Archive for August, 2012

Take it, my pretty

I was reminded of the scene in Disney’s Snow White where the beautiful wicked queen disguised as an old hag offers the poisoned apple to Snow White.  “Take it my pretty, it will do you good.”  And we all know what happened then.

I had firmly resolved not to watch the Republican Convention.  That promise lasted about ten minutes when I remembered my line to Sweetheart when she asked me several years ago “Why do you listen to that freak Rush Limbaugh?”

 Because we need to know the enemy, I lied.  And listening to Limbaugh does more for raising my pulse rate than any exercise machine is capable of.

I figured if I watched the convention on PBS that I’d get less spewing of false rhetoric and more honest coverage of the Tampa white folks’ convention.  So I clicked to channel 50.

I nearly fell over backwards when my sixty inch Samsung screen was, without warning, filled with the image of Chris Christie looking as though he had just swallowed most of his state of New Jersey.  My first inclination was to make fun of his size, but then I remembered that this was a very petty approach to dealing with an adversary.  So I tried to remove his size 62 hulk from the equation.

And then he began to shout at me.  And the floating digital backdrop behind him filled with blue amorphous  globules that seemed to depict an ever-rising influx of the Governor’s bad cholesterol.  So I rejected the honorable approach of dealing with him and decided to focus on the petty.

I swear that the longer I watched Crispy, the bigger he got.  I tried to imagine the number of sheep that had to be sheared to produce his suit jacket.  I wondered if his pants had once been employed as an infield  ground cloth during a rainy day at Yankee Stadium.

But I did manage, between a barrage of ever more nasty mental insights, to listen to some of his speech.  And I was richly  rewarded with a potpourri of distortions, factual contortions and downright insults to anyone’s intelligence except for that of the mostly old, mostly rich and almost universally white people who were in attendance and obviously enthralled with his words.

As his harangue grew in volume, I thought back to that old Monty Python routine, Mr. Creosote.  In that gross but very funny episode set in a restaurant, Mr. Creosote, ably played by Terry Jones, eats everything in sight.  Finally, after being offered a mint to complete the orgy, Creosote explodes and lays waste to himself and everything around him.  As his voice grew louder and his face redder,  I anxiously waited for Crispy to emulate Creosote.

But I digress from Crispy’s speech which mainly focused on his prescription of tax cuts, slashed budgets, cancelled public projects and broken labor unions.  It’s good for you, my pretty, he insisted.  It’s what the doctor ordered.  It will make your life more meaningful.  Your grandchildren will thank you.  And only Mitt can transport you to the promised land.

What Crispy failed to tell us is that New Jersey has not had the revenue boom he promised from his tax cuts and the state’s unemployment rate is higher than it was when he took over.  Per Paul Krugman, Crispy’s budget balancing routine was heavily weighted to deferring required contributions to pension funds, diverting money from the Transportation Trust Fund, cancelling the much-needed rail tunnel link to Manhattan while investing in a megamall and an Atlantic City casino, and vetoing a temporary tax surcharge on millionaires.

The convention center cameras panned around during Crispy’s speech giving us respite from watching his cholesterol count.  Clearly enraptured faces abounded.  Other faces, one in particular, had a facial expression that defied description.  Mitt’s face seemed frozen in time, unsure whether to laugh or cry.  To laugh at the orgy of distortion or to cry wondering what he had done to deserve the main spotlight in this circus.

He too, maybe because he’s been doing it too long to stop, will surely reach out to us and say “Take it my pretty, it will do you good.”

What Would Martha Do?

Monday I had the pleasure of seeing my old friend, Martha.

We hadn’t crossed paths for a couple of months.  It was my usual bus driving day and she was my first pickup.  Driving the Help of Ojai big bus is no big deal except when you have to go to Martha’s house located in the East End on an unpaved road whose trees tend to scrape the top of the vehicle as you navigate around the other obstacles planted purely as a test of your driving skills.

As usual, Martha was waiting for me.  Never late, she gives herself extra time due to vision problems and the natural course of things that are too generously packaged with the aging process.

Hi Martha, I said.   Good to see you.  Do you need the lift?

No, I can probably make it up the steps.  The use of the word “probably” gave me the opening I needed.

 Martha, let’s use the lift so that you don’t fall on me and break my leg.

Ok.

So Martha, what’s new?

Today’s my birthday.

Really.  How old are you?

98.

Merely breathing long enough to reach the age of 98 is reason enough to be impressed.  My first thoughts after “Wow” focused on what it might be like if I ever got that far down this mortal coil.  Which body parts will still function?  Where will I spend my time?  What will I remember?

And then I refocused on Martha.  The lady who until just recently was an active library foundation board member.  Who, until a couple of years ago, drove her car wherever and whenever she pleased.  Who, though never fearful of speaking her mind, still has the grace to not speak badly of others.

Our conversation that morning ranged from the weather to the now departed pedestrian safety signs on Ojai Avenue, and then to the latest in audio books.   I began to tell Martha about my brother’s common interest in audio books but she politely reminded me that I had told her that story a year ago.

Dropping her off at the day’s physician of her choice, I wished her a very, very happy birthday.

Finishing my shift, I headed back up the hill, cleaned up and had  a yummy calorie laden brunch with Sweetie.  I then belched, parked my fanny in front of the computer and began to read the web version of the NY Times.

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s face stared out at me.  As we all know by now, Akin, a Tea Party favorite who decries all  abortion save that caused by a marauding orangutan, famously declared that women who had been raped could easily prevent conception by automatically shutting down one or more vital organs.  As so ably displayed by Mr. Akins who regularly shuts down his brain more often than not.

Chastised by members of his own Republican party, Mr. Akins was urged to drop out of his Senate contest with Democrat Claire McCaskill.  Giving it a whole thirty seconds of thought, Akins instead appeared on every conservative right-wing talk show with the exception of the one hosted by Benito Mussolini and reiterated his stand, albeit with an apology for having used the wrong words in explaining how he felt about rape victims.

He declared his intention to continue his mission, undoubtedly decreed by god, to bring the rotten scum of this country (including some members of his own party) to its knees.  To the embarrassment of his party leaders, he has the audacity to highlight the abortion issue so prominently displayed in the GOP party platform prepared for the upcoming Tampa convention.  Why the nerve of Mr. Akin to publicly wave that flag when so many of his fellow party nominees (including the Mitt) are trying to hide under it.  Coupled with the possibility that this debacle could turn the tide of the Missouri election to the Democrats probably was only an afterthought in urging that Akin fall on his sword.

My thoughts wandered back to my 98-year-old friend.  Somehow I thought she might, just this once, break her long-standing rule of never speaking badly of others.  Somehow I thought that, just this once, Martha might echo these lines written by Mr. Akin for the August 20 edition of the Onion.

You see, what I said was, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” But what I meant to say was, “I am a worthless, moronic sack of shit and an utterly irredeemable human being who needs to shut up and go away forever.”

But, somehow,  I think Martha will just laugh her way to 99.

Now you see it, now you don’t

A trip to the Magic Castle yesterday provided ample proof that sleight of hand is alive and well in an era of supposed transparency.

Five hours of carpooling and five hours at the Castle led to a return home at 1am. It was worth it. Daniel Ketchedjian in the Parlour of Prestidigitation proved that you need not be able to say that mouthful to enjoy his bright eyes and even brighter personality. Danny Ray in the tight confines of the Close-up Gallery nearly put an eye out demonstrating his mystical ability of divining which envelope contained the shield that protected his body from unrecoverable mutilation.

Dana Daniels performing in the Palace of Mystery proved that you don’t need to be a great magician to wow the crowd. With absolutely no grace,  he juggled a woman’s four-inch heeled shoe, a Tampax contributed by an uninhibited theater goer, and a sixteen pound bowling ball. In conclusion, his precocious pet parrot, Luigi, reminded us that laughter is the best medicine. I haven’t roared so hard since Gene Wilder ordered Teri Garr and Cloris Leachman to under no circumstances open the cell door while he tried to deal with Peter Boyle, the Frankenstein monster.

This morning everything was back to normal.

Making my usual cup of coffee, I switched on NPR in the middle of the news. Right in the middle of the commentator saying “Judge Robert Simpson has denied a challenge to the new Pennsylvania law intended to reduce voter fraud. That law requires photo identification in order to vote in the November election. This despite the fact that the State of Pennsylvania had been unable to produce a single instance of such fraud.”

It should also be pointed out that the law was passed by the Republican dominated legislature and signed by the Republican governor.  As reported by the Christian Science Monitor After Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed the ID law in March, the state House majority leader boasted that the new requirement would help deliver the state’s key electoral votes to Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.   I tried to think back on Luigi in the hope of raising my spirits.  He was beginning to fade.

We next dragged ourselves down the hill to Dr. Halverson’s office for Sweetie’s allergy shots. One of the highlights of that every-three-weeks’ adventure is my opportunity to read the LA Times, a literary masterpiece when compared to the Ventura Star and its continuing banal coverage of pet cows, sheep and piggies destined for slaughter following their once in a lifetime appearance at the Ventura Fair. They won’t deliver the Times to us up on the hill because they know I’m a Democrat.  Visiting the doctor’s office is my way of getting back at the paper-boy.

My mood did not improve with the Times’ stories of decapitations performed by Mexican drug cartels, the murder of a 72-year-old man by his high school classmate in retribution for a fifty year old slight, an Alabama man who received a 624 year prison sentence and the most depressing revelation of all, another Cub loss.  Luigi began to lose his feathers.

Arriving home and a glutton for punishment, I visited the New York Times on the web and was presented with a glimpse of Ohio, one of the “battleground” states.  All 86 Ohio election boards are evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. In the case of a tie vote, the Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, casts the tie breaking vote. It seems, courtesy of the boards’ tie votes and Mr. Husted’s climactic tie breakers, that the polls in all Republican leaning counties can remain open after 5pm and on weekends, while those in Democratic leaning counties have to stick to a Monday through Friday schedule closing at 5pm. The reason given? There’s more money in Republican counties to fund the later hours, while the poor folks in places like Cincinnati and Cleveland are bereft of such largess. Surely the fact that about half the folks in those cities are black has nothing to do with it.

Luigi is dead.

Let ’em eat cake…

The annual Ojai Playwrights Conference is in town.  That’s where a bunch of writers take money from locals like me to watch a half-finished play performed by people wearing t-shirts, jeans and sandals, reading from three-ring notebooks on a stage that has no scenery, no props, no music.  And it only costs $25 a performance.  What’s that all about?

Well it’s pretty damn good entertainment.  Even on a sweltering day like yesterday when we drove over to the Zalk Theater in the Makows’ still new electric hybrid Ford Focus.  I can’t get used to sitting in the back seat while the car pulls out of the driveway without a sound.  I want to yell “Hey Yoram, switch on the engine before you lose control of this thing.”

You say, how hot was it Saturday?   It was one of those days where all of the oxygen seems to have been squeezed out of the air.  You breathe but nothing happens.  You compare it to what it must be like on the surface of Mars where the bazillion dollar space oddity Curiosity is currently taking pictures of rocks and confirming their existence on a planet that just screams for a Starbucks iced coffee.

The heat of the day was preceded by the announcement of Mitt’s selection of straight man Paul Ryan.  In turn it was accompanied by a slew of pundits predicting the Ryan impact on the polling numbers.   These ranged from “it’s an early Christmas gift to the Obama campaign” to “Obama might as well pack it in and return to where he came from…Kenya.”

Try as I might, I could not make a legitimate case for believing that Ryan was simply a re-run of Sarah Palin after a sex change operation.  On the other hand, I thought back to that night four years ago when I went to Tony’s house right after the who-the-hell-is-she Snow Queen had made her acceptance speech at the Republican convention.  “She’s something else” Tony said.  “Going to be tough to deal with and a real boost for McCain.”  Gloom.  Doom.  Pack it in.  Fuggetaboudit.

My own carefully researched conclusion is that Ryan was picked because he’s got a one track mind and is not easily confused by the facts.  His track is straight and narrow…squeeze the little guy and give the juice to the big guy.  Or as lovely Marie is reputed to have said so succinctly, “What, no bread? Let ’em eat cake.”

Rather than plaguing poor Mitt with insisting on the redundant disclosure of his we-already-know-what’s-in-them tax returns, we can focus our attention on the likely impact of the much publicized Ryan Budget.  You surely have heard of it.  It’s the only thing that the Republicans deal with in the House when they’re not voting for the repeal of Obamacare, or finding new ways to return women to second class status in accordance with biblical law.

In order to free you up from watching anything until November 5th other than reruns of Have Gun Will Travel, here’s just a few things that you need to remember about Mr. Ryan’s philosophy.  Pay close attention because this is what Mitt, Paul and the Tea Party congress have pledged themselves to begin working on next January.

—You will have the pleasure of getting a healthcare voucher that you can use to pay for an unstipulated set of benefits  from the friendly  insurer of your choice.  If the voucher doesn’t cover your needs, tough.  Ryan insists that this will bring competition to the marketplace, something that we have tried and failed at for the last hundred years and that no other civilized country would even dream of.  If you find yourself in an alley dragging your non-covered hernia behind you, eat cake.

—States will receive Medicaid block grants and can stipulate who gets what benefits and how much.  An estimated fifteen million people will lose their current healthcare coverage, especially in Texas.  Let ’em eat cake.

—Ryan is a staunch supporter of the privatization of Social Security.  That’s where you, as a highly qualified financial analyst, will decide where to invest your retirement funds.  And, if you should put all your beans into a Lehman Brothers clone or a Bernie Madoff look-alike, eat cake.

—Ryan’s stance on abortion equals or exceeds that of Michele Bachman.  No abortions, period.  Even if the life of the mother is in danger.  He co-sponsored a bill defining fertilized eggs as human beings, even though they can’t eat cake.

—His most recent budget would shrink government spending on everything but entitlements and defense by two-thirds.  That includes silly things like education, law enforcement, highways, job training for displaced people, Pell grants for students, and food stamps for the hungry.  Cake for everyone.

—The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities had this to say about the boon that will accrue to the wealthy based on Ryan’s tax cuts…In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).

—Catholic Bishops responding to Ryan’s proposed cuts in the safety net  said in an April letter to the House that this proposed budget will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.  Mr. Ryan responded by saying that he was helping the poor by eliminating their dependence on government.

He really meant to say let ’em eat cake.  And if that doesn’t work, squeeze all the oxygen out of the air.

Getting Old

When I was a student at the University of Illinois, one of the weekend highlights was to drag on down to Kam’s, the local beer joint, and slam back a few beers.  The drinking age was 21 and I was about two years short of being able to drink without risking a trip to the electric chair.

For whatever reason, probably some residual face pudginess acquired during my formative years, I seemed to be the only one that was religiously carded by the Kam’s servers.  On those nights I merely drank cokes and wrote letters to Sweetie on scraps of paper that had escaped the fate of wiping up after someone else threw up.  On luckier nights I got to drink maybe three eight-ounce beers before I was mentally and physically incapable of writing coherent phrases to the one I loved.  I still have that problem.

Fast forward to three kids, a home in the suburbs, a loss of most of my pudginess and a cessation to the embarrassment  of carding.  A long ago business trip to San Diego and a stop at Bob’s Big Boy for a grease laden burger produced a sea change in the eyes of those with a need to know how old I was.  Strolling up to the cashier with money in hand, I was prepared to pay my bill.  “Oh, you qualify for the senior discount.  Lucky you.”  I had no idea of Big Bob’s age requirement and was sure that I couldn’t possibly qualify, but who was I to forfeit an opportunity to save 10%.  “Yes, this is my lucky day thank you.”

A few years later, a vacation to free-spirited Scotland stripped me of any remaining vestigial face fat.  Riding in a shuttle driven by a really scary old man and having nothing better to do while waiting for him to drive off a bridge, we discussed the wonderfulness of aging.  Feeling lucky I said “how old do you think I am?”  Without hesitation he added about twenty years to my true atomic clock age and said “seventy-two?”  I never ask that question any more.

Last Tuesday we went to Santa Barbara, the grand city of cool breezes, the noisiest outdoor mall, and the State Street “what the hell do they sell in there” shops.  We stashed the car in the mall parking structure, checked three times that we had our parking ticket and walked down the stairs to street level.  I was catatonic by the time we reached ground zero.  No less than a dozen signs warned me that upon our return I better have my ticket and be prepared to pay by using one of those Vincent Price designed machines that take your card, snatch your money and hand you back a pass off Devil’s Island.  And don’t expect anyone to help, the signs screamed.

We ate a very tasty pulled pork sandwich on crusty bread at a cute joint that only had three items on the menu.  It still took us five minutes to figure out what we wanted.   Following the consumption of a medium-sized diet coke, we needed to pee.  What better place to do that than at the museum just up the street.  Who cares if it costs six bucks to get in even with a senior discount.  A clean toilet bowl and a waste container that doesn’t seem to be occupied by an extraterrestrial is worth the price.

Time to go home.  But first check again that we have our parking ticket.  We arrived at the parking structure and faced the Vincent Price machine.  Looked innocent enough.  Several flashing lights meant to help, instead made me feel like I was being scanned for contraband.  Finding the flashing horizontal LEDs that seemed to be lighting a runway from the movie Airport,  I spotted the words “credit card”.  No problem since I had been fingering my card for some time to the point that it was now my closest friend.  Let’s see.  Just stick it in the slot under the runway lights.

“It’s gotta go in there” I grunted as the machine put up the Berlin wall.  Why doesn’t it go in there?

A young man who was next in line to challenge the machine said “Excuse me sir, I think you might have better luck if you insert the card above the lights rather than below.”  Of course, how silly of me.

That began a series of instructions from the young man that were obviously generated by his presumption that I was a doddering old fool who would die of starvation in this parking lot if he didn’t come to my rescue.  And he did it all so gently that I didn’t have the heart to say “Shut up and leave me alone.  You who haven’t an ounce of the worldly knowledge acquired by me in the last seventy-three years.”  Meanwhile, the line of Vincent Price victims behind us began to grow exponentially.

We concluded our transaction before nightfall and, to make a point, we shunned the elevator, bounded up three flights of parking lot stairs and cleverly disguised the fact that we were out of breath.

I sat in the car and worried about the next part of the adventure that required the insertion of the now validated parking ticket into what was sure to be an another machine with a tantalyzing slot just beyond my arm’s length.  I thought about the young man and his helpfulness.  I mused about getting old and how I might take other advantages of that unavoidable condition.  And I felt good.


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