264. Fractions are not my friends

A math teacher colleague used to say to his eighth grade students, “Fractions are your friends”. His science buddy retorted “Decimals won’t deceive you”.  And the kids didn’t know what either one meant. The science guy had no use for fractions; they were a thing of the past, annoying anachronisms. “Real scientists only use decimals and the metric system. Fractions are like Roman numerals and Greek myths, for God’s sake!” he was heard to pontificate. Meanwhile, the crafty math teacher gave practical examples of fractions, noting that you can always convert a friendly fraction into a decimal, but you can’t always convert a dicey decimal into a handy fraction. And little kids can cut a paper pie into quarters with a crayon much easier than they can find twenty five hundredths of a pie.  See, fractions start with one; decimals are based on ten. Tomato, tomahto, tomato hawk… if you ask me. Fractions fracture; decimals decimate.

In my current business (the practice of functional mental health) fractions mean something very different. I believe everyone has issues–situations and episodes in their lives that present obstacles to overcome.  Death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, parenting problems, a head injury, having a child, moving, retirement, chronic illness, etc. These issues can suck the energy out of a healthy person and create a time of dysfunction. Some folks, however, seem to attract issues like a bug light attracts mosquitoes on a humid summer night. They are fractured by the onslaught of meteor shower insect issues. Other folks are remarkably resilient and hardly wobble when hit with just as many unexpected problems. Nurture and accidental combinations seem to account for a lot of the different reactions folks display in regard to the hurts and challenges in their lives. Some suffer well; most don’t.

Pathologies are another thing. They are categorized and measured by the DSM5, the  Adjustable Bible of Behavioral Health. ADHD, BIPOLAR DISORDER, OCD, BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER, PTSD, and hundreds of other disorders are described in the pages of this manual. These disorders are not merely situational, although some are driven by situations. Nature has a lot to do with many of these babies. But strangely enough, many DSM5 pathologies have no definitive cause, no source. As much as the mental health community would like uniformity and precision, and after millions of studies, it’s not there yet. Just look at the history of homosexuality, once considered a disorder, now considered a viable and legal lifestyle. Whoops.

The final category that I consider is character. It’s not listed in the DSM5 because it requires a moral position from the diagnostician, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a slippery slope to step upon. But let’s face it:  some folks are just bad, selfish, lazy, etc. because they choose to be. They don’t have any more issues than the average person and they don’t meet the criteria for any pathologies. They come from all sorts of family backgrounds and cultures and settings. And they choose to be dysfunctional. It’s easy in the moment or the short run. It’s easy if you have no purpose or meaning in your life or a moral compass or loved ones or a reputation or an education. However, in the long run a bad character’s life cannot end well without transformation.

Anyway, the point of this post is fractional people, broken folks… no matter how they got broken. I see them often individually. When someone knows he/she is a fraction of a whole, that’s okay. The client can work toward increased consciousness and wholeness. We call it integration, which comes from the same root word as integer, i.e., a whole number. Wholeness and health have the same base meaning as well. Oddly all of these terms point to “ONENESS”.

So a half of a man walks into a bar and starts chatting up a 2/3’s chica. It’s very exciting for both of them because their parents were also fractions, and in this bar there are mostly integers hanging around and a few square roots. Half man says, “I love the way the light glimmers off your long eyelashes. I’d love to buy you a drink and pursue a common denominator.”

Two thirds replies, “I’m an uneven fraction, Halfsie. I go on and on and on irrationally. Even men don’t get me. Odd men bore me.”

Half man, “That’s a real turn on for me, Baby. But if we get together, you’ll have to even out. Square up. Ya know?”

Two thirds, “You complete me, is that what you’re implying?”

Half man, “Something like that. Plus, we’d have a little extra.”

Two thirds, “Let’s hurry up and get married and have six kids. Three for you, three for me and one left over that we can adopt out.”

Half man, “Not in my world, you repeating digit head!”

Two thirds, “Oh, we need counseling to reconcile our love. Say you will, Half man.”

Half man, “Whatever it takes to solve this equation, Baby”.

Later in my office the fraction couple come in and explain their histories.

Half man, “Yeah, my first wife cheated on me with a mixed fraction. Told me I was nothing more than an inflated decimal. Point Five O. I gotta tellya, that hurt.”

Two thirds, “I don’t want to sound like a Disney princess here, but I think we have more than enough to make a whole number, Doc. Just do the math.”

Doc, “Well,  guys, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but when fractions hook up they don’t add up. They multiply.”

Half man, “What are you trying to say?”

Doc, “It’s like this:  1/2  x  2/3  =  1/3.  You don’t add fractions in marriage, you multiply them.”

Two thirds, “Don’t be silly. Why, that means we’ll make each other smaller than when we were alone.”

Doc, “That’s right.”

Half man, “But love is like glue, aint it? I mean, it can hold us together?”

Doc, “In a sappy pop song, love will keep you  together. But in reality you will have to face the law of diminishing returns.”

Two thirds, “Diminishing what? ”

Doc, “Economic theory, dear. It proposes a maximum efficiency is reached at some point, and anything added after that point actually results in less output.”

Half man, “That’s ridiculous. How could my fourth kiss diminish my third kiss?”

Two thirds, “If you didn’t shave or brush your teeth it could. I mean, theoretically.”

Half man, “So you’re taking his side now, huh?”

Two  thirds, “I was just saying…”








263. Sam

One of my oldest friends is Samuel Perry Dysart. (His grandfather’s name was Perry, I think.) We go all the way back to high school, like tenth grade or so. JV football teammates. He was big and strong as a Hawaiian water buffalo; I was merely an inflated jersey, like a mynah bird bowling pin. He was an interior lineman, I believe, maybe number 75, a tackle or linebacker. Let’s say Nose guard to be safe. I was an end, #84, the end of the bench to be sure at 145 pounds of whipped cream and hot air.

What resounds in my memories is not great athletic skill or accomplishments from either of us. What echoes is a tender chord. Sam was a sensitive soul. He never wanted to hurt anyone. He played an Ovation guitar and sang songs that he wrote, as well as other songs he covered. He could sweat like no other human being I have ever known, which made me question if he were an extra terrestrial at times. Sam was a good social radar detector, though.  If someone didn’t like him, it was a good bet that the disliker was a jerk cretin, because Sam was a golden retriever type person, if he is in fact human.

We worked construction site jobs together over two summers. Sammy ran a jack hammer and pried up failed curb and gutter chunks the size of pigs. Two or three of us would heave ho to get the pieces from the ground up into the truck bed. This is how I know about his sweating and smoking Merit cigarettes. Often at the same time. He’d also wrap his head in a kerchief dew rag long before it was cool or hipster to do so. And he joked in many voices, not the least of which was Truman Capote, “I went to the prizhon to interview thoszh bad men for my booook”  followed by West Virginian drawl, “Well, that’s what I’s sinking, Delbert” “Me too! I’s sinking the same thing! Melvin” “Well, me too! Delbert. Aint that a hoot?” Followed by any number of cartoon voices that chattered on as I’d chuckle and thank God I’d met Sammy.

Sam liked to stay up late and watch late night t.v.including that old Tom Snyder dude.  Getting up in the morning was another story, though. He eventually mastered this essential task, I think.

We went to concerts together and shared music and books. We roomed together for two years in college. I bought his old Ford Falcon from him after freshman year, I believe. I drove it up and down Route 95 on weekends visiting my then girlfriend, now wife.  I wish I still had the thing and that time capsule. A simple six cylinder engine with no bells or whistles to worry about. A cheap radio. A basic low maintenance car if ever there was. I gave it to my little brother when I couldn’t afford to keep it in college. We don’t value what we have till we lose it. How many times have you learned that lesson?  And yet, you’ll unlearn it again, won’t you, Blogdoits?”

User submitted image linkI remember vaguely a weekend trip to Virginia Tech. We drank Wild Turkey ( big mistake) and got separated from my friends who were hosting us after the huge football game. Sam and I wandered down the lit up main drag in Blacksburg and into a second floor bar with a pool table. I slapped quarters on the table and said, “We’re next!”  The six or eight guys who were playing looked at us, said something about which bodily cavity to put my money in, and threatened us with immediate and certain violence. I think Sam explained to them that I was fresh out of the local mental hospital and I’d broken away from my chain. I went in the bathroom while he was explaining my diminished capacity. Meanwhile, I thought it would be a great idea if I wrapped myself up in toilet paper and came out as the Mummy. I did. We were thrown out of that establishment before I could be set on fire. Now that is a heroic friend who will stick with you even when you are not exhibiting high value or common sense. (Who’s the alien here?) We  walked back to campus, the Mummy and his chaperone. This was not the first time we walked down a college lane as the odd creature couple. Once in Richmond, I believe, we got out of hand and wore costumes of toilet seats and fluffy pink tank covers wandering through the Fan District.

His beautiful younger sister Lisa developed Lupus in her twenties, I think. Somewhere after our college days Sam donated one of his kidneys to her. It was like a mini Abrams tank that immediately started to bring her back to health. I’m pretty sure he had kids by then and his own business, so he was putting everything on the line for Lisa. That’s what a hero does. I’ve held him up as a hero ever since. He was merely pre-heroic prior to that sacrifice, but it was no surprise to me. Sam’s heart is even bigger than his mammoth kidneys.

Oh, yeah, there was the time we went to see Stevie Wonder “for free” at the Washington Monument and the situation got really ugly. Local thugs wandered through the crowd stealing from and violating folks at will. We started to get out of that scene only to be surrounded by six or eight nasty young criminals in broad daylight. They ripped off my backpack and Sammy’s cameras and laughed at us as they disappeared into the huge crowd. Nearby cops were as useless as wooden soldiers. I was screaming mad, though I’d lost nothing of value. Sam was way more understanding and toned down about the violation. He’d lost two or three cameras but not his dignity or sense of fairness. I wanted to hurt someone. He wanted something else.

So there you have him, ladies and gentlemen. Stronger than injustice and more entertaining than Tom Snyder. My hero, Sam ( not quite Jimi Hendrix ) Dysart.

262. Coffee, Constitution and commandments

Despite the utopian nature of the Coffee Summit and the wonderful cacophonous harmony of disunity that has persisted for the past five years, it is time for some tweaking of the original charter. The genuine Magna Carta napkin has been misplaced, possibly in a washing machine. I thought it was in my old wallet, but when I switched to a new wallet at Christmas, aghast! The most important napkin in Christendom was gone!! It was an agreement among unemployed giants of our time inked out during one of the bleakest periods in our collective history. Like Washington at Trenton or Meade at Gettysburg, the future of the nation was at stake as Tim the Silver Back and Chuckles and I stood in a wooden canoe crossing the Conococheague. (It was shallow there and narrow. Okay, we just walked across on a June morning, but it was powerfully symbolic.) And rather than wave a blank napkin of surrender, we (really I) wrote down on one powerful 3″ x  3″ square eternal truths to live by. And I-uh-I seem to have lost it.

I must, however, persevere and recall as much as I can of the Constitution of Coffee Nation before it deteriorates in the landfill of wasted time and wasted minds. First of all, it was decided by voice vote that we would meet Thursdays at 8:30 a.m. unless otherwise directed by the Supreme Imperial Leader, which I decided was me. For an entire college semester, however, we met on Fridays at 8:30 due to a teaching commitment I had made. It was Abnormal Psychology. Shocker. I drew heavily on my interactions with the primates at Coffee Nation for the class I taught. (Sotto voce) “Here are lowland gorilla men grazing at a coffee shop. The one on the bottom is thought to be a direct link to the Himalayan Yeti. Note his ululating calls… ‘Ugggguggggllll. Uggggugggglll’. We call him Chuckles. The one on the top is from Allentown.  His call resembles human speech… approximating the expression of pleasant surprise…’That’s so coooool’. ” He’s Timmy.

It was simple then… Two articles: No politics. No religion. Bodily noises were permissible and continue to be.  Mild violence is encouraged but not required. No outside food or drink is permitted, however. It is not forbidden so much as ridiculed. Brother Lance brought a purple lady’s coffee travel mug once. ONCE. It was a long day for him. But I am getting far ahead of the Nation’s coffee creamer thimble of tears.

We grew one unemployed and undeserving man at a time. Matt the creeper tried to deny his predilections while only reinforcing our beliefs. He ranted on about astral physics while staring at women’s physiques. He was sanctioned. Low octane Walt rolled along for a while. He didn’t even drink coffee. However, we puttered along through his successful chemo treatments. Truly, there are far more departed Nation brothers than active ones. Rob the candy and ice cruncher moved on. Josh the armed American bull rider came faithfully but got a job and married into the System. He was always good for NRA propaganda and outrageous right wing conspiracies from Fox News Nation. “Did you know more people were killed by water heaters last year than by guns?” Many times he was sanctioned for offending Our second amendment– no politics– and for being downright naïve.

The artist formerly known as Egginator was a faithful attendee and chess opponent, but the coffee was too strong for him and he fled back to his Motherland. Ron 1 used to keep the bar up with his aging frame, while chatting amiably to the pretty young barrista-ettes. We talked for  a while about him putting me into his will, but he was hung up on the fact that I was older than he was. “You could die first, Ron. You need to be prepared.” He could not see the logic in my argument despite his End Timer tendencies.

Chuck the Cowboy came for a few visits. He was too busy, though, and could not take the constant demand for sluggishness by the group. He had to rope a calf or canter about. This is the existential problem when it comes to do’ers versus be’ers. Coffee Nation is all about being and is on record against doing. Anything! Once Lance suggested a purpose for our aimless crew. He was severely sanctioned. “Ignore that voice of doooty. We are here merely to be or not to be. Doing is not in our Declaration of Indolence. Heel!”  Dave dropped in for chess a few times and disappeared into that blind alley of upper mobility like a character from a Springsteen song.  We of coffee nation curse the cruel JOBS that have decimated our ranks. As the chart below illustrates, happiness comes from set points, which means inertia. Studies in the UK have determined that working toward specific goals actually hampers perceived levels of happiness in mental patients and sluggards. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Rob 2 affiliated with us for a few weeks. He was between financial gigs but graced us with his starched white shirt appearance for a while. Gigilo Gene took some offense to Rob’s eccentric white collar mojo.  D.J. helped mediate that fraternal fracas before fists flew. His MP background has come in handy a time or two in disciplining Big Steve, perhaps the most faithful National among us. Though fully employed by an international corporation, Steve routinely goes in late on Thursdays. When he dies we will bury him with full Nation honors as outlined in a previous post. (240. Time is Short)

And then there was Gary aka Jerry who tried after a brief internship to organize a coup d’état. What saved the Imperial Leader for Life’s life was the fact that no one speaks French, and therefore they thought Jerry was coughing while sneezing. “Make up your mind, Dude. Either cough or sneeze.” He was sentenced to a North Korean firing squad in Hagerstown. Actually we tapped Josh and his personal arsenal to shoot a precise outline of .17 caliber bullets around Jerry to warn him against insurrection. He was sentenced instead to a lifetime of servitude under a different dictator.

Oh the humanity!

261. New Year Yanging

The morning ice is melting, kids are off school and sauntering about town as Outside becomes more bearable than the Inside of their breathless grimy abodes. It feels like Russia, and I like an overly dramatic Dostoevsky in my wretched office hovel.  Tom Waits is wistfully singing a dreadful song about a murdered woman on Pandora. Crime and Punishment comes to mind. And I’m here (Raskolnikov) looking for inspiration or redemption or both. A bad version of Elvis comes on next.  “I can’t help falling in love with you”, live with an orchestra and 27 backup singers.  Sad work, Elvis. Someone sold you Vegas and stole your Memphis mojo. Tragic. I keep trolling for the right feel…Over the Rhine, yes, an old melancholy sound like treated paint being spatulaed off gorgeous ancient wood. A woman’s velvet skirt voice swooshes low near the floor. That’s it. Deep swirling grain embedded with lacquer and pale green lead paint from the 50’s is revealed. Yeah, now it’s  right. The wood beneath must be superb to bother with the stripping away, but it’s an itch that must be scratched with a wire brush on this dismal and forgettable day. Penndot trucks memorialize the moment with burial mounds of dirty snow and ice. Modern yellow overtakers. I feel like spray painting palm trees against the snow banks just for the irony of it. It’s good that I don’t drink liquor. I can imagine guzzling a two finger tumbler of scotch right now. But I need to clear my own snow covered neural pathways.

But I don’t so I won’t, drink that is. Instead I need to find a warm dry nest to settle into as winter consolidates its gains. Pull the extremities in closer to conserve body heat– finger to finger, hand to armpit, foot to thigh like some energy efficient yoga master. Snuggle with other mammals too. Maybe a bear. Layers of fat help. Then again dancing with my wife in our living room raises the temperature and blood pressure to alarming levels. But that’s too up tempo and hopefully yinny. I am in a yanging mood here. Let me explain.

“Yang 陽 or 阳 Bound morpheme ① [Chinese philosophy] positive/active/male principle in nature ②the sun ③ male genitals ④ in relief ⑤ open; overt ⑥ belonging to this world ⑦ [linguistics] masculine ⑧ south side of a hill ⑨ north bank of a river”  Wikipedia, the foremost authority on everything.

I hope that clears it up. To yang is to be bright (unyinny) but male and overtly worldly while acting like a north bound relief penis in a river below a south facing hillside. Picture that, a cargoless but macho canoe adrift on a sun speckled river.  “Don’t use the binoculars, Claire! Just take my word for it.” Wait a minute, I hear Vin Scully’s voice, “It’s the bottom of the ninth, with the tying run on first and the winner at the plate. Time to go to the bullpen for that new Korean reliever, Lee Yang.”

It’s a complex palette of emotions and sensations that can only be explained by clever use of metaphors and symbols. Straight forward language fails to capture the yangness of the word and its world. It’s the difference between beef and Angus beef for the unenlightened.

Sometimes it’s considered vulgar or crude to yang about.

In the Orient, I have this from good sources, NO YANGING signs are not uncommon in Bejing and Hong Kong. In Laundromats in Saigon, I am told, “No Loitering, Littering or Yanging” signs are everywhere. The exception in Asia is, of course, North Korea, where yanging is punishable by death. Public yanging often results in whole families being executed and their ancestors being exhumed, shot, and neatly reburied. It is never allowed to yang in Pyongyang. They will not hesitate to pyong you if you are so bold to pyang in front of one of their militarized pyungs.

“Read the charges, comrade bailiff Sung.”

“American spy was pyanging forbiddenly in public near our most revered militarized pying. Law say he must be pyonged right away, honorable Comrade Judge.”

“Let it be written. Let it be pyonged.” The bailiff paddles American spy with ping pong paddle until he cry.

They have a saying in North Korea that is punishable by hanging if uttered aloud… “better to be pyonged off than pyanged on”.  Shhhhhh. Their soldiers wear hats that are made from repurposed Chrysler Imperial hubcaps. Huge saucers held in place by subcutaneous magnets. Look at how the magnetic field actually pulls this soldier’s lips into a scowl. He’s never yanged in public in his short miserable life. Not allowed. He chomps at his inner lips as if they are Imperialist Yangers.

 Here is where literary skill comes in, my two faithful blog readers. I’ve written myself into an exitless corner. I’ve typed myself into Oblivion’s oblivion. My spell checker is cursing at me with the pulsing cursor. And I bravely peck on, undaunted, bloviating about nothing.
 What to do, what to do? I must pull this together in the next 100 words, yang it all! I need a reason to finish so that you don’t feel deceived and get all yanged off.
So here’s what we’re gonna do. You are going to walk out backwards, my friend, close the laptop and forget we ever came here. Got it?
Cause I know what you’re thinking: Did he fire six yangs or only five?  Well, to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a twisted up blog entry that could blow your head clean off, you gotta ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, Pyunk?