Christmas in the Trenches

I first heard this song in 1991 while driving, and had to pull over to cry. The song not only portrays a real event; the event portrayed has happened many times on many fronts, but since the pursuit of peace is considered treasonous by those who order the killing and the lackeys who follow them, we seldom hear about such things.

The whole world professes its abhorrence of war, yet war never ceases. I don’t understand why we live this way, and I’m ashamed that it’s my own country—and my own taxes—that’s behind much of the violence. America boasts of being "the leader of the free world,” but the only place this greedy, arrogant, and wasteful nation of mine is capable of leading anyone is to hell.

Nollyposh 1963-2011

When a blogger friend dies, it’s abrupt even when it’s expected. Where you had a loving friend, you now, if you’re lucky, have one of her family members who you hope will update you on what happened, what arrangements were made, and maybe even provide information about how her survivors are doing. I wrote to Nollyposh’s email address to ask for permission to use some of her words and her photo on my blog as a memorial. I received the following:

"This is Patrick (Vicki's husband). I have been checking Vicki’s emails each day since her passing. I am sure Vicki is happy that you use her words and main photo as a tribute.

"Today is one week since Vicki’s funeral which I must say was overwhelming with more than 300 people attending. The hardest part was entering the chapel and looking into the eyes of all the people that turned up to farewell Vicki. Our children were amazing on the day, both daughters spoke about their love for their Mum and our son stayed up all night to finish the DVD presentation for the service.

"Vicki’s blog was all her creation from the first day she told us all she wanted to set one up. Normally, she would call on help for someone to set it all up, but she really insisted that she had to create it herself - which she did spending hours on the computer and calling on our son only to adjust some of the graphics.

"Vicki’s blog gave her the chance to write and to share it with all her bloggy friends, as she called them. I know how well Vicki can write and the blog enabled her to share her thoughts, her wisdom and ultimately her love with a lot of people. She told me about your conversation and how that you will probably never get to meet face to face, and she nodded and it made her cry. Even though you haven't met, she counted you as a close friend - she said that maybe you were not meant to meet, but I always hoped that maybe you would. I cannot tell you how much the blog kept Vicki strong and the joy and inspiration it gave her. She told me that she could not believe that she found people just like her all around the world - spirit sisters."

The following is from Nollyposh’s final tribute to her "bloggy friends":

"i have learned most importantly that ~Love~ is everything and that it can come in many small and mysterious ways... Most wondrously it can reach me from all corners of the worlde and wrap me like a blanket... And for all these wonderful gifts i am most grateful from the bottom of my Heart and send it back to ~You All~ ten-fold X:-)"

Nollyposh and I regularly disagreed—with her taking a spiritual perspective and me a materialistic view—yet there remained a transcendent closeness between us. I feel a similar bond to others of you. One of my blogger friends wrote that he can only be my friend because we live 2,000 miles apart. I think he meant that our differences would get in the way if we were closer, yet I recalled Thoreau’s words:

“You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port…. If we would enjoy the most intimate society…we must…commonly [be] so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other’s voice…”

Nollyposh and I were separated by an ocean and a hemisphere, and if such a distance was necessary for us to be friends, I am glad we had it. The last thing she wrote to me was: “You mean just as much to me as if i met you in the flesh xox”

Nolly, I grieve less for your death than for my loss of you. If you were here, you would tell me that whatever I am feeling is okay, but you are not here, and nothing seems okay. I would that I could believe your final words of hope to the people you loved, but I cannot. May I be wrong, and may your love be with me even now.

“I won’t be far away for life goes on
So if you need me call and I will come
Though you can’t see or touch me, I’ll be near
And if you listen with your heart, you’ll hear
All my love around you soft and clear
And then when you must come this way alone
I’ll greet you with a smile and a welcome home.”

Nollyposh's blog is at:

The men in my life part 3: Josh

Josh moved next door when he was eight, and he’s now seventeen. He wants to design and build motorcycles for a living (he has already built one), but he’s planning to go to college too, and his grades are good enough for a scholarship. Since he’s skilled with tools, enjoys detail, is undaunted by complexity, and has the maturity to see a job through, I would expect him to succeed with motorcycles. I envy Josh his good sense; when I was seventeen I was flunking school, getting drunk every weekend, and my sole ambition in life was to avoid Vietnam.

When he was a child, Josh would come over after school each day to help me with whatever I was working on. When I took every last piece of siding and sheathing off the house, puttied the nail holes, insulated the walls, sanded the siding on both sides, painted it on both sides, replaced the felt and such boards as were rotten or split, and put everything back up, Josh was right there beside me with a hammer in his little hand. Likewise, when I lowered the crawlspace under the entire house by three inches, Josh was there, flat on his belly, crawling alongside me through the filth, mouse skeletons, and spider webs.

The only problem I ever had with him was that he would take a job away from me if I wasn’t careful. For example, when I ran a 220-volt line for a clothes dryer, he was hell-bent on making the final connection to the live breaker box himself. Every time I would turn around, there he would be, back in front of the box, holding a screwdriver and trying to figure out what to do. That kind of thing can get on a person’s nerves after awhile.

He also loved power tools, and again, my protest and his lack of experience didn’t deter him from firing one up when I had my head turned—and sometimes when I didn’t. I was in awe that such a little kid had such big self-confidence. By the time he got old enough that he really could have been a help, he lost interest in coming over, and I felt very alone.

Then, I became disabled for any real work, and Josh returned. He would either ask me or come right out and tell me what projects I needed help with, and then he would do them. Sometimes, he would mow the grass or rake the leaves without even letting me know (of course, I figured it out when I heard the mower), and he always seemed to do them right when I needed help the most. Other times, I would do a job alone that Josh had told me I needed help with, and he would get mad when he found out. Only he wouldn’t tell me he was mad; he would tell his mother, and she would pass it along. Then I’d start thinking about how I might get back on Josh’s good side. This was never hard because I don’t think he has it in him to hold a grudge against a friend.

The last time he got mad was in October when I had the Ponderosa Pine removed. It was a big tree that he liked, and it had to be cut from the top down. Josh opposed the project, but he said that if I insisted on having it done, he would do it. I knew he was capable, but I would have worried too much about him. I think he interpreted my refusal as an insult, but his mother never confirmed it. I like Josh enough that I would give in to him on almost anything, but I had to stand firm about that tree, although it hurt me to do it.

I don’t condescend toward young men because although I know more about many things and am more prudent and skillful in many ways, there are still areas about which they know more—and they’re also stronger. For instance, Josh can weld, and I can’t, and his mechanical ability is so far beyond mine that I had rather have him work on my car than to do it myself. And although he opposed having the tree cut, he came over when the job was done and spent most of a day using wedges and a twelve-pound sledgehammer to split three and four-foot rounds into firewood. As I watched him swing that hammer hour after hour in an accurate arc that took it high above his head, I was in awe because when I was seventeen, I was still a few years away from having such strength and coordination (I only weighed 115), and I sure don’t have them now.

I have no one to care for me when I get old, no son or daughter to hold my hand when I die, and no one to leave my junk to. Sometimes I wonder if Josh will still be in my life twenty years from now, and what role he will play. I’ve never known anyone but Peggy and my parents who so consistently went out of their way to do me good. Josh’s friendship humbles me because I can’t see my way to thinking that I deserve it. Western novels describe a friend you can depend upon by saying, “He’s a man to cross the river with.” That’s Josh all over. I love him.

Photo courtesy of Josh. You wouldn’t know it, but he has a beautiful smile.

Thoughts about medical marijuana

Now that I’ve been on marijuana for months, I have to ask myself how good it is for pain. I would say that for long term use, it’s as good or better as narcotics and sleeping pills and a lot less scary. However, nothing significantly reduces my pain; it just makes it easier to bear by either getting me high or knocking me out, and marijuana has the advantage of taking me far higher with far less risk than other drugs.

Now that I’m used to it, I can put away a fair amount of pot and still conduct normal activities, and when the high wears off, I don’t feel hung-over. For weeks now, I’ve been more or less high all day everyday (I start my mornings with marijuana and coffee), and the most notable differences are that I’m happier, and Peggy and I are getting along better. I’m not an easy person even in the best of times, and what I’ve been through over the last several years has been, up to this point in my life, the worst. Peggy and I haven’t had a fight since I started the pot. Marijuana makes me float through my days, my heart filled with peace and goodwill but also a high degree of compassionate candor.

Maybe marijuana should scare me more, but I’m not finding the science to prove that it’s that bad. The worse downside—and it’s truly annoying—is short-term memory loss. As for what this looks like, I’ll give some examples. (1) Unless I’m still doing it, I probably can’t tell you what I was doing five minutes ago. (2) More often than not, when I walk into a room, I have no idea why I’m there. (3) I will become so absorbed in a long and intricate train of thought that I’m barely aware of the world outside my head, that is until all memory of what I was thinking leaves me completely. (4) When I’m really high (late at night usually), I sometimes forget such essentials as my name and address, and I don’t just mean my street address, I mean the state I live in. Such experiences have helped me to understand what early dementia must be like. Yet, pot doesn’t turn me into an idiot; it simply suppresses my left-brain even while it makes my right brain explode with perceptions and insights. Marijuana, at its best, has the power to bring me face-to-face with pure being.

As annoying as it is, I can overcome the short-term memory loss enough to function fairly well even in business situations. I’m helped in this by the fact that I’m more interested in, and sympathetic toward, other people when I’m stoned than when I’m straight. I would even suggest that people like me better when I’m high, although I do tend to say more off-the-wall things more—the kind of things we all think but feel embarrassed to talk about.

I have no idea where I’m going with my marijuana experiment. On the one hand, I like pot a lot, it is grown for me at no charge by someone I love, and Peggy and I agree that we get along significantly better when I’m high, but on the other hand… Well, I’m not sure what’s on the other hand. It just seems a little odd to stay stoned all the time. Decades ago when I smoked pot, I never smoked more than a joint a day, and it was usually closer to two or three joints a week. Now, on any given day, I use more marijuana than I would have used in a month back then.

Do I still want to be using pot a few years down the road? I don’t know what I want to be doing a few years down the road. Sometimes, I don’t feel that I have enough years left to bother about. Time flies faster everyday, and I just sit here and watch it with a sense of wonder at how strange life is. To think that we exist here in this unimaginably small spot in the universe for an unimaginably finite fraction of time. Against this backdrop, what should any of us do? Just hangout and try to make our time here pleasant for everyone, I guess. Such an outlook would eliminate a lot of misbehavior if we all took it to heart, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

The men in my life part 2: Greg

Peggy (in photo) and I met Greg in 1987 through a national group marriage organization that was headquartered here in Eugene. He considered me morose and Peggy bitchy, and we were indifferent to him, but since we were all interested in hiking and camping, we started spending time together. Coming as we did from flatland Mississippi, Peggy and I knew nothing about travel in mountainous wilderness areas, and he knew a lot, so he became our unofficial leader and supplier. If one of us needed an extra coat, Greg would pull one out of his pack, and if we became lost, we knew we could rely on him to get us home. He liked taking care of us, and we liked being taken care of.

Greg was charismatic, and most of his friends—other than Peggy and I—were younger than himself and treated him with deference. We liked having a charismatic friend, and we also liked having a friend who made us think he could do anything, anything at all. We felt safe with him while mountain climbing, backcountry skiing, and other activities that we wouldn’t have done on our own. Then Greg got interested in beekeeping, and I like bees, so we became still closer. At one point, I even worked under him when he was shop foreman at British Automotive.

Whereas Peggy and I tried to keep our lives orderly and predictable, Greg was wild and spontaneous. His house was a mess; his Land Rover had moss growing inside the cab; his cat ate from the kitchen table with everyone else; and his yard was junky and overgrown. He was also unlike us in that his generosity was boundless. For example, a year after we met him, Peggy and I moved to Minneapolis to be a part of a group marriage. When the marriage fell apart two years later, Peggy came back to Oregon alone leaving me to move our stuff, and it was a lot of stuff. When I phoned Greg on the day of the move and told him that the friend who was supposed to help me load the truck and drive it to Oregon had backed out of doing either, Greg said he would fly to Minneapolis that afternoon. I reminded him that a last minute plane ticket would cost a hell of a lot of money, and I didn’t want to pay for it. He said he didn’t intend for me to pay for it (I still had to turn him down because it didn’t seem right to accept a gift that exceeded my own generosity).

Over the next ten or twelve years, there were two occasions when Greg and I had arguments and didn’t speak for a couple of years. During these times, he didn’t see Peggy either because he said that a friendship with just one of us wouldn’t work. What he did do when we were apart was to trash me to other people. When I confronted him about this, he sometimes denied it, and other times said that he did it in order to encourage my friends (the ones he was trashing me to) to come to me and work out our issues (issues that wouldn’t have existed had Greg kept his mouth shut).

During the mid-nineties, Greg and Peggy became lovers, and we all discussed him moving in with us as an equal partner. Unfortunately, he was different from Peggy and me in two ways that stopped us cold. One was that if being a total slob regarding your house and yard is a zero, and being a total neat freak is a hundred, then Greg was a 15 and Peggy and I were 85's. The second problem was that Greg spent money as fast as he got it while Peggy and I squirreled it away. His fun-loving spontaneity was great in a friendship, but we couldn’t imagine happily sharing finances in an intimate relationship. Greg assured us that he would change his housekeeping habits, and that our financial differences could be worked out through written agreements.

When we were unmoved, Greg proposed to Peggy that she live at his house part of the time and here part of the time. This suited her and me, and the arrangement continued for a few years until she got tired of living in two places. The next day, Greg dropped off everything the two of them had shared (their "living Christmas tree" is now 20’ tall). Then he didn’t talk to us for a year.

In the late ‘90s, Greg went back to school and got a masters in counseling psychology, but he didn’t work long as a counselor because he needed more money than he could make while he built his practice. Specifically, he had married a welfare mom with two children, and the three of them looked to him for support.

Greg, Peggy, and I were by now reconciled, but we were never close again because he had to work long hours and because his wife disliked Peggy and me—and vice versa. As with all Greg’s women other than Peggy, I suspected that this one suffered from a personality disorder. The final blow to any real intimacy between Greg and me came on the day he said he wouldn’t be reading my blog anymore because he found writing (including personal letters) less interesting than talking on the phone, and he didn’t think much of that. This was a reversal of what he had been telling me for twenty years, and I was speechless.

Then I developed health problems, and had ten surgeries in ten years. Greg was there for me until surgery number eight, which was by far the worst. Peggy was away, and I was in pain, heavily drugged, prone to falling, and only had the use of one arm. Despite two requests for help, Greg never came over. Surgery number nine was even worse because not only was it winter and Peggy was gone again, but one of our dogs—Bonnie—became ill on Christmas Day and nearly died. To keep her alive, I had to find someone to give her steroids and other drugs every twelve hours. I would have found it humiliating to ask Greg, and he never called or visited.

Greg dropped by one night a few months later, and I jumped all over him for having abandoned me after my surgeries. I was such pain the night he was here that I couldn’t sit up straight, and I was so mad that I could scarcely talk. Greg listened for what seemed but a short while before he asked if he could hug me (I said yes), and then he walked out the door. That was two years ago, and I haven’t seen him since.

I knew that Greg and I weren’t going to work this one out, so I had to decide whether to let him go, or whether to put my hurt feelings behind me and try to regain his friendship. I decided I wanted him back, so I emailed him briefly every few months to ask how he was doing. He wrote back occasionally, and two months ago, he asked if he might visit the next week. I said he would be welcome, but he didn’t come. He later emailed an apology and asked if I still wanted him to visit. I replied that of course I did. I haven’t heard from him since.

I can hardly blame Greg for all our problems because my moodiness, my tendency to take things personally, my passive-aggressiveness, and my tendency to go overboard in the other direction and speak too harshly have certainly been hard for him. Greg has told me that I’m the most difficult person he has ever tried to be close to.

If Greg and I had settled for being less intimate, perhaps we would still be friends, but we weren’t willing to do that. I think it's also true that being close friends is harder for men than for women. At least, Peggy and her women friends make friendship look easy as they go year in and year out without a cross word. I’ve never been able to come close to that, at least not with the few people with whom I’ve really tried to share intimacy.

It makes me feel dirty

Barack Obama—the same man who falsely promised to close Guantanamo Prison—now has several times more people locked away without charges than Bush did, and he is planning to expand the capacity of the Parwan Detention Camp from 3,500 to 5,500. How can any of us claim to be moral people when we surrender money to an immoral entity like the United States government so that it won’t treat us with quite the same contempt for human rights that it treats others? If we too support evil, how are we more moral than those who supported Hitler?

In appreciation of my religious/spiritual readers

There aren’t a great many arguments to support the existence of a god, and studious atheists have rejected them all. This makes any attempt to convert such people a waste of time. Few of my religious/spiritual readers who have stayed with me through my attacks on religion have tried to convert me. Their tolerance and kindness has made it increasingly difficult for me to write posts in which I criticize religion, not because my opinions have changed but because I don’t want to wound my friends. Yet, I must continue to write such posts because they are important—to me if to no one else.

I never mean to make it personal. I can’t even imagine attacking one of my readers personally, much less one of my readers whom I value as much as I do Marion in Louisiana; Fodder in the Ukraine; Julie, Corgi, and Robin in California; Marion in British Columbia; Rhymes in Georgia; or Kylie, Nolly, and Natalie in Australia (just to name the first ten who come to mind).

It is certainly possible to find some touching stories and some impressive wisdom in religion, so if you find solace there, then who am I to begrudge you? It is only when religion hurts people that I object to it. As the Wiccans say, “An it harm none, do as ye will.”

When my mother died

My mother would become infuriated when I smoked marijuana, so I did it in front of her every chance I got. I was that way about everything that infuriated my mother. My sister was the opposite. She too did all kinds of things that seriously displeased our mother (our father didn’t care what we did), but she would lie her way out of them whenever she could.

When my mother died—in 1988—they brought the body to the house, and I sat beside her, smoking pot, in a one-person wake. I didn’t think I could bear letting her go, so I hoped I could rise to some plane where she still existed, or at least hallucinate her, but the closest I got was when I heard her gasp for air. At that moment, I thought I had done it. I thought she was going to open her eyes and talk to me, but she just lay there, not really looking much like herself.

Old dogs and old parents

Having old dogs is like having old parents. Sometimes, I just wish they would get it over with and die already. Other times, I feel honored that the universe has made me their guardian.

About Bonnie—the dog in the picture. She’s a blue heeler, 14 years old, blind, arthritic, and going deaf. Even with all this, she still loves to play fetch, only instead of throwing the ball off mountainsides or across rivers like I used to do, I now roll it up against her in the corner of the living room.

1/3 of 1 oz

The nasty looking stuff in the bottle is 190 proof ethyl alcohol in which marijuana leaves steeped for three months. You’re probably thinking, “Hell, son, I could drink a quart of that and race at Talladega,” to which I would respond, “Great! I look forward to seeing you do it, because I find that one third of one ounce propels me into a strong but mellow high that just keeps taking me up and up and up for hours until it dumps me back on earth sickly and depressed. I would even go so far as to say that if any drink ever deserved to be called The Devil’s Brew, this is it, not because it tastes horrible (which it does), but because of its strength per molecule. After a few drops of this stuff, your world will glow, pulse, undulate, radiate, and even transmogrify into a magnificent state like that of a vivid dream of a land in which strange beings dwell.

There are advantages to seeing in oneself the proximity of schizophrenia without actually being schizophrenic, except when on drugs. There is truly a gift here, but there is also the threat of nightmare. If I were unable to return to a normal life, I don’t know how I could bear it, yet I don’t want to rush back from a world that exists so deeply within that I hardly recognize it as being a part of me.

The men in my life part 1: Matt

Matt’s daughter killed herself last week. When I listened to him on the phone today, I felt such terror that I had to monitor my breathing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate. My terror came from my awareness that there was next to nothing I could offer that would make things even a tiny bit better.

Matt is my opposite in many ways. Most notably, he’s Christian and ultraconservative. Yet, he’s also a gentle and patient man who is out somewhere, helping someone, everyday.

I had a big tree cut down recently, and I decided to give it to two friends. One of those friends was Matt. He had been splitting wood for hours before he mentioned that he didn’t really want any; he just wanted to help me out by splitting it. I informed him that the ten cords he had in his shed would only last him a couple of years, and so he was jolly well going to take some wood home. He said he would give it to his daughter. She died the next day.

I feel so very small right now, and Matt’s grief is so very big. I haven’t known him that long or that well, but I like and respect him, and I’ve learned from experience that it’s not necessarily our closest friends who stand by us the best through hard times. Also, grief is something that I’ve always felt both honored and honor bound to embrace despite the times I’ve given even less than the little that I had to give.

Given my atheism—and assuming that you know something of the Bible—you might guess that my favorite book is Ecclesiastes. I sometimes wonder how it got into the Bible because the author’s conviction that life lacks objective meaning—that is, a god-given meaning—is completely out of harmony with the rest. This is Chapter 7, Verse 12:

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”

Fifty years after I first read Ecclesiastes, it occurred to me that I would like to change that verse to:

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for the house of mourning is where you’re most needed.”

If I were to make a list of things that I would like for believers to know about atheists, the first one would be: “To deny god is not to deny the possibility of meaning. Kindness, patience, nobility, a passion for truth, and every other virtue are no less important to atheists than they are to theists. The difference between them is simply that the one attributes our knowledge of right and wrong to god, and the other to the social evolution of the species to which we owe our existence.”

I might as well confess to being a Klansman. After all, I'm from Mississippi, so everyone knows anyway.

A very liberal woman told me at a party last night that I’m the only Mississippian (I live in Oregon, but was a Mississippian for most of my life) she has known who isn’t prejudiced. I interpret such statements as blatant prejudice, so I goaded her by asking how she knew there wasn’t a Klan robe in my closet. I also speculated that modern white Mississippians are less prejudiced against black people than are white Oregonians, although it’s hard to know for sure because Oregonians have been so little tested (1.8% of Oregonians are black versus 37% of Mississippians) whereas Mississippians were long since forced in the direction of racial equality. She retorted that anyone knows if they’re prejudiced because if they’re prejudiced against one group, they’re prejudiced against pretty much every group.

We were teetering on an all out argument when she tried to change the subject. Unwilling to let the matter drop, I told her about the time that, on a dare, I went to a local meeting wearing a dress. To get there, I had to walk several blocks from where I parked, and the hostility I encountered along the way rattled me. By her reasoning all those people who stared hatefully or spoke contemptuously because they thought I was a crossdresser were prejudiced against black people too, casting doubt upon her belief that racism is primarily a Southern problem.

The North was seething with contempt for the racism of the white South during the 1960s, yet—to the delight of Southerners—it was Yankee cities that were ablaze a few years later (many Southerners use Yankee and Northerner synonymously). My house today is in one of the most liberal cities of one of the most liberal states in America. The following is from my 1955 subdivision covenant, and is still binding according to my 1990 contract to buy:

“If any of the property in the tract is ever sold, rented, leased, or given to any person or persons other than a person or persons of the caucasian race (sic), then, in such event, the title for such property shall revert back to the original owners; except that this restriction does not apply to domestic servants…”

During a slightly earlier period, many Oregon towns had sundown laws, the purpose of which was to run any and all black people out of town at sunset. The following is from an interview with James Loewen who wrote Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.

“People I talk with often think I'm doing my research in the South. But very few people in the South ever did this. In Mississippi, I only found six sundown towns. Compare that to Illinois [where 472 municipalities had sundown laws].”

Still earlier (1844), black people were forbidden to live anywhere in the entire state of Oregon, the penalty being not less than 20 and not more than 39 stripes. The penalty was later changed to involuntary servitude for a set period, although slavery as such was always illegal in Oregon due to a desire to protect the labor market from unfair competition.

The existence of Yankee hypocrisy is why a black Oregon friend (herself a transplanted Southerner) told me that Oregon prejudice is more hurtful than Louisiana prejudice because it’s like a glass ceiling in that it’s obviously there, but no one will admit to it. She also said that many white Oregonians are so eager to prove that they’re not prejudiced that they tend to make fools of themselves around black people by saying things like, “I’ve always wanted a black friend,” or, “I really like people of color.”

In this modern era, black people in the South have too much political and economic clout for white people to run over them, and they’re hardly sitting by the phone hoping some white person invites them to dinner. When I attended faculty meetings as a Mississippi elementary school teacher, the black teachers usually sat together and the white teachers usually sat together. If someone crossed to the other side, they weren’t stared at or talked about, and I would even say that black teachers and white teachers treated one another as equals. Yet, the members of both races made the seemingly universal decision to spend their social time with those who were most like themselves.

Does what I’ve written mean that I’m turning into a booster for the South in my old age? Hell no. I hate the South for its heat, poverty, and religiosity. That’s why I left. Yet many is the time that I have been left speechless by Yankee hypocrisy. In fact, I often want to ask: “Is it possible that you’re really as stupid as you sound?”

“A cat is not a dog” (a cat lover's warning when we got Brewsky)

I finished my work in the laundry room today, a project that would have gone faster had I not been obliged to continually stop to chase Brewsky through the house with a squirt bottle while screaming profanities, stomping my feet, and goosing him with my toes (I work nude). It would have been cruel to keep him locked away in a bedroom for two weeks, but not doing so allowed him to focus his considerable willpower upon helping me work. His thought was that I needed someone to track through paint spatters, play with tools, hide screws, bat objects off sawhorses, threaten to tip over paint buckets, and be constantly underfoot. All this occasioned persistent reprimands from me that culminated in murderous rages with him running wild-eyed toward the far end of the house and me running wild-eyed in pursuit. Five minutes later, the cycle would start again. How can anyone not admire that kind of pluck in the face of a raging adversary that really could kill you if you pushed him far enough?

With Peggy away, Brewsky has taken to sleeping with me. He’s not a cat that wants to be rubbed. Oh, no, he wants a deep tissue massage, and I give him one every night while he lies on my lap in bed. He becomes so positively orgasmic that the whole affair seems a little indecent, but what can I do? Now, he not only cries for food one hour out of every four, he spends one hour every night crying for me to hurry up and go to bed so he can get his massage.

Last night, I decided to smoke hashish with my Dilaudid. I forgot that a pinhead size drop of the caramelly substance is about the right amount, so I scraped a quarter of a teaspoonful onto a bed of bud and fired it up. I immediately found myself on the verge of an out of body experience, and the Dilaudid hadn’t even come on yet. I figured that the best thing for me to do was to get into bed and pet Brewsky to steady my nerves. Well, what does Brewsky decide to do but to yowl loudly and piteously from the darkness right outside my bedroom door. I lay debating whether he sounded more like a screaming demon in a lake of fire or more like an atheist being tortured to death by the Grand Inquisitor. When it seemed as if he would never stop, I started wondering if he had swallowed a screw or something, so I went into the hallway and said to him, “Brewsky, you just better not need to go to the animal hospital tonight because you’ll be shit out of luck.”

He looked at me with alien eyes as big as saucers, and then he went on one of his insane midnight tears in which he bounds through rooms, slides across furniture, and bounces off walls. So, there I am, not only having been disappointed in my desire to quietly pet my darling kitty in order to find an island of sanity within a brain that was threatening to explode across the universe like a supernova, I was being treated to god-knows-what kind of insanity on the part of the very creature I had looked to for comfort. I had heard of cats doing such things, but never having been a cat person, I hadn’t seen it until we got Brewsky, and it still unnerves me. It’s as if every veneer of tameness has been ripped away from a raging beast that I no longer recognize.

Brewsky's werecat performance was REALLY not what I needed last night, but it was sure what I got. When he finally succeeded in running his fit out, he jumped into my lap as I sat reading—I didn’t get far with that—and lay on his back waiting for his massage. I started laughing so hard over his Jekyll and Hyde performance that I was bouncing him up and down with my belly. He finally got up and looked at me dumfounded, as if to ask whether I had lost my mind. The more he stared, the harder I laughed until he finally jumped to the floor and stalked from the room, his tail twitching angrily.

Much of the time, I don’t feel that I have a clue what goes on inside a cat’s head, and other times Brewsky and I will be staring into one another’s eyes, and I’ll suddenly feel deeply connected to this little creature that I will never be able to tame. I don’t think I could ever experience the rapport with a cat that I have with many a dog, but I think that Brewsky is probably as good as it gets, cat-wise, because he has it figured out that my fits are 99% bluff. Otherwise, he would be neurotic as hell by now—like most cats of my acquaintance.

Hopalong and me

Now that Peggy’s gone. I get up between 10:00 and 11:00, eat oats or Grape Nuts for breakfast, work all day while I listen to Western audiobooks, watch a Western movie at night as I eat sardines and tidy-up, down 8mgs of Dilaudid, take a hit of bud (despite what my pain specialist says, pot and Dilaudid makes for one hell of a delightful combination), and read a Western novel until the words start floating off into space—this doesn’t take long. Then I lie in a warm glow until sleep overtakes me within anywhere from two minutes to two hours depending upon whether the drugs keep me so entertained that I can’t sleep. It’s a good life, this working everyday and getting loaded every night, although I do hate being repeatedly awakened by the pain.

Taking on what is to me a hard physical project makes me feel like a man again. Only people who have been there can understand the extent to which pain and disability can take away a person’s pride, especially if his entire adult life was devoted to physical hobbies and occupations. I’m happier than I’ve been in years because I know that if I can survive this job, I can survive other jobs too. It’s just a matter of keeping a good supply of drugs. I had rather die than to go back to being unable to work.

I wrote most of the following paragraphs in the comment section, but am going to add them as an appendum.

It’s not that I have suddenly decided to take on hard projects despite the pain, but that I have improved enough that, with narcotics, I can now bear what pain there is when I take on what is for me a hard project--this project being my test of that. There was a time when movement hurt so much that I had to grasp my shoulders with my hands in order to walk, and I couldn’t even dust furniture for the pain. For an entire year, not a night went by that I didn't sleep in a recliner while taking narcotics every few hours and using ice packs continually, and I would still hurt too bad to sleep for more than brief periods. If I were in such pain now, I would be screaming in agony were I been silly enough to attempt my current project. It would be like fire to my body.

I don’t know what to attribute this recent improvement to. I went back to physical therapy with yet another new therapist a month ago, and he is the first therapist who has been able to devise exercises that I can bear. I’m also taking Sam-E and Cymbalta, so maybe all three of these things or none of these things are responsible for my improvement.

Although I long since stopped trusting that good times will last, these last few weeks have been the best period I’ve had since the pain got really bad four years ago, so it is tempting to be hopeful. However, both the pain specialist I saw last week and my physical therapist have told me that I will always be in pain (the longer a person is in pain, the less chance there is that he will recover). In fact, the therapist asked me whether I'm more interested in building strength or in reducing pain, and I told him unhesitatingly that I value strength above reduced pain. Being strong helps me to want to live. Some people seem able to slide into invalidism with little angst, but I can’t imagine ever reconciling myself to such a life.

I take great comfort in knowing that, whatever is causing my pain, at least it can’t be as bad as syringomyelia or chronic regional pain disorder, two of the diagnoses I’ve had that turned out to be wrong.

The painting is by Frank Earle Schooner (1877-1972), and is entitled “Hopalong Takes Command.” It's owned by the Delaware Art Museum

What I've been feeling and doing, and why I'm not visiting blogs

I saw my new pain doctor today, and he loaded me down with Lidoderm, Cymbalta, and Butrans (I already had Dalmane, Ambien, Restoril, Neurontin, Dilaudid, oxycodone, Vicodin, Demerol, Fentanyl, Requip, and probably a few more that slip my mind at the moment). He also referred me for acupuncture, hypnotherapy, physical therapy, biofeedback, and a half dozen other therapies, and finished off by telling me to consider a TENS unit and a lidocaine infusion (I obviously looked wealthy). All this plus a new diagnosis. No, it’s not CRPD like my internist said, and it’s not even syringomyelia like my last pain specialist said, and it’s hardly a complete mystery like my surgical neurologist said. Oh, no, it’s CPS (central pain syndrome, whatever that means—I rarely even Google diagnoses anymore). I damn near fell on the floor laughing when he said that. God, I could diagnosis myself by closing my eyes, opening a medical encyclopedia, and pointing at a disease, so what the hell do I need these overpaid morons for? Oh, drugs. That’s it. I need them for drugs, man.

I’m going to rant—or should I say “continue ranting”? The son of bitch had me piss in a goddamn cup so he could fucking test me for drugs (“I told you what I’m taking,” I said. “Don’t take it personally,” he said). He even insisted that I bring all my medications so he could look at the bottles, but he wasn’t content with just looking at them; he counted the pills—or rather his nurse did. I knew that a drug test awaited me before I went in, so I hated him from the start, and tortured myself about whether to go at all since I didn’t really expect any good to come of it anyway (you lose faith after your 30th doctor). I agonized right up until the last minute, at which time I concluded that I would put up with his drug test shit until the first of the year when my insurance cycle starts over, and I have to start paying through the nose again. The whole time I was there, I kept wanting to slap him silly. If I were a hair’s breadth less stable, I would have too. Although I’m not entirely unsympathetic to a doctor's need to protect himself in the event of a lawsuit, I doubt that it sets well with many people to be forced to prove they’re not lying.

After I left his office, I went to another doctor’s office for an Orthovisc shot in the knee. He missed the joint three times, and kept having to jab that long old needle around. (Why, yes, thank you, it did hurt about as bad as it sounds like it would). I’m glad that I’m able to handle pain as well as I am. I’ve been so near absolute panic and/or despair so many times that I’ve lost count, yet I persist in believing that I handle pain better than most people. I’m probably a fool for thinking this, but it somehow helps me to maintain that illusion, if it be an illusion.

I’ve all but stopped smoking the medical marijuana (I’m still eating it in small amounts). After I poisoned myself (see August 8), it just never felt the same. When I smoke it now, the first thing that happens is that everything that makes me anxious or unhappy hits me at once and is multiplied by a factor of ten; and the second thing that happens is that I become a complete idiot. I can still write—I’m ripped right now in childish rebellion against the fact that the pain specialist told me not to mix pot with one of my new drugs—and it even makes me write when I wouldn’t otherwise want to, and about things I wouldn’t otherwise write about. Like now. Peggy’s off to New England for two weeks, and I had just as soon be working at a job that I started three days ago after postponing it for years for fear the pain would become unbearable. That job is painting the laundry room and building a new shelf unit for it. The work entails filling holes, moving heavy things, scrubbing the walls and ceiling with trisodium phosphate, cleaning up the mess, and then applying three coats of paint. Six years ago, it would have been a small job, but now it’s killing me. It’s also making me very happy because I do love manual labor.

With Peggy gone, I let Bonnie the dog and Brewsky the cat sleep wherever they please instead of locking them away like we usually do. Surprisingly, Brewsky has taken to sleeping with me in my twin bed. Two dudes together, you might say. I feel badly that Bonnie can’t join us, but it would be a bit much for me even if it wouldn’t invite trouble between her and Brewsky—it would also mean a move to Peggy’s double bed.

So, there you have it; I’m busy, so I’m not visiting blogs, and I wouldn’t be writing in one now if I hadn’t smoked that pot, because I really want to get this job done as a surprise for Peggy who after forty years still hasn’t learned that I’m dumb enough to do such a thing.

My search for god

Christians often assume that atheists regard Jesus as a great man, but that they either don’t believe he was real or else they don’t believe he said and did the things in the Bible. Personally, I don’t care if Jesus was real—or about the events of his life if he was real—because I consider many of his teachings to be appalling. This astonishes a great many Christians, just as their willingness to overlook the absurdities, cruelties, and contradictions of their 3-in-1 deity astonishes me. Even so, I could enjoy attending some ultra-liberal “church” where even the conservative members would make Billy Graham blanch, but it would be for a sense of ritual and community rather than any love of Jesus. In fact, the reason that I don’t go to such a church is that I don’t want to hear about Jesus because of the horrible injustices that have been committed in his name.

I could get on board with some other concept of god—say some quality like peace, beauty, or compassion—but I don’t feel the need to call such things god. I’ve done it though. That’s how I got into the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows. When they said I had to believe in an undefined something that I called a deity in order to join their clubs, I assumed that any definition would do. The rub about such groups is that they actually expect you to believe a lot more about god than the simple fact of his existence (for instance that he’s a supernatural entity that answers prayers), but they don’t tell you this upfront—they save it for a surprise. It also rankles me that the very existence of the god-requirement suggests that a man who believes in god is more virtuous than one who does not. I have never found this to be true except in regard to tolerance, an area in which the atheists have an easy lead, having never killed, maimed, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed people in the name of atheism, whereas such things have always been a prominent feature of monotheism.

I’ve flirted with quite a few non-Christian concepts of god, but none of them ever stuck. Take A Course in Miracles. I stumbled upon that back in the ‘90s when I was feeling even more strongly than usual the need for an anchor to my life. According to A Course in Miracles, neither matter nor evil exists. What does exist is god, and god is us. It naturally follows that we would do very well to live with this knowledge of our true identity—and the identity of other people—emblazoned across our consciousness. I spent most of a weekend really trying to find some way to open myself up to believing all this, but I failed—or rather A Course in Miracles failed. For one thing, there’s no evidence for it (as with most religions, you’re supposed to believe it’s true before you believe it’s true in order that you might believe it’s true), and for another, evil as an illusion struck me as being hardly less evil than evil as a reality.

I’ve also flirted with Buddhism, pantheism, panantheism, hylozoism, animism, Unitarianism, Yoganandaism, Bahaism, Wiccanism, New Age Sufism, and even totemism. (During my totemic phase, I decided that tree squirrels would be my totem, and I made a point of moving dead squirrels out of the street. This constituted my one and only totemic observance, and I must have done it upwards of six times.) I’ve also read a fair amount about atheism, which, despite what I often hear from Christians, is in no way a substitute for religion, although some atheists develop what believers might call a religious zeal for protecting the civil rights of nonbelievers. To my mind, atheism is nothing. This is why atheists often say to would-be proselytizers: “You and I are alike in that we both disbelieve in hundreds of gods. It’s just that I disbelieve in one more god than you do.”

I’ve heard that there’s a gene for religious faith, and if that is the case, I don’t appear to have it, and I think the world would at least be a more tolerant place if no one did. While I have every confidence that my Christian readers are people of exemplary tolerance (otherwise, they would be long gone from this blog), the rarity of such believers in my life makes me think that their tolerance is a rarity. I also think they are somewhat ignorant of how mean-spirited their fellow believers are to outsiders. If not for religious intolerance, I might very well have stayed in Mississippi instead of moving to the opposite corner of the country.

If you want to see the evil of the dominant form of American Christianity personified, look at Texas governor Rick Perry because that’s IT, that’s what I grew up with, that’s what I took seriously into my middle teens, and that’s what I somehow rejected. It seems screamingly obvious to me that the religion of such politicians could inspire them to commit almost any atrocity, yet America’s fundamentalists, evangelicals, and many Catholics support them. Otherwise, Rick Perry would not be the governor of Texas, and he would not be a contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Things that go bump in the night

I’m going to betray a tree that has provided me with beauty and shade for the 21 years I’ve been in this house. The tree is a Ponderosa Pine that stands ten feet from my back bedroom. Fifteen years ago, an ice storm sent limbs crashing from that tree like artillery shells. For three days, I slept at the other end of the house while Peggy remained in the very bedroom that was most likely to be hit (this is the same woman who worries that airplanes will fall on her). After the ice melted, I told her that there was no way I was going to pass another winter wondering if an evergreen limb four inches in diameter was going to impale us in our bed. She objected strenuously to my pruning proposal, but I used her old mountain climbing gear to get myself to the top of that 80-foot tree, and I pruned it anyway (I’m a woos about crossing Peggy, so this constituted a rare act of defiance). I thought the tree might die from such a severe pruning, but it didn’t even slow down, so last summer, I had to do the same thing again. The tree still looks healthy, but it’s none too pretty, what with most of one side and twenty feet of its top gone—and even after all that, there’s still the possibility that it might heave our foundation.

So, I’m going to have an arborist give me one estimate for cutting the whole thing down and another estimate based upon me cutting the limbs and him cutting the trunk. Ten years ago, I would have rented a chainsaw with a long bar and done the job myself, but given how bad a shape I’m in anymore, even the limbs—which will have to be cut into sections and lowered with ropes—are more than prudence dictates that I tackle, although I probably will.

I’m not doing well with my ever-worsening health situation, but I must say that I’ve gotten enormous comfort over the years by reflecting upon other people’s misery. Based upon my own experiences and what I’ve read, I’ve learned two things about chronic pain: there’s often very little that doctors can do to alleviate it; and the only limit to how much pain a person can experience is determined by the point at which he passes out, and even then he has to wake up again. I’ve read about people whom, if I were them, and had I been able to use a gun on myself, I would have run to that gun. I draw two conclusions from such somber reflections. One is that I’m lucky compared to how bad off I could be. The second is that to truly allow the knowledge of such pain into my heart has made life seem a lot more serious. When I was young, I pretended that life was simply a game that I would someday tire of, and then go back to my real existence; but, no, our lives are as real—and sometimes as horrific—as when a leopard crushes the windpipe of an impala.

One of the things I miss most is the ability to believe that I will ever again be strong and healthy. Life just seems too damn sad most of the time, and what joy I find comes in little pieces, and most of them when I’m writing (I write far more than I share) or spending time with Peggy. I figure that as long as I have her, I can put up with almost anything. I’m 62, and I’ve never been alone or even wanted to be alone. In three months, she and I will have been married forty years—we met in August and were married that December. Scores of people have passed through my life since I met Peggy, but somehow she has remained.

Just as I finished this, a blogger who is surely a lot tougher than I posted her own update ( It will give you a taste of the kind of cold comfort that I get from other people’s suffering. Bloggers like Carmon almost make me ashamed to complain at all. Yet, I can’t find the strength to bear my lot in silence, and besides, my greatest supporters have often been those who were worse off than I.


My father quit school in the eighth grade rather than let a teacher whip him for fighting. The next day he left Route 4, Bogue Chitto, Mississippi for Galveston, Texas, where he took a job as an apprentice roofer. Next came the Merchant Marines where he volunteered for hazardous duty (it paid better), and had two ships shot out from under him by German U-Boats. The entire load on one ship was Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, and Dad never got over seeing men die for beer.

Dad was a transsexual before he knew there was a word for it or that anyone else felt as he did. I only learned that he wore a bra and panties under his striped overalls when he fell off a ladder (he and I remodeled homes and businesses), and knocked himself out. Soon after that, he told me that he learned about there being a name for his condition from Life Magazine during the 1960s. He would have been in his mid-fifties at the time. Even when he was in his seventies, he said he wished he had money for a sex change operation. About the time he hit eighty, he got religion and didn’t talk about his gender problem anymore. Instead, he moved on to telling Peggy and me about his nightly conversations with God. Mostly what God had in mind for my father was to arrange for him to win the Publishers’ Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. As I watched my father waste thousands of dollars buying magazines for those sweepstakes, I developed an intense hatred for Ed McMahon and the deceptive mail that came in his name.

Dad would cuss people out over minor things, and he even “enjoyed” getting into fistfights when another man showed an interest, yet he was too shy to order a meal or ask a clerk a question. I knew that something was “wrong with him” (that was how I expressed it to myself) from the time I was a small child. I could see it in the fear that other people showed when they were around him. Yet, he never beat me—or even touched me—and he never beat my mother or sister either. We were all still afraid of him though. When he told me about his transexualism, I wondered how much of his behavior was an attempt to compensate for the manhood that he lacked. He even married several times—five, I think it was.

He died in 1994 after spending his last two years with Peggy and me. I got over his death without a tear. Unlike the 18 months I spent having anguished dreams after my mother died, I never had a bad dream about my father. He appeared in my dreams for years after his death, but he was always old and feeble, and just kind of hanging out in the background, which was pretty much how he spent his last two years. He died here in this house, and that was good because—through hospice—Peggy and I were able to obtain a bottle of liquid morphine so we could do whatever it took to control his pain without having to worry about whether we were giving him a fatal dose the way they would if he had died in a hospital. The last thing my father ever asked me to do was to keep him out of pain even if it meant, as he put it, “easing me out.” I told him I would.

The manner of his death was this. He needed pills to keep his congestive heart failure in check, only he thought that “living out of a pill bottle” was beneath his dignity, so he repeatedly stopped taking them over his last few years. Each time, he would become so bloated and short of breath that he would always go back after a week or so. These continual flirtations with death were a very hard thing for me to witness, and they also put me into a moral dilemma once I discovered that I could sneak the pills into his food. I thought a lot about whether I had the right to do that, and I finally decided that I didn’t. I figured that if he was rational, he had the right to end his own life, but if he was irrational, his life wasn’t worth preserving. I never could make up my mind for sure which it was because my father had always seemed insane. He finally stayed off his pills long enough that he died. He took to his bed on a Sunday and died that Tuesday without me ever having to change a diaper. For that, I was grateful. Either your parents die more or less cleanly, or they deteriorate enough to become a horrendous burden to themselves and to you—and then they die—so it’s not all bad when they die sooner rather than later.

“…existence…monstrous masses all in disorder—naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness.” Sartre

I see wisdom in approaching life as I would a drug trip, that is to enjoy the good times despite their fleeting nature, and to survive the bad times by remembering that they too will soon end.

Life is absurd, my species deeply and irredeemably flawed. On the one hand, life seems only too real at times both in terms of joy and sadness, but on the other, the accidental nature of our existence makes a joke of any claim to objective meaning.

All that most of us are and all that we do will be forgotten within five decades of our deaths, but even if we’re remembered for ten thousand years, we’ll be no less dead. In his old age, Benjamin Franklin wrote a sketch entitled “The Ephemera” in which he portrayed himself as the senior member of a species whose lifespan was measured in hours rather than decades. His point was that we would do well to take ourselves less seriously. Against the backdrop of eternity, the difference between a millisecond and a million years is inconsequential, and our lives are infinitely less than that.

I often remember bloggers who are now dead, and others who are fighting diseases that might very well kill them. Even as I write, one friend is in the hospital for what is likely to be her death. You and I will join her in a very few years. We can’t hold onto our loved ones, our possessions, or our achievements, and starting in our forties, we begin to observe the disintegration of our own bodies. If that’s not a trip, I don’t know what is.

The painting goes poorly with the title of this post, but I liked it anyway. It's entitled Pleiades and was done by Elihu Vedder in 1885. At the moment, it makes me feel as if I’m swimming atop ocean swells. Because I’m not a swimmer, this is a decentering experience, yet so very beautiful. Maybe tomorrow, the painting will make me feel as if I’m floating through infinite darkness while Simon and Garfunkel sing “Dangling Conversation.” What does it make you feel?

Ancient teachings

I know that some of you weary of my drug experiences, but I would ask for your compassion as I travel the dark road of pain upon which guides are few. For now, the marijuana is taking me more deeply within, and although it is a frightening journey, it is the only way that I know to proceed. Daily pain that lasts for years and leaves one increasingly disabled is not a shallow experience, and it requires all the depth and courage that I possess to live a rewarding life in its presence. Sometimes, every new day feels like a new failure, partly because I know that there are those who are doing ten times better despite being in twenty times more pain. I can’t even tell that I am growing. I used to know who I was; now I have lost my life, and I don’t know where to look for it.

The worst fears come when I go to bed. They are many, but Peggy’s death is the greatest with my own death being second. The fear would be there anyway, but since my nightmarish trip on marijuana, the drug has consistently taken me to the edge of panic. Yet, I continue to use it because I must look into the pit. Pain and terror are within, death is at my heels, and there is no place to run.

Yesterday, I came home from my daily bike ride to the library with books on aging by Ram Dass and Jimmy Carter. These men are religious (Carter is a Southern Baptist, and Dass defies labeling), but they write from the heart rather than the pulpit. This absence of dogma enables me, an atheist, to hear them, and to find common ground with them. It is a very good feeling. Last night, I started with Dass.

Ram Dass had a stroke in 1997 when he was just a little older than I, and he still needs 24 hour a day care. When a man like that talks about pain and fear and death, I listen. As I read him last night, peace settled over me. When I was ready for sleep, I both ate marijuana butter and smoked marijuana, and it was very good. This morning, I found the courage for hashish, which can be thought of as a concentrated form of marijuana. After I smoked it, I put on some harp music, and Peggy massaged my shoulders, as she does every morning. My mind raced, but the fear did not return.

Increasingly since the bad marijuana experience, I see death everywhere and in everyone, the young as much as the old. Like Buddhist monks who meditate upon impermanence as they sit beside decaying corpses, so has my life become a meditation upon death. “I surrender,” I said to death last night. “From now on, I will do all that is within my power to embrace you.” For guides, I, like Dass, must turn to other cultures because my own society is but a shallow wasteland.

I’ve been helping Peggy with some research she has undertaken about ancient Greek and Roman mythology. I had no idea how many gods they had, and I was even more surprised to find that so many of these gods speak to my experience, or at least to what I would like to be my experience. For example, Thanatos was a gentle and benevolent god who ruled over non-violent death, but his sisters, the Keres, were fanged, screeching, taloned women who wore bloody garments, and reveled in violence. Their power was such that even Zeus could not restrain them. Acheron, the lord of pain, was also a benevolent spirit. He had been transformed into one of five rivers of the underworld, and was considered an agent of healing rather than punishment. Old age was Geras (the Romans called him Senectus), a malevolent spirit who was portrayed as a shriveled old man. Homer described him as standing: “…someday at the side of every man, deadly, wearying, dreaded even by the gods.” I see my own life in such descriptions, and their timelessness comforts me.

I’ve watched ten or twenty people die, and I’ve helped prepare scores, at least, of others for burial. I was fourteen when I saw my first human death; seven when I watched my first dog die; and eight when I first killed a living creature (oh, how I regret shooting that little mockingbird). For some reason, I remember individual corpses better than I remember individual deaths. There were the newlyweds who tried to clean their gas oven with gasoline. As I stood over their black and swollen bodies, my heart was as heavy as if I had known them. They didn’t deserve to die for trying to clean their oven. Then there was the carpenter who had a heart attack. As I removed his striped overalls and untied the shoes that he himself had laced, my eyes were repeatedly drawn to his face. We would have been such good friends, I thought. He was gone, yet I could almost imagine that he was there beside me. I still imagine that he is beside me. So many dead bodies! People who I kept looking and smelling more or less alive so that their mourners wouldn’t be reminded of the putrefaction of the grave. The more I worked in funeral homes, the more I came to regard the American handling of death as a sickness.

I am horrified to think that I too will rot (I want to be burned, but that’s just an accelerated form of rotting). Yet, the worst thing that I can imagine would be the very thing that my mother wanted, which was to be buried in a concrete vault so that her remains would be prevented from nourishing other lives... When I picture myself as a corpse, I worry that I will have died with my eyes open, and that no one will close them. Being dirt doesn’t frighten me; it’s the getting there that’s the problem. Yet, I will rot, and so there is nothing to do but to embrace death. After all, I will be dead infinitely longer than I will have been alive.


So, I go to the doc, and I say, doc, I want a prescription for Fentanyl, and he says, okay, since your life won't ever contain anything but misery anyway, you’ve got it. Then I say that I don’t want some candy-ass dose, I want enough to know that I’ve taken something, and he says I needn't worry my pretty little head about that.

I pick up my Fentanyl—which I’ve never had—and I stick one those 50 microgram per hour patches (Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine, and is measured in micrograms rather than milligrams) onto my belly, and sit down to read the directions. Shit, I discover, this dosage is the equivalent of 68-112 mgs of oxycodone, an amount that I should think would almost certainly kill me. Reading on down, I find that, yes indeed, if I haven’t been taking that much oxycodone day and night for at least a week, Fentanyl will hit me about as hard as a ten pound horseshoe (this was underlined and in bold letters, only without the part about the horseshoe). Whoa! I hardly ever take oxycodone or any other narcotic anymore simply because I’m unwilling to keep piling ever higher doses of dangerous drugs into my body, yet here I am with enough Fentanyl on my belly to, to, what? –kill a horse. Yeah, that’s it; kill a horse. I consider ripping that patch off right then and there, but I first run what I had read by Peggy (my resident nurse who was doing a Sudoku at the time); she doesn’t seem alarmed.

Okay, I remind myelf, I told the doctor what drugs I take, and Peggy knows what drugs I take, yet neither of them are worried, so, unless they’re trying to kill me so they can run away together, maybe I shouldn’t be worried either. I am though. I’m real worried, but I don’t want to take the patch off because the first commandment of my religion forbids the waste of good dope. Since it takes up to 24 hours to achieve maximum absorption, I figure that, well, I’ll just see how I’m feeling as the night passes, and with that happy thought, I go to bed. After five minutes, I can’t handle the fear anymore, so I get back up and use some pointed scissors to cut the patch in half while it’s still glued to my belly (carefully saving the half I removed). It looks solid—like a little sheet of plastic—so I figure what could be the harm since there’s nothing to leak out?

I go back to bed and congratulate myself on my sagacity, my perspicacity, and even my pederasty, but I don’t go to sleep because I’m way too happy to waste the night sleeping. Life has gone from ho-hum to highest heaven in less than an hour because of that little bity patch. Oh, but do I ever love Fentanyl! Forget sex, fame, money, power, luxury, and even food; all I will ever want and need from this day forward is Fentanyl. Take ten years off my life (or whatever I have left), but don’t take my Fentanyl. Yeah baby! I lie in bed certain that, having found such joy, I’ll never lose it—I’ve been down that road a few times by now.

I woke up around noon (I did sleep some) feeling sort of ground down, and, as Peggy and I had our morning cuddle, I told her about cutting the patch in half, more or less expecting her to praise me for my prudence. Instead, she flipped out, which pissed me off since she didn’t have a word to say the previous night when I told her I was wearing a drug patch strong enough to kill 50 Navy Seals. I then called the pharmacy to prove to my wife that she was wrong (that’s important in a marriage even when the issue isn’t anywhere near as important as a drug overdose). To my horror, the pharmacist—who was also a woman—flipped out too, and said I was lucky to be alive—dumbass that I am—because, although the patch looks solid, it’s not, and this means that I was still at risk of dumping three day’s worth of Fetanyl into my bloodstream all at once. Upon hearing this, I ripped that patch off like it was a rabid rhino, and then I sat down to finish reading the directions. They informed me that, in case of an overdose, I could be at risk of respiratory failure for 24-hours (this isn’t a drug that comes on all at once, so I didn’t trust myself to know if I had overdosed or not), and that I should be under intense observation. So, I observed myself, intensely. As bad as that marijuana trip was two weeks ago, I now looked back upon it with a certain nostalgia because never once during that long night did I worry about being dead before the sun came up again.

The saying goes, “The most personal is the most universal,” but maybe that’s not true if you’re insane.

My atheist group had a picnic in the country today. I had said I was going, but changed my mind a few hours before it started because I’m always ambivalent about events that include more than ten people. Then someone offered me a ride, so I went after all.

My relationship with groups is ever fraught with angst, but this group more than most because I went from being its de facto leader to only attending an occasional meeting, a change that didn’t occur because I was a happy camper. Yet, I attend no other group; I know most of the people in this one; and I do retain some semblance of status and familiarity. I got the feeling today that I could step back into a leadership role, and people would welcome me, and that was good to know, but, then again, maybe they were just being polite. Part of why I’m so tormented about groups is that I have no faith in my perceptions. Other people seem as alien to me as if they were from another planet, which is one reason that my blog is so important. Here, I can share feelings that I share nowhere else, not even with Peggy (although she reads my blog).

After my nightmarish marijuana overdose last weekend, I’ve been having problems handling even one hit of the drug, so what to I do just before the picnic, but eat a half teaspoon of leftover marijuana butter so that I could clean the container. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea; I don’t know. All I know is that as the picnic went on, I became way too high, so in order to mellow out, I drank wine, but that just left me drunk and high. I kept using use the wrong words for what I meant to say, or else screwing-up the pronunciation of the right words. Oddly enough, one of the other men had suffered a stroke, and he was doing the same thing.

Now, I’m home and still way too wired. I feel stupid when I don’t see these things coming, but in my defense, I ate 3½ tsp of marijuana butter last week when things got so bad, so I had no idea that a mere half tsp would hit me this hard. And maybe it didn’t. Maybe I’m just fucking insane. I couldn’t even screw up the courage to open my mouth at the last meeting of this group (on Wednesday), and there I was today unable to close it. At least I didn’t rattle on about myself—I don’t think I did anyway—because I was much more interested in what other people had to say. I drew them out as best I could, and when one woman mentioned that something I had written made her think I didn’t want her in the group anymore, I instantly burst into tears for having pained her so.

Later, I almost cried a second time, although I don’t remember why. I was almost unbearably present emotionally, and unless I’m in a group where such behavior is expected (and I’ve been in many such groups), that’s frightening. It was where I had to be though. Someone would say something, and I would ask them a personal question about their feelings about what they had said—the kind of questions that most people wouldn’t dare to ask. That’s always risky, but if I can do it well, it makes for a more interesting dialogue. My guess is that I do it pretty well, but again, I don’t trust my perceptions about much of anything that has to do with other people... Right now, I wish I could chill-out because I am still feeling way too intense (imagine having the caffeine from twenty cups of coffee injected into your vein while at the same time you’re shooting skyward in an incredibly fast elevator). I can barely type because I’m trembling so.

Okay okay, I admit it. I knew what could happen when I ate that pot, and I did it anyway. Pot can make me feel positively insane, and that’s one reason I like it. It’s also why I’m especially prone to do it in a social situation that—given how insecure I am—makes me feel insane anyway. Why yes, this does make me sound like I enjoy bashing my head against a wall. On one level, it’s stupid, but then so are ultra-marathons and base-jumping. Hundreds of things seem stupid to people who don’t understand them. Of course, with pot, the risk isn’t to my body but to my sanity—at least it feels that way sometimes because, after last weekend especially, it’s as if pot has burned a conduit from my brain straight down to hell. Maybe you’re understanding me, or maybe you’re appalled. Peggy is appalled. She’s 100% for medical marijuana as long as it’s for a medical purpose, but I’m often tempted to use it at other times too—like before going to a social gathering at which everyone else is apt to be straight. It’s as if I looked at what might prove to be the worst thing I could do, and I did it. Can you relate to what I’m saying?

Teachable Moments

Continuing right along with my medical marijuana experimentation, I made some ganja butter by simmering leaves in butter overnight in a crock-pot. I had no idea how strong it would be, so I started with ¼ tsp straight-up—instead of in a recipe—and, when I felt nothing, I took ½ tsp three hours later. When I still felt nothing, I concluded that ganja butter must be as woosie as the tincture I had made. I decided that I was going to get some effect from it or die trying, so I started in again at noon the next day with ¾ tsp, and by midnight was up to 1½ tsp. I still had nothing to report when I went to bed at 2:00. At 2:50, I felt as if I had been catapulted into the air and was floating above the bed. “Uh oh,” I thought, “any trip that starts out this intense is going to be a bear."

I resolved, no matter what, not to awaken Peggy (who has her own room) because she had a migraine when she went to bed, and because she has a hard time dealing with anything that approximates mental illness. If I had been less experienced with marijuana, I would have panicked, but as it was, I mostly felt poisoned. I was so sick in body and spirit that I figured a hard death couldn’t be much worse, and then I became scared that I might have to go through the same thing all over again when I die. My heart was racing, sweat was pouring off me, and breathing and swallowing felt increasingly awkward. As I lay there watching the high wash over me in waves, I thought to distract myself by thinking about things I had to do, but, to my horror, it took me awhile to remember the basic facts of my life, things like who I was, where I lived, and the floor plan of my house. Yet, I could easily remember things that were bothering me. For instance, I recalled that three weeks have passed since I last visited a friend who is dying of cancer, and I brooded about the large dead tree that is threatening to fall upon my house, the one that my neighbor doesn’t want to cut. I also thought about a dinner invitation for the coming night that I felt sure I was going to have to cancel by humiliating myself with the truth about what I had done.

I thought I might feel better if I got out of bed, so I made my way unsteadily to the bathroom, where it occurred to me that I had better hurry back to bed while I still could. I took an Ambien on the way because I hoped it would help me sleep through the worst of the trip. I wondered if I should call someone for support, but I didn’t know a single soul whom I felt—at that moment—that I could awaken with such a problem, this despite the fact that I would feel honored to receive such a call. Besides, I doubted my ability to form words even if I were able to look up a number and dial a phone. I then thought about getting support by writing a blogpost and publishing it immediately, but I realized that I was too far-gone to write coherently. I could just see all of you finding a post that contained ten pages of, “3x4r-0u@vmpIO!UJ_jo7gn….”

I consoled myself with the thought that, as bad as things were, at least I wasn’t throwing up like I would be if I were really drunk. At that moment I realized that I was about to be at least as sick as I had ever been on alcohol. I tried to race off to the bathroom, but I couldn’t make my hands or feet work, so I rolled out of bed and puked on the floor. So much for not waking Peggy.

She was soon kneeling beside me, her frightened voice asking what I had taken and if I had fallen out of bed, but I was too far gone to speak (she figured out for herself what had happened). She brought me a trashcan, so as I lay in puke, I puked into it, so weak and uncoordinated that I couldn’t find my face with a washcloth or blow my nose with a Kleenex. I was drenched with sweat, so Peggy brought a fan, and we sat on the floor together hoping I could eventually get back into bed. With her help, I finally made it, but it was a difficult journey. In bed, I continued to puke as Peggy held the trashcan. When I at last appeared to be settling down, she said that her migraine was so bad that she simply had to go back to bed, but she didn’t reach the door before I was puking again.

Except for feeling weak and having a sore throat, I was better than fine the next day, so I did two things soon after I got out of bed. The first was to call my dying friend and arrange a visit. The second was to talk to my neighbor again about the tree. Both of these conversations went well, and I passed the day in a glow because of them and because I felt so proud of myself for having survived the night. Aside from people who end up in mental institutions, I had literally experienced the worst marijuana trip that I had ever heard of. I had survived it largely by reminding myself that I’m a mature person who has survived other bad trips, and so I would surely survive this one too.

You might find this incomprehensible, but I wouldn’t go back and do anything differently. Along with the pride I take in having held myself together psychologically, there is also—and I’m ashamed to admit this—something about the experience that draws me. I mean, have YOU ever had such a trip? Probably not, and you probably wouldn’t want to either, but given all the horror stories I’ve heard about ganja butter, I can see in retrospect that I invited it.

What I was seeking during those years when I took every hallucinogen that I could lay my hands on was an encounter with ultimate reality—at least inasmuch as it exists within myself as an integral part of the universe—because things look pretty bleak from my perspective. Take our species. We like to think we’re special, but the way I look at it, one—or even all—of us is of no more intrinsic value than a glob of snot, and the same could be said of our entire galaxy. That’s hard to accept, yet the evidence supports no other conclusion.

So, having no book, no god, no guru, or anyone else who I think has a clue more than I do about ultimate reality, there is no help for it but for me to turn within. Do I see much there? No, and if I had found drugs of any great benefit, I wouldn’t have given them up. Yet, they do offer something that I haven’t found elsewhere; they enable me to see myself more deeply than normal and from more angles than normal. On the one hand, marijuana, for example, goes a long way toward annihilating my left-brain intelligence (which is why math, language, spatial relationships, my sense of time and speed, and my planning and organizing ability wanes dramatically), but it also makes my right brain explode. Thoughts and associations come and go at lightning speed, and the power of some emotions is quadrupled while other emotions seem downright alien. I don’t say that there’s much in the way of concrete learning to be gained from drugs, but not all learning is concrete.

I just paused to think, and my eyes went to a paint-by-number piece (see photo) that was in my house when I was born. Maybe you have something from your childhood that has given you pure joy for all these many years. If so, you’ll know how much I love this painting, and you’ll probably agree with me that such objects bring us lessons that we can’t put into words. Likewise, you surely understand that when Peggy was holding that trashcan in the darkness despite the noise, the stench, and the fact that she had a migraine, she was teaching me something, not just about love, but about romance. One night like that tells me more about her and her love for me than all the Valentine’s cards in the world, but such knowledge can’t be put into words.

Peggy and I were walking Bonnie today when we passed another couple who, upon our approach, made their half-grown dog sit. “We’re having a teachable moment,” the woman explained. That about sums up life, I thought. We’ll soon lose all this learning that each of us has gained over a lifetime, and the universe will go on as if we never existed, but while we’re here, what else is there for us but to sit at the feet of the universe as reverently as that dog sat before its Mom and Dad, and to see what it is that we might lay up as knowledge that will carry us to—and through—the moment that we die?

Killer and Candy

Killer and Candy (why, yes, I did give them aliases) are former Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW for short) who walked away from that cruel, isolating, and world-hating religion not too long thence. Now that they’re out, they need a little help becoming properly corrupted, although, in the JW view, they already committed a sin greater than murder and pedophilia combined simply by having the integrity to renounce that which they couldn’t in good conscience accept. Killer got his master’s when he was twenty, and will no doubt go down in JW history as yet another good boy who was lost to Satan by an education. Candy followed Killer into atheism just as Peggy followed me into all kinds of eccentric views and behaviors, yet being disowned by her family doesn’t appear to have tempted her to return to the fold.

The two of them are around thirty, which is half my age, yet their JW upbringing has left them as ignorant of decades of pop culture as I am. Still, as I said, I’m doing what I can, and they’re doing what they can, so we’re all doing what we can together; but you must not hold us to too high a standard since I’m so old that I should be dead, and they grew up thinking that a birthday party for a three year old was the work of Satan. Killer did get drunk once, but barfing while clutching a spinning toilet didn’t appeal to him. At least, he can still add it to his resume, which was kind of the point, I think. As for Candy, she emptied a bottle of wine all by herself in this very house (she purported herself admirably, I must say), so I, for one, feel that things are going as well as can be expected. After all, there is the risk of going too far too fast in which case they might be found glued, screwed, and tattooed, while shooting-up heroin in the driveway of the Kingdom Hall just as everyone is arriving for services.

I got Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan for them today, and I would have also gotten Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic if I hadn’t been in a hurry. As you can see, I’m doing everything I can here to help these poor people become as lowdown and evil as my Lord Satan has made me, and I’m hoping you can help. What I want you to do is to tell me what you love about what might be called pop culture over your lifetime—or a little before. What books are unforgettable; what music is worth playing hundreds of times; and what movies stand out as the very best? Give me your genius here. Give me things that are so good that you can scarcely bear them. This isn’t to be a list of what you think you should think is cool, but of things that you love way down deep. Here are a few of my own.

Roger McGuinn Ballad of Easy Rider
John Denver Sunshine on My Shoulders
Debbie Reynolds Tammy

Inspirational People:
Tom Smothers
Medgar Evers
Malcolm X

Easy Rider
The Sterile Cuckoo

The Tammy series

Edward Abbey: Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. Also, The Brave Cowboy
Loren Eiseley: All The Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life. Also, The Night Country: Reflections of a Bone-Hunting Man
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince

Berkeley Breathed: anything with Bill the Cat
Gilbert Shelton: The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
Gary Larson: The Far Side

Sacha Baron Cohen
John Cleese
Rowan Atkinson

Well, I see that most of my suggestions are older than Killer and Candy themselves, so maybe I’m not the best person to acquaint them with modern culture. Oh, well. I would like to end this post with a witticism, but what is in my heart to say is that I'm trying to believe that we all do the best we can, and that would include the Jehovah's Witnesses who have treated my two friends so abominably.

“I talk about what I see, and I’m so sorry that 99% of what I see is no good.” Manu Chao

If you're in the mood for happy music, go to my last post, but if your inclination is toward darkness, stay here.

When I started medical marijuana, I switched overnight from talk radio all day long to music radio all day long. I started with modern American pop stations because I was looking for musicians to complement my collection of artists from the sixties and seventies. Whenever a commercial came on, I would flip to another station trying to find even one artist I liked, but I never did, and it wasn’t because I was stuck in the past. Indeed, I was screaming to be carried into the 21st century music scene, but not just because I live in the 21st century. Since I liked a Colombian singer whom Peggy enjoys named Shakira, I started getting library CDs by other Latin performers, and that’s when I stumbled upon Manu.

Music is crucial to my altered vision of the world, and so I had to find at least one new artist for this new day, an artist in whom I recognized brilliance, integrity, passion, and benevolence. I didn’t want an artist who would take me out of this world, but an artist who would put me more deeply into it than the news ever had. Manu is that artist. Listening to too much news hadn’t opened my heart; it had overwhelmed it under a cloak of objectivity, and I had closed myself off in defense.

You can find Youtube footage of Manu Chao performing concerts at packed soccer stadiums in dozens of countries on several continents, but if you’re an American, you’ve probably never heard of him. Such is our isolation. The song at the top was the first I heard by him. The opening lines (“Welcome to Tijuana. 
Tekila, sexo y marihuana”) made me think that the song was either a tribute to or a spoof about a major Mexican/American border city, and I smiled. Then, Manu’s voice—and other sounds and voices—began to come in one by one with incredible sadness. So it was that my first lesson about Manu Chao was that his music never gives me what I expect. I can’t even listen to two-thirds of a song by him, and guess where he’s going with the last third.

Manu grew up in Paris, the son of Spaniards who fled Franco. He’s a leftist who sings in many languages but mostly in Spanish. A common theme in his music is wealthy countries and individuals that live on the backs of the poor. Yet, to one like myself who has to look up the translations, his music initially sounds almost upbeat, and this combination of sad words and happy music makes the sadness more profound. I hear in his music the irony between how we all, to some degree, appear on the surface versus the heartbreak that we feel within. I’m also attracted to the layering of voices and instruments and to the changes of direction that he often takes within the course of a single song. So far as I know, there’s no name for his style of music.

Below is the same song performed before a live audience in France. Part of his appeal as a live musician lies in his ability to turn the mood of tens of thousands of people back and forth instantly. This--along with seeing him on stage--makes the video phenomenal, although I find the actual music less pleasing than the studio version.