Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Fattist

A new word has been added to my vocabulary.  It is fattist.  

fattist is a person who discriminates or exhibits extreme prejudice against fat and/or fat people.

"-ist " words, like fascist, racist, bigamist, capitalist, usually define pretty nasty characteristics.  As a family, their unsavory attributes are right up there with the "-ine" nouns - - caffeine, codeine, morphine, amphetamine, and of course, nicotine.

I think the -ist  word more applicable to me is environmentalist, for the body is simply an encapsulated eco-zone and maintaining its health is all about balance and mod-er-a-tion.   

Fascist, on the other handis synonymous with fanatic and fanatics are not balanced souls, they are extremists.  Herman Goring, the third highest ranking official in Nazi Germany, was not only institutionalized for his morphine addiction but weighed well over 250 pounds by age forty.  He had  "the hind end  of an elephant," according to one U.S. diplomat and "his reputation for extravagance made him particularly unpopular as ordinary Germans began to suffer deprivation" during the war years.  

So let us dispel any comparisons between two words simply because they sound alike.   If a weighty individual masticates many times a day it does not suggest he or she masturbates with similar frequency.  Nefarious inferences linking fattist to fascist are similarly flawed and may be used purposefully to discredit the input of a moderately sized person who suggests ways in which healthy body weight  is achieved and maintained.   

Although my Mom was tall and healthy, as opposed to tall and fat or thin, I've no doubt I inherited my body image attitudes from my father.  He was an award winning athlete.  He played handball three times a week well into his seventies.  A knee injury finally forced him to return to the more benign exercise of swimming.   In high school he had held the 100 meter free-style record in New Jersey.  

Ironically, Dad died in Florida of Parkinson's Disease, a degenerative affliction which slowly robs the body of its muscular control while leaving the mind otherwise intact.  In that regard, death has no mercy and in the end makes no distinction between fat or thin.

I have three cats.  Two I like and one I don't.  The one I dislike is named Buddy, but I call it Butt-stran.  I don't physically abuse the beast, though I hiss at it from time to time.  It knows I don't like it.  Cats are very perceptive that way. 

Why the negativity toward Butt-stran?  Simple.  Because the cat is a glutton.  It lives to eat.  It dominates the food bowl.  It prevents my other two cats from snitching even a nibble until it is ready to lumber off for a nap or to take a human size dump, which it refuses to bury.  While the other cats are neat about their scat, Butt-stran could care less.  Is Butt-stran fat?  Well yeah, but not much heavier than my other cat Texas.  It is Butt-stran's attitude that rankles me.  Fat seems to have an attitude.

I've used the word "it" to refer to Butt-stran.  Fact is, Butt-stran is a her even though I think of it as a him.  Butt-stran is also the favorite of my friend Dave, a midwesterner of prodigious girth.  Dave lived with me three months of every year for thirteen years.  Like Butt-stran, he loved chow time and was always the first to be seated at the dining room table.  He sat directly across from me and had the habit of grunting with pleasure as he ate.  He always cleaned his plate to a shine. Not a morsel of food was ever left.  Had he been a little Italian boy, he might have made his mother very happy.

Dave wasn't getting fat at my table. He did his real eating out in his motor home in front of his wide screen TV.   There he feasted in what might be labeled an orgy of food and relaxation.  

As his belly became larger, the memory of his feet grew more distant.  He gave up lace shoes for Velcro tape sneakers with large colorful springs built into the heels, a sort of  Bauhaus form-function design.  Similar to Butt-stran, his toilet etiquette suffered. It is hard to aim the stream when it can't be seen.  

Of course, when you get really fat, you don't like to do much but eat because you're always hungry.  Its called homeostasis, the body's desire to maintain the environment it has obtained.  Thus, the similarity to the cellular cravings of an "-ine" addiction.  Can one blame themselves for their hunger when it is the little birds in the molecular nest that are chirping for more and more worms?  

There is a theory that obesity is genetic destiny.  The Samoan culture's island existence is presented as evidence of this Darwinian observation.  As famine periodically wracked the island, those who survived are thought to have been individuals with the largest fat-cell reserves; sure they got skinny from starvation, but they had just enough excess to see them through to a change in fortune. When these survivors reproduced, their DNA was passed on, helping to sustained their offspring through future periods of deprivation. Thus the family tree became thick of limb and stout of thigh.   

Dave was all about that theory.  He would complain that his weight was a result of genetics and that I was just one of those lucky thin guys.  Of course, as Dave sat in the RV munching pork rhinds and pistachios watching the game,  I was out on the farm doing hard physical labor which caused my body to sweat profusely and burn fat; calorie after calorie of fat, long after the actual exertion had ended.   

As we learn more about obsessive-compulsive disorders, addictions, and all those -oholic words, we see how recovery is thwarted by misconceptions and false belief systems.  Once I asked a girlfriend to spot me a twenty so I could meet some of my buddies at a bar.  She flatly refused. 

"I'm not going to lend you money to go drinking." she said.

"Ah babe, come-on, that's what guys do.  Men drink!" 

"And where did you learn that? she spouted back.

I guess I learned it from watching my Dad and his friends drink.  I believed it to be true. 

Over weight people have lots of similar misconceptions.   I've heard it said that it is easier to stop smoking or give up alcohol because unlike eating, once you stop you stop.  You can't cold turkey on food because you have to eat to stay alive.  Right?  Well, when you stop inhaling tobacco do you stop inhaling air?  Does passing on the vodka translate to no more orange juice for the rest of your life?  Its what you eat that defines your caloric intake not the eating itself.

Sometimes I make jokes about fat butts. I point out huge people and call them Wal-Mart shoppers.  I am working on filtering out such comments.  They make me sound like a fattist.       

Fat doesn't just kill in one sweet, massive coronary. It chips away at your life, trading health and dignity for momentary oral stimulation.   At the top of the "lost list " is sex.  Good sex is a very physical activity.  You need to be in shape to really enjoy it, just like you need to be somewhat in shape to work in the garden, participate in sports, go sking or biking or jogging or just  take a hike in the woods

"Fat farmer" didn't become the deprecating term it is today until the mechanization of the late 20th century created the ag-industry.  Up until then, work on the farm kept you lean and muscular.  Now, in many aspects, the farmer is little more than a glorified truck driver, relegated to countless hours in the tractor cab.  Much of farm-life's daily manual labor has been eliminated through mechanization. 

Why is America fat?  Simple.   We spend our lives seated.  After we sat down, our metabolism slowed, yet we did not decrease our caloric intake.  So our bodies swelled and began to demand ever more food.  

The physical world, "the wilderness," has always been our culture's nemesis.  Our infatuation with new technology surged as we became the Earth's richest nation's following the Second World War.  We love gadgets and have had the money to afford them.  This has resulted in a machine based society that has all but eliminated nature's inconvenient demands for physical exertion.

Yet cross the southern border into Mexico and Latin America and a life-style conspicuously bereft of back-hoes and skidsteers appears.  In cash poor countries, muscle has yet to be replaced by yellow-painted steel and diesel fuel.  You won't see crews of fat men leaning against large rubber tires sipping coffee from insulated cups. The thirty-three ton cement truck is still an electric powered mixing barrel that a thin, sinewy man loads and unloads by hand. 

I am not making an argument for the virtues of muscle bound Luddites.  My point is that fat simply does not co-exist with exercise and a healthful diet.  Fat is not an addiction, it is a lifestyle.  Real change comes by revising many different aspects of how one approaches their day.    A person requires exercise.  Instead of "cramming" a week's worth of calorie burning into a couple super-powerd sessions at a gym, why not integrate this activity into daily chores which in turn reduce our need to purchase energy generated by fossil fuels?  Why not hand wash dishes, push mow the lawn, broom clean the floors, walk to the store?   

But this is where the flawed thinking begins.  We haven't time to do these things, or we haven't the inclination, the room's are carpeted, there are no sidewalks, more joy is found in other leisure pursuits.  Why rise from the chair to change the channel when the remote allows you to stay seated.  Its the way life is and we can't go backward.

Malarkey!  If folks did an energy study of all the places they could burn calories during a day just as energy consultants analyze where heat is escaping from a home or electricity is being wasted, perhaps three quarters of the battle toward staying in shape could be achieved without ever going to a gym.  Sound impossible?  It shouldn't . 

Exercise is empowering.  It exorcises the demons and revitalizes the soul by releasing all those feel good endorphins while maybe even accomplishing some much needed labor.  If you are going to put in the hours on that elliptical machine or stair-master, why not hook it up to a small generator and battery storage unit.  Maybe you could power your refrigerator for an hour while toning those Miracle-tan thighs.  

I think many middle age people get fat not because their metabolism slows down, which it does, but because they hang around with other fat middle age people.  Youth is more active.  It spends more time on foot. Yet with the ever increasing sedentary life-style and dietary habits of American culture, obesity is trickling down to our younger members. When I was in public school in the 1960's, a fat kid was the exception and the brunt of a fair amount of ridicule.   Now fat is common place.  We are a cerebral culture.  We sit in front of computers, communicate by phone, ride escalators and elevators, drive the block or two instead of walking.  We pay to consume vast amounts of energy to do what out bodies are eloquently designed to do.  And the result is fat. 

In physics we were taught that "A body at rest tends to stay at rest while a body in motion tends to stay in motion."  

When my mother would find us kids "glued to the tube" on a sunny day she had an expression; "Come on, lets get the lead out."  And into the great out of doors we were ushered.  That's what we all need to do.  No fancy diets, no expensive surgery; just get the lead out.  Get outside and get cracking!  

When you drive around a suburban neighborhood on any summer day about the only people you see are those in service uniforms; garbage collection, lawn care, cable network, special delivery.  Where are the kids with bikes and dogs and baseball mitts?  The lawn mowers and the rakes and the wheel barrows?  They are either inside on a computer or off at some organized event like field hockey or soccer.  And somewhere there is a parent complaining about how all they do is drive their children from one thing to another.  God forbid anyone walk to anything or that kids do lawn work or that games be played on anything less than a hundred yard astroturf carpet.        

An education in the importance of good diet and regular exercise will not create bulimic or anorexic children.  It will not stigmatize or traumatize them.  These extreme conditions arise in the attempt to make short circuit repairs to the broken rules of moderate living.   They are associated with the malady of fat, not the result of a healthy lifestyle.

So how about  we all make a deal?  Fattists, no more Wal-Mart shopper remarks!   And seated America, come-on, lets get the lead out!         

King George

I led a deprived childhood.  I always wanted a dog but my Dad said we moved too much to own one.  Fact is, we only moved once in 13 years. 

Instead of the black lab I dreamed of, my folks compromised and allowed me have a chameleon, a tiny color-changing lizard not much longer than half a pencil length that ate store-bought mealy worms and the occasional house fly caught on it's long sticky tongue. To compensate for the creature's  inordinately small size, I named my lizard King George. George was cold blooded so when I would let him out of his plastic terrarium, he would immediately scurry off to the nearest sunny spot in the house and there turn the color of whatever object he came to rest on. George's ability to blend in made it quite difficult to find him.  

I had King George almost two years, but then one afternoon he disappeared. I searched the house for months but to no avail. Then one day when moving the big hi-fi stereo amplifier my Dad owned, my Mom and I found The King. He was in the space beneath the amp's hot steel casing dried to a crisp. So I had a funeral for George in the backyard and buried him under the old oak tree. I constructed a cloth lined cardboard casket from a harmonica box and with my electric wood burning kit, I engraved King George's title and reign on a fine piece of red wood. It was a grand ceremony and George was laid to rest with the dignity befitting a King. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Fukushima Radiation Leaks

Radioactivity is a highly controversial international traveler.  As a waste product, it is but another environmental stressor found in the heap of technology’s discarded luggage.
Paracelsus, the father of toxicology, wrote: “Everything is poison, there is poison in everything. Only the dose makes a thing not a poison.”  To down play the current impact of  Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactor leaks is like attempting to lend perspective to the environmental impact of DDT in the 1940s.  The pesticide’s efficacy against carriers of yellow fever and malaria was nothing less than gallant, earning chemist Paul Muller a Nobel Prize in Medicine.  Still, the long-term negative consequences of its use led to a world wide ban some thirty-five years later.
Nuclear power is a seductive option for a highly populated, fossil fuel poor island like Japan. With that in mind, the effect of earthquakes on both nuclear reactors and waste storage facilities have long been a concern in their deployment. The theory of plate tectonics casts Southeast Asia as the most volatile area of the earth’s crust. Biogeographers have long noted the segregation of species along the Wallace Line, lending credence to this portrait of geological instability along this north-south axis.
For those Japanese and their world neighbors who have warned of such imminent risks, comparing the Fukushima radiation leaks to the carcinogenic effects of cigarette use may not be an effective tranquilizer. Yes, both are man-made stressors, but an individual has the power to control their exposure to tobacco. This is not yet the case in the international politics of radiation. It is also important to note that illness and death are not always the direct result of pathogens, but come instead from multiple stresses placed on the homeostasis of the organism.
If there was logic to the risks implicit in technology, perhaps we would address the 40,000 annual deaths resulting from car accidents in the United States. The micro-view is to regulate safety devices on vehicles, the macro approach might be to supplement those efforts by offering communities lower fatality mass transportation systems.
Pasted below is a short essay concerning cancer rates and fall-out from atmospheric nuclear bomb tests. The information is only as good as the sources so opinions may vary of the statistical profile, but its something to consider when we as individuals are forced to endure the politics of energy, defense and civilized existence.
Cancer and Atmospheric Bomb Tests
The other morning a friend and I were discussing what seems to be an abnormal number of cancer deaths in our generation. I wondered aloud if they could be the result of all the atomic bomb tests 50 years ago, or if cancer was always present at its current rate but masked by failure of diagnosis in generations before the bomb. So this morning I did a little research. Not only did I find a wealth of grotesque human injustices perpetrated by the Atomic Energy Commission, but records of actual human tests conducted on unsuspecting participants exposed or injected with radiation. As for the effect of some 330 atmospheric bomb tests by the US (plus those of the USSR and China), here is what I found in a quick search:
The European Union researched this and concluded in 2003:
“The ECRR model predicts 61,600,000 deaths from cancer, 1,600,000 infant deaths and 1,900,000 foetal deaths. In addition, the ECRR predict a 10% loss of life quality integrated over all diseases and conditions in those who were exposed over the period of global weapons fallout.”
There is even direct physical evidence that U.S. taxpayer-funded nuclear tests (mostly in the Pacific) killed Americans:
Washington University officials stumbled upon 85,000 teeth not used in the study in a remote storage area. The school donated the teeth to the Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP), a research group conducting its own study of Sr-90 in baby teeth, near U.S. nuclear reactors. Each tooth is enclosed in a small envelope attached to a card identifying the tooth donor.
RPHP scientists recognized that these teeth could help answer the long-awaited question of fallout’s harm to the health of Americans. The tooth donors, now in their 40s and 50s, could be tracked at current addresses or through death records. And Sr-90 could still be measured in each tooth, as the chemical decays very slowly.
Earlier this month, the first results of the RPHP health study were released in an article in the International Journal of Health Services. Baby teeth of St. Louis baby boomers who died of cancer by age 50 had more than double — 122 percent more — the Sr-90 concentration than did Boomers who are alive and healthy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


It was a hard day for me.  It was such a "fall" day; the chill and the rain and a million things to do before winter arrives that the long summer days allowed me to put off.

Its weird how I've quit so many things that made me feel good, quit them so I wouldn't feel bad. I know I've probably got it all wrong somehow, but if Love and God are so great, why does one break your heart and the other let things suffer and die?  I've erected a scaffolding around my heart.  I tell myself it is there so I can do repairs, but I fear that if I remove it, I will come crashing down. 

I was invited to an AA meeting last week.  I've been sober almost seven years and it was the first time I have ever had the nerve to go to one.   It was very strange listening to the people talk about their drinking lives; how they had wanted to stop but never could.  A couple times I had to fight back tears and I'm not one easily moved that way.  It was sort of how I imagine coming out must be for a gay person; like you've spent your whole life in a socially stunted small town and then one day you wake up in San Francisco surrounded by "your people!"

Still, it was an unsettling experience.  Instead of making me feel stronger, it made me feel weaker and so much more vulnerable.  It re-opened the door leading to the alcoholic in me, something I've kept bolted shut, under lock and key.  The people in that meeting made feel like its never that simple, that alcoholism is like a Jeanie that can turn to vapor and escape through the crack under the door anytime it wants; that the disease is only in remission by the grace of God.  But when you're not always sure if you trust in God, that isn't exactly confidence inspiring.

I'm not fixed.  I don't know how to love yet.  For me, love is pain, just like alcohol is pain.  I keep trying to love sensibly just like I tried to drink sensibly, but I've never figured out how.  I always drank too much and then it hurt so badly I couldn't live with myself. I guess love has been the same sort of thing for me.  Its horrible that these two things are chained together in my mind.  Its a struggle to move forward yet I refuse to go back.

Astrologists claim we Cancers are driven by the moon like the tides.  Silver is our "color."  We waffle a lot and we hang on to things long after we should let them go.  We are also frequently late as we are naturally-born procrastinators.  So I guess I can only blame myself partially for who I am and the stars for the rest.  Do you think genetics and our intricate chromosome patterns are actually inner-cellular constellations?   

I hide from all sorts of things. Love, hate, fear.  All those four letter words, those emotions, that strip me of my sense of control.  Jokes and laughter are my great shelter.  Some people use work or saving the environment or some philanthropy as the airbag in their psyche.  Then again, some  people are just really real and are doing what feels right and comes naturally.  That's the kind of person I want to be. A really real person.  

I want to learn how to love and still be myself; to not worry about being eaten alive by it.  I want to make love with my eyes and heart completely open and I want to start doing it now, not wait until the dawn of that elusive morning I call Someday.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Henry and The Hard Cider

Henry Treadway owned a summer house just down the road from our farm. It had a hand painted sign above the front door that read  "The Doneroman Ranch."  

Henry was the superintendent of an apartment building in The Bronx. As a kid, I wasn't exactly sure where The Bronx was but I was certain they didn't work very hard there because Henry was the fattest man I'd ever seen. He was short, had thick wet lips and tooth pick thin legs. When he went for a bath in the cow-pond, he would float on his back and his belly would stick up so far out of the water that turtles could have climbed atop it to sun themselves. Once he got a wood tick on his back. It swelled so big under a roll of fat that by the time Henry felt the lump he was sure it was cancer.  

Henry drove a Chevy Impala, a big eight cylinder gas hog.  He pushed the bench seat back as far as it would go but still couldn't fit in behind the steering wheel.   So he had the factory installed wheel replaced with a customized model half the diameter. Only problem, then his legs couldn't reach the gas peddle.  Henry's solution was to shim out the foot pads of the accelerator and brake with laminated 2x4 blocks. It was an odd sight indeed, a chaufferless Impala with what looked to be a fat faced passenger in the back seat.   

Henry loved to drink.  So did Walter Pavelski.  Walt was a retired dairy farmer. Every fall, with wormy apples plucked from the tree behind his house, he made hard cider.  Walter lived off Social Security and the farm mortgage payments he'd received from his son, so the high octane juice came in handy when beer money was short.

One cool fall day, Henry pulled on his Triple X nylon wind breaker, squeezed into his aqua-blue sedan and drove to Walt's for a visit.  Seated beside the kitchen's wood-fired cook stove, Walter and Henry started swapping stories, smoking short stinky cigars and sampling the season's over ripe cider.  Walt had farmer's asthma and a pretty good limp as the result of being gored by a bull a couple decades earlier.  When he rose from his cracked vinyl recliner, you knew it was a matter of some importance and it usually required a quick huff of his bronchial inhaler to set him in motion.  A trip to the cellar was no small under taking.  The steps were poorly illuminated and treacherously steep and the dirt floor uneven and damp.  But that was the place the ceramic jugs of cider cured and where Walt unsteadily ventured more than once that late November afternoon.      
Fact is, apples have many medicinal properties, the most common being their efficacy  as a diarrhetic.  Of course, moderation in such applications is key and overindulgence by a three hundred pound man confined to bib overalls is not wise.  Apparently, after saying good-bye to Walter, Henry set out happily toward home, but midway to the Doneroman spread he was overcome by unrelenting gas cramps. Either too inebriated or too delirious with pain, Henry failed to pull over in time and instead let go a roaring torrent in his pants.  Back at the ranch, it was all he could do to drag himself from the car, navigate the stone walk and make his way to the pantry where he sluggishly disrobed and submerged the putrid garments in a ringer washer full of cold sudsy water.

Henry failed to light a fire in the wood stove that night, and instead stumbled to the couch where he collapsed.  There he endured intermittent waves of nausea and debilitating intestinal seizures until he finally drifted off into a fitful sleep. The wind rose a little after two that morning and a Nor-easter boar down on Henry's home with a clear-headed Christian vengeance. It froze every pipe in the ancient farm house and turned Henry's soiled overalls and skivvies into a mastodon encased in ice.  Were it not for his natural layer of meaty insulation and the incredibly high blood alcohol level in his veins, Henry might well have become an ice sculpture himself, but that evening he had been visited by merciful God.

In the morning, Henry awoke with a throbbing head and blue toes.  He wrapped himself in the wool blanket that had sheltered him through the night and abandoned the house, trudging some seventy five feet through drifting snow to the marooned Impala.  There, with engine idling and heater blasting, he waited.  The township plow eventually came by and with a log chain attached to the auto's frame, the driver dragged him free of the mounting snow.  Slipping and sliding on spinning wheels, Henry's low slung Chevy disappeared over the mountain and was not seen again for many months.    

Spring comes late to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania, but it arrives with a burning fuse and almost instantly explodes into hot, hazy summer. Anything not willfully sprouting is soon victimized by microbes or gluttonous cultures of fungus and mold.  Henry's forgotten under-garments were no exception.  By the time a plumber was sent out to the Doneroman Ranch, the wash-tub holding Henry's filthy clothes had become the equivalent of a manure filled slurry pit.  The diarrhetic apple mash, airborne spores and stained cotton fabrics had congealed into a unsavory mix of lethal hydrogen sulfide and sewage gas.  The plumber, who had no choice but to climb under the tub to effect repairs, had to be dragged out by his feet when his son discovered him delirious from the fumes.  In the end, there was no choice but to cut the old washer free of its half inch copper moorings and lug it outside, where a half gallon of kerosene and a match transformed Henry's fermented evening into the equivalent of flaring gas well.  

The drive north to the Appalachians eventually became too much for Henry Treadway. He sold the Doneroman Ranch to Walt's son Joe and it became part of the family's dairy operation.  Its been more than forty years since Henry left, but the property is still referred to as "Treadways."  (The name "Doneroman Ranch" just never caught on.)  

As for Walter, he passed away as well, but the story of "Henry and The Hard Cider"  lives on, retold enough times for the moral to sink in:  

"Drink too much applejack and it'll clean you out better than a scrub brush tied to  a plumber's snake." 

(the end) 

Groovin' Through The Sixties

I really love history but I am not nostalgic, so Friday evening's performance of "Groovin' Through the Sixties" wasn't exactly the kind of musical I would have held my breath for.

Amateur theater, even in a major metropolitan area, can be a risky business.  But the hard cruel fact is that fine art seldom rises from the back streets of economically depressed towns like Endicott, New York.  Of course, the one cool thing about a really bad variety show is that it can be incredibly funny.  About the time my son leaned over and whispered  "Dad, this is like Improv Night at a rehab center," I knew we were onto something! 

The show had been a last minute choice on a cold rainy November night.  Devon was over visiting Sam, the Monopoly game had already bankrupt sister Sarah and I was in the middle of mortgaging my hotel on Marvin Gardens when it hit me.

"Hey, why not call it a draw and go see that play Barb is in?"  

The two remaining crap-shooting capitalists eyed me suspiciously and then Sam said,
"Barb?  Barb Vartanian?"

"Yeah, Barb Var-tane-ee-um"  I said, our friend from Greene.

"Right," Sam said, moving his piece past go and grabbing a couple hundred from the bank.  "The one who works at the State Mental Hospital.  Since when is Barb Var-tane-ee-um an actress?"  

"Well she's not.  "Groovin' Through the Sixties" is a musical.  I assume she singing."

"Oh great, Barb belting out Janis Joplin'... I don't know Dad."  Sam said grinning at Devon who was purposefully staying out of the conversation.

"Never too old to rock!"  I countered, picturing Barb at her sink with a glass of water in one hand and two Aleeve in the other.  "Come-on, it'll be fun."

So we piled in the Saab and headed north across the border, braving the blinding back spray of endless tractor-trailers and SUV's on route 81.  I dropped the kids in front of the theater and then did a U-turn and parked in the direction from which we came.  The Avenue was conspicuously empty with parking spaces convenient and welcoming.  

The highlight of the ten dollar show was the old black man with the paralyzed right arm.  The stroke must have blinded him as well for he was led to the microphone by a stagehand. There, to the out of synch rhythm of a live band, he rasped away at a tubercular rendition of “Mustang Sally.”  There was something about his withered arm retracted against his chest that reminded me of an acid-shinged Joe Cocker at Woodstock, only his vocal was slightly less decipherable.    

We dinned Chinese after the show and were the only customers in the joint. My observant son wondered aloud why in an Asian restaurant there was a Hershey's Ice cream cooler against the wall by the cashier.

"Just doesn't seem all that ethnic." he pointed out.

"Just another example of America as melting pot,” I said, spearing a steamed dumpling.
"An expression of cultural plasticity and the global economy."

"Right," Sam smiled in reply "sort of like that Folgers French Roast you've got chilling in the refrigerator." 

"And what about my Folgers French Roast?"

"Dad, I thought you were the one who said 'never skimp on coffee'?"

"In a recession Sam, coffee is considered a luxury." I said reaching for the tiny cermaic cup of  tea.  "I would appreciate some consideration of the compromises I am forced to make during these tough economic times; beside, being carbon footprint conscious, I opted for a little tie-me-over from the Exxon mini-mart instead of driving all the way to town for some quality beans.  By the way, how’s your  Kung Pow Chicken?"

"Awesome.  I like this place!"    

I tipped my head forward and glanced over top of my reading glasses, drawing Sam's attention to the room's vacant tables and booths.  

"Apparently your opinion is not shared by many of the locals."

"Well Dad, you know what they call Endicott these days?"

"No, tell me." 

"Empty-cott." he said with a big ricy grin.

So we finished our meal and bid farewell to the car-less Avenue’s boarded storefronts. The illuminated marquees of Dominos Pizza and The Adult Book Store were the only splashes of life still blooming on the rain slick asphalt as we nosed the Saab onto Main Street and toward the on-ramp of the interstate.  Soon we were crossing back into dark hills of rural Pennsylvania where the “Groovin’ Sixties” never even happened.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Anita Liberty

I had a girl friend in New York City. She was fresh out of Amherst College and working as a secretary at a large publishing house in Mid-town Manhattan.  Her mother was a commercially successful photo-realist painter and her father had been the editor of National Lampoon Magazine.  She was short and cute, loved to smoke pot, make love and hang out with her college friends.  She was also quite proud of her exceptionally high IQ.

She was only five years younger than me, but it may as well have been fifty; our outlook on life was that different.  This incredible gap in our way of seeing things might have been caused by her affluent, relatively sheltered upbringing or perhaps it was just one of those “soul” things.  Regardless, the relationship didn't work out and we soon lost contact with one another.
One rainy afternoon twenty-five years later, with my marriage on the rocks and my mind on the lam, I decided to Google her.  It didn’t take long to track her down.  She had married and was living in Brooklyn, NY.  Her husband was a professional writer and she was a mother as well as part-time performance artist with the stage persona of Anita Liberty, a character who finds strength by remaining resentful and bitter over failed relationships instead of forgiving and letting go.  I liked that.  It was so not politically correct.
At the time of my internet search, the screen Writers Guild was out on strike and Anita Liberty's "MySpace" site was supporting the artists' fight against the cooperation.  I am not sure why, but that made me want to touch her life somehow, without actually initiating a real conversation.  I also was interested to know if she had developed the sense of irony and wonder that defines a good comic.  So I posted three anonymous letters to her MySpace page (see below).  The lyrics in the first note were drawn from a song I had given her many years before and in the second, I used my real first name as the author of "Magic Mercenary's" Poet-Warrior submission. After my third letter, I found my correspondence blocked.  So ended my connection to Anita Liberty.
I should mention, that all references made to the military hardware in the promotional letters to Anita are real and drawn from advertisements viewed on-line.  
It’s a crazy world out there, so smile and be apart of it!
Letter 1
"I'm a great big man, I've no fear of guns,                                                           but there's one thing that I just can't stand... " 
ANITA LIBERTY, if you can NAME THAT TUNE from the quoted lyrics, you may be our next GRAND PRIZE WINNER of an all expense paid vacation to the Nicaraguan highlands for five nights and six days of "out-back" gorilla warfare training.  Sleep in a hammock, gargle with guanine, learn to apply grease paint, tourniquets and much, much more!
Had another squabble with the boss?  Did the husband leave whisker-speckled puddles of Edge Gel in the sink overnight?  How about that jerk at your last show who kept screaming, "Hey Liberachi, where's your piano? "   Well now is your chance to BLOW THEIR FUCKIN' HEADS OFF with your choice of Czech-made Scorpion or the Croation Agram 2000.  These terrorist toys are just what the doctor ordered for a fun filled week of extreme vindictiveness and violent venting.  ANITA, you will return relaxed, refreshed and rearing to lock horns with any little shit that gets in your way.  A week of ethnic cleansing and you'll feel fresh as a daisy!  So time to NAME THAT TUNE !  Here's another lyrical hint:

"I go to sleep at night, the second I snap out the light
I feel their presence in my room,  oh, these things that move
Oh, in the darkness in my room"

E-mail your answer within the next 24 hours and you may be our next GRAND PRIZE WINNER!  ANITA, take advantage of our special three month subscription offer to "Magic Mercinary" the only periodic offering an up-to-date listings of over 3000           "Guns for Hire." And remember our slogan:  "No enemy is a good enemy until he is a dead enemy!"

Letter 2

ANITA LIBERTY, one of the toughest things for a Freedom Fighter to do is to stay PISSED OFF!  With Magic Mercenary's hot new DVD "Make 'Em Beg" you'll say good-bye forever to those dulling moments of remorse, regret and compassion.  Learn the secrets of the masters while enjoying live footage from the killing fields of Cambodia to the machete blood baths of the Sudanese bush.

"That extra edge in hand to hand combat is what I was looking for.  "Make "Em Beg" delivers like a bayonet in the gut!" Jim Losset, Shriveport Lousiana.

ANITA LIBERTY, apply the "Make 'Em Beg" anger meditations to all parts of your life.  The next time a dinner date suggests you go half on the check, give him a taste of "The Dutchy"; shoulders back, deep abdominal breath and then a single thrust with the steak knife...voila... "un-seamed from the knave to the chops!"  Shakespeare never tasted so good!

Today, in this special "MySpace" limited promotion, we are moving the award winning "Make 'Em Beg" DVD to Magic Mercenary's "Surplus Store." We love to slash prices as much as you love to chop check in and check us out!

A note from the editor:

"Magic Mercenary isn't just for the Freedom Fighter ANITA, it's for the whole family!  We have recently expanded our feature section to include "THE POET-WARRIOR," fiction submissions from our in-country readership.  We think it will be a real hit on the home-front! This month our "killer" writer is Ronnie Romero and his kinder-gentler piece called "Count The Branches."  We hope you enjoy it ANITA LIBERTY!   And we agree, BITTER IS BETTER!

The POET-WARRIOR "pick of the month" presents:

Count the Branches
By Ronnie Romero

“Count the Branches" is a game they play in Spain.

A beautiful woman finds a soft spot under an orange tree and lies down on her back.  She must try to count all the branches of the tree and she must count out loud, "uno, dos, tres..."  In the meantime her handsome lover must get busy under her skirt.  If he makes her lose count before she reaches the top branch of the tree, he wins and they may play again.  On the other hand, if she reaches the top of the tree and has counted every branch, he loses.  The beautiful woman must then say "adios" to the man and go in search of a more talented opponent.  It is a very old game.

The Catholics banned "Count the Branches" for many years, but when the Cortes party came to power they tossed out the Jesuits and again legalized the game.  As a matter of historic interest, there is a large park in Madrid where in spring there blooms a huge orange tree (they cover this tree in the winter to prevent it from freezing).  This tree was transplanted more than a hundred years ago from the town of Seville.  It was brought to Madrid with a team of 150 Belgium horses gifted to the crown by King Leopold I and planted in the park at the request of Queen Isabella II (1830-1904).

Isabella II had been installed as Queen of the Spanish throne at the age of thirteen.  In order to keep the French happy (and they have always been a tough bunch to keep happy) Spain's court dignitaries decided that Isabella should marry her cousin Prince Fernando, a very snappy dresser much loved by both the French and Spanish people.  In a cruel twist of fate it was soon revealed that Fernando wasn't quite the man Isabella had expected.  Night after night, when the candles of the royal nuptial chamber were extinguished, the only sound to be heard by the Queen's late shift attendants was the rhythmic, sedative like snoring of her young Prince.  It was not that Isabella wasn't attractive.  Compared to ladies of the royal Hapsburg clan, she was down right stunning.  No, it was just that Fernando was born to prefer the leotard leggings and gallant military dress of the male conquistador.  Chicks just weren't his thing.

In need of an heir, the Queen decided that a little orange branch counting might be just what the doctor ordered.  After all, she had not yet given up on Fernando.  He still was a dashing young man; she admired his penchant for fine perfume and they had spent some wonderful afternoons comparing the weaves of exotic clothing in the many shops and open-air markets of their lovely city.  The Queen, who was not one for searching out dark clouds, preferred to think of Fernando as...well… just a sleepy young bull.  And nothing could be better than a good competitive game of "Count The Branches" to put a little life back in the lad.  Aware that her dreamy-eyed husband might need more time than most to make her lose count of the branches, Isabella ordered the largest orange tree in Seville to be brought to Madrid and placed in the park outside the Royal Palace.

On a glorious spring day, after the tree had firmly taken root, the Queen challenged Fernando to a match of C.T.B. and off to the park they went.  Many hours passed.  Finally, looking exhausted and forlorn, Issy (as her close friends liked to call her) and Fernando returned to the Royal chambers.  Soon everyone in Madrid knew. There were exactly 632 branches on the orange tree that had come from Seville.

Now, since Isabella was the Queen of Spain and there were many political alliances to consider, she decided that she could not say "adios" to Fernando.  Sure he had lost but there was the country to consider and beside, she loved when they did their nails together.  So Fernando remained her husband. Fortunately, as royal lineage goes, the House Guard, emboldened by the Queen’s victory, covertly challenged his boss to a match a few days later.  As you can imagine, Madrid's ruling champion of "Count the Branches" (a title no girl really wanted to hold) graciously accepted.

To this day, there is a city holiday celebrating the outcome of that sporting event.  It is said that on a brilliant April morning in 1848 loyal Spanish subjects through out Madrid heard their beloved Queen Isabella scream "qui, qui, qui… iiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnceeeeee!”  At first, many thought the Queen was calling for her favorite court cat Quincy, but then they realized that she had actually reached the fifteenth branch of her orange tree and could count no higher.

The House Guard had won!  To the nation’s jubilation, an heir to the throne named Alfonso was to follow some nine months later (Isabella bore many children, but none were thought to be Fernando's.).

So now, every April, on the 15th day of the month, the Spaniards of Madrid pop their corks and let the wine flow...its "Count The Branches Day*!"

*The Queen vs, Guard match was one of many that Isabella would play during her reign.  The actual date of the first “Count the Branches” challenge is actually thought to taken place on the twenty-first of April but for obvious reasons, the 15th became the official day of celebration.

Letter #3

ANITA LIBERTY, why not launch your next writer’s strike from the air.  Magic Mercenary’s pick of the month is the M1-28 Havoc Attack Helicopter.  Make this two-station aerial assault platform the pithy pulpit for your next negotiating session.  Out fitted with a top-of the line laser guidance system, the “twenty-eight” will really sting the pants of those fat-ass television executives.

Has CEO Roger King refused to return your calls?  Don’t waste time on e-mail!  Send him an old fashion aerogram sporting the decorative font of a Havoc AA Fire and Forget Missile.  The “King” might think he can hide behind those twelve-inch concrete and steel reinforced walls of the CBS executive suite but they are no match for this little bunker buster. 

ANITA, once you have Roger’s attention, put a smile on the faces of your fellow strikers; make him dance the Texas two-step with your 23 millimeter synchronized nose guns. With the M1-28 Havoc Attack Helicopter in your hip pocket, you’ll have a Union Card worth playing and that 8% residual practically in the palm of your hand.

Bitter Is Better, so bombs away babe!  And don’t forget ANITA LIBERTY, between battles there’s no better way to relax than kicking back with a tall cold one and the latest issue of "Magic Mercenary."