We Arrive in Eugene


We would have moved to Eugene a year earlier had Peggy been able to find work at Sacred Heart Medical Center (I did property maintenance and assumed I could find a job anywhere). As we sat in Fresno (see two posts back) with Peggy’s job running out, she called Sacred Heart to ask about job openings. The news was encouraging, so we drove up for an interview, and she was hired as an ICU nurse. Within weeks, we rented an apartment; flew to Mississippi to sell our house; loaded our possessions into a U-Haul; and moved to Oregon at the hospital’s expense.

When we arrived in ‘86, Eugene had a large hippie population and called itself the “Berkeley of the North” and the “Tie-Dye Capital of the World.” Near where we now live is the site on which Eugene’s founder, Eugene Skinner, built a cabin when he arrived in 1846 with 1,200 other settlers. During the next decade, 20,000 people came to the Willamette Valley, most of them over the famed Oregon Trial. By then, 92% of the indigenous Kalapuya had died of settler-borne diseases and their survivors imprisoned on distant reservations where their tribal identity was lost through intermarriage with other tribes. I joined two lodges that Skinner had belonged to (the Freemasons and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows—IOOF)—and searched the minutes without finding a single mention of the plight of the Kalapuyas.

Upon our arrival, Eugene was home to communes, the Hemlock Society, the University of Oregon, and a national polyfidelity group. City buses were new to me, and I got a kick out of bussing to whatever classes interested me at Lane Community College, and I worked at the University of Oregon as liaison between the university and a building contractor. During our first year in Eugene, we lived in two apartments and bought a house.  I had only known two foreigners in Mississippi, but, because of the University of Oregon, they were common here, and so it was that Peggy and I had a delightful Saudi roommate followed by a disagreeable Bosnian roommate.

Most of the Eugenians I met weren’t born here, and I found that they discussed their shrinks and support groups as casually as Mississippians did their preachers. In another reversal, I met people who embraced atheism, Bahai, Buddhism, Sikhism, New Thought, nature worship, and Wicca. An avid baker, I discovered flours that were new to me (spelt, kamut, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, and amaranth), and I even found grits (a Southern staple) in a heartier form called polenta.

Most cars had bumper stickers promoting liberal, anarchistic, vegetarian, and/or environmentalist values, although I would occasionally see “Loggers Are An Endangered Species Too,” or “Ted Kennedy’s Car Has Killed More People than My Gun.” Street demonstrations abounded, as did Volkswagen vans painted with trees, rainbows, unicorns, and peace symbols. The Grateful Dead performed yearly, and with them came the Deadhead Invasion consisting of thousands of blissed-out freaks who promptly emptied local food banks.

The annual Oregon Country Fair with its drugs, nudity, wild costumes, and painted bodies, epitomized Eugene’s anything goes mentality, and Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, made the news with asinine speeches, including one in which he encouraged a high school audience to smoke pot. The Saturday Market featured local artists and craftspeople, but the California Invasion—aka the Californicators—had yet to run up home prices and imbue Eugene with a Middle America mentality that their predecessors came here to escape. Olympic track and field trials were—and are—often held in Eugene (aka TrackTown USA), and it was here that Bill Bowerman used a waffle iron to create the sole of the world’s first Nike.

Memories of protests against the War in Vietnam—including burning the records at a local draft board—were still fresh, as was the Weather Underground, two members of which were arrested separately after my arrival. One of the two, Silas Bissell, was convicted of firebombing an ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) center and the other, Katherine Power, of participating in a bank robbery in which a guard was machine-gunned. Both had lived respectable lives in Eugene, Bissell as a physical therapist, and Power as co-owner of the popular Napoli Restaurant.

In the ‘90s, many of Eugene
’s anarchists and environmentalists endorsed violence to combat capitalistic exploitation, and so it was that they vandalized vehicles, smashed store windows, attacked the police, burned a ski lodge, twice firebombed SUVs at Romania Chevrolet, toppled a fire tower, freed animals at a fur farm, vandalized a furniture store during its yearly “leather sale,” burned a lumber company, disabled high-transmission lines, sabotaged logging equipment, vomited on Eugene’s mayor at a city council meeting, fire-bombed the Oakridge Ranger Station, placed bombs inside a tanker truck at Tyee Oil, and vandalized a modest home in a rundown neighborhood because its owner had committed the crime of gentrification by repainting.

Although some of these crimes were committed elsewhere, Eugene was nonetheless the hub from which many militants operated. Mayor Jim Torrey called his city “The Anarchist Capital of the United States,” and invited their representatives to meet with him for an hour (they spent the hour silently glaring). Eugene’s reign of terror only ended when an FBI investigation resulted in prison sentences for ten men and nine women.* Here’s the Register-Guard bio of Jeff Luers, Eugene’s best known anarchist, who, at age 21, received a 23-year sentence for burning vehicles and planting bombs. https://www.registerguard.com/article/20140406/news/304069982.

Since my arrival, Eugene has come to suffer from the problems that characterize many American cities. When I arrived in 1986, cars were excluded from several downtown blocks, which was a charming area with playful statuary, quaint shops,
open-air restaurants, galleries featuring local artists, and hanging baskets with cascading petunias. Then, activist bureaucrats sent in the bulldozers, and when the dust cleared, the pedestrian mall had been reopened to cars, and the small shops and restaurants replaced by multi-story apartment buildings reminiscent of Communist Romania. The shoppers, strollers, and diners took their business to the suburbs, and in their place were muggers, vandals, addicts, belligerent drunks, aggressive panhandlers, paranoid schizophrenics, gangs of shoplifters, and lowlifes that congregate in front of businesses and harass customers.

Thanks to activist bureaucrats, Eugene now has the highest per capita homeless population in the country.* Large city parks house hundreds of campers, making them off-limits to those whose taxes paid for their creation and continue to pay for their maintenance. Camping on sidewalks and in vehicles is still a crime, but the police forward complaints to a Catholic charity that has no enforcement power and is only interested in helping the campers. My neighbors and I clear our neighborhood of needles, liquor bottles, and fast-food wrappers. More puzzling is the amount of usable food, clothes, blankets, and foam mattresses, that the homeless throwaway. The news media claims that one in five Eugenians go to bed hungry, yet Oregon’s poor tend toward obesity, and the state announced last week that the impoverished can now use the “Oregon Trail Card” (a government-funded debit card) to shop at yuppie markets which are unaffordable to many people.

I’ll end on an up-note by mentioning that lawyers for twenty-one high school students entered Eugene’s Federal District Courthouse this month to ask judge Ann Aiken to allow a suit that was instituted six years ago to finally go to trial. If that suit prevails, the federal government’s support of the fossil fuel industry will be declared un-Constitutional in that it conflicts with the right to a life-sustaining environment.***

* http://www.citymayors.com/society/usa-cities-homelessness.html


*** https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2021-11-02/settlement-talks-fail-in-oregon-youths-anti-us-climate-suit

A final interesting link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_activism_in_Eugene,_Oregon.

More of My Lurid Past and Other Sordid Tales


When I left—I never graduated—Brookhaven, Mississippi’s high school in 1967, I had to choose between college and Vietnam. Happily, a tiny, local Methodist college called Whitworth offered me a scholarship. To say the least, I was surprised because in high school I had been… a disciplinary problem… skipped school regularly… failed to complete assignments… spent four summers in summer school in order to pass the classes I flunked in regular school… wasted two years in the tenth grade … believed my parents and teachers regarded me as mildly retarded… and got so drunk on weekends that I didn’t know where I had been or what I had done, although I was usually the one who drove.

Despite my failure to graduate from high school, my years in summer school enabled me to accumulate enough credits for college. But why would any college—even a tiny college like Whitworth—offer me a scholarship? Given that Whitworth
was regarded as an academic joke, I might have been the only one to apply, but it’s also possible that Whitworth was impressed by the fact that I had aced their introductory psychology course while still in high school (I took the course in the hope of getting my head together). In any event, Whitworth had promised to give one scholarship to a country school kid and one to a “city” school kid, so they had to choose someone from Brookhaven (population 11,500), and that someone was me. Their country recipient was a valedictorian named Beau, and after devoting a long paragraph to his illustrious school career, the newspaper ended with a single sentence stating that I showed “promise.”

I loved Whitworth because it had many times the number of course options that BHS offered; because I was able to make a new start among people I hadn’t known for twelve years; and because I had teachers who encouraged me. One such teacher administered an IQ test on which I scored 160, and so it was that I immediately went to thinking I was mildly retarded to regarding myself as fucking brilliant. During my time at Whitworth, I held various jobs: stock clerk at Woolworth
’s; morticians assistant at a local funeral home; ambulance driver; plus my father and I ran a daily 115-mile paper route.

The only big cloud on the horizon was that I had to keep changing my major in order to maintain my draft deferment, so I knew the day might come when no major would save me. A lesser problem was that Whitworth lacked regional accreditation. 


Peggy was an Air Force brat with Mississippi roots and a Mississippi birth certificate, but who vowed she would never live in Mississippi. Unfortunately, her very religious parents shipped her off to Mississippi College, a female-virginity-obsessed Southern Baptist institution near Jackson where she studied education, math, and science. She had been there three years when I transferred up from Whitworth and my roommate, Lynn Taylor introduced me to her as his date. By then, I had been ogling her from across the cafeteria for months, so I asked Lynn if he minded me asking her out. He said no, but he later told her to turn me down, thereby giving her added incentive to go out with me. 

When school ended three dates later, Peggy took a Greyhound to her parents’ home in San Antonio, and I left with an acquaintance for his home in Alberta, Canada. I couldn’t get Peggy out of my mind, so I got out of the car in Colorado and hitchhiked down to San Antonio to ask her to marry me. She and her family were greatly surprised by my midnight call from a nearby truckstop, but by the time I left San Antonio three days later, we were engaged. I felt duty-bound to formally ask her Lieutenant Colonel father for her hand, but she said she would break the news after I left. We married five months later. December 19th will mark our 50th anniversary.

After four years in college, I graduated in 1971 with five year’s worth of credits and a degree in elementary education (Peggy’s degree was in biology with minors in chemistry and secondary education). I had named that as my major in order to avoid the draft, not because I had the least interest in teaching. And so it was that I, in turn, drove an ambulance, worked as an inhalation therapy technician at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and then as a funeral director at Mississippi’s largest funeral home. 

By this time, a draft lottery had been instituted, and my number was low enough that I would have been taken had my doctor not written the Army a letter stating that I had recently passed six kidney stones. This was news to me, but I happily accepted the yearlong deferment. By the time the year was up, the war was winding down, and my number was just high enough to keep me from being drafted. Because I still had no career goal, I joined the Air Force for the simple reason that Peggy’s father, Earl, liked it. He even pulled strings so the Air Force would send me back to college to study meteorology. Sadly, three weeks into boot camp, I was discharged from the Air Force for smoking pot. Earl never showed his disappointment.

It was now 1973, and having nothing better to do, I returned to Brookhaven and got a teaching job. Four years later, I quit teaching when the administration objected to a beard I grew during summer vacation. My black principal said I looked like a militant, while his two white bosses (both of whom had spanked me when I was a student) thought I looked like a hippie. They said I would be promoted to administration if I shaved, but could be fired if I refused. I confided in my ACLU-affiliated doctor who promised me the group’s support, but I would have kept my beard regardless. As things turned out, I wasn’t fired, but I clearly wasn
’t wanted, so I quit at the end of the school year. And so it was that my carpenter father gave me seven acres of Mississippi woodland, and helped me build a house that had been designed as a ski lodge. When it was completed, he and I went to work in residential and commercial property maintenance.

Peggy had never lived anywhere that wasn’t temporary, and the house that my father and I built for her—with such help as she could offer on weekends—was her dream home. Almost from day one, I felt trapped, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her, so I instead tried to make things work by turning our land into a second Eden. I also looked for escape in whatever drugs I could find and in sex with other women. Older married men had told me that finding women—married or single—was easy, and they were right. Few such women were looking for a committed relationship—although some tried to lure me away from Peggy—so as near as I could tell they had sex with me because they were bored, enjoyed the risk, needed to be told they were beautiful, wanted secret vengeance against controlling husbands, or liked the excitement of new partners. One night, Peggy dreamed that I kept calling her by the names of other women, yet I had been having sex with many more women than she knew about. (We had an open marriage by then, but as often happens with such arrangements, it was my idea, and I had sex with a lot more people than she did.)

Then came the day that I knew sex, drugs, and the creation of a second Eden would never be enough, and with this thought came the realization that I had rather be dead than spend the rest of my life in Mississippi. Various things precipitated this. (1) The older I got, the more I regarded myself as smarter and more interesting than my friends, and I wrongly imagined that I would find superior people elsewhere. (2) As I became more liberal and less religious, I increasingly felt that I didn’t belong among people who held opposing values. (3) The incident that occurred during jury duty when I was struck on the head for not standing for prayer (see last post). (4) The restaurant scene in the movie Easy Rider, a scene that was shot just across the Mississippi River in Louisiana. The malevolent diners had been local residents, and the movie’s main characters (Fonda, Nicholson, and Hopper) later spoke of the frighteningly real hatred that they felt from those diners. I recognized my neighbors in those extras, and came to envision myself as living in a hell populated by redneck demons. 

Still, I did my best so Peggy wouldn’t have to leave her home. I got a pilot’s license so I could have ready access to other places, but the only plane I could afford was old and slow. I vainly looked for friends in the ads’ section of the Mother Earth News and other alternative magazines. Peggy and I traveled for two months a year, but the day always came when we had to turn the truck in the direction of Mississippi. I joined the Mississippi ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and the Mississippi Native Plant Society in the hope of finding people with whom I had common interests, but only one friendship came out of either group and he left the state as an escaped felon (my friends were usually as lost as myself). I took up canoeing, but even as I tried to lose myself in the beauty of Southern streams, I was haunted by the theme from Easy Rider:

“The river flows, flows to the sea.
Where ever that river goes that’s where I want to be.
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down.
Take me from this road to some other town.

To be continued...

My Lurid Past and Other Sordid Tales

Had I not been a bearded atheist, liberal, intellectual, vegetarian, integrationist, environmentalist, pot smoking, Thoreau-reading, lover of freedom, I might not have felt lonely and isolated in rural Mississippi; and had I not felt lonely and isolated, I might have not remained in my seat (thirty feet from where a black man was lynched when I was six) when the district attorney told the grand jurors to stand for prayer; and had I not remained in my seat, I most certainly wouldn’t have been struck on the head by another juror who said through clinched teeth, “Get out of that seat!” But because I was these things, and because I was struck on the head, and because I had grown-up witnessing the bloody price that nonconformists pay for being true to their values in the most ignorant, religious, oppressive, impoverished, freedom-hating, and violence-embracing, state in the Union; I decided that I had rather die than spend the rest of my life surrounded by drawling bigots who took pride in the fact that generations of their families had used violence to force conformity to their asinine deity, their fascist politics, and their Bible-based xenophobia. 

To understand the lowlife mentality of Mississippi and other Deep South states, envision Donald Trump with a Southern accent, the tragedy being that the region hasn’t only failed to join the civilized world during my 35-year absence, it has continued to go downhill in every area but black/white relations (my home town can truthfully claim that it hasn’t lynched a single black man since 1955, when it murdered Lamar Smith for attempting to turn in voter registration cards for his frightened neighbors).

So it was that I built a fantasy around how loved and supported I would feel if only Peggy and I lived in a commune. Though she wasn
t exactly gung ho about the prospect, she was at least open to the possibility, so I proposed that we pack-up and go searching for nirvana. She said that, no, I should be the one to go searching, and she should be the one to visit such places as I liked. So it was that I spent much of 1984, 1985, and part of ‘86 visiting communes, many of them with no thought of living there, but simply because I found them interesting. For example, it was curiosity that inspired my visit to a Hare Krishna dairy farm in south Mississippi and to that religion’s US headquarters near Moundsville, West Virginia. Likewise, it was curiosity that led me to visit a Sufi commune in eastern New York State, and the world’s last active Shaker commune at Sabbath Day Lake, Maine. Then there was Missouri’s hippie-run East Wind Community, with its sixty to eighty residents. (I approved of the group’s communal outhouses, but didn’t fully grasp the etiquette of the situation, so when a woman plopped down beside me while I was laughing at the funny pages, I was mystified by her chilly response to Blondie, Snuffy Smith and Beetle Bailey.)

The smallest commune I visited was in a two-story house owned by a Denver couple who confessed that they were having trouble finding people who were willing to live under their autocratic rule. The largest was guru Stephen Gaskin’s 1,400 member commune The Farm with its nationally known midwifery program presided over by his wife, Ina May Gaskin (who wrote prolifically on the subject). Gaskin’s leadership was sufficiently mellow that I might have considered living there had it not been for the commune’s squalor, and the fact that none of the men cut their hair or shaved their beards. Although they insisted that the practice was voluntary, the fact that every last one of the hundreds of men adhered to it screamed groupthink (Groupthink occurs when the desire for group cohesiveness leads members to uncritically agree to what they think everyone else wants.)

I was very much bothered by the totalitarian regime of another guru, Marc Tizer (aka Yousamien, aka Yo), who ran a commune in Boulder, Colorado. I don’t remember the commune’s name—or even if it had a name—but it is now called the Divine Madness Running Club. Yo gave his followers individualized commands about what to eat, how much to sleep, what sports to engage in, who to live with, and so forth. The names of new sex partners were drawn weekly (the purpose of the weekly change was to discourage “unhealthy attachments,
and in Yo’s view, all attachments were unhealthy). Although Yo claimed to have secret and surefire means to prevent pregnancy, he still ordered abortions.

The commune had fifty to one hundred followers who lived in private residences that were scattered throughout Boulder. I stayed in two of these residences—one of which was occupied by 6-8 women and the other by 6-8 men—and found the people intelligent, educated, personable, physically attractive, and welcoming of questions. When—in one-to-one conversations—I told my new friends that I was opposed to gurus, the gist of their response was, I wouldn’t lie to you. Yo will tell you every thought you ever had. Yo will tell you more about yourself than even you know, and you will recognize that he is right. So it was that I quickly agreed to meet Yo, although I just as quickly backed-out upon being told that “the privilege” would cost me $1,200—satisfaction not guaranteed.

My final tally of communes was: two in Mississippi, two in Tennessee, one in Missouri, one in Texas, one in New Mexico, two in Colorado, one in Virginia, one in West Virginia, one in New Hampshire, one in Maine, two in New York, and one in Oregon. If I didn’t like a place, I left after a day or two, but if I really liked it, I might stay for a week or more. No one ever asked for money to cover the cost of my visit, and it never occurred to me to offer it. Peggy flew to communes in Denver, Richmond, and New York City. She preferred the one in Richmond, but it’s eight members had been working night-and-day for over a year to care for a terminally ill member (whom no one liked and who had been planning to leave when he became ill), and its residents warned us that the commune was unlikely to survive his death.

I liked Richmond fine, but I loved the Foundation for Feedback Learning—now called Ganas— on upper Staten Island in New York City. It’s 35 residents (the number has since doubled) were divided into an inner and an outer circle with membership in the former requiring a lifelong commitment. FFL owned two stores, three or four large houses, and accepted research and teaching contracts related to “feedback learning.” Many members were from Spain, and people candidly admitted that they had only married so they—or someone else in the group—could get a Green Card. The closer I got to the group’s inner circle, the more I was bothered by the fact that their lack of honesty and integrity in dealing with the outside world contradicted their insistence upon honesty and integrity within the group itself. Even so, I found so much to love that I asked Peggy to fly up, which she did, although—for the following reasons—things didn’t go well:

(1) She had been ill, and was still so unwell that she seemed fragile. (2) She had no interest in spending hours a day sitting around the group’s large table baring her soul and listening to others bare theirs, often taking and giving severe criticism in the process. (3) The neighborhood was so bad that she couldn’t take her daily walks without being sexually harassed. (4) When members of the inner circle asked what her interests were and she said gemstones (she had seriously considered a career in gemology), they dismissed her as frivolous. (5) She was disgusted by the number of women I had been having sex with
on my travels (we had an open marriage), and the commune contained three women who had a sexual interest in me. (6) Our promised “private quarters” were roomy for the city, but were still smaller than the smallest place we ever lived.

The commune was clearly not a good fit for Peggy, but because the inner circle wanted me, they proposed to her that we move there for a trial period of a year. Before coming to NY, Peggy had applied to the Traveling Nurse Corps, and they called her in NY to offer a four-month stint in Fresno, California. So it was that we moved to Fresno with the thought that we would use our time there to decide about NY.

We liked Fresno—until the daytime highs hit 115—and found it easy to make friends. During one of our calls to Mildred—the leader of the New York commune’s inner circle—we were told that our living expenses (which I would pay in work credits at a communal business, and Peggy would pay in money by working at a nearby hospital) would cost hundreds more than we had been told. When we asked why, Mildred said without even a hint of embarrassment that she had so wanted me to live there that she had lied. We concluded from this that we could never take the group’s word about anything, and we gave up all thought of moving to NY. Unfortunately, this meant that after two years of searching for a place to live, we still had no idea where we would end up. I suggested that, if nothing else turned-up, we could move to Fresno, but when Peggy refused to “trade one oven for another,” I became deeply depressed. To be continued…


Mississippi’s Hare Krishna dairy farm: https://newtalavana.org/

West Virginia’s Hare Krishna headquarters: https://www.newvrindaban.com/

New York’s Sufi commune: https://www.theabode.org/

Maine’s Shakers: https://www.maineshakers.com/

Missouri’s East Wind commune: https://www.eastwindblog.co/

Gaskin’s Tennessee commune: https://thefarmcommunity.com/

Ina May Gaskin’s books: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=ina+may+gaskin&ref=nb_sb_noss_1 

Groupthink: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink

Yousamien’s Colorado commune: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_Madness_Running_Club

New York’s Foundation for Feedback Learning: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganas

Visits to Hospital


Sacred Heart Medical Center

What I’m about to share represents my memories and beliefs. Peggy’s memories and beliefs might differ.

Two weeks ago to the hour, I was at Eugene’s Sacred Heart Medical Center where a pretty Hong Kong surgeon was blowing me up with carbon dioxide, driving rods into my abdomen, and using a robot to repair three hernias.

Today, I drove Peggy to Sacred Heart for an endoscopy and colonoscopy. Two hours were allotted for the procedure, so I knew that if the phone rang in less than two hours, the news would be bad. I spent those hours strolling about the hospital’s 181-acre grounds and reflecting upon the long history that Peggy and I have had in—and around—hospitals. For her, this meant a 25-year career as a BSRN (a registered nurse with a four year degree). For me it meant working as a respiratory therapy technician, a phlebotomist, an ambulance driver, and a funeral director.

Peggy’s career took her to Mississippi, California, Minnesota, and Oregon, but she mostly worked here in Eugene at Sacred Heart Medical Center where the hospital’s greed, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and callousness, caused it to be deemed Sacred Dollar, and resulted in Peggy becoming so anguished, outraged, and disillusioned that she retired early. Today, my feelings toward Sacred Heart led me to mouth the word bullshit every time I came across a
wall-size rendering of the hospital’s mission statement: “We carry on the healing mission of Jesus Christ by promoting personal and community health, relieving pain and suffering, and treating each person in a loving and caring way.”

Despite its Catholic ownership, I doubt that there’s a higher percentage of Catholic employees at SHMC than in the local population (the habit-clad nuns left before Peggy’s arrival in ’86). The most common modern reminder of SHMC’s ownership is a bronze cross in every room (Peggy caught a man energetically ripping one from his wife’s wall), and there used to be a large outdoor statue of the Virgin Mary
from which the mother of one of Peggy’s L&D patients hung herselfbut I couldn’t find it today.

During our fifty-years together, Peggy has twice been hospitalized overnight, and I was in four times—for food poisoning, a knee replacement, and two shoulder surgeries. Prior to marriage, I was hospitalized three times. Is seven a lot? Perhaps, but with rising costs, laparoscopic advancements, and the growing threat of untreatable infections, people used to be hospitalized far more often. For example, in the old days, triple hernia repair would have necessitated cutting the patient open, so no one would be sent home the same day. This represents a change for the better, at least for those who have help at home. Without Peggy, I don’t know how I could manage right now. I take immense comfort in knowing that, no matter what is going on in her
life or mine, we will be there if the other needs us. 

During our long marriage, I’ve gone from believing that sex was the primary expression of emotional intimacy to realizing that a great many things outrank sex. For instance, adding someone’s name to your savings account; helping him or her bathe after surgery; holding hands while browsing old photos; sharing the anniversary of that first sacred night as “husband and wife”* ; or, if it should come to that, wiping a butt that you once considered too angelic to need wiping.

Peggy often came home from her first hospital
job—at the 105-bed King’s Daughters Hospital in rural Mississippiwith funny stories. For instance, one night at KDH, Peggy was working on second when the first floor nurse phoned to say that someone had fallen past room 108. Sure enough, Peggy looked out the window of 208 to find her patient lying on the ground. She called for an ambulance—the ambulance shed was just around the corner—and in no time at all, the ambulance came flying. Unfortunately, there was a heavy dew, so when the driver slammed on brakes, the huge vehicle kept right on going, barely missing the patient.

The patient later explained that he had wanted to go home without the usual formality—i.e. paying his bill
—so he did what you or I would have done, which was to pack-up his few clothes, urinal, bedpan, and water pitcher. After dropping his suitcase out the window, he mustered-up his optimism and took a flying leap in the direction of a limb on a loblolly pine. To his dismay, three unfortunate events then occurred: (1) the limb broke; (2) he hit the ground; (3) the limb hit him.

On another night at KDH, Peggy was working in the emergency room when an ambulance arrived with two shooting victims. The ER doctor decided to transfer them an hour’s drive north to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, so they were duly loaded—or rather re-loaded—into the ambulance, and Peggy was told to go with them. 

One man was unconscious, and although a bullet in his jaw made it impossible for the other to talk, he proved to be a voluble grunter, fist-shaker, and pantomimer, who was soon able to make Peggy understand that he and the other man had shot one another. She then became inordinately curious as to whether the doctor who had ordered her into the ambulance (where there was no place for her to sit except between the two men) had been privy to this information, but he later proved reticent on the topic.

Why did Peggy never come home with funny stories from SHMC? Maybe the fact that she worked in intensive care—that is until her back gave out from turning unconscious patients—followed by labor and delivery had something to do with it, as did the unhappy work environment, but I
’ve also wondered if small town informality might simply be a better vehicle for humor than city impersonality. Another relevant factor might be the grim, merciless, and spontaneity destroying political correctness that characterizes liberal institutions.

I only attended one “celebratory” get-together for the nurses who worked on Peggy
’s unit, and although I was well aware of what Peggy told me about her work situation, it was the first time that I got to see for myself how angry and miserable her fellow nurses were. As they wolfed their food, I reflected that I had seen more cheerful people at wakes, and that the absence of liquor appeared to be the only thing between them and a hair-yanking, eye-gouging brawl. 

Despite my contempt for Sacred Heart, I like knowing that the largest medical center between Portland and San Francisco (a distance of 650-miles) is just across town, and that there are thousands of people who have to drive for hours over icy mountain roads (all four grandparents of a newborn baby on Peggys unit died when their car slid from such a road) to reach a place that I can get to in fifteen minutes. If the surveys are right, SHMC’s patients feel as badly treated as its employees, yet SHMC still offers a variety of medical specialties, diagnostic tools, and advanced treatments, and the older I get, the more such things matter. Besides, the day might come when the Dollar trades its corporate indifference for a commitment to treat its patients and staff in a “...loving and caring way.” 


* Or, in the U.S. anyway, wife and wife or husband and husband,” at least until the Trumpian Supreme Court again allows conservative religious values to dominate marriage.

The Thinking Behind White Southern Racism during the Civil Rights Movement and Even Today

r/HistoryPorn - Mississippi sheriff Lawrence Rainey (right) and deputy Cecil Ray Price on trial in 1967 for the murder of three civil rights workers [1090x732]
Mississippi Deputy and Sheriff Being Indicted for Murdering Civil Rights Workers

During my Mississippi childhood and adolescence, the following justifications for segregation were expressed by teachers, preachers, at social gatherings, and in newspaper editorials. The state’s most influential newspaperman was Jimmy Ward, whose segregationist column “Covering the Crossroads with Jimmy Ward” appeared daily on the front page of Mississippi’s two largest newspapers—the Clarion Ledger and the Jackson Daily News. Although I mostly avoid use quotation marks in the following arguments, I reproduce them as I heard them, and I heard them a lot.

(1) If God had wanted the races to mix, He would not have separated them geographically. T
o support integration is to oppose God.

 (2) Race mixing leads to the sin of interracial marriage, and interracial marriage leads to mongrel children.

(3) Black people are the children of Ham, and Ham’s father, Noah, cursed Ham’s descendants with eternal servitude after Ham displayed Noah’s nakedness when Noah was passed-out drunk. (Genesis 9: 20-27).

(4) The inferiority of the colored race is beyond question.

(5) Black people are subhuman, and therefore lack the legal rights of white people. (I bought a deceased black preacher’s library, and found in it a racist work entitled The Negro: a Beast or in the Image of God?)

(6) Before outside agitators stirred them up, Southern Negroes were happy with their lives. 

(7) Those who support integration are knowingly or unknowingly acting at the behest of Soviet Communism, the goal of which is to destroy America.

(8) There are few black people in the North, and those few have been forced into ghettos. Northern whites are hypocrites who don’t understand black people or the necessity of Southern race relations.

(9) Negroes have the mentality of children, and must be kept under control for the good of themselves and others.

(10) America has fallen so deeply into sin that God would abandon our nation entirely if not for Southern piety and patriotism.

(11) To submit to integration would be to betray God, our ancestors, and the 258,000 Southerners who died in the Civil War.


Why did the South cling to such baseless arguments?

(a) They were all that most Southerners had ever known, and few people even thought to question them. Others were afraid to do so because it could be a life-wrecking experience

(b) Friends, family, neighbors, and authority figures were all adamantly opposed to integration.

Seemingly overnight, the white South went from being largely ignored in popular culture to being viciously criticized in political speeches, Northern newspapers, Northern news magazines, and the enormously popular Life Magazine. Its religion, values, and speech, were mocked, belittled, and condemned, by the rest of the nation and even the world. Incest jokes abounded. White Southerners were presented as ignorant buffoons, psychopathic rednecks, and toothless hillbillies. The white South felt besieged, and most people responded by clinging ever more tenaciously to traditional beliefs and values.

Northern companies canceled plans for Southern factories, and this caused the already impoverished region to sink even deeper. Thousands of Southerners canceled their subscriptions to Life. Klan membership increased, and there was talk of a second Civil War. Frequent church burnings, the assassination of Medgar Evers—the state’s NAACP director—and the brutal murders of Freedom Riders Micky Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were looked upon by many with approval.

(d) White Southerners who supported integration were seen as traitors to God and to their own people, and were therefore hated above all other integrationists. Their children were harassed at school, and they themselves were subject to job loss, hate mail, vandalism, social ostracism, physical assault, loss of friendship, credit cancellation, having their pets poisoned, obscene and threatening phone calls, bullets through their windows, cross burnings in their yards (I personally witnessed this). The well-liked and influential couple in Hodding Carter’s So the Hefners Left McComb (McComb is twenty miles from where I lived) were parents to that year’s Miss Mississippi when their harassment started, but they still fled the South in fear for their lives.

(e) I will end this segment with some personal examples of Southern white anger. Klan literature was sometimes deposited in my family’s driveway. One night while driving home, I came upon a cross burning in a neighbor’s yard—no one was in sight.

School was in progress when John Kennedy was killed, and most students cheered. When one girl (whose parents favored integration) asked to be excused on the day of his funeral, her request was denied, and when she stayed home anyway, she was given failing grades in every class. I remained publicly silent about his death, although I wrote a note of sympathy to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Martin Luther King, Jr, and Robert Kennedy were assassinated after school hours, but I was attending play practice at a Methodist college when King died. As most of my fellow students cheered, I reflected upon how odd it was for those who were preparing for the ministry and the mission fields to celebrate a man’s murder.

My high school’s Spanish teacher took her class to Monterey, Mexico, each year. In 1966, an English class from Monterey visited my school. As they got off the bus, many students cursed them, flipped them the bird, called them niggers (because of their dark skin), and demanded that they get back on the bus and go home. The Mexicans clearly didn’t anticipate such behavior, and their ignorance of what some of the words meant surely left them even more confused

Also in ’66, four black students (three girls and a boy) integrated my high school. To my knowledge, none were assaulted, although they were treated with unremitting contempt. Again, I remained silent. I suspect that a great many white students were like I in that they either secretly favored integration or were secretly appalled by what they witnessed.

When a rumor circulated that black people might visit our church en masse, my father was asked to stand at the door with several other men to keep them out. He said to the men who asked him: “This is God’s house, and if God doesn’t want them here, then let God keep them out.” 

My father treated black people with respect, but my mother treated them coldly and with condescension. One day, she chastened me for addressing a black lady as “Ma’am, and she repeatedly warned me to avoid getting near black people lest their germs land on me. The commonly held belief that black people were “unclean” hearkened back the ancient Jews’ attitude toward gentiles


Thankfully, my father didn’t cancel his subscription to Life Magazine, and I well remember the 1967 issue that contained the photo at the top of this post. That photo did more than words to impress upon the rest of the nation the fact that, a hundred years after the Civil War, Southern whites still regarded the very lives of black people as disposable. Now, the white South is once again using racism as the basis for discriminatory laws.

Because moral advancement in the South is invariably contingent upon outside force, the advancement is lost when the force is withdrawn. So it is that when a conservative Supreme Court overturned the Voting Rights Act in 2013, white governors and legislators went back to denying the vote to black people. How can it do such a thing? In numerous ways. For example, Texas now requires that heavily populated black precincts have the same number of voting machines as sparsely populated white precincts. Meanwhile, over in Georgia, black voters aren’t only being made to stand in line for six hours (there being many more white precincts, white voters tend to be spared this indignity), anyone who offers them food or water is subject to a year in jail. 

So it is that Red State officials who are charge of insuring election fairness first determine when, where, and how, black peopleand other Democratsvote, and then they do their utmost to make voting so odious that voters stop trying. In rare cases where this tactic fails, they look for an excuse, however lame, to declare votes invalid. Now that Trump has packed the Supreme Court with minority-hating religious conservatives, appeals to that court for fairness are doomed (according to the conservative justices, the federal government simply has no business telling states how to run their elections).

In 1861, the South’s insistence that it be allowed to enslave black people resulted a war that cost 620,000 lives, a war from which the  South learned nothing except that it had to be sneaky in describing its abuse of black people (instead of calling them slaves, it referred to them as convict laborers or as people who were working off their just debts. Even today, the state of Mississippi (along with other Southern states) is such a moral and economic morass that many of its citizens would starve without federal assistance (Mississippi opposes federal aid simply because it can’t bear the thought of putting food on the tables of black people). By all measures of health, happiness, and prosperity, the states of the Deep South are in constant competition for last place in everything that is good and first place in everything that is bad. Despite this, Mississippi—the most religious state in the Union—regards itself as so beloved by God that the existence of the entire nation rests upon its singular status in divine eyes. As the Bible says, the ways of God are but foolishness in the eyes of men.

Ahimsa, Feline Ethics, The Value of a Life


For better and worse, I have, over the years, held views that are anathema to most people, particularly when it comes to the rights of nonhumans. For example, I consider the following self-evident:

(1) Human life and nonhuman life are of equal intrinsic value. 

(2) Human rights and nonhuman rights are of equal moral importance. 

Such beliefs make moral consistency impossible because humans must kill to live. Even if a person so reveres life that he only eats those parts of plants that don’t require the destruction of the whole, other plants must die and other creatures be driven from their homes in order to make space for agriculture. Some members of the Jain religion become so aggrieved by this that they starve themselves to death.

My cats are so extraordinarily sensitive and loving that I address them with such endearments as Doll, Angel, Heaven, Ecstasy, Lady Girl, All in All, His Holiness, King of my Heart, Most Worshipful Master, He Whom My Love Doth Devour, Most Beautiful Cat in the World, and Patriarch of the Cat Side of the Family. Even so, it bothers me that a cat’s beauty and virtue rest upon a foundation of corpses. Sometimes, I talk to them about this. Yesterday, I brought it up to Ollie during our nightly cuddle, and because he requires that our talks be conducted with the door closed, I learned more from him than I had from others:

Me: “Ollie it troubles me that you just jumped from my lap, killed a spider, and then returned to my lap to tell me of your love with a thousand purrs. Have you no remorse, no consideration for the rights of the little creature whose life you ended?”

Ollie: “Do you mean to say that I am a hypocrite or simply that my behavior is paradoxical?”

Me: “The latter, the fact being that, even when you are dozing, you are but a hair’s breadth from killing. While I too kill spiders, I only do so because they clutter up the house with their webs, and Peggy screams when she sees one. God forbid that a spider should fall on her face while she’s taking a shower or, worse yet, walk across her steering wheel while she’s driving. Decades ago, I caused her to question my devotion to our marriage by announcing that I would no longer kill arachnids. I tried to console her by adding that I would instead ferry them outdoors, but I failed. As it turned out, my plan also failed because, once outside, the spiders went to work building webs under soffits, in front of windows, and on the rear-view mirror of her car. When I observed that they and their offspring were finding their way back in, I returned to killing, often to the accompaniment of Peggy’s screams—screams that scared the dogs as much as the spiders scared Peggy.

“Being a just, loving, and compassionate person, I regret having to kill, whereas you, Ollie, despite your many virtues, take obscene delight in visiting death upon the innocent. If you were human, you would doubtless have a taxidermist mount your victims in fearsome poses and hang them on every wall. Peggy would then scream every time she walked into a room, and you would find yourself in an institution for callous cats. Because of the pleasure you take in killing others, I sometimes wonder if you would kill me if you were big enough.”

Ollie: “Let me get this straight. You knew I was a predator when you adopted me, and that guiltless killing was inherent to my nature. You, on the other hand, are not a predator, yet you find it within your ‘just, loving, and compassionate’ heart to destroy innocent creatures simply because their existence scares your phobic wife and their webs offend your aesthetic sensibilities! You would be better off had you been born a cow or a rabbit, but because you are a peculiar sort of man, you are tormented, and you want me to feel tormented too so I can stand at your feet on your pedestal of moral superiority and proclaim: ‘Oh, what a cruel world it is that loving creatures like ourselves must resort to killing!’ I don’t apologize for being what nature made me. I instead take pride in the fact that I can instantly go from loving to killing and back again because that is how my ancestors survived.”

Because Peggy and I are, for the most part, vegetarians, Ollie doesn’t realize that, like cats, most members of the human species also kill helpless birds and animals, although their killing differs from cats’ killing in that cats are obligate carnivores, whereas meat is so toxic to humans that meat-eaters die eight years younger than vegetarians.*

If the Abrahamic religions are correct in maintaining that humans alone know right from wrong, it is also true that humans alone choose to inflict avoidable suffering, death, and environmental damage simply because we enjoy the taste of corpses. In what way, then, is the only species that knows right from wrong, yet freely embraces wrong, superior to a species that lacks such knowledge and whose existence depends upon meat? We humans—including people like myself who eat eggs, dairy, and the occasional fish—not only tend toward depravity, we run headlong into it. I envy cats their innocence.


A Post in which I Explain America’s Love Affair with Guns


Eight people have thus far died as a result of American’s latest mass shooting, which occurred at a Fed Ex facility in Indiana last night. Prior to Covid, America averaged one mass shooting per day.* Why is it that millions of Americans (nearly all of them Republicans) appear to value owning firearms over ending the violence? These are their arguments:

1) The Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of every adult American to own and carry guns: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. (This amendment predates the existence of a standing army.)

2) Gun violence is the price one pays for living in a free society.

3) Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. 

4) In the absence of guns, we would be unable to protect ourselves, our families, and others who are in danger.

5) If the government took away our guns, killers would use other lethal methods, and no one would have a gun with which to stop them.

6) Democrats are, in reality, power-mad Communists, who want to take away our guns in order to: (a) Institute a Communist-style dictatorship; (b) Force God-fearing Republicans into labor camps; (c) Raise our children in indoctrination camps. 

7) Americans are God’s Chosen people, but He will only help us to the extent that we are willing to help ourselves. He has given us guns with which to do this.

8) The reason that America has the world’s highest rate of gun violence (outside of actual war zones) is that we own too few guns. If every last adult American was armed, violent crime would be exceedingly rare. As the National Rife Association puts it: The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

9) Every adult is morally obligated to own at least one gun and to know how to use it. States, counties, and municipalities should have the freedom to make gun ownership and training mandatory.


* A mass shooting is an incident in which four or more people are shot, not including the shooter.