Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Road to Hell

Sometimes, you don't have anything to say for the simple reason that there is so much to say.  The Republican nominee for president is a raving mad man, Tucson is so wet this season that the flowering bermuda grass is trying to kill me.  My new dog, who had five years before he met me and was, during this time left almost entirely to his own limited devices, still lifts his leg occasionally on the living room furniture.  A little girl riding in my car a couple of days ago said, "it smells like Miss Catherine in here."  Since I got back from L.A., I haven't had time to do a thorough job of cleaning the dog barf out of my car.  I've never had a dog who got car sick before.  Miss Catherine smells like dog barf.

Back in the old days, I sometimes smelled like Chanel #5.  Now that I think about it, I think I prefer dog barf.

But getting the dog was all in pursuit of good intentions, the road to which is paved and potholed, oilslicked and fraught with hazards.  There's a crashed bicyclist, his arms where his legs ought to be, trying to save the environment.  If you look further up the road you can see a rich person volunteering, taking foster kids with crap lives to the zoo.  They don't really like the zoo.  They can't go in the exhibits to pull the animals' tails and if they did said animals would maul them to death. They're rather be home playing Barbies and Frozen.  The only reason they agreed to go to the stupid zoo in the first place was for the ice cream promised afterwards.  Big ice cream.  Really big ice cream eight feet tall.  They're only six and eight years old, but already muffin-topping from their church-donated shorts so vehemently they don't even know what color they are. They'll both have diabetes in 2 years.

I don't want to talk about Donald Trump because everybody else is; and he feeds off of it like the Jack-the-Ripper creature from the original Star Trek.  In case you don't remember, there was an entity that invaded the Enterprise and began killing people in horrible ways.  Doing this sporadically in the guise of a dorky bald guy played by I-don't-remember but he used to be on TV all the time, the entity evoked shipwide terror which, it turns out, he fed on.  He had been traveling through the galaxies throughout all of time, always in different guises,Ghengas Khan, Jack the Ripper of course, Hitler, all those guys, wreaking havoc, fear, death, paranoia and doom.  In the end he jumped from his bald guy host to the ship's computer.  Kirk and Spock made the computer calculate the absolute value of pi and then McCoy gave everybody on the ship a tranquilizer so they'd be dopey and happy.  When Jack-the-Ripper thing enter one of their bodies, he got stoned and helpless.  Them beamed him out into deep space scattering his molecules so wide that he couldn't get back together again.

Where are Kirk, Spock, and McCoy when you need them?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Catherine O’Sullivan  “On Coming Full Circle”

Driving back into town, It’s greener than I remember it.  My kid says we’ve gotten more rain.  Picacho Peak looks like broken beer bottle glass, the sun low on the horizon smooths out the landscape as the saguaros disappear into the shadows.

It’s been 6 years but then what’s a little time between friends?  I left Tucson for a bunch of reasons primarily divorce, which is horrible, but what’s even worse-- menopause.  In 2009 it seemed like everything was stacked against me, and what with the hot flashes, well, one day I woke up and proclaimed, “As God is my witness I will never be too hot again.”  I fled to Seattle.

An interesting town, Seattle.  Good music scene—I met some nice people there-- excellent coffee but it rains all the friggin’ time and there were days I pined continually for just a little bit of photosynthetic warmth like a calf pining for its mother.  Just break through for a minute, sun.  Pretty please with sugar on top.

So I gave Los Angeles a try.  Now before anyone jumps to overly harsh conclusions, there was method to my madness.  I was born in Hollywood.  My mother still lives in the same house she and my father bought on the G.I. Bill in 1957.  I wanted to hang with her and see if Thomas Wolf was right, whether it was true that you can never go home again.  He was.  Going back to L.A. after a 25 year absence was like having momentarily left your seat in a crowded movie theater.  When you go back in not only has someone taken your place, but they look at you as though you’re clinically insane having ever imagined it was yours in the first place.  I did a lot of things in L.A.  Worked as an extra in the movies, met David Duchovny, Antonio Banderas, and had a lovely chat with Fabio, who tried to sell me his new line of vitamins.  I worked for a Nazi vegan at a vegetarian restaurant who kept throwing hissy fits because he didn’t like the way I sliced the bell peppers.  He was tall, rail thin with anemic blue eyes and too many calcium deposits at the edges of his scraggly, gapped teeth.

Then one day something happened.  There I was looking at my Facebook page and a college professor friend was advertising a Master’s program in journalism at USC.  He told me he thought I had a swell shot of not just getting in, but getting an Annenberg Fellowship (translation: a full ride including a 20K stipend) because of all the great work I’d done with The Tucson Weekly. 

At USC I learned about “The New Journalism,” which mostly has to do with Twitter and blogging.  That part I understood well enough; it’s like starting a religion.  You do your very best to get as many people as you can to follow you, then via your blog, believe everything you say.  They also taught me about “backpack journalism.”  This involves installing an expensive program on your computer, getting a camera and some mics, although an I-phone will do, and taking them with you everywhere you go.  One of my teachers told me he got his best stuff watching for accidents on the freeway, that once they had it blocked off, walking back up the off-ramp and getting all the footage you want is easy.  The police, he said, hardly every bother you because they’re so busy writing tickets and helping the firemen load shattered bits of humanity into ambulances they don’t have the time.  Plus, they hate arguing with “the press.”  All that pesky First Amendment stuff.  Once you’ve got the material, including an interview with a bystander if you can swing it, you get into the back seat of your car, produce a piece and try to flog it to CNN or FOX News.  CNN pays better, but FOX buys a lot more of the gory stuff.

But the most interesting thing about “The New Journalism” is that since it’s nearly impossible to get a job in old style journalism now, the focus is on how to write advertising copy.  The hitch?  You have to convince yourself that what you’re really doing is being “entrepreneurial,” and not selling out.  I took a class, well, part of one anyway, called “Monitization and the New Media.”  I only went twice, quickly developing severe stomach problems and electing to do an independent study project on Hunter Thompson instead, but in that class they’d have speakers including brokers who pimped out writers to work for corporate publications.  Dell, for example, has a monthly “news” publication that explains all the innovations you can stuff between a couple of glossy, polished covers.  The professor teaching that class was pretty happy to see the back of me.  I kept asking questions like, “what if you want to write something about the corporation or its products that aren’t complimentary?”

By the time my son and I roll into Tucson it is just about dark.  We unload the U-haul and after consuming a bag of cheese crackers and a couple of beers, I find my pillow and blanket, feed my dog, and locating the mattress, fall fast asleep.  The next morning I remember I’ve got to feed my friend’s cat and as I hit the intersection of Speedway and Alvernon, I watch as a short, stout sixty-ish woman in faded black spandex shorts, a basketball jersey with no bra, a can of Mountain Dew in one hand and a cigarette in the other, crosses in front of me.  Nobody looks at her, nobody cares.  I am back in Tucson.

 I turn the air conditioning up inside my car.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why ISIS Doesn’t Matter

If caring is a matter of degree, then ISIS doesn’t matter.  Yes, they are loads of nasty people doing terribly nasty things, but that’s not rare on the ground these days.

Poor Barack Obama.  He looks sallow and thinner than ever; his hair is gray.  He’s aged 20 years in less than 7.  They say absolute power corrupts absolutely, but perhaps it’s equally soul killing to have power fairly won, then castrated by people who don’t like you because of your skin color.  He might have been a successful president if the opposition hadn’t sworn, at the very beginning, to oppose him at every turn no matter what.  Maybe when things like that happen, you have no choice but to start acting just like the blinkered idiot who got us into all this trouble in the first place.  George W. Bush

To someone who has been around awhile, it seems like only yesterday that Nine-Eleven happened.  Back in those days, the inhabitants of the Whitehouse were aching for an excuse to invade Iraq.  Dick Cheney was up to his vacant psychopathic eyes in Halliburton, and George W. Bush, so convinced by his boneheaded averageness and arrogance that he knew what he was doing, imagined he was in charge and leapt onto the bandwagon before the first blasts of the sousaphone even sounded. 

But there was no reason to go to war with Iraq.  Osama bin Laden was not there, nor were any of his friends.  The Iraqis did not have yellow cake uranium.  They were not building a bomb.  And while Iraq and Syria have never been particularly stable nation states, they’re absolute chaos now: wrecked infrastructures, destroyed economies, sad and hopeless populations of the dispossessed and the desperate.  The strategy the Bush administration used to get us into that war was exactly the same one to use if your dog’s got ahold of a dead bird, a cat turd or something.  Distraction.  Throw a biscuit to the other side of the yard and go fetch.  WMD’s, Al Quada, retribution for 911.  They were all just excuses to keep the American people from noticing that the bastards at the top and all their prick friends were busily destroying our domestic economy and plunging us into an economic abyss we may never get out of.

We bashed Iraq, alright.  Never reported, never even counted the dead except for our own, imagining it was possible to force reality into being what we wanted it to be.  Saddam Hussein, holed up in his pathetic spider hole, hairy and feral and filthy.  Hot damn.  The press loved that image and so did plenty of Americans, never actually considering the ruined, shattered lives getting it left behind.
So now, what must it be like to be a young Iraqi male?  The world they’ve left you is not a nice one in which to wake up.  You feel powerless, weak, impotent.  And when you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.  Why not join a terrorist organization and blow people up?  If the best you can hope for is making others more miserable than you are, then that’s what you go for.  It’s called nihilism, philosophical-eze for not giving a flying fuck.  It’s close kin to hatred, towards everyone and everything.

So in Iraq and Syria we’ve got ISIS.  It’s touted as a global terrorist threat and yeah, it might sneak into another country, blow up a train station or a public gathering and kill hundreds of innocent people.  This is a terrible thing but given that it springs from a mess US Government policy created, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. 

The fact that Barack Obama is currently set on a course that looks alarming like the mess caused by his predecessor, is profoundly disturbing.  So he gets ISIS.  Another terrorist group will take its place.  Then another and another.  Violence begets only violence.  This has been true for as long as human beings have walked upright.  It will always be true.
And yeah, chopping peoples head off is barbaric, medieval, un-thinkable.

But not any more unthinkable that the things going on right here, every day.

You can ride your bike around downtown Los Angeles.  There are hundreds of homeless people.  Most of them simply wander the streets during the day returning to hidey holes or tent villages at night.  Well, tent is kind of an exaggeration.  You rarely see an intact tent.  Mostly they are patched together flops with odd bits of plastic tarps, string, plastic bags and whatever else they can find to keep the weather out.  Under an overpass, somewhere around Pico and Washington, both sides of the street are filled with one of these homeless villages, or they were today; the police will probably clear them out by tomorrow.  It looked like a slum in an old time Hooverville.   There is drug addiction there, alcoholism, despair, resignation.  I saw a guy reading a paperback book, and a woman in a dirty dress sweeping the sidewalks in an effort to maintain the appearance of a plausible human community.  This was oddly sweet, especially considering that she was breathing enough car exhaust and filthy road dust to kill the average lab rat in about ten minutes.  Human beings, no matter how poor or of what ethnicity, should not be made to live like this.

There are bodies of passed out workers waiting outside Home Depot for jobs.  Maybe they are illegals.  So what?  They deserve dignity, some minimal standard of living signifying even slightly, that they matter.  Yet we, one of the richest countries in the world, will not give them that.
We are destroying our environment, or maybe we’ve already destroyed it.  A scientists on NPR opined that at this point there is so much carbon dioxide not just in the atmosphere, but the oceans where it is trapped, that nothing can be done.  The oceans are heating up, accelerating global warming.

Public education systems are breaking down.  Once upon a time the general perception was that people who home schooled their kids were all fanatics and nuts.  Not so much anymore.  Columbine, Virginia Tech, Littleton Colorado, Newtown Connecticut.  At this point the frequency of public shootings is so great I’m not sure they even make the news anymore.  Sending kids off to school, something that used to be life affirming, has now become a source of anxiety.

The infrastructure of the US is crumbling.  Bridges, highways, waterways, public utilities.  No one is fixing them.  No one does anything until disaster strikes, and then it’s forgotten before the next news cycle.

The other day, thousands of people without health or dental insurance stood in line all day long in the heat at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Center to get wristbands for free health care appointments.  Many did not get in.  They interviewed a guy who got shut out last year.  He said he almost made it up to the gate before it closed and the police turned him away.  He needed dental work.  They told him, “come back next year.”  This year he got in.  What must the last year has been like for him every time he had to chew.  Contrary to public belief, most people do not seek dental care because they want to look pretty.  They go because they’re in intense pain and need help.

Ferguson, Missouri.  Race hatred.  According to Bureau of Justice statistics, at over 2.5 million, the United States has more people in prison than any other country, the vast majority of them African-American males.  Across the nation police departments are militarizing. 
The job market sucks.  Kids can’t leave home because they can’t support themselves.  If they’ve gone to college chances are their debt load is colossal.  It is not rare these days for a college graduate to emerge into the “real world” saddled with fifty or a hundred thousand dollars in debt.  This was unimaginable 20 years ago.

In short, this country has got real problems and would do well to take a lesson from airline flight attendants.  When you lose cabin pressure, put on your own mask before worrying about others.
Thinking this way is called being a patriot.

But of course patriotism is a naïve stance.  Reality forever underlies it like the bones of an ancient graveyard.  The question of whether to go to war again in the Middle East is not only absurd, but a complete non-starter.  Of course we shouldn’t.  We’ve done enough damage.  If you accept the premise that what the citizens of the United States need is employment, education, health care, safety and at least a crack at living contented, peaceful even thriving existences, then prosecuting nonsensical wars is exactly the wrong thing to do. 

But of course that’s not what the war mongering is about.  It’s about oil, and the huge profits accrued and hoarded by comparatively few individuals incapable of caring or even seeing the suffering of people around them.

So yeah, all things considered, ISIS doesn’t matter.  It’s a ghastly organization, agreed.   But its existence is not any more ghastly that murdered children, a ruined environment, countless hopeless and suffering dispossessed, and all the other horrors that have come to exist in this country due to a wrong-headed government hijacked by the powerful interests of big gas and oil companies, hijacked, in the end, by greed.   

Catherine O’Sullivan, September 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

On Being a Mother

My son’s getting on a plane back to Scandinavia where he goes to school.  He’s raring to go, his mind scrabbling for details.  Has he got everything? Passport, tickets, phone charger?  Jesus Christ, a 9 hour layover in fucking New Jersey, then an 11 hour flight to Stockholm.  L.A., Tucson, back to the wicked cold, and the bleak icy landscapes of Finland, a land so foreign most people forget it exists.

But he likes it there: his friends, his school.  At twenty-two he is not my baby anymore.  He is not anyone’s baby.  He is a young man, busting through his own skin daily and finding a brand new person.  His function in the world is becoming.

Mine is remembering.

I remember his birth, every moment of it.  I remember the light in the hospital room, the dyed hair of the crabby nurse reading the Book of Mormon, who became terrified when I asked her, just a conversational gambit, if she’d didn’t get a little worried about STD’s what with all the blood she had to deal with every day.  Maybe they do now but back in the early nineties, they didn’t routinely test expectant mothers for STD’s.  Not unless you asked.  I thought that was interesting and an interesting conversation was what I needed.  When you’re wracked with contractions, talking about the weather is not going to feed the bulldog.

I remember my husband on my left, always on my left, doing his best to help although really, what can a man do?  We’d been through this once before and he knew the woman on the bed wasn’t really me, or was me only spiritually, hormonally loaded for bear and anything else I could take down while trying to push a nearly nine pound baby boy through a hole that up to that point, had pretty much been used just for pleasure.

It was a long night.  There were ice chips, purgatorial tortures, rending of garments and oaths berating the gods then apologizing frantically for what I’d just said.  There was no doctor in the morning and the admonition, repeated over and over by various nurses, once I’d finally reached full dilation, not to push.  “You can’t,” they said.  “There’s no one here to catch the baby!”  I visualized a guy running in wearing full protective gear and a catcher’s mitt.  I tried, but not pushing after all that work was like asking a wave not to break on the shore.  Would my newborn emerge and crash headfirst onto the floor? Was it clean, was it soft?  Could someone at least put a pillow on the floor?

In the nick of time a frizzy haired MD—at least I think she was an MD; she could have been the janitor for all I knew-- swooped into the room, into latex gloves and the sleeves of her gown.  My child came into the world.

There was never any doubt that he would.  Throughout my entire young life I said I never wanted kids.  The world was covered in asphalt, Reagan wanted to start a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and bank tellers had become automated machines.  But one day about age 27 all that changed.  I was at a restaurant and found myself entranced by a beautiful infant on an adjacent table.  All swaddled in powder blue, snuggled into his carrier, a little trickle of drool running out one side of his mouth, I couldn’t take my eyes off him.  His parents finally moved him to another table.

And I knew.  I could no more not have kids than a salmon could not swim upstream to spawn.  My lifelong maternal instincts and twenty-something fecundity made a mockery of my philosophical objections.  Rene Descartes would have thrown me into a fire; my cogito ergoed nil.  I was a human animal and could no longer fool anyone anymore.

I had two boys nearly 4 years apart.

Someone once said we’re compelled by infants because of the innocence in their eyes.  It’s very short lived and once it’s gone you never see it again.  Experience assaults it.  In small ways at first, barely perceptibly.  A favorite toy dropped on the floor through the slats of a crib, the disappointment and rage at being unable to retrieve it.  The sharp, sleep deprived swear-word from a parent none-too-thrilled at having to change a diaper at 3 AM.  Then bigger sorrows add up, sibling rivalry, school, physical and emotional pain change the wide-eyed clear gaze into something else.  It has to.

Because along with innocence comes vulnerability and this is dangerous.  While we long to cherish it, children themselves are desperate to get rid of it.  My four year old, terrified of the garbage truck, used to run in hollering every time it appeared: this great fearsome thing churning up the dust in the alley, making a terrible racket as it flung the bins around like some kind of monster from outer space.  He’d be frantic and hide behind my legs.  This is a fond memory for me.  Not the being scared part, but his rock-hard conviction of extreme danger and my ability to protect him gave me such a feeling of purpose.   But for him it was a moment of exposure, fear, and while he would also come to understand the protective function of “mother,” as he grew into a young man the idea that he needed his mother’s protection would become anathema.

And so it goes.  The times when I felt so needed and useful, sitting up nights with illnesses, emergency room visits, first cars that crashed, first cigarettes taken away.  Or maybe things got heavy.  Drugs, heartbreak, tantrums and forgiveness, mistakes, parental humanity--perhaps the scariest thing of all-- crashing through.  As a mother all your hero moments are the moments in which your children were the most vulnerable.  They don’t want to remember that. They want what we all want: self-confidence, self-assurance, independence.

Sons, anyway.  Sons are like bear cubs, grown up and gone.  They go out into the world and mark their own territory.  They are loathe to remember a time you had to pull them out of the refuse bin they fell into on the side of the road, hell-bent on retrieving that chicken bone.  

Kids grow older, putting their pasts further and further behind them, and as the childish writing on the Mother’s Day cards changes color and the ceramic bowls and keepsakes they made in kindergarten crack and crumble.  As the color in the photographs fades and my confusion and loudly proclaimed objections to the intractability of time are heeded not at all, I wonder what the fuck happened.  Where did it go? What was it all for?  It did not make me money, bring me fame or reputation.  I am now much as I was before.  Just older, grayer, creakier.

The traffic is terrible at LAX.  It has been all the way down the 105.  At eleven at night there is no reason for it, but then this is L.A.  There never is.  My son’s duffle bag has all his worldly possessions and is wedged into the back seat along with a backpack containing a disassembled computer.  These equal all his worldly possessions.  The duffle always gets searched and it makes him mad; he’s got everything organized just so in there and they fuck it all up.  I try to tell him he might have better luck if his luggage wasn’t army green, but what do I know?

My son would like it better, I think, it would have saved a lot of trouble if he’d just hopped out of the passenger seat with a peck on the cheek, but I’m not having it.  I want a full standing up body hug.  I want to take his smell, his height, the feel of his whiskers, his slouch, his preternaturally focused bearing.  It’s a lot like his father’s, but friendlier, easier.  I want to take enough in to hold me until I see him again, an impossible task.

He rambles through the airport doors.  He’s thinking about Stockholm, Amsterdam.  All the places he’ll go and the people he’ll meet.

His world is becoming.  Mine is remembering.  Tears roll down my face all the way home.  The 105 West is clear.  The August air smells of car exhaust and heat.

Catherine O’Sullivan, August 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why PETA is Being Dumb about Sea World

When I was younger I had a housemate who had a dog.  Barney was a gangly retriever mix: a rambunctious, untrained pain in the neck.  Since my housemate lacked both the time and willingness to train him she resolved to get rid of him. 

This was back when hippies were real hippies, not the ersatz kind we have now.  Accordingly, they were mostly dumb and drug-addled.  Some of them were arrogant as hell.  They believed, for example, that just because the Vietnam War was finally over, they must have had something to do with it.  Nixon had been forced to quit and they took credit for that too.  Most significantly they figured out if you took the baloney off a sandwich and put avocado on it, not only did you appear more virtuous (see: Love Animals Don’t Eat Them), but had invented a new kind of tasty lunch.

So my housemate, her fierce belief in “natural” things reinforced no doubt by both avocado and alfalfa sprouts, decided to turn Barney loose in the wild.  The problem was that we lived in Los Angeles and the only “wild” she knew was Topanga Canyon, a brambled rolling land of sagebrush covered hills punctuated  by ramshackle houses occupied mostly by more hippies and possums.  Hopefully, someone found Barney and rescued him.  But it is more likely he was run over or starved to death.  He could no more have caught a possum than flown to Mercury.

This is the problem I have with PETA and its insistence that Sea World release its captive orcas.  I’m not on Sea World’s side.  I worked at a marine park with two captive orca whales in the late 1970’s and from the first day I saw them in that tiny 500,000 gallon tank, which sounds like a lot of water, but isn’t when you consider the fact that the bigger whale was actually slightly longer than the depth of the tank so his tail flukes were curved at the ends, you get the picture. 

Everybody knew that situation was wrong.  I asked an old keeper one day whether he thought those animals would every get out of that tiny tank and he said, “only in pieces, Catherine.” (fortunately, that did not come to pass.)  When the female had babies, they starved to death.  She couldn’t nurse them.  There were several theories as to why.  One was that being on her own, no one had ever taught her how.  Orca whales, which live in matriarchal pods, are highly social animals and they learn just about everything from other whales.  Another idea was that since the pool was round and she couldn’t really straighten out, her calves couldn’t get into a nursing position.  The problem has been solved at Sea World and it has successfully raised many orca calves, which is good because at this point the animal loving public would raise holy hell if it began snatching baby whales from the wild again.

PETA’s answer to the Sea World problem however, is naïve at best and moronic at worst.  Let’s take a look at the only example we have of humans trying to rehabilitate and release a lifelong captive orca:  Keiko.
In the early nineteen-nineties production began for a movie called “Free Willy.”  It was about a kid who makes friends with a captive orca and resolves to get him back into the wild.  Most of the whales in “Free Willy” were animatronic, but inevitably the studio needed a real whale for a few shots.  Like all movie productions “Free Willy” had a limited budget and needed to get the cheapest whale they could find. They found him in a rundown dump of a seaquarium in Mexico.  He was two-thousand pounds underweight, had a nasty skin condition—the result of living in warm Mexican waters instead of the cooler waters of his native seas—and was overall in extremely poor health. 

The movie was a minor hit with the kids and somewhere along the line questions arose that would lead to one of the greatest let’s-put-our-money-where-our-mouths-are experiments of all time.  There was no choice.  Keiko had to be removed from that situation, but because of his skin condition he could not simply be purchased by another Sea Park.  No one knew whether it was contagious or not, and nobody wanted to risk putting him in with other valuable captive orcas.

The “Free Willy/Keiko Foundation” was formed.  Keiko underwent 2 years of rehabilitation in Oregon.  He had been captured in Iceland as a baby in 1979, and when he was healthy again he was transported by cargo plane back to his home waters.  He was trained to eat live food—having been fed dead fish from buckets for most of his life the change was something he had to get used to—taken on numerous open ocean swims, (accompanied by his caretakers in a boat)—and after being tagged with a tracking device, released into his native seas. 

Some wrongs simply cannot be righted and as humane as its motives no doubt were, The Free Willy/Keiko Foundation did not succeed.  Keiko did not, as was hoped, re-integrate with his family pod.  He did not speak their language, having never had the chance to learn it. Three weeks after his release he was found in a Norwegian fjord seeking human companionship and letting little kids ride on his back.  On December 12, 2003 he was found dead in Taknes Bay, Norway.  The cause of death was pneumonia, common in starving marine mammals.  Without a thick blubber layer they get as cold as we would if dumped in icy Icelandic seas.  They are warm blooded animals.

The cost of freeing Willy/Keiko, a project that took nearly ten years, was over twenty-million dollars and it was a failure.  He could not readapt to the wild any more that Barney the dog could have.  He did not know how to be a Killer Whale.  The sea is a wondrous but harsh place.  Thriving there takes a lifetime of learning and practice.

Sea World currently owns 29 captive orca whales, which have lived their entire lives in captivity.  Many have been born there.  The question becomes, if some grand hand were to come down and demand it release its animals, who would pay for it and more importantly, is there a chance in hell it would even work?  If it didn’t, could the suffering imposed upon real animals by uninformed ideologues be greater than the suffering they already endure?  These are valid questions.  These animals are not just used to captivity.  They are functionally dependent on it. 

Dramatic solutions often look great and make us feel virtuous, but in the case of captive orcas at Sea World, or at any other marine parks and believe me, there are a lot of them worse than Sea World, isn’t it better to put pressure on such organizations to phase out their captive breeding programs thereby eventually stopping the practice of keeping such large and majestic animals in captivity in the first place?

Sometimes, as it goes in life, mistakes are simply compounded.  The first captive orca was Namu, caught in 1965, made to live in a small sea pen in the Pacific Northwest.  He lasted one year in captivity before he died.  That’s not to say they didn’t try.  When he seemed lonely they even caught him a mate and called her Shamu, the performing name of every orca whale Sea World owns.

Maybe it’s time we admitted our mistake and simply turned around.  But like anything that takes years in the making, the solution will not happen overnight.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Wit, Depression and Robin Williams

Robin Williams killed himself yesterday.  This probably didn’t come as a surprise to people who knew him well.  He’d been in and out of rehab several times and endured a life long struggle with substance abuse and depression.

I have thought about wit many times.  Mostly because so few people have it.  Many quote jokes, smile, laugh as a form of social engagement and enjoyment and have occasional witty moments, but chronic wit is rare and those afflicted live troubled and conflicted lives.  Groucho Marx destroyed most of the people close to him.  He couldn’t turn off his scathing humor regardless of any love he might have felt for the people at whom it was directed.  The joke, barb, the surgically precise observations continually burst through, shredding anyone in its path.  He made several wives miserable and died a lonely and exploited old man.  

Richard Pryor, a first class wit by any measure was miserable, angry and violent.  There would have been no “Blazing Saddles” without Pryor—Mel Brooks, as funny as he was, was bolstered and advised throughout by Mr. Pryor.  Those of us who witnessed his stand-up in its heyday remember being shocked into speechless insensibility as he talked about his past in whorehouses and on the streets, turning the fact that he grew up under miserable circumstances into a brand new kind of comedy.  Richard Pryor rarely pulled a punch and he made us laugh like hell.  He also eventually set himself on fire then proceeded to die miserably over a period of twenty years.

The ability to see the world, to remain intimate with the horror and cruelty of it devoid of sugar-coating, then spin it into something that makes us laugh, comes at great cost.  Most of us filter realities' harshest barbs with conclusions, belief, mindsets and philosophies thereby remaining at least partially buffered.  Dawn Powell said, “wits are never happy people.  The anguish that has scraped their nerves and left them raw to every flicker of life is the base of wit—for the raw nerve reacts at once without any agent, the reaction direct with no integumentary obstacles.”

True wit is a razor’s edge.  Rosanne Barr was funniest when she’d just got out of the trailer park, the same goes for Whoopi Goldberg when she was on welfare.  Both situations were exceedingly painful: children, no money, desperation saddled with roaring intellectual acuity that never stops collecting information, sharpening it, and presenting it back in particular brands of stark relief.  But this stark relief provides both insight and pain.  The act of turning the pain on its head is the very thing that makes it funny. 

One of the most quoted lines of Groucho Marx, that he’d never want to be a member of a club that would have him as a member, isn’t what people think.  Back in the 1930’s the best and most exclusive social clubs disallowed Jews.  That’s what Groucho was talking about. As a Jew, no matter how famous or rich he was he could not get into the best social clubs.  Anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, these are all the rich veins from which comedy comes.  

They’re also extremely painful.

Dave Chappelle walked away.  Everybody thought he was nuts.  In truth, he was probably the sanest comedian ever to come down the pike.

I don’t know what Robin Williams’ personal demons were.  I’m sad that he’s dead.  He made me laugh more times than I can count.  But maybe what killed him was a function of who he was, the way he saw the world and spun it into humor as told to us.  And maybe for all he said, it’s the things he didn’t say that killed him, the leftovers, the things we were spared.

How very tragic that he could not spare himself. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Evolution of Sideboob
                 Noisy USC students celebrating something.  Who knows what?  The twenty-something blond with the broad back flashes serious sideboob.   That in itself is not worthy of celebration.  It is a side dish.  We are in a Tapas bar.
Sideboob is a twenty-first century invention.  Thousands of generations of women all over the world have launched endless assaults with cleavage, but sideboob is only just emerging.
                “Don’t be so obvious!”  My dining companion’s head pivots 180 degrees like Jerry Manhoney’s and when it comes back around his mouth is hanging open.  “Pretend like you’re looking at the wine list.”  The wine list is chalked up on the board behind the revelers.  They have Verdugo and Andalusio, and Toro and Spaino and loads of other vintages all from the sun soaked plains of that land overseas that just missed inventing tortillas.  It could have become a great civilization but for that. 
                He gives it another go.  The Catalonia Picado is a very spicy vintage, no doubt, and man holy shit, you can almost see nipple.  Blond locks flowing, hiding the knot at the neck of the flimsy black halter dress with a back so low it’s possible there’s no dress at all.
                Something happens.  The students roar.  Their conversation is mostly roars.  “The scallops are really good,” hollers my companion.  I cup both ears like a radio dish trying to receive faint signals from outer space.  Roar, roar and more roar.  The scallops, grilled in a number of things I’ve never heard of before, include carrot goo.   I order them.
                Sideboob cuddles her boyfriend, flesh barely teasing his upper arm.  She whoops about something and I don’t blame her.  Young, well-fed and cared for as if raised on a farm for beautiful girls, she should be whooping about everything.  The world that unfolds for her is not the same one the rest of us muck around in.  It welcomes and embraces her gently and lovingly.  Everybody in it is “nice.”  It puts its coat over puddles in the road lest she dirty her Italian slave sandals.
                Historically, women have been looking for ways to both show and not show their breasts for millennia.  The dilemma first presented itself back in caveman times when someone with big, well-formed breasts got the best guy in the place.  He really liked those breasts but he liked them so much he didn’t want any of the other guys to get a look at them, even though most of them already had.  The “best” guy in the place wasn’t necessarily the smartest.  He was just the best at hunting, running, all that.
                “Now that you’re going to live in my cave,” said the Best Caveman, “you’ve gotta cover those things up.”
                The Best Caveman’s woman was not thrilled by this pronouncement.  She had a baby who ate ten times a day and putting a yak pelt on and off all day long seemed like a big pain to her.   Those suckers are heavy.
                People say a lot of bad things about cavemen, that they’re domineering, short-tempered, inclined to club women in the head and drag them around by the hair, which is mostly true, but this one was pretty reasonable.
                “What if,” said the Cavewoman thinking on her feet, “I cut a ‘V’ in the top of the yak pelt.  That way when the baby needs to eat, I can just reach down and whip out a breast and when I’m finished, put it back.”
                This idea caused the Best Caveman some consternation.  It made sense, but there was still so much wrong with it.  A full time crew-neck yak shirt was a heavy burden to bear, which wasn’t really fair to the Cavewoman, the ‘V’ would allow for easy access, but damn!  It would still allow all the other cavemen to see the creamy smoothness of the tops of her breasts.  But wait, were those parts even a big deal?  When both he and the baby were having at those magical orbs, they went straight for the nipples.  It occurred to the Best Caveman that maybe, just maybe, those were the only parts that really mattered.
                “Okay, fair enough,” said the Best Caveman.  “But if you whip those things out when the second best caveman is around I’ll club you insensible.
                “Fair enough,” said the Best Caveman’s woman.
                Over the centuries, women have found hundreds, perhaps thousands of ways to exploit this initial, and for reasons unknown, definitive masculine decree.  The Roman’s, generally ignorant of Stone age humanity and anybody’ else’s but their own, allowed massive cleavage on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, none on Tuesday and Thursday, and on the weekends changed the rules without telling anybody. This occurred only after the invention of the Julian calendar.  During the dark ages most people were starving and women actually had concave breasts, so nobody cared.  But by the time the European Renaissance rolled around there was bustiered, corseted, wired, strapped, and default cleavage on display and in abundance.
 The Victorians got goosey about breasts, but that high-necked, bowed and lacey nonsense made everybody miserable and by the time the 20th century rolled around women were beginning to rediscover the fact that cleavage was an enormously powerful tool in making men act the way you wanted them to.  Cleavage displayed correctly could poleaxe most anything with 1 “X” chromosome, makes them buy you drinks and eventually say “yes,” when you wanted new furniture for the living room.
                But then something happened that no one had anticipated.  Breast implants.  Breast implants made cleavage so common it got boring.  Tits and fannies began to look alike.   Everybody had massive cleavage: children, fat boys, young girls, old girls.  There were fifty and sixty year old women walking around with the tits of 25 year olds. Rich people got their dogs breast implants.  Someone simply had to come up with a better idea.  That’s when the the genius of this latest generation comes in. 
While breast implants look great from the top, all round and symmetrical, from the side those suckers look lousy!  From the side they look like, well, blobs of manufactured plastic.  Fact is, you can’t fake awesome side boob.
                The table of USC students roars again.  Roar roar roar roar.  Someone’s ordered a round of drinks, something extremely nasty and pink colored.  It’s either watered down Nyquil or something Spanish nobody’s ever heard of.   My dinner arrives.  The scallops are decoratively arranged on a bed of carrot goo and grilled to perfection.

They are delicious.