340. NYC

This past weekend was spent in Manhattan, New York, New York. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere”, so the song goes. [“Unfortunately, if you can’t make there, you just go home and mope about what a sucking loser you are.” That line was mysteriously cut from the original version of New York, New York. Apparently it lacked musicality.] Our pilgrimage this year was the least stressful trip to, through, and out of Manhattan that we have ever experienced. We being my lovely wife, my operatic daughter, and I. Last Christmas was the last time we visited and whatta, whatta, whatta nightmare it wa- wa- wa- was!! The traffic was inhuman. Cruel even.  We spent two hours getting through the Holland Tunnel and then putzing through lower Manhattan over to Brooklyn, where we returned my eldest daughter to her micro apartment thimble-sized sparrow nest. (I am feeling re-traumatized now just typing about the memory. “I’ll have a Xanax martini, bartender. Make it fizz.”)  I got stuck in the crosswalk just a block away from the tunnel entrance on the Jersey side. A murderously angry driver in a Lincoln town car blew his horn and accelerated like a rabid bull toward my side of the car as we sat helplessly in the intersection, expecting to be gored on the doorstep of the Big Apple. Dude locked up his brakes and stopped inches from my door, like it was a mob hit, think of Sonny at the toll booth in The Godfather .  We all screamed in anticipation of the impact that did not come to my new car, but the horns just kept blaring at me, condemning my blatant tourist fox paws, that’s French for a social blunder.  The stress kept mounting until my skull cracked open and a tree grew up from the pavement of my corpus callosum as we entered Brooklyn. What kind of tree, you ask?  A coconut naturally. I had to tilt my head forward to avoid catching the fronds on the Williamsburg Bridge supports.

Image result for coconut tree growing out of someone's head pictureThat’s what it felt like anyway, a massive fuzzy spider web of stress that spread out from my brain stem across every millimeter of my crawling skin and then crystallized into veins of brittle glass. Simply breathing required focus due to the overwhelming video game exploding on the other side of my windshield, sucking my eyeballs out of their fragile sockets– trucks, taxis, buses, scooters, skate boarders, bicyclists going with and against traffic, and endless pedestrians on cell phones talking to their lawyers about potential traffic torts. [I need a breath here. Whew!! “Bartender, another zantini.”] All this stimulation palpitated at the bottom of incredibly interesting canyons of amazing architecture and iconic buildings, bridges, and statues everywhere. Wha- wha- wha- what the heck!!! You don’t realize that you have stopped blinking due to your very active fear of death. Naturally your eyes dry out and the sooty air begins to sand down your corneas. And yet, on this razor’s edge of existence you feel fully alive and a part of this liquid human magic act where thousands ebb and flow by one another crimelessly. It should never work, this human bee hive, but some primeval cooperative gene turns on and millions of humans glide by each other as if choreographed by a master dance genius.

Of course it helps if you come in to Midtown via the Lincoln Tunnel. No muss, no fuss, just 14 bucks. And then stay near the theatre district, which we did this time. Thankfully, our street, 37th, was actually closed due to some construction project at the end of our block. We parked, yes PARKED, across the street in a garage for less than $50 a day. Our tiny suite was quiet, QUIET. The only word we could not use, in fact, can never ever be used in NYC, was CHEAP. New York is a huge money meter monster that has to be fed richly every hour or it will grind you up and spit you out onto the grimy sidewalks where those same millions of minions will trundle by crimelessly self absorbed.

Where do they toilet and bathe, the homeless?  Forget laundry. They are like the pigeons, living on the crumbs and debris of the well heeled Gothamites. God knows when a sparrow falls. I guess He knows when all these human pigeons scuttle about, living like modern lepers. I ask myself ‘Why is it that some folks sell junk on the streets and others beg? They spend just as much time on the same street.’ The one standing offers you a hat, an umbrella, a t-shirt, tickets to a comedy club, or a photo of John Lennon hugging the Naked Cowboy when they were both toddlers. The slouching other asks for your pity and jiggles a cup with coins. They are both selling junk, but the one still standing does not believe he is the junk being sold.  Meanwhile I’m going to a two hour show and put my butt in a $75 seat. I’m eating dinner with $18 bottled water to wash it down. And I wonder how these guys even got into Manhattan at $14 a pop. Happily there is no charge to leave. But why does their image burn deeper and last longer than the sentimental musical I paid to see? I guess their performances are more meaningful in the grand scheme of things. Unforgettable even.

No matter the cost, I think of my New York trips as investments, not as frivolous and extravagant waste. It’s like Dorothy going to Oz. Visiting Gotham makes living in Kansas or Central PA more bearable.

Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York
I want to wake up, in a city that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap
These little town blues
Are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York


173. Have you tried the new Pope pate?

The new Pope is unlike the old Popes. He speaks more clearly it seems. His head is not stuck in books up a spiral staircase in an ivory tower. His tongue is not stuck to the roof of the Vatican Bank. His feet are not stuck in expensive hand made ruby red leather Pope slippers. His hand, so it seems, is not stuck in any cookie jar of carnality or greed or pride. It’s refreshing. Maybe. I’m concerned for his liver, though.

I remember Jimmy Carter was a fresh wind that blew into Washington in 1976. He walked down Pennsylvania Avenue during his inaugural parade. He put solar panels on the White House and didn’t drink a lot of liquor. He held firm on the military’s budget. (Unfreakinfogivable!) He seemed awfully humble, which was toxic to the coyote/hyenas known as the “Beltway Bandits”. Eventually the career politicians and lobbyists devoured him, and Ronnie Reagan rose like a dust storm, sandblasting the skin off the middle class in America. Corporate America settled in. Lobbyists, like plutocratic bishops, weeble wobbled around D.C., syphoning off tax breaks and profitable legislation for their constituents. Jimmy was ground to a powder and blown away beyond the Beltway. The fresh wind turned fetid. Which is why I’m concerned for Pope Francis.

I remember when Lindsay Lohan was my daughters’ favorite star and Britney Spears was a virgin. And you can add any fallen celebrity you wish to this list of infamy. I don’t blame these folks. They lived briefly at the edge of a cultural whirlpool that is driven by money and lust. They danced along the edge of the abyss for a few years, their innocence in stark contrast to the bubbling cesspool below. And then they fell into the magnetic excrement. It’s not simply the character flaws of these individuals; it’s the jet engine system that sucks them in, shreds them, and spits them out vaporized…thank you very much. Next chump. Washington and Hollywood operate on the same jet engine system.

I’ve never had the rock star experience, where others want to get close to you, drive your car, open your doors, do your laundry. Sycophants who get between you and your money… endlessly pampering your ego until you are the human equivalent of a caged goose with a super-fatty liver…so tasty as pate. The slaughter waits at the end of the tunnel of false love. I suppose that’s the gift of any addiction– false promises and feel good moments delivered (Oh, don’t get up. I’ll answer the door for you) on the way to the slaughterhouse. The British sent opium ahead of their invasion of China. Our U.S. cavalry softened their Indian targets with alcohol. It’s not just Hollywood that greases the skids with drugs for the young and beautiful, the rich and powerful.

Image result for fat goose pictures

And what drug or addiction is softening up the U.S. population nowadays? A legion of indulgences cage us as we gobble down kernels of our destruction and our livers swell into gourmet gourds.

2269 Americans have died in the Afghan War as of this week. The cost of the war is estimated to be between $4 and $6 trillion, or a third of our national debt. Not to mention war costs in Iraq…

“Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, and Linda Bilmes of Harvard University, have stated the total costs of the Iraq War on the US economy will be three trillion dollars in a moderate scenario, described in their book The Three Trillion Dollar War and possibly more in the most recent published study, published in March 2008. Stiglitz has stated: “The figure we arrive at is more than $3 trillion. Our calculations are based on conservative assumptions…Needless to say, this number represents the cost only to the United States. It does not reflect the enormous cost to the rest of the world, or to Iraq.” Oh, and around 4500 U.S. soldiers died.

A 2013 updated study pointed out that U.S. medical and disability claims for veterans after a decade of war had risen to $134.7 billion from $33 billion two years earlier. Do you think that might increase even more?

Here’s the scoop… according to the U.S. NATIONAL DEBT CLOCK, the Outstanding Public Debt as of 11 Oct 2013 at 02:37:43 PM GMT is:
$ 1 6 , 7 5 0 , 4 9 3 , 0 0 1 , 3 6 7 . 2 4.

The estimated population of the United States is 316,823,868.

So each citizen’s share of this debt is $52,870.05. But not every citizen works. Roughly 2/3’s of our population is employed, so the actual cost per working man or woman is greater than this figure.

Image result for empty pocket pictures

In addition to this travesty it is estimated by Bloomberg News that the true cost of the Wall Street meltdown/bailout of 2008 cost U.S. taxpayers $12.8 trillion. “According to a team at Bloomberg News, at one point last year (2009) the U.S. had lent, spent or guaranteed as much as $12.8 trillion to rescue the economy.” Hmmmm. Funny how the three figures above add up to just around our total deficit. I know it’s not this simple, but war and Wall Street greed have real consequences to the empire we live in. But wait! There’s more.

Consumer credit, for instance, surged past the $3 trillion mark in the second quarter of 2013 and continues on an upward trajectory, according to the most recent numbers from the Federal Reserve.

At $3.04 trillion, the total is up 22 percent over the past three years. Student loans are up a whopping 61 percent.

Total household debt, according to the Fed’s flow of funds report, is at $13 trillion, nearly back to its pre-crisis level in 2007.

Image result for millstone around neck picturesIs there a trend here? Our materialism is a mighty stone around the stiff neck of our imperialism. We want it all on the micro and macro levels. Our USDA inspected livers are saturated and ready for the harvest. Pope Francis, don’t put on those bloody red slippers. Like Dorothy from Kansas, we put them on and went to Hell with our hand basket stuffed full of dinner rolls and butter. The enemy is not at the door but in the mirror.

We can barely estimate our losses, costs and debts. My question is this: Silly geese, what have we gained?

Image result for stupid geese pictures

6. meanwhile

I really like Pandora radio, the music genome project. It is very adaptive in the same way that obedience and trust are adaptive. Back in the days of vinyl, when lp’s cost $3-5 on sale and weighed part of a pound, I used to go to the record department of a discount store and purchase two lp’s per paycheck. For less than $10 I could walk out of the mall with an old Fleetwood Mac and a Joni Mitchell album for $8.47 plus Virginia sales tax. The record’s dust sleeve usually had pictures and/or lyrics on it. What a tactile and three dimensional deal!! But do the poundage math– fifty albums with covers and sleeves would weigh 25 to 30 pounds and take up an entire storage crate. (Heavy lyrics in those days, think Bob Dylan and Neil Young.)  Double and triple that…then pack it all to take along to college with your bulky stereo component system. You needed to room with body builders or engineering nerds to avoid death by portage.

So digital music compressed onto an i-pod or available for free on your laptop is like dying in the sixties and waking up in music heaven. St. Peter shows you two mouse clicks to all the music you could possibly ever listen to in another lifetime. It’s highly efficient and adaptive… much more for much less. Do you know how many times I carried crates of my beloved albums up and down staircases, in and out of ratty apartments and rental houses? Did I have a dolly? Are you serious? I was not that far sighted. I own one now but lack the desire to move anything with it. I suppose that’s how the life of materialism goes: Those who have no longer use or want the crap they have acquired; meanwhile those who have not want what the have’s have but don’t really want anymore. Call it Groucho Marxism cuz it makes little sense. Buy crap to store your crap in and security systems and insurance policies to protect the crap that you don’t use or really want any more.

But how are obedience and trust adaptive and efficient like digital music? Well, if you get your puppy to obey at 6 months of age, and its life expectancy is 12.5 years, you gain 12 years of an obedient dog that does not eat through your trash can or beg beneath the dinner table or poop in the closet of your guest bedroom. 12 years of guests not asking, “What’s that?” 12 years of uninterrupted dinners without slimed hands. 12 years of unmolested trash in your kitchen. What would you do with all that saved time?  ‘Get another puppy’ is just a smart ass answer! Shame on you for uttering it!

And trust is super adaptive. I trust the coffee shop barristas with my very life twice a day. I trust that they don’t poison me or spit in my latte. I don’t have to have a cupbearer and food taster at the weekly Coffee Summit, thus cutting payroll expenses. When I go to the bank, I don’t have to check and recheck my balances or ask them to show me “my” money whenever fear rises up in me like Glenn Beck with meningitis. Trust is that comforting feeling that it’s okay. I dont’ need to check the locks or the electric meter or my car’s speedometer.  Without trust I’d spend 26 hours a day making sure that everything was tight, right, even, symmetric, just, fair, clean, pure, etc.  And, of course, I’d never be able to do anything but stay in that OCD loop of checking and rechecking, because my speedometer or electric meter might just be askew today even if it was precise yesterday. Wow, it’s tiring just to type out that example.

Remind me to tell you about the gas explosion in another installment.