Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Isla Vista, Mental Illness, and Guns
               
 In the wake of the Isla Vista shootings there is a lot of talk about mental illness.  Every time something like this happens the initial reaction is, “he must be nuts.” (It’s almost always a “he.” According to the US Department of Justice 90% of murders are committed by men.)

 I have a problem with the “he must be nuts” conclusion, because it is dead wrong.
               
First off, there’s too much separation and resignation in it.  It says, “We who are sane cannot comprehend the actions of people who commit these crimes, so we are stuck with it.”  This is patently untrue.  We can all comprehend exactly what happened.  Take that little part of you that felt hurt when dissed at the supermarket by a rude checker.  Take that little part still wounded because the girl of your dreams turned you down for a date.  Take the feeling you had when the asshole on the freeway flipped you the bird even though he was the one who cut you off.  Now magnify those feeling thousands of times until they eclipse every gentle impulse you have.  That’s who Elliot Rodgers was.  We all have parts of him in our nature.  He was one expression of human nature.
               
In a novel called, “We Need to talk about Kevin,” Lionel Shriver makes a pretty good argument for murderous behavior as inborn.  People are born with all kinds of deficiencies and peculiarities.  Low I.Q’s, high mechanical aptitude, artistic flairs, excessive kindness, sensitivity, no arms, tails, flat heads, the ability to play Chopin by the time they are two.  There is no dearth of inherent qualities recognizable in children at birth.  There is not one reason in the world that viciousness should not be one of them other than our moral, visceral objection to the idea.  We like to think of ourselves as fine fellows and enjoy platitudes like, “people are basically good.”  While it is true that most people lack the drive to go and shoot up a school or shopping mall, the ones who possess it do an inordinate amount of harm.  So it seems to me imprudent to blanketely accept the notion that “people” are basically anything.  We accept that saints and holy men show virtue from a very early age, why shouldn’t the opposite be true as well?
                
One of my sons had a school mate who, at the age of about 7, delighted in telling me how funny it was that he could repeatedly push his toddler brother down the steps and his mother assumed the child was just clumsy, thereby accounting for his constantly bruised head.  The same kid, I was informed by my son, went back into the classroom during recess and sliced the leg off the class frog.  It was never proved but every kid in the class knew who did it.
               
 If excessive kindness or musical prowess is accepted as just a normal variation of human nature, why should excessive meanness be relegated to the category “nuts.”  The answer is that it shouldn’t.   I would argue that Elliot Roger’s behavior was within the normal human spectrum.
               
We simply find it soothing to imagine this person and his atrocious actions are outside the definition of humanity.  He/they clearly are not.  Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, David Berkowitz, Kenneth Bianchi, Angelo Bueno, Charles Albright, Joe Ball, Terry Blair, Richard Ramirez, Robert Yates, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Adam Lanza, Jared Lee Loughner and the thousands of other murderers and megalomaniacs humanity produces, are ample evidence that homicidal behavior is an aspect of human nature.
               
So the question becomes, what do we do about it?  The only answer that makes any sense is to diminish the lethal capacity of the population in general and the only way to do that is to limit the access of the general public to firearms, especially automatic weapons.  They are too efficient at killing.

Other arguments can be made but the solutions they propose are draconian.  Since the Isla Vista killing I’ve heard a lot of pundits, mostly propped up by the gun industry I imagine, blaming the mentally ill.  They say, “if someone had screened him, identified his pathology before it became so violently apparent this never would have happened.”  This is ridiculous on multiple fronts.  One, since Elliot Rodgers had never been arrested for a violent or any other act, constraining him would have been an abrogation of his individual rights.  Even if some mental health practitioner somewhere along the line had predicted that he was liable, at some future point, to commit violence, you can’t arrest someone for something he might do.  This is explicated clearly in the film, “Minority Report” so I won’t do it here.
               
Secondly, the assumption that the mental health sector of the health care industry is anything close to functioning is just wrong.  Until recently, few insurance companies even covered mental health care and they still balk like crazy about it, no pun intended.  When they do offer coverage, practitioners are tremendously over-subscribed with waiting lists of months.  And of course getting in does not insure adequate or even plausible care.  At your average HMO if it can’t be treated with Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors and anti-anxiety medication, it ain’t going to get treated.  Mental health is a much harder fix that a sore throat and few but the very rich are in a position to demand the precision required in treating its subtleties.
                
Again, I would argue that Elliot Rogers was not mentally ill.  He was undoubtedly a psychopath, but psychopathology is not a mental illness.  It is a “personality disorder,” and as any shrink who has ever run screaming from a treatment room will tell you, it is not treatable.
               
I read the news today, oh boy, and it seems a bunch of gun rights guys are going to go shopping at a Home Depot with their guns.  They say in doing this they are exercising their right as codified in the United States Constitution, to bear arms.  Like a lot of other people I don’t think this is what the founding fathers were talking about.  They acknowledged the need for a “well-regulated militia.” The US had no standing army in those days and if you’re going to have a militia it’s got to have guns.  Having soldiers bring their own meant the government didn’t have to buy them.  I don’t think they were talking about bringing arms to Home Depot.

In any case, I don’t know what the other people in that particular Home Depot are going to be feeling, but if I was in a large warehouse with a bunch of guys carrying guns I would exit as discreetly and quickly as possible and never go back there again.   Hell, aren’t a bunch of guys who feel like they need to carry arms to go buy hoses and lawnmowers by definition, nuts?

After his son was killed in the Isla Vista shooting, Richard Martinez, father of Chris, made a heartfelt statement.  He said his family was broken and lost.  “You don’t think it will happen to your child until it does.”

“They talk about gun rights, what about Chris’s right to live?”

What indeed, about Chris’s right to live?   

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Entrepreneurial Journalism

Entrepreneurial Journalism

First off, I’m prejudiced.  I’ll say it right here.  “Entrepreneur” is a fucking hard word to spell and no matter how many times I have been forced to do it—and there have been plenty lately-- I still get it wrong on the first, second and sometimes third try before I give up and spell check it.

Secondly, I hate the word in general.  It sounds fancy, French and all, but everybody, and I mean everybody from mobsters to prostitutes to drug dealers and bootleggers, have used this word to describe the fact that what they’re doing, primarily, is whoring or stealing.  These days however, “entrepreneur” has taken an interesting turn due wholly to the rise of the Internet.  “Net neutrality,” which means that if you have a product or service, you can make a website, put it on the Internet, and make big dough, has ushered in a new age of egalitarian capitalism.  Everybody’s equal on the Internet.  “Google,” is no more important than “Crotchless Panties Inc.” Except for the fact that “Crotchless Panties Inc. is more fun and probably can’t tell you whether Millard Fillmore or Rutherford B. Hays was president first.

The new egalitarian entrepreneurial model has eclipsed all the old fashioned employment models where you actually go to work and get paid.  On the one hand, this is fine because there aren’t many jobs these days.  Manufacturing has mostly been carted offshore and lots of things are automated that didn’t used to be including banks, supermarket checkers, call centers, autoworkers and airplane pilots.  Oh don’t get me wrong.  There are still some jobs, mostly at a McDonalds near you; and of course there’s always sign spinning.  But not everybody’s got the knack for that.  To be a good sign spinner you have to be young, with access to a lot of meth and even sign spinners are having a tough time these days, outflanked by those mannequins chained to car batteries.

So a lot of people stay home, write computer code and make websites.

Dog trainers make websites, people who think they might like to become dog trainers make websites, house cleaners make websites, artists, chimney cleaners, child care providers, perverts who want you to think they’re child care providers, Nigerian princes, house painters, freelance documentarians, vegetarians, Unitarians and veterinarians all make websites.

 “If you build it, they will come.”  That’s the operational principle.  And if you’re going to have a new egalitarian capitalist model, you have to have an operational principle.  Marx said that, I think.
At the dog park near my house there are loads of flyers on the fence for “dog-walking services,” mostly flying around, weather-beaten and frayed.   A lot of people love dogs but since they have to go to work they don’t have the time or energy to walk them.  So they need professionals to do it.  A few years ago some plucky individuals recognized this, started offering to do it for pay, and it worked.  These people multiplied over time and after awhile, the people who owned the dogs they didn’t have time to walk figured out how much dough these dog walkers were making and, since they hated their jobs anyway thought to themselves, “hey, I think I’ll become a dog walker too!”  Then the people whose dogs they walked came to the same conclusion, quit their jobs to become dog walkers, then a bunch more people did it, and more and more and more until there were no more dogs to walk.  The entire dog walking economy collapsed.  It was catastrophic, like with the Dutch tulips.

Another entrepreneurial thing I’ve noticed these days is “web site designers.”  If you go on Google and type in “website design” you will get, like, billions of hits in the time it takes to pull your crotchless panties out of your ass-crack.  Loads of these people will be fifty-something men, the kind who always fancied themselves good with technology and upon getting downsized from their regular jobs because a twenty-five year old agreed to do it for half the salary, taught themselves website design.  The problem is, this shit really is a young peoples’ game.  If you were born before 1963 you’ve got all sorts of debris hobbling your neurons—things like transistors, phone answering machines, V-8 engines, surfboards, leftover drugs, braless hippies, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, bleak Ingmar Bergman movies with stark black and white landscapes occupied by rail thin men in big floppy hats.  Also, Captain Crunch.  Physiologically, this debris has calcified all that formerly wobbly grey matter so that thinking is no longer so much fluid, as it is an act of willfully pushing neuronal impulses through something the consistency of bathtub caulk.  Trust me on this.  No matter how smart you think you are you can’t keep up. 

Kids these days have been pushing buttons since they were in kindergarten and have response times so jacked up on Pavlovian bright color payoffs, booms, bangs, tits, thrills and violent erotic imagery soaked in massive doses of Ritalin administered from the first time they wiggled in their strollers, that they can design and create a fucking website in their sleep.

But back to the reason I’ve been forced to spell “entrepreneur” a lot lately.   I took a journalism course at school.  I used to be a journalist, well, kind of, sort of.  It snuck up on me.  I lived in Arizona for a long time and being a chronically pissed-off liberal in that reddest of red states, I was forever writing irate letters to the local alternative weekly, which morphed into a “guest column” and then one day the editor called and said, “guess what?  You got the job.”  I didn’t know what he was talking about since I hadn’t applied for any job but I said, “Sure, I’ll take it.  You’ve made the right choice; you won’t be sorry sir,” etc, etc.
It was great.  I got to go off about anything I wanted to for nearly four years.  But bye and bye the bottom fell out of both the newspaper business and the economy, and I moved on.  Graduate school seemed a natural segueway at this point. 

I spent the next year learning about the “new” journalism and I learned plenty.  New journalism is a lot different from the old, the kind where you investigated and wrote stories like Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.  All that’s gone.  The new journalism is, you guessed it “entrepreneurial.”

There are two kinds of entrepreneurial journalism.   The first is “backpack journalism.”  There’s a substantial up-front cost with this.  You’ve got to buy a video camera, mics, wires, I-phone, editing software and a laptop with high processing power to run it.  Then, and this was the hard part for me, you have to learn how to use the fucking editing program.  This involves a computer screen display of sound and video translated into lines that look like seismograph readings, snatching bits of one line with a clown hand and dragging it to another line.  In the end, it’s all supposed to run seamlessly, as in you can’t tell where the edits are.  My initial and only attempt came out looking like I’d interviewed a bad stutterer.  The whole idea is that as an entrepreneurial journalist, you find, create, edit and produce your own story, all in the back seat of your car then zing it to the news outlets before anybody else does.  If you’re lucky someone buys it.  The guy who taught us this gave us an example of excellent “opportunity seizing behavior,” his own.  He got the scoop on a nasty car accident by pulling off the freeway, walking back up the off ramp and crossing the police lines like he owned the place.  Nobody said “boo” to him.  “Seizing the day is everything, people.”  That’s what I learned about the new journalism.  It’s fast fast fast.  Report, produce and sell.  It also involves a lot of networking, branding, Tweeting, being Linked In, and being at spiritual oneness with your IPhone.

After selling enough stories this way you’ve got loads of stuff on your CV and then, ah, something happens.  I’m not sure what, exactly.  I’m thinking of that old “Far Side” comic where the professor is standing in front of a chalkboard loaded with calculations but right in the middle is a cloudy bit that says, “then a miracle happens.”  I’m also thinking that the kind of entrepreneurial journalists this works out for either have trust funds or have to live in their parents basements for very long times.  I mean, think about it.  If you’re practicing backpack journalism you can’t get a regular job at Starbucks, for example.  Suppose some terrorists blow up the dam or someone had a wardrobe malfunction, you want to go cover it, but your stupid boss won’t let you go?  “Are you kidding?  Who’s going to make these double caramel lattes?  Get back to work, you dolt.”

Of course the other thing you can do if you’re backpack journalist is create your own website.  This involves learning to write computer code and takes a very long time.  If you don’t like fiddling with a bunch of impossibly arcane crap that would drive a Rhesus monkey out of its mind in about two minutes, you probably won’t enjoy this.  Once you’ve got your website up and running you can put your stories there and theoretically, if you’re the right kind of mover and shaker, get as much traffic as the Huffington Post.  Of course you’re competing with a lot of Internet traffic including somebody’s cousin.   Butchie’s 5th birthday party Facebook page, but you never know where the break’s going to come from and that’s the excitement of the new journalism.  No more working for “the man.”  You’re free to create, invent your own “brand,” become a news gathering universe unto itself and if the dough’s a little slow in rolling in, well, be nice to your parents.  They try to be as nice as they can but you really can’t blame them for imagining you’d be out of the house before you reached your 38th birthday.

The second kind of entrepreneurial journalism, the kind I’m doing right now is called “blogging.”  “Blogging” comes from “web logging,” which didn’t used to be a thing but now it is.  Virtually anyone can become a blogger: human rights activists, computer salesmen, swimming instructors, religionists.  My white supremacist Nazi prick bastard neighbor before he got evicted.  Some blogs get read, most of them don’t because, let’s face it, who’s got the time to read everybody’s opinion?  Reliable surveys indicate most blog readers are woodworkers, fetishists, fans of Sarah Palin, gun enthusiasts, people recovering from surgeries whose TV’s broke, and convicted felons.

Of course just having a blog does not guarantee you’ll get readers from the aforementioned group and it doesn’t imply that you will make any money with your blog.  Arianna Huffington makes a bunch with her blog, but I have a feeling that has to do with another modern journalistic practice called “link-baiting.”  I believe link-baiting might be ethically problematical, but nobody worries about those things anymore.  Link-baiting is when the headline on the web page says, “Lose 50 pounds in two days with special miracle food!” but the story is about farming subsidies in a Republican controlled district in Nebraska.  Publications that do a lot of link-baiting get paid according to how often stories get clicked on, not on whether people actually read them or not.  My guess is that people looking to lose massive amounts of weight quickly aren’t particularly interested in farming subsidies in the Midwest, but then there is a lot about the new journalism I find hard to grasp.

Well, that’s about it for now.  I hope all of you interested in the new journalism profession have found this interesting and informative.  I will be back next week with the first in my ongoing series, “An Historical Perspective on the Dog Walking Industry: could we have learned something from the Dutch Tulip catastrophe, or are some things simply the workings of fate?”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Seagulls Reel


Seagulls Reel

                Seagulls reel.  They rise in a quasi-flock and at the edge of the surf and size things up.  To go out, make the effort against the wind coming off the water to pick at the leavings of sea lions, pelicans and cormorants or to turn back inshore, to sandwiches, chips, pizza, McDonalds, pork rinds, Doritos, cupcakes left unattended.

                Quasi-flock: seagulls are not loyal birds.  Their social structure ranges from that of vaguely affiliated hillbillies to unconstrained mobs.  Given the right circumstances they will peck each other senseless over a crust of bread.

                Seagulls reel.  Heading inland; the wind makes it senseless to do otherwise.  Pudgy brown children roll in the surf like churros in powdered sugar.  Fathers male bond as mothers watch hawk-like although a few barely at all.  And as the bright sunshine bounces off water concealing tormented and writhing sand shifting beneath the feet of all and sundry, conditioned by inflow and outflow, by the moon, the gods and worst of all El Nino, they play. 

The lifeguard watches.  Red-slickered, hooded to the point of chicken-bandy-legged and gymtoned, waving a fire engine red lozenge while the myriads watch not knowing or caring what he’s worried about.

                “How many you pull out today?”  At Zuma Beach there are always rescues.  It is treacherous to the point sensible people won’t go there.  You want a rip-tide that pulls you to Anacapa you go to Zuma Beach.  Swim parallel to the shore as long as you want to and nothing's going to happen but you swim into another one.  From Zuma Beach you can visit the entire west coast of north America for free and without hardly trying.  It doesn't ask if you want to go.

                And jellyfish, though technically you’re not supposed to call them “fish."  They are not fish.  They are 99.999% water and the rest don’t you fucking touch me.  Zuma Beach always had, has, and always will have jellyfish.  The man-o-war kind in fractions and otherwise dead and tentacled lolling on the breakers hitching rides or whatever gelatinous does.  Nothing helps a jellyfish sting but peeing on it, which probably doesn’t help.  But it is funny.

                Seagulls reel.  Inland like a U-turn on the boulevard.  A sunburned slacker with beach-buzz eyes loses his hot dog to a clear headed smart beak, feathers and sinew heading out to sea.  It’s alright now, the buffeting no problem.  This bird has acquired the fuel to get back.

                “Five,” says the lifeguard.  “Lots of holes out there.  That’s why I love this job.  Love to go into the water.”

                Where would we be without lifeguards?

                I know a thing or two about seagulls.  It is nearly impossible to identify one kind from the other because at different developmental stages they all look the same.  A gray one can be a white one on the way to becoming white and a white can be thirty different kinds of white.  Herring gulls have a red spot on their lower beaks so their offspring can target the food pump.

Were I to wake up reincarnated a seagull, horrification would ensue: “holy shit what did I do to deserve this?”  Because for a seagull, a broken wing, leg, an illness or serious wound is a death sentence.  And the wind, the force, the engineering of a creature constantly and persistently at the mercy of such, and the undoing should anything befall it.  I cannot snatch the hot dog before the other one can.  I lack the strength to fly out to sea.  I am going away and I cannot fix this.  The others don’t notice.  They just bicker and fight over the leavings, until the leavings are you.
Seagulls reel.  And at the end of the day settle further on down the beach.  There are no people or snack foods there.  Just beak tucked into wing fluffed with white feathers and sand.  Night will fall.  For a little while breath beneath the wing is warm

Los Angeles at a Glance


Los Angeles at a Glance

No one knows where Los Angeles begins or ends.  They did once but not anymore.  It spreads out in so many directions north south east and west stopped only by the sea and then barely, that there is no obvious boundary.  It is like the universe only dirtier and with much less order.  There will be heat death for Los Angeles someday, but it will be ugly getting there.  The ocean stops the city but when it does the leavings of masses mixes with the surf and while yeah, the reason the foam at Santa Monica is brown may have something to do with churn and rainwater, but you’re never really sure.  There’s forever a nagging.  Is it or isn’t it shit I’m swimming in? Whose is it and what are they infected with?

The east.  Desert spattered with mini-malls and settlements gives way to something called “Upland,” although it is not clear what it is up land of.  Up land of more land which is bleak and waterless, sandy and shifting both in its architecture and population.  Lots of Latino immigrants have settled in Upland; they don’t mind the heat so much but the boredom gets to them as they work at fast food joints serving people driving to better or at least more exciting places burgers and burritos and send them on their way.  Go away Gringo.  We’ve got to get back to the hopelessness and meth labs, the first is always waiting—it ain’t going to go anywhere-- but the second tend to explode and burn down if you don’t keep an eye on them.

San Diego used to be south of Los Angeles but it has lost its autonomy and bled in.  It likes to imagine it is the other way around, that it has bled into LA but San Diego has never had much of a sense of self despite what T. Jefferson Parker says.  San Diego is real estate developed and yanked from under the indigenous population because it is too nice for the likes of them.  Bushy blond hairdo’s and hot rods disappeared a long time ago.  There are dolphins living in tanks now in San Diego.  One of them is going to jump out and go splat on the tarmac one of these days.  It has happened before elsewhere and it will happen again but very few people know about it.  It’s a secret.

 I live in Encino south of “the boulevard.”   “The boulevard” is Ventura and to live south of it is a big deal.  Everyone wants to live south of the boulevard since that means you’ve got dough except in my case.  In my case it means I fell on the charity of an old friend or maybe he needed the dough and fell on mine.  Either way it’s a kind of an impaling on chenielle and as you wake to the leaf blowers and middle easterners with black- tinted windows on high-end sports cars careening around the curve and down the hill, it kind of make you wonder in general about the things people crave.

My neighborhood is Jewish.  There are conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, regular Jews, non-observant Jews and Jews who switch off Monday, Wednesday, Friday and alternating Saturdays.  There are kosher, non-kosher, short, tall, bearded, clean-shaven, men, women, and children Jews.  Many of them wear yarmulkas on Friday night and Saturday too.  I haven’t quite figured that one out yet but there’s a reason they have 2 Sundays.  Of course like the rest of us, some of them have no Sunday at all.

 You cannot go to the bathroom in Los Angeles without getting on a freeway.  Cars are a religion here and people act all kinds of ways they wouldn’t ordinarily when they are in their cars.  With a car you’ve got loads of metal, plastic, and tinted windows around you and you can act any old way you want to. If you get really mad you can crash into someone.  Of course most of the time it suffices to bully them, sidle up alongside and say mean stuff, intimidate them by acting aggressive and or crazy.  You can say things with your car you’d never have the guts to say ordinarily.  Leaning on your horn screaming “get the fuck out of the way.  My needs are a hundred times more important than yours are and even if they aren’t, fuck you anyway.”  There is a lot of fuck youing going on from the inside of cars.  Fuck youing nobody’d have the balls for if not for the metal, plastic and tinted windows.

But the fuck youing isn’t the worst thing emanating from the interior of cars in the City of the Angels.  The worst thing is the “I don’t give a fuck if you live or die because I’m busy texting.  If I don’t tell my best friend lol right now, some kind of bad electrical impulse is going to go off in my brain and I’m going to have to eat a quart of Haggen Daas when I get home.  Wtf?”  Text messaging monkeys are worse than fuck youing monkeys since at least the fuck youers have self-interest going for them.  They may act like they want to run into you but they don’t since it would damage their armor and get their insurance rates hiked.  The texters, which includes the yappers just for convenience’s sake, are in the grips of advanced addiction and while if they do run into another car or a pedestrian they won’t much like it, what they like and don’t like has nothing to do with anything.  They are compelled.  Compulsion is a dangerous thing.

Well, that is all for now.  Some Angelinos will read this and like, totally go, “Wow!  What a negative Nellie!”  I will address this phenomenon in the next installment, “The Law of Attraction, Pathological Narcissism, and Basalt.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gay Marriage and Short Sales


Gay Marriage and Short Sales

            I’ve been noticing there is a lot of coverage of the gay marriage issue in the media.  This is very important, we are led to understand, because God is involved.  I’m not sure when he got involved exactly.  Maybe it was in the middle ages when marriage was understood as a mechanism for insuring the transference of property and chattel, (read, women, land, and goats,) or in the nineteenth century when part of the emphasis became a legal mechanism for forcing men to support some of the kids they’d sired, or at least help Mama off her back long enough to keep the little ones from getting run over by Conestoga wagons.  The point is, He did get interested at some point and we’re all supposed to care about protecting the sanctity of heterosexual couples participating in it and that’s the way it is.  Queers, so the argument goes, will just have to settle matters of chattel with pistols at forty paces and we know this because it says so in the Bible.

I may have confused some of the details.  It happens.  But this is my understanding of the argument.

But if my understanding on the sanctity of marriage, hetero or otherwise is lacking, who could blame me?  I just lost a shitload of dough in the short sale of a house and was reassured by the law firm I had to pay to take said house, thereby not ruining my credit more than it’s already ruined, by a foreclosure, that I wasn’t nearly as upside down on my mortgage as most of the people they worked with.  Why I was supposed to find this reassuring I’m not sure.  Nor am I sure exactly what the law firm did with the money I paid them to get Chase Bank to forgive the 38k difference in what the house wound up being worth and what I owed.  I suspect they hired several supplicants to lick the feet of the persons in positions of authority at the bank, clean.  If there are other body parts of the lofty persons requiring cleaning, I’m pretty sure the lawyers would have charged more.  Of course I don’t know much about high finance and have no idea what hired supplicants charge these days.  There are a lot of things I don’t understand.

But man, the whole process took a long time.  Nine months.  Some of it is kind of funny when you’re far enough on the other side of it or psychotically hysterical whichever comes first.  For instance, when you realize you can no longer pay your mortgage, you have to stop paying your mortgage.  You cannot put your house on the market until you have not paid the mortgage for two months.  Once the two months have elapsed and you’ve gotten a friendly reminder phone call or two, maybe a reminder note in the mail goosing you to pay up, you can hire a realtor who hangs out a sign.  Many people might be interested in your house, but when they find out it’s a short sale they back off.  Most buyers lack the patience to wait six months to get their house and they know that’s what it is going to take.  The other thing is, at least in my case, the bank will not “forgive,” more that 20% of what you owe.  I bought my house on Hood Canal for 229K, it plummeted to a real market value of about 145k and since I owed 178K I could not accept anything less than 142.  To not be forgiven by Chase Bank is a very big deal especially with the new laws aggressively being pushed through state legislatures—Jan Brewer of Arizona just signed a whopper.  Wow!  I’m glad I don’t live there anymore—I believe it allows collection agencies to take one joint of one digit from each finger for every month you’re in arrears on any debt.

Once you’ve accepted an offer is when the fun starts.  Loads of packets of papers come in the mail the purpose of which is to ferret out every liquid asset you have.  Liquid assets include any monies in bank accounts both savings and checking over 2000 dollars, recreational vehicles, toys, you name it, up to the value of what you owe.  If you have any more that 2k, say, to cover bills, you have to take it out of whatever bank and give it to a friend to hold or hide it in the mattress.  You can’t give it to a relative since anybody with the same last name, either maiden or current, that you have will be found.  Big banks servicing mortgages are like the old East German Stasi.  They can find anything.  Oh, and I forgot.  That’s all big banks do: service the mortgage.  The actual mortgage holders are Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac.  I asked lots of people who these Fanny and Freddie actually are and could never get a satisfactory answer.  I suspect they live somewhere within the bowels of the earth and have virgins thrown to the every month or so, but your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, once Chase or whatever bank has got all your financial information, including employment or unemployment history, examined it under a microscope to find out whether it’s true or false, ramped up the harassing phone calls coming in day and night whether they’re supposed to or not, sent overnight urgent letters reminding you of your responsibility and loads of shit like that you set on fire, you have to write them a “hardship letter.” Again, I don’t know a lot about high finance so I had some trouble understanding the purpose of this.  They already had the numbers; they’d already been through the numbers for all they were worth.  There was nothing more to say really.  So I fell back on my childhood Catholicism.  It always comes in handy in a pinch.  “oh my Chase Bank, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, who art all good and deserving of all my love, I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.”  Then I stuck the labels from my prescription tranquilizer and anti-depressant bottles on the paper and sent it all along by US mail.  I figured that oughta do it.

Ever since Alanis Morrisette, I can’t actually remember what “ironic” means.  But this morning as I read the news and the details of the latest JP Morgan Chase “investment officers,” who’ve run off with another 2 billion dollars of other peoples’ money, scandal, I couldn’t help being if not amused, made to feel like upchucking.  Since I don’t understand high finance I have no idea what effects another cadre of greedy amoral bastards fleecing whatever remnants of the economy we have left, will have.  Just like I had no idea how a lot of other people being way more upside down on their mortgages than I was, should have made me feel one whit better during my own odyssey.

This morning I asked my realtor if I could go ahead and take a little money out of the mattress and put it into my checking account so I can stop worrying about bouncing checks.  She said I’d better wait a couple of months.  She said it might take the bank awhile to realize the deal is done and I don’t owe them money anymore, so they might take it anyway.

Oh.

Meanwhile, on the Senate Floor, I believe the House Republicans are debating whether or not the rights of peckerwoods to marry the stumps they love so well, as ordained in the Bible, are being infringed in the great State of Arkansas.   God Damn I’m glad those guys are on the job!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Guy with the Plastic Cup at the Bottom of the Ramp


The Guy with the Plastic Cup at the Bottom of the Off Ramp
            You know how it goes.  Traffic, long light.  This town has gone to hell, like most these days.  I see the homeless guy in camo fatigues jumpin’ around like a lot of them do, high speed friendly patter and big smiles trying to get whoever’s pulled up along side them to open the window and give them some dough.
            Me?  I ain’t along side him yet and although I usually think of giving people whatever change rattling around in the bottom of my purse I can or a buck or something, generally by the time the light changes it’s too late.
            But this is the Van Nuys Boulevard exit off the 101.  A dinosaur has chewed it up—must have been something like that-- so it takes 800 years to exit the freeway.  I’m staring at the particle board siding slapped onto the concrete butting.  A Tyrannosaur bit it.  That's the only reasonable explanation.
            The car in front of me moves a few inches.  Light changes.  I’m here for another cycle.  Plenty of time to get a buck for the camo with the plastic cup.
            Some people say these guys begging for money aren’t really poor, they’re just scam artists.  This means they live at big houses with swimming pools and saunas “south of the boulevard,” as they say around these parts.  I find this interesting.  I’ve stood on street corners before.  If you’re a woman, within five minutes someone comes up and asks if you want a date.  Probably if you’re a guy the same thing happens although maybe it takes longer.  Stand there long enough looking weak or vulnerable and you generally get spat on, old McDonald burgers thrown at you, that kind of thing.
            So as a career choice, it doesn’t seem a particularly wise one.
            Light changes, I pull up a couple of dozen yards.
            Anywho, I figure the nutzoid patter they all do is to keep the flung fast food and expectorating to a minimum.  If someone is batshit, flingers and spitters possessed of even a modicum of imagination must entertain the notion that said individual, particularly one in military fatigues, might be capable of violence and even possessed of a firearm or two.
            I pull up along side him, put down the window but only part way.  His face is all scarred up, particularly around the eye, leading me via my lightening fast Touring machine circa 1957 mind, to calculate the probability that some kind of head injury may have occurred, wot with the eye being so close to the gray matter and all.  I give him a buck, he says thank you lovely lady and all that other crap.  We chat a little.  Let’s face it, the light at the bottom of the ramp is not going to change for, like, another 30 years.  He tells me of all the celebrities he’s seen.  Jay Leno, someone I’ve never heard of, Mark Wahlberg gave him 20 bucks.  Patter, patter, patter.  The light changes and it’s time to move on.
            He puts his hand on the top of my car, looks me straight in the eye.  One of his, the one with all the scarring is a little milky.  I wonder if he can see out of it.  For that moment he does not look crazy at all.
            “This is Uncle Sam part 2,” he says.
            Under the freeway waiting for the next light to change.  Some woman’s come off her ramp, sits in the middle of the intersection but even though all the other drivers, at that particular moment, hate her.  She’d rather endure that than sit through another interminable cycle of the goddamn light.  This is Los Angeles, after all, and inside your car is the safe zone.  Like a hermit crab tucked inside its shell.  It’s why it will never change.  It’s not about movement.  It’s about invulnerability.
            The woman moves out of the intersection.  Traffic moves.  It is clear for a little while in front of me.
            

Thursday, April 19, 2012

UNPAID INTERNSHIPS

Unpaid Internships
A note on this piece. My son has applied for an internship with a politician. There is much competition for it as the position has some prestige. It entails working all day for free, but it will look good on his resume. A woman in her fifties I met the other day has applied for an internship at a well known museum. It entails working all day for no pay. She doesn't have the energy to do it and as a result, cannot further her career. These kinds of internships are increasingly common as any college or soon to be college graduate will tell you.

Dear Pacific Gas and Electric,
Congratulations! After lengthy consideration we have decided to award you, Pacific Gas and Electric, the 2012 Harvey Nutley Internship, re-instituted just this year at our house. Be assured, the competition for the prize was stiff and we spent many hours pouring over the resumes of countless excellent and highly qualified candidates. In the final hours however, we concluded that your qualifications, with your superior ability to deliver not just natural gas, but electricity to residential customers, were superior to all other competitors.
Unfortunately, due to budget constraints at this time, the internship is unpaid. However we can personally guarantee that your experience in delivering free utility services to our household will be far from trivial. The character building and gold star credit this time spent will provide in your future endeavors will hold you in good stead as future, more financially lucrative opportunities arise, which they surely will!
Again, congratulations Pacific Gas and Electric. We look forward to working with you in the coming year and have little doubt that your performance will remain at the same high quality is has been during all the years in which paid our bills.
Sincerely,
Harvey Nutley and his dog, “Rhomboid.”

Dear Time Warner Cable,
Our heartiest congratulations! After much consideration we have chosen you among the legions of too many qualified candidates to count, to receive the Harvey Nutley Cable Delivery Service Internship 2012.
This highly regarded prize has been awarded to many fine cable delivery services going on to illustrious successful careers including Comcast 2011, AT&T 2010, and Blitzkrieg (Munich) 2009. All have ventured forth to make vast and significant contributions to the world of delivering excellent landline, cell phone, Internet, and Cable Television services including all sports channels and free HBO. We have little doubt that after your experience with our staff, (myself, my assistant Rhomboid and my 37 year old daughter forced to move back home due to loss of employment and her husband taking the name of his upper body clothing of choice popularly called the “wifebeater tee-shirt” a tad too seriously) you will agree that your time with us has been well spent.
Unlike previous years, due to budgetary constraints this will be an unpaid internship. Rest assured however, that your experience will be both unparalleled and invaluable in your later quests for successful employment.
Again, congratulations. You have our sincerest regards, Harvey Nutley and Staff.
PS, the Soap Opera Network is not coming in at all well. Intermittently fuzzy, audio and video out of sync. Please remedy this problem forthwith to avoid problems with the start date of your internship.

Dear State Farm Insurance Company,
It is with great relish and a warm heart that we write to inform you of triumph in the stiff competition this year to insure our car. The Harvey Nutley Internship 2012 received more applicants this year than in any previous, most of them fine and well qualified candidates. However in the end, your qualifications outshone them all. You may toot your horn, albeit not too loudly—hubris being an unappealing quality—for the grace notes and special touches your unique and outstanding application provided. A free calendar at years end? Sparkling. Discounts on oil changes at Manny’s down on 12th? Sublime. And the piece de rĂ©sistance, if I may be so bold, “Support your Local Police” bumper sticker vouchers. All of these special touches rendered State Farm the uncontestable Harvey Nutley Internship awardee this year.

In previous years the Harvey Nutley Internship has included a stipend in the form of a monthly check, however internships 2012 will be unpaid. Still, rest assured the experience of providing the Harvey Nutley Foundation including “Rhomboid,” daughter Faye and her husband Biff, recently out of rehab having renounced domestic violence forever, (God willing since she claims to love the bastard), with comprehensive auto insurance, will be a fulfilling and life changing one. Again, congratulations and you may take pride in your accomplishments, they are hallmarks of a bright future.

By the way, could you throw in roadside assistance with that? Biff’s got a cracked distributor cap and you know how fussy spark plugs can be especially when it rains.
Sincerely, all of us here… (Rhomboid! Get the fuck off the couch!) At the Harvey Nutley Foundation.