Spring, the Season of Misery, Drugs, Infusions, and Pain Specialist Visits

With physical activity comes pain, and this being my most active time of year, I live with exhaustion, irritability, despondency, a shoddy memory, attention problems, and near hysteria. Because it's damnably hard to say no to the one thing that gives me appreciable relief, I ran out of narcotics early last month, and the withdrawal symptoms were like a rocket booster to my misery. (Actually, I go into withdrawal everyday of my life because I take my day's supply all at once.)

Today, I saw two pain specialists, the first (Tom) was the doctor I went to for a Ketamine infusion three weeks ago and then went back to for two Lidocaine infusions. Since these things didn't help, I don't anticipate seeing him again. The second one (Frank), I've been seeing for many years, but like nearly all doctors anymore, he works for a mammoth medical group, and one of the limitations he has to live with is that he isn't allowed to administer drugs by infusion, which is why I went to Tom. When I saw Frank today, we discussed Tom's proposal to switch me to another (even stronger) narcotic and the fact that I had turned him down because it would have overridden Frank's order.

Frank agreed that the drug proposed by Tom would help stabilize my moods (I go from heaven when I take my daily narcotic dose to hell when it wears off). He then offered to prescribe it for me, but he said I needed to know that, since the drug has historically been given to addicts to wean them off heroin, it carries an unfortunate association that might haunt me down the road. Because I'm adamantly opposed to anything that might make a future doctor hesitant to prescribe narcotics, I told Frank that I would stay with what I'm on.

I then asked Frank to put me back on Ativan, which I've taken in the past in conjunction with narcotics. The benefits of Ativan are that it evens out the narcotic-induced mood swings, and that it helps keeps me from going to pieces when the pain is especially bad. Frank said that, unfortunately, a "black box warning" was recently issued in regard to prescribing downers and narcotics for the same patient, and that he would lose his license if he ignored the warning, and I ran into difficulty. Moreso than most doctors, Frank chafes at being forced to play games with the government and insurance companies, and on this occasion, he made his distress known with mild profanity. Doctors so seldom curse in my presence (I can only think of two that have done it) that I'm flattered when they do, the implication being that they trust me to not make trouble for them.

Yet again, I raised the issue of CBD, as I have done a few times in the past year. CBD is made from hemp and/or marijuana, and some people swear by it for chronic pain, but it too comes with a problem. Specifically, the consumer has to trust the manufacturer to truthfully state the product's THC content, and manufacturers have proven unreliable. What this means is that if I'm called in for a drug screen (which rarely happens but is always possible), and I test positive for THC, my narcotic prescription could be in jeopardy. Frank gave me his word that, unless my THC level repeatedly came back outrageously elevated (which shouldn't occur with any brand of CBD), he wouldn't pull the plug on me, but here again, I worry that something might end up in my chart that could cause me a problem down the road.

As my visit drew to an end, I again raised the possibility of trigger point injections. This is where a doctor takes a big needle (with a drug in it) and jabs it repeatedly into various parts of a muscle to relieve the horrible tightness that I live with and that never goes away. I've been there/done that with Frank, and although it didn't help, I'm desperate enough to try it again. He then told me something else that I didn't know. Specifically, he said that every doctor has a different technique, so it could be that I would have better luck being poked by someone else. 

Because I am not eager to see yet another doctor, I asked Frank if he really thought it might make a difference. He said no, and gave me two reasons. One was that I'm sufficiently thin that it's easy to find the appropriate places to poke. The second was that he's more aggressive than most doctors, so unless his previous attempts have caused me so much pain that I simply want a gentler doctor who pokes fewer holes, I would do well to stay with him. I had no idea that doctors' needle-poking aggressiveness varied (having never had anyone but Frank do it), and I told him that I would prefer that he be even more aggressive because I really need relief, the flipside being that I don't want to be poked by some doctor who's trying to avoid hurting me. I had wanted him to stick me then and there, but because I could tell that he was slammed for time, I suggested that he do it later. Maybe he would have suggested as much himself, but when I like a doctor, I do everything I can to present myself as an easy patient.

What It Was Like

The Ketamine infusion left me tired, cold, and nauseous, with a metallic taste in my mouth. Hell, for me, would be an endless repetition of Ketamine. In fact, I think I would altogether lose my mind after several hours, which has surely been the fate of thousands of lab animals. Even after a mere two hours, the doctor himself wheeled me to the car so Peggy could drive me home.

The nurse who started my IV said, "You might feel like you're floating around the ceiling." It was a gross understatement, because every time I thought the drug had peaked, it laid further waste to my sense that I existed. I became like a compressed ball, a black hole of nothingness, yet I recognized the place Ketamine took me as though I had been there before. I looked in vain for something solid on which to anchor my identity but the more the Ketamine took hold, the harder this became. The room lights had been turned low, but I was seated, as I requested, away from the others in a corner near the door under a softly shining pole lamp. I had brought four books because I had no idea if I would be able to read or would be reduced to looking at photos. Of the four, one was the spiritual memoir of an agnostic, another discussed the spiritual life of dogs, and the final two were oversized books of cat photos. I settled on the cat books, reveling in the beauty of my favorite breed, the ancient and sensuously beautiful Turkish Angora, but when I switched from book to book, the one I was putting away seemed to float downwards while the one I was retrieving floated upwards, my hands following rather than moving. 

Time, space, and even existence came to be mere intellectual concepts, and I had no idea if the music and the whisperings I was hearing came from within or without. When I could no longer focus on cat photos, I tried sitting with my eyes closed, but the blackness pullulated like maggots on a carcass, so I returned to my books. Many things cause me to feel alienated from my species, none moreso than that it allowed the flat-faced deformities called Persians to so displace the ethereally beautiful Angora that the Angora barely escaped extinction. I smiled when I reflected that I have come to adore cats with the same intensity that I once adored women, and that it was the cat photos that were making the Ketamine bearable.

A bed (patients could choose whether to sit in a recliner or lie in a bed) separated me from the other five patients and I could only see the upper bodies of the two nurses, Linda and Vanessa. I would look at them, let what seemed like several minutes pass, and then look again, but they would be in the same place and in the same posture, leaving me to feel frozen in time. I sat opposite a sink, and the cabinet's drawer handles turned into melancholy faces. The nurses, the doctor, and the other patients moved in and out of the room in slow motion like shadowy, surrealist performance artists for whom movement was its own end. Reality became an Ingmar Bergman movie. I had been warned that the drug would make me diurese (which I assume is why the other patients kept leaving the room) so I stopped all liquids three hours prior to the infusion. I was glad for this because I could have neither said that I needed to go or have gotten to the bathroom unaided.

I would occasionally move an arm or leg because it seemed like the right thing to do, but I felt no connection with the seemingly distant flesh that was mysteriously obeying my commands. I kept going back to the same two Angora photos, and despite being enthralled by the textual description, I had trouble remembering the preceding sentence. I imagined that I was leaving visible fingerprints everywhere I touched a page, and this led me to fantasize that I was creating the book out of nothingness. I remembered that Ketamine causes brain damage, and I knew this was true because I was watching my mind disintegrate. If a bear had entered the room, I honestly don't know if I would have been able to flee. I was in awe of the fact that I had once walked, talked, and done the many things that normal people do, and I seriously wondered if I would ever do them again. 

Every time I thought I had reached a peak of disintegration, the Ketamine took me even higher. Like a stealthy shadow, Peggy entered the room, and I saw her with new eyes, a part of my high, a part of my movie, a knowing participant in the existential joke. She looked drawn and worried because her husband was wasted, and Peggy hates being around wasted people, and because, while I was receiving the Ketamine, she had taken Ollie to the vet for the same problem he had two months ago. Now as then, the vet didn't know what is causing the hair loss, but he charged another $175 to guess. He proposed a treatment that Peggy declined because it was toxic, and because she didn't trust him to know what he was talking about. He finally gave Ollie the same two shots that had temporarily helped before.

I think I might have succeeded in whispering a short sentence to Peggy, and I'm sure I nodded my head, but she soon drifted away, phantom-like, to sit in the car with Ollie. She returned when the treatment was nearly over, and this time I giggled and made gestures with my free hand, but I mostly tried to avoid disturbing my fellow patients. It worried me that I was among strangers and expected to maintain a decorum that had become impossible for me. Fortunately, when the Ketamine was withdrawn, I regained the ability to at least speak--however stupidly--and I was even able to stand, although I was too weak and dizzy to remain standing. 

But did it help? My pain level had been higher than usual lately, but it had dropped appreciably before the Ketamine, partly because I was done with the yardwork that had aggravated it, and partly because I was psyched to have a new direction for treatment. Doctors ask their patients to score their pain level on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst imaginable. I hate this because every number is a lie, but doctors demand it, so I gave mine a three going in and a one coming out. I think the anti-gravity recliner might have helped more than the Ketamine. My lowered pain score led the doctor to ask if I would like to come back in two weeks for a higher dose, and I said yes in order to keep my options open. Today, my pain level is higher than it was yesterday prior to the Ketamine, but what of Ketamine's promise of providing quick relief from depression? I don't know. Perhaps, I'm better, but I'm still so shaken by the Ketamine trip that I really can't tell.

Once home from two hours of constant Ketamine, I wanted to settle my mind by watching something happy, so I settled on a documentary about Roger Ebert. I knew he would die at some point in the film, but I assumed it would come at the end, so I was horrified when the film opened with him sitting in a hospital bed with his mouth hanging open and his bandaged neck visible through his mouth. I unsuccessfully tried to deny the reality of what I was seeing, but soon realized that his tongue and lower mouth had been removed, and that his chin contained no bone, which was why it was hanging open like a flap. I remembered Peggy's father's preacher's wife who so trusted in Christ's promise of healing that she refused to see a doctor for oral cancer, only going when it was too late to save her nose or her face from the roof of her mouth down. I don't know how any of us survive decades on this nightmarish planet, and Ketamine seemed like a new hell in a parallel universe.

I persevered with the documentary just as I had persevered with the Ketamine, stubbornness combined with my fear of looking afraid having, for good or ill, gotten me through a great many things. When I got into bed last night, Ollie ran, not walked, to join me. Every night he does this, and every night, he continues the ritual by rubbing his scent upon my book and bedside table. Then he stands upon my thighs and gazes into my eyes lovingly while kneading my abdomen. As our statue of Bastet looks down in divine approbation, I kiss Ollie tenderly, and tell him he's my handsome man. Last night, I asked him if he's worth all the money we spend on him, and he answered by slowly blinking both eyes in tenderness and trust. 

He's now on the chair beside me, taking his late-morning nap, and I am rapturous in the knowledge that it's money that enables me to provide him with what I lack, by which I mean a belief that the universe is safe and that our life together will go on forever.

Going down the K-hole

I slept no more than five hours last night, partly because I rarely sleep well anyway and partly because I was nervous about having cataract surgery today (I'm posting this two days after I started writing it, so the surgery is over), but mostly because I'm euphoric over the prospect of receiving my first Ketamine infusion next week. The pain that I've lived with for years has various causes and afflicts me in various parts of my body, but the worst of it consists of soft tissue back pain that started when I broke my back in 2016. J___, my pain specialist, has done everything he knows to do, but nothing has worked, and I've often thought about seeing a pain specialist named L___ who gives Lidocaine infusions, something that J___ isn't set up to do. I didn't because I had little confidence that Lidocaine would work, but mostly because I feared losing my monthly oxycodone allowance. When I heard that L___ is offering Ketamine infusions, I ran not walked to make an appointment. I saw him yesterday, and he agreed to start me on Ketamine next week. The treatment will take two hours, and will have to be repeated every month or so. I figure that even if it doesn't relieve the pain, it will surely diminish the severe depression, and anything that helps with the one helps with the other.

Ketamine is sold illegally as Special K. The common term for the high is falling into the K-Hole, but it's also called, and I kid you not, God. It got these names because it takes users out of their bodies (some people even forget that they have a body) and causes hallucinations. Because such things can lead to panic, L___ adds a benzodiazepine (a family of downers that includes Valium and Ativan) to the IV. He said that, even with the downer, those who enjoy Ketamine most benefit most, and that some of them drop from a chronic pain level of seven all the way down to zero. 

I anticipate a lovely trip, but Peggy doesn't see it that way. Peggy says there's something wrong with people who enjoy drug trips. Peggy says I shouldn't even talk about such things, even with her, and this inspired me to chant, "I'm going to get wasted in the doctor's office; I'm going to get wasted in the doctor's office!" Peggy then complimented me on my emotional maturity, and I complimented her on hers. Ours was a veritable love-fest of respect and affection.

I reminded Peggy of what L___ said about Ketamine's efficacy being enhanced by enjoyment, but she wasn't swayed. L___ said I'll need her to drive me home. L___ said that she can be at my side during the infusion as long as she's supportive, but I worry that such support as she is able to offer will ring false, and that I'll be too vulnerable to shrug it off. 

Many years ago when I took every hallucinogenic that I could find, I discovered that if I took them on a sunny day amid beautiful surroundings, and was either alone or with a trusted friend, I would have a good trip; but if I took them at night, at a party, among people I didn't know or trust, and in an unfamiliar place from which I couldn't easily escape, the result was so frightening that I couldn't move or speak. When people noticed my distress, they would stop talking and stare at me, causing me to feel like an insect upon which the sun was being directed by a a magnifying glass. An infusion lab means strangers, strangeness, clinical sterility, and the expectation of decorum, but L___ suggested that I bring peaceful music (I anticipate Bach or Vivaldi), and I anticipate sitting with my eyes closed.

But why did I take drugs that cause hallucinations and dissociation in the first place? Three reasons: curiosity; a desire to test my psychological strength; and the hope of seeing God. I failed the mental toughness test, and God never came, but the visual manifestation of creatures more frightening than a Bosch painting did, but only when my surroundings were wrong. When my surroundings were right, the universe became physically beautiful and morally benevolent. On the night that I went on my worst trip, I eventually founding myself alone in a completely darkened room, where I spent the next several hours enthralled by an ethereally beautiful kaleidoscope of light, safety, and color. When dawn came, I watched water oaks do a joy dance across the Louisiana Delta. On another occasion, my mind created the wildest and most beautiful electric guitar music I had ever heard, and the music lifted me into the air while I sat in a chair. These unreal experiences rank among the most joyful, memorable, and enriching experiences I've ever known.

Next week, I take a drug that will hopefully cause my spirit to soar, both in the short-term and the long-term. "Some people walk into the clinic with a pain level of seven, and walk out with a zero," L___ said, and I am happy to think that it might be so.

But what qualifies as abuse?

I'm to see yet another pain specialist next week. On the forms he sent was the question, "Have you ever been physically or emotionally abused?" I said no, but a few days later, the following poured from me, and I wondered if I shouldn't have responded differently. I know that the answer comes down to what qualifies as abuse, but after dredging up the following memories, I certainly felt abused. But abused by whom, and if my boyhood was so abusive, how is is that so many who grew up as I did would disagree?

I grew up in an ultra-fundamentalist denomination called the Church of Christ, which holds that the Bible is the dictated Word of God, and is therefore completely clear, consistent, and perfect in every scientific, historical, and theological aspect. Because the Church of Christ recognizes no authority beyond the individual congregation, beliefs and practices vary slightly. At the liberal end, women are allowed to make announcements, teach Sunday school, and ask questions during Bible study. At the conservative end, they aren't allowed to speak at all except to the people near them, yet in both liberal and conservative churches, young boys can speak freely in any role assigned to them. Again at the liberal end, communion wine is served in tiny glasses that are passed around in stackable trays. At the conservative end, communion wine is served in one large glass, the reason being that Jesus spoke in the singular when he said, "Take this cup in memory of me."

The Church of Christ has weekly communion; practices baptism by immersion; and prohibits the use of musical instruments inside the church, even for weddings. It claims to be God's one true church and to have been in continual existence since the time of Christ--it explains the lack of evidence for this by saying that Catholic persecution drove it underground until the 1830s. The church teaches that anyone, anywhere who sincerely seeks God will be led to the Church of Christ, and that anyone who has reached "the age of accountability" (around age twelve) without belonging to the Church of Christ is in willful disobedience to God and is therefore condemned to eternal torment in a "lake of fire." To illustrate the extreme literalism of the Church of Christ, I heard preachers debate whether someone who died in a car wreck on his way to be baptized would go to heaven or hell. The Church of Christ regards religious holidays as "pagan" and politics as "worldly." Because it regards other churches as ruled by Satan, ecumenicalism is unthinkable. I, personally, never knew the Church of Christ to do any good for anyone beyond buying poor families a turkey at Thanksgiving, its entire emphasis being on personal salvation.

Members of the Church of Christ call their preachers Brother (Reverend being considered Satanic and Father even worse), and they call one another Brother ___ and Sister ____. Because Church of Christ members expect every sermon to include talk of hell and an invitation to be saved, my earliest memory of God revolves around being so afraid of him that I hid under the bed when I got home from church. Heavy rains scared me because I worried that they were the start of another worldwide flood, and thunder frightened me because I heard in it the voice of an angry God. Yet most of my early memories of church are good memories, perhaps because I was a desperately lonely child who lived in the country and had no playmates, and the people at church were friendly. 

I was six when I started celebrating "the Lord's Supper" privately with grape juice and saltines (the Church of Christ uses wine and Matzo crackers), and seven when I attended a Catholic wedding, and wished that my bare-walled Church of Christ could be so lavishly decorated. By the time I was eleven, my family had moved into town, and I improvised a backyard pulpit, decorated it with wisteria, and began preaching to the neighborhood kids. When I was twelve, Jehovah Witnesses came to my house, and I began knocking on doors alongside them, saying what I had been told to say and handing out Awakes and Watchtowers. Jehovah's Witnesses were new to our town, and because their services were held in the living room of a small house, I believed that they were like the early church. When my mother told our preacher about my JW involvement, he said that I had to choose one way or the other, so I stayed with the Church of Christ.

I didn't remember my grandfather or great grandfather, but I was told that they had been well respected Church of Christ preachers, and when I reached my teens, I began to accompany Brothers Miller and Stewart on out of state revivals. I took my religion more seriously than did my parents or my sister, which proved to be a good thing when I later left the church and they, at least, didn't shun me. I attended church three times a week, preached short sermons, led singing, offered public prayers, and presided over the communion table, yet from age eleven, I fell victim to a long and desperate struggle to maintain my faith. This struggle left me miserable beyond words because I was convinced (from having heard it continually) that a life without God is one of sadness and desperation. 

What occasioned my first doubt was the Bible itself, specifically a passage in the Old Testament that Brother Miller, read in Bible study one morning. In that passage, God ordered the Jews to invade a city and kill every man, woman, child, and animal, except for the young virgins, which they were allowed to "keep for yourselves." I asked Brother Miller how a just and merciful God could command such a cruel act, and he said that the answers to some questions will only be given in heaven because if God answered them now, faith would be replaced by knowledge, and no one could be saved. Until that day, I had thought that preachers knew everything, and didn't know how I could go on worshiping a god who claimed to be good while commanding his followers to do evil. I was surprised that I was the only person in class who seemed bothered by the reading, but I soon found that I was the only person who seemed bothered by much of anything that was said in church, the Church of Christ belief being that the Bible was true, and questions were of Satan.

After that incident in Bible study, I started paying increasingly close attention both to the Bible and to what my church was telling me about God, and so it was that my doubts increased. I concluded from this that there must be something wrong with me that had caused God to deny me the "gift of faith," and that other people had access to some secret knowledge that I lacked. I continued to cling to my religion, but I could only experience joy to the extent that I was able to find distraction from my questions. I started asking God for faith, and when none came, I berated him for breaking his promise to give faith to those who asked. Hundreds of times, I would pray for guidance, open my King James Bible at random, and point to a verse with my eyes closed in the hope of receiving a message from God, but none came, and when my finger fell on a blank space, a genealogy, a genocide, or some Old Testament ceremonial law, I became furious at God for mocking me. 

I was struck by the irony of having almost no belief in God, yet being obsessed by fear of him. Today, when I hear the continual outpouring of anger, petulance, bullying, narcissism, childishness, and mean-spirited vindictiveness, that comes from my president, I'm reminded of my boyhood image of the Biblical God, only without the white robes and long beard. Of course, the Church of Christ also talked about the gentle Jesus, yet Jesus, like his father, was often insulting, threatening, condescending, hypocritical, and contradictory, plus the context in which Christ was mentioned in church was usually in regard to "his atoning blood," and him being a "ransom for our sins," images that took me right back to the image of an angry God who requires innocent blood to be shed before he can do what he expects us to do freely, that is to forgive.

When I was thirteen, I was running my paper route on my bike when I told God that, since he had ignored my every prayer for faith and because his own son's last words had been an accusation of abandonment, he could hardly expect me to believe in him. As soon I said this, I became terrified that I had committed the unpardonable sin. While I still found church rewarding, I was often consumed by a fear of everlasting hell when I was alone. When I finally concluded that I had to either talk to someone or lose my mind, I went to a preacher's house in search of assurance of God's forgiveness, but when I got there, I couldn't bring myself to tell him why I had come, so we chatted awhile and I left. While still in high school, I tried to help myself by taking a course in psychology at the local college, and we visited the Mandeville, Louisiana, mental asylum as a part of that course. I wondered if I could find peace at Mandeville with the help of wise psychiatrists, but I didn't know what to do to be committed. I thought that maybe setting the woods on fire was the answer, but I worried that I would instead end up in juvenile prison.

By the time I reached my upper teens, I had the thought that maybe my fear and loathing of God wasn't caused by him but by the teachings of my church, and that I either needed to liberalize the church or find a different one. I began writing liberalizing articles for the church newsletter, but none was published, and I began to imagine that the people at church were treating me differently. I then started visiting other churches. Because my options were limited by living in a rural area, I sometimes drove sixty miles north to Jackson (I lived in Mississippi). I stopped counting denominations when I reached fifty, accumulating churches in the same way that other people accumulate states or nations. My search also inspired me to read a set of books on comparative religion, and I took courses in Bible and theology at the local Independent Methodist college, which was only slightly more liberal than the Church of Christ. Early in the process of church shopping, I visited the Episcopal Church, and felt that, at age nineteen, I had finally found my home, so although I visited other denominations, I did so for the joy of it rather than because I had any thought that I might want to become a Pentecostal, a Christian Scientist, etc.

I later joined two other denominations (more about that later), yet the Episcopal Church continued to be the only church I ever loved, although I love it largely because it doesn't even qualify as a church by the standards with which I was raised. I say this for reasons already mentioned, but also because it avoids tackling the Bible directly, but instead cherry-picks passages for its Book of Common Prayer, the result being that most Episcopalians are Biblically illiterate. Yet it is for such reasons that I love the Episcopal Church. I love it so much that I sometimes cry (something I never did in the Church of Christ) while singing a hymn or taking mass, but my tears don't come from any love of a divine being, but from the sweetness, grandeur, and antiquity of the service; from the physical beauty of the sanctuary; and from the shared intimacy with other people. To me, these things and more constitute God, although I avoid the word because I can't to this day separate God from Satan, the one being depicted as hardly less evil than the other in the Bible, and the meaning of God in my life being characterized for far too long by an increasingly desperate and despairing attempt to worship and seek solace from an abusive deity.

More later...

I Flunk My Manhood Test

I write this a few days after fifty worshipers in two New Zealand mosques were murdered with an assault rifle. In the same week, America's Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the parents of twenty murdered six-year-olds could sue Remington Arms, not for manufacturing the Bushmaster assault rife that killed them, but for using advertising that targeted immature and unstable gun buyers, such people representing a sizeable segment of America's gun culture.

Specifically, at the time of the shootings, the Bushmaster website featured a list of promotional manhood questions that prospective customers could answer in order to qualify for a temporary man card (a permanent card being issued upon the purchase of an assault rifle), so when I heard of the recent court decision, I went to Bushmaster.com to look for those questions. As expected, I didn't see them, so I clicked on Live Chat, only to be promptly disconnected when I said what I wanted. I clicked on Live Chat a second time, and the conversation proceeded as follows:

Bushmaster: Hello, how can I help you?

Me: How do I get my temporary man card?

No response...

Me: I read that visitors to Bushmaster were asked a series of questions following which they received a temporary man card? Is this no longer true?

Bushmaster: No. 

Me: So what is true?

Chat session disconnected.

I again tried to find the questions offsite, but the best I could come up with was a series of screen shots: https://www.buzzfeed.com/scott/bushmasters-shockingly-awful-man-card-campaign.

Here are a few of the qualifying (or maybe I should say disqualifying) questions, some abbreviated in my words and some right off the site:

Do you eat tofu? Can you change a tire? Do you own a small dog? Is your inner light best represented by a kitten, a candle, or an assault rifle? Do you wear hemp clothing? Have you ever watched figure skating “on purpose?” What would you do if you were on your way to a championship sports competition and a car full of the rival team’s fans cuts you off in traffic?” (The correct answer? “Skip the game, find the other car in the parking lot, and render it unrecognizable...”)

Bushmaster warned applicants that their manhood cards could be revoked by other men for being a “crybaby,” a “coward,” a “cupcake,” on a short leash,” owning a small dog, installing a sissy bar on an ATV, skipping poker night to watch a musical, uttering the words, “I will _____ if she lets me,or being in some other way “unmanly” (the word was represented by a woman in a skirt). 
I later browsed newsgroups related to the Bushmaster ad campaign. On one of them, a Brit had written, You Yanks are sick fucks. No wonder the whole world hates you, but what use does a country that owns one gun per person (second place goes to Serbia with 0.75 guns per person) have for the respect of the people in the other 195 nations of the world? 

Remember the question about how a manly man would react to being cut-off in traffic? The answer assumed that a real man would miss the game in order to wreak vengeance, but how would he find the courage to risk confrontation with a car full of other men? He would be carrying a gun that, out of the box, has a fire rate of 45 rounds per minute, but that with a cheap modification can fire 10 rounds per second. According to the American definition, a real man doesn't really need intelligence, courage, nobility, goodwill, a respect for law and order, or even marksmanship, because he is driving down the highway with a weapon that, within seconds, can cut scores of people to pieces at no risk to himself, that is unless his intended victim is another real man who whips out his own assault rifle.

Adam Lanza, the Connecticut school shooter, lived with his mother. He had no job, no friends, no ideals, and showed no kindness to anyone. He murdered his mother, six school employees, and 20 first graders, yet, according to Remington Arms, he became a real man the moment he put his money on the counter for an assault rifle. Yes, we Americans are sick fucks in that we equate masculinity with anger, violence, misogyny, and vengefulness (our president embodying all of these things), and we frame our laws so that mass murder is commonplace. The New Zealand prime minister said that hers is a peaceful country that fell victim to vicious outsiders, by which she apparently meant Australians. Yet the corpses had barely stiffened before New Zealand gun sales soared. It's as if all those Kiwis looked across the globe at far off America and said to themselves, We too want to be real men.

When Kindness is Wasted

Peggy and I took a walk. Two blocks from home, we came across a broken bottle on the bike path, so I went home for a broom, a bucket, and a dustpan. I didn't do this because I'm kind but because if I can spare other people (and dogs) a big headache by undergoing a small headache myself, decency dictates that I do so. This means that I deserve no credit for what I did, but that those who could have removed the glass and didn't deserve censure.

Pedestrians often break bottles on bike paths. I suppose some do it because many cyclists are jerks who haze pedestrians for using their path (although it is a multi-use path), but however the glass breakers rationalize their behavior, it is inexcusable for the same reason that carpet bombing is inexcusable.

"Many People Are Alive Because It's Against the Law to Kill Them"

I agree with the above bumper sticker. If, by pointing my thumb up or down, I could kill anyone who intentionally breaks bottles on bike paths, I would kill them, and while I was at it, I would kill pedophiles, cat torturers, members of the Islamic State, people who drop boulders onto cars off overpasses, various members of the Trump administration, and many others. Not all people deserve a second chance, yet I live under a legal system that keeps giving criminals chances until they've raped or murdered so many people that we finally lose patience and lock them up for life. To show sympathy for a hardened criminal is to become a party to his crime.

I've heard, and it makes sense to me, that people with a high empathy quotient tend to favor harsher penalties than those who have a lower empathy quotient because they feel the victim's pain more acutely (they're also prone to burnout when they enter one of the helping professions, but that's another subject). This is true of me.

Some people, conservatives mostly, mistake me for a liberal, but I deny it because liberals believe that people are inherently good. Ann Frank was a liberal:

"It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."

As liberals see it, criminals deserve help rather than censure, which leads them to devote the most resources to the people who deserve them least. Here's an example. Three teenage boys burned down a beloved baseball stadium a few blocks from here. Of the many people who wrote to the newspaper about the crime, one suggested that Eugene's residents need to come together to make these boys feel loved and supported rather than penalized and shamed. No such deluge of love was proposed for kids who work their asses off to make something of their lives.

Conservatives are the polar opposite of liberals in that they believe that people are inherently evil. I'm neither a liberal or a conservative. I believe that people have an enormous capacity for both good and evil. One of the most interesting aspects of war is that the same people perform acts of good and evil in rapid succession.

I believe that I am good inasmuch as I wish death on people who torture cats, and I believe that liberals are evil inasmuch as they aid and abet evil by showing kindness to people who torture cats. Some crimes speak so profoundly and so lastingly about whom a person is within his or her deepest being that there is no possibility of redemption. Some might argue that, when a person is killed, all the good that he (or she) might have done dies with him. I say

Let It Die

because if there's one thing we're not short on, it's people.

Something else I ponder from time to time is the question of which crimes should be punished most. As I see it, the punishment for a crime should be based upon the crime's reasonableness. Killing an abusive husband when he's sleeping is reasonable. Littering is unreasonable. Hence I would lightly, if at all, punish people who kill their abusers, while I would severely punish litterers. Another factor that I would consider is the likely damage to people other than the victim. For example, by breaking into one house, a burglar frightens an entire neighborhood, yet a first time burglar might not serve a day in prison.

There's a push here in America to punish people less severely because, it is believed, severe punishments don't deter crime. I rather think that we haven't made the punishments severe enough to know, so while I wouldn't send anyone to prison for using heroin (I would even consider decriminalization or legalization), I would see them dead for cheating old people out of their life savings. As things stand, "white collar" crime is lightly punished. Steal $10 in an armed robbery, and you might serve 10-20 years (sentences across America vary widely), but cheat scores of old people out of their life savings, and you're looking at 2-6 years. This leads me to another thought. Psychopaths and sociopaths can't be fixed, so if you have a person like that, a person who is certain to go through life committing one foul deed after another, why wait for him to do it? Why not respond to him (or her) as to a rabid dog who must be euthanized before he bites someone?

Show Snovels and Other Trivia


Eugene, Oregon, rarely gets temperatures lower than the mid-twenties (-4 C.) or more than an inch or two of snow accumulation. As I write, my yard contains fourteen inches that fell in the last day and a half, and snow is still falling. The airport is closed, and Amtrak (America's long distance passenger train service) hit a tree forty miles from here, and its passengers were stranded in the train for 36-hours with too little food and heat. Few people own snow shovels, and I even saw one woman clearing her driveway with a round pointed garden shovel.

I didn't even know what a snow shovel looked like (verbal maladroit that I am, you could put a gun to my head, and the term would still come out show snovel) before moving to Minneapolis in October 1988, just in time for the season's first snow. I always enjoyed buying tools, and my fondness for shoveling certainly stood me in good stead, but I would have had to do it regardless in order to get the car out of the driveway and to avoid a fine for letting snow accumulate on my sidewalk. During my two winters there, the Twin Cities (the only thing that separates Minneapolis from St. Paul is the Mississippi River) never had a snow so heavy that it brought life to a standstill. 

Therefore, when I heard Minnesotans whining on the TV recently about the sub-zero cold, I thought they must have turned into sissies because I remembered zero degrees as being almost balmy on sunny, windless days. Sure enough, when I looked up the winter lows during my time in Minnesota, I discovered that in both '88 and '89, the mercury hit -24 F (-31 C.), which wasn't even regarded as noteworthy. In fact, my area of southern Minnesota was called the Banana Belt to distinguish it from the far colder northern Minnesota cities of Duluth and International Falls. Truly, global warming has spoiled Twin Cities' residents if they regard -5 (-21 C.) as cold, although I'm sure that the schnauzer we had back then would agree with them because when I dressed her in her fleece-lined red coat and took her for her daily walks, she would run up to the door of every house we passed in the hope that someone would let her in.

The southern Willamette Valley doesn't do well with heavy snow, and god forbid that we get an ice storm. I live near downtown and had naively imagined that our power would stay on regardless, but a few winters ago, it was out for six days during zero cold (-18 C.), and it was out for four days during another winter (zero being very unusual here). Because I use a BiPAP for severe sleep apnea, power outages are no joke for me, and my potted plants don't think any too well of them either. Fortunately, we have a gas fireplace insert that at least enables the plants to survive and for us to remain in our home (I power my BiPap with a twelve-volt battery).

As I write, many thousands of people are without power, but thankfully Peggy and I aren't among them. We're also fortunate in that we have no place that we have to go because while I think our four-wheel drive car would do fine, I don't want to get salt on it. When I moved to Minneapolis, I was as ignorant of salt as I was of snow shovels, so when I saw trucks scattering sand on the roadways I concluded that the sand was being used instead of salt, but I soon learned that the two are mixed.

Well, here I sit in my cozy home, writing and listening to Vivaldi in the company of my wife and four cats. Life could certainly be worse. I could have a schnauzer that I felt obligated to walk "for her own good" no matter how much she hated it. I still don't know if I did right by that dog, but she came through it okay, finally dying at age seventeen.

Mississippi On My Mind

My ancestral roots go deep in Mississippi, a state that regards itself as God's chosen part of his chosen nation, yet lags behind the rest of that nation in every measure of welfare. For instance, Mississippi ranks 50th among the fifty states in health care, 49th in infrastructure, 49th in opportunity, 48th in economy, and 46th in education.* The state is such a hellhole that it receives more money from the federal government than it pays into it, which makes it all the more extraordinary that Mississippi consistently elects politicians who oppose helping the poor. I can think of a few reasons for this. 

(1) Although poverty plagues the entire state, the 37% of the population that are black suffers more. Because white Mississippians tend to attribute their black neighbors' problems to laziness, improvidence, and sexual immorality, I think it likely that the state's resistance to receiving federal aid is partially inspired by a desire to harm its black residents. 

(2) Mississippi only elects conservative politicians (preferably Southern Baptists) who get misty-eyed while talking of their love for Jesus and who interpret the Bible literally. No candidate who believes in evolution, global warming, or the antiquity of the earth, can win an election in Mississippi, and I would despair of even calling an ambulance if I were openly pro-choice or favored gay rights. Despite this, white Mississippians are wildly enthusiastic for President Grab-em-by-the-Pussy because he at least claims to love Jesus and to support Biblical morality and "science." If pressed to explain their inconsistency, white Mississippians say that, although Trump might fall short of being exactly perfect, well, who is. It is not a tolerance that extends to fetus-murdering, fag-loving, gun-banning Democrats who have never "invited the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts."

(3) From its antebellum era onward, white Mississippians were infamous for their a reactionary mentality and mistrust of the federal government. Envision a belligerent neighbor who decorates his yard with junked cars and half-starved dogs, and you have an image of Mississippi. I'll give two examples: 

Although the state's antebellum economy made a handful of people spectacularly wealthy, the rest of the population's inability to compete with slave labor kept them impoverished, yet this did not discourage tens of thousands of poor Mississippians from marching off to kill "nigger-loving Yankees" so that rich men might keep their slaves, euphemistically referring to that war as a struggle for state's rights. This same mentality remains evident in Mississippi's support of politicians who pander to the state's religious and racial prejudices while opposing its economic interests, only today's rationale is religious liberty, by which is meant the liberty of conservative Christians to force their values, ceremonies, "science," and monuments, on everyone else. 

Here's my second example: during my adolescent years in the 1960s, the state's economy suffered because out of state businesses were unwilling to locate to an area where people were being bombed, shot, beaten, and jailed, simply for exercising their right to vote. It was true then as it is true now that the more the rest of the nation scorns white Mississippians, the more white Mississippians are convinced that they are "suffering for righteousness' sake."

How, then, does Mississippi explain its many failures or the advancement of such secularized areas as New England and the Pacific Northwest? Mississipians quote the Bible to prove that God tests those he loves; they argue that, despite being the prayingest state in the Union, Mississippi needs still more prayer; and they claim that God punishes the parts of a nation for the sins of the whole. As a result of its refusal to act in its own interest or to take responsibility for its failures, Mississippi blames its every problem on someone else. For example, it blames school shootings on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that compulsory school prayer is un-Constitutional ("When the Supreme Court kicked God out of our schools, it invited Satan in"), and I wince when I remember being struck on the head when I didn't stand for opening prayer while on jury duty. Such is the mentality of people who blame violence on too little prayer but, in my case and others, use violence against those who don't pray. It was this mentality that led me to leave the state because I concluded that I had to either stand up for my convictions and bear the consequences, or I had to move to where sanity prevailed. I made the latter choice, although I am still pained by the knowledge that I acted out of cowardice, and that I abandoned those who shared my values.

Mississippi has been on my mind of late because Peggy recently went there to visit her father, commenting before she left that she was about to fly into hostile territory. I could but agree. Although Mississippi could be far worse (in the absence of Federal protections, it could be a Christian version of theocratic Islamic nations), my memories of having lived there for 36 years are nonetheless demoralizing. No one should be made to suffer simply because he or she is a non-conformist or a member of a minority, and I'll never get over the fact that Mississippi's oppressing majority claims moral superiority by virtue of its love for Jesus Christ.


The Shutdown

Trump's most often repeated campaign promise was that he would build a 2,000 wall between the US and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it. When Mexico refused to pay for such a wall, it was expected that Trump would get the money from Congress because, after all, his party controlled both the House and the Senate. Yet, he failed there too because, as a group, Republicans regard negotiation and compromise as indicative of moral failure (as Kentucky senator Rand Paul put it, it's wrong for those who occupy the moral high ground to those who occupy the low ground). 

When you have a petulant president who is used to getting things his way, and he suddenly can't do it, bad things are sure to follow, the bad thing in this case being that Trump has refused to allow 800,000 government employees to draw their paychecks until such time as Congress allocates money for his wall, something that Congress was unwilling to do even before January 2, when the Democratic Party took control of the House of Representatives. Today marks day 31 days since one-quarter of federal employees drew their last paycheck. 

Trump opened the shutdown with the following words:

"I will shut down the government, and I am proud [that] I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it... I’m going to shut it down.”

A few days later, he blamed the Democrats for making him do it (I don't know if Republicans are too oblivious to notice or too immoral to care that Trump rarely opens his mouth without lying). Since the shutdown, the people who protect our borders are going unpaid, although Trump claims that the shutdown is aimed at strong borders; federal courts are not hearing cases; loans are not being approved; national parks are being robbed and vandalized; travel by plane is grinding to a halt; criminal investigations are ending prematurely; and so on ad finitum. All of these countless millions of people are suffering, not because of anything they did but because their president is in a snit. Such recalcitrance is what passes for strength among Republican voters.

On the bright side, Trump and Congress are still being paid, although the Secret Service agents who protect them are not. When the leader of the Congress advised Trump that, because of security concerns during the shutdown, he should postpone a speech he wanted to make to Congress; he denied her access to a government plane for a secret trip, although he allowed his wife to take a vacation in Air Force One. So what does Trump have to say to (and about) these people who are going unpaid and who, in many cases, are being forced to work because their jobs are deemed "essential"? 

1) He says that most of them voted Democratic, which, I suppose, means that it doesn't matter if they're paid. 

2) Despite having never lived a moment of his life during which he didn't have more money than the life savings of hundreds of thousands of us added together, he says that he can relate to not getting a paycheck. 

3) He says that those who are being unpaid will "get by like they always do" (he is apparently is referring to the fact that the Republican Party has often shut down the government when it didn't get its way, although it has never shut it down for this long). 

4) He says that those who aren't being paid are happy to make the sacrifice. 

5) He assures the country that he's eager to negotiate with the Democrats, but that they're unwilling to negotiate with him, and while it is true that he invited the two most powerful Democrats to the White House, it's also true that they went, and that Trump Tweeted the event as follows: "Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy [he calls others by their first names but demands that he be called "Mr. President"], a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, 'NO." I said 'bye-bye.'"

Trump is the standard of truth to millions of Republicans who praise him to their children as an example of how a good man should live. To millions of Democrats, Trump is proof that the Republican Party represents the nadir of dishonesty and immorality. It is to millions an organization for people who take the position that, "As long as I get mine, then screw you," "America First" being code for "Me First, and You Not at All." I keep thinking that the day will come when these people are finally fed up with supporting a man whose behavior flies in the face of the very Christian values that they claim to hold dear, but since it hasn't happened yet, I find it hard to envision what it would take to make it happen.