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 (http://black-horse-design.blogspot.com/). 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.