American way of life
  9. Justin Bieber is an asshole

Because I get my news, facts and belief system from Facebook, which, I understand, is the only real reason it was created, I can now absolve myself of any responsibility for investigating the truth myself or even of any self-examination. It’s all been done for me and I don’t have to worry my pretty little head about any of it. (And, yes, under all that hair, my head is VERY pretty, thank you very much.)

So, if you send me an article in ihatescience.com I will take it as gospel straight from God and agree with your notions about… well, pretty much anything. And theyretryingtokillusall.com is, as of now, the most persuasive place to send me to prove that everything I eat, breathe, touch, see or hear will cause cancer, impotence and an unthinking devotion to the status quo.

If you try to send me a link to a site that has footnotes and links to its sources (an example of one such abomination: http://snopes.com), I’ll just know you have partaken of the Kool-Aid and unfriend you. For your own good, mind you. I can’t have my world view disproved by facts, or even by thoughtful examination and research, for goodness’ sake. I much prefer websites that have links to sources that are to 1) other articles on their own websites and/or 2) other sites with names like thepresidentisfromvenusihaveproof.com.

Let’s all turn off our intellectual facilities. Life is so much easier that way. Let Facebook, and your faithful friends, show you the way.