Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Overwrought

Halloween Overwrought

I received an urgent, all caps e-mail through the neighborhood news group: HALLOWEEN SAFETY TIPS FOR DOGS. Himself read to me about long winded Missouri debates about the minutiae of regulating sex offenders on Halloween. Should they be allowed to celebrate with their own children? Is it ok for them to display jack o'lanterns on their lawns? The election is moments from us. We pondered at bootcamp what we’ll talk about when it's all over. Rocky, our cruel and sadistic trainer sneered, "Perhaps then yas can get yerselves a workout in" in that voice she used to tell us about the time back home in Wales when she got mugged. She was on her way to the pub with her sister to watch some big international sporting event and she felt a grab at her fanny pack, which contained her drinking money. The would be mugger’s poor choice of victim yielded him only serious contusions and no drinking money. A guard who manned an area security camera that captured the interaction was a friend of Rocky's dad and said to him, "Theys tough yer girls." We're tough but it's scary. Halloween is upon us and daylight-saving time will end and we're in a lather about the election and we are fraught with imagining how a tanking economy is going to end up affecting us personally. I haven't even opened the Thanksgiving issues of the cooking magazines.

One of the missing links, now that the blood relatives who reared me are no longer available for explanation, is what suffering made everyone in my family so fucked up about money. I may be wrong but I have always blamed it on the Depression, a time when both of my parents relied on charity. My dad was always reticent to talk much about his father, who committed suicide, according to the story, due to financial pressures, when my dad was about nine years old. I know however that there was a relatively prosperous time when the family managed, and I believe owned a part of, a hotel in Port Angeles. Was this change in circumstances due to the Depression or was there another ill-fatedness that I will never understand? There seems to be reason to be genuinely frightened at the condition of the economy and my suspicions about my parents' Depression experiences ratchet this up a lot for me.

I speculated recently that it seems that the surviving members of the Weather Underground are probably good people. I will never manage to reach a full understanding of the times, although I experienced them myself, because I was too busy being young. This indelible and yet ephemeral imprint, and a disturbing parallel between those times and these, is why I gravitate now to remembrances of and reflections on the phenomena of my child and teenhood. Because of the localness and the luridness, I remember following news of the Manson Family. Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were murdered in the Silverlake hills. I believe that Leno, a grocer, owned the market which was known as The Hub, and is now the Trader Joes on Hyperion. Another nasty news making cult Silverlake connection was noted by the L.A. Weekly about two Red Diaper Silverlake kids, Ivanhoe and Marshall alums, Phyllis Alexander and Eugene Chaikin who married and in the spirit of the time, fell under the sway of a charismatic social activist minister. Gene gave up a successful law career. They sold their valley home and packed their two children off to a religious community which being built in Ukiah. All four of them died in Jonestown on November 18, 1978.

My skepticism about Obama is considered traitorous but I have said many good things about the man. His Marshall-like plan for Afghanistan seems prudent and even though our friend Anthony in Ireland pretty much sees the U.S. as pigs, I think that using our resources to build the infrastructure and promote peace is a good thing. Even if we often take it on more in the spirit of strategy than of compassion it is good to build schools and hospitals. I cannot fault Obama that we are so friggin' wretched and hollow eyed after the Bush years that the embrace of him as the answer of answers smacks of cult. The hard times of Vietnam, and Nixon and Kent State were stimulus for community organizers to hone their craft. But the period also yielded the Manson Family and the Reverend Jim Jones which I don’t think anyone would deny, were very much the products an era whose desperation and bleakness spawned mass obedience to the service of madness. Maybe we have come very far and the seeds that were planted towards shepherding a movement of enfranchisement have borne fruit and Obama really is the antidote.

Obama's management of his campaign has demonstrated a strategic brilliance that I hope will similarly illuminate the Oval Office. The Obama campaign's mobilization of volunteer campaigners is unparalleled although it seems that volunteers are strictly forbidden to answer any undecided voter concerns with regard to policy and that anyone posing this sort of question is to be immediately referred to the campaign website. It's ok for Obama folks to send money and take time off from work to travel at their own expense to swing states and trudge dusty Nevada sidewalks, banging on doors but they are not to be trusted to articulate what motivates them to dedicate themselves to the cause.

My husband, the same age as Obama, feels himself too young to be the president, which certainly relieves all of our anxieties about having to uproot to The White House. One pundit observed that although McCain’s era was Vietnam, there was very much a feeling of WWII about him. I think Obama’s youth will actually be an advantage, as his deft campaign has proven again and again that he has a sophisticated understanding of communications and technology. He seems then likely able to conceptualize the use of these most modern technologies as tools to further peace, and freedom and education.

This week, for the first time since the primaries I was actually able to examine the Obama website because previously I had been unable to access it without logging in with my name and e-mail address. I found an egregious grammatical error in the statement on educational policy and because I SUPPORT THE MAN, I sent an e-mail advising of this. I have not received a thank-you note but my in-box has been deluged.
As I toil on this piece, I received the following note from Barack himself:
Layne --I want you to be there with me on Election Night when the results come in.We're planning a big event that will include tens of thousands of supporters in Grant Park in downtown Chicago.We're saving some of the best seats in the house for 5 people who make their first donation to the campaign before Sunday at midnight.If you're selected, you can bring a guest, and we'll fly you in and put you up in a hotel for the night. You'll go backstage at the big event and -- no matter what happens -- you'll have a front row seat to history as we celebrate the supporters who got us over the finish line.Any donation counts -- whatever you can afford. Show your support at this crucial time with a donation of $5 or more, and you could join me on Election Night:
This movement for change has been a testament to the power of ordinary Americans coming together to achieve extraordinary things.I look forward to having you there on Election Night.
Thank you,

Yes, I would be a first time giver. I have sent no money to Obama. My husband noted on his blog that he had only "allowed" me to send money to Jerry Brown which sounds piggish but we just don’t give money to politicians or issues we don’t both agree on so it’s a matter of "allowing each other," but it did sound piggish. This plea for funds, particularly when it’s been reported that the campaign still has a bundle in the bank, has a t.v. game show quality to it and I thought it was sort of icky. I share it because Himself and I are the only ones we know–except maybe for Carrie and Anthony in Drogheda, who haven’t given money to the Obama campaign and this might give a little insight, into their tactics and I can’t tell if it’s savvy or cynical or both. On the money thing, and something everyone at Casamurphy agrees on, is that if you have some extra send it to the campaign to defeat Prop. 8 which having been wildly outspent urgently needs more airtime. Donate at

I hope that four years from now, our friends abroad will think better of our nation and even more important, that we will think better of it ourselves. A lot of people who I like and trust feel that Obama is a harbinger of this and I hope they are right and that my scepticism is proven unfounded. What scares me the most is not Obama's suitability to the position, but that burdened with the obstacles he faces, it will be impossible for him to live up to the zeal inspired by his campaign. Even Jesus probably wouldn't be up to being Jesus right now.

There are other things I cannot blame Obama for. Nearly one billion dollars has been spent on this presidential election. As one whose legacy it is to be fucked up about money, I have to say this sucks. Public funding for elections should not be optional. Every candidate should have exactly the same bank balance going into the fray and all of those issue committees and other loopholes for funneling in large amounts of corporate dough into campaign coffers should be cut off. And it's definitely not my beat but a glance will give an idea of how much political influence is bought and sold in this country and it seems a Catch 22 that any politician with sufficient stature to effectively challenge this and diminish influence peddling would be too beholden to PACs and lobbies to pursue reform. It's also time, although the more sparsely populated states will resist, to rethink the woefully outmoded electoral college and make each vote count equally.

There was a four block section cul de sac with handsome low slung valley ranch style houses behind the home on Fulton Avenue where I grew up. This was deigned the safest spot for trick or treating. One year for my costume I commandeered a huge cardboard refrigerator carton and painted the front with buttons and dials and cut holes for my arms and I was a computer. Most people assumed there were two or three kids inside so I made a good haul on the candy. I cannot really remember what I thought a computer really did, or was expected to do in the future, in those days but I think I had a feeling it was destined someday to replace thinking.

Himself and myself have never had much Halloween inclination. We have dressed up for Purim once or twice but other than that we have never attended nor hosted a costume party for adults. Our children still look forward to Halloween but I think their teen hormones make it a much less purely sweet experience like when they were little. We are charged with foisting them, they are too old to be chaperoned and only require transport, in Silverlake where they will trick or treat with hundreds of other kids from Ivanhoe and Marshall and knock on the doors of ordinary families undoubtedly also made anxious by these times. I feel very much that we are on the cusp of defining the zeitgeist shorthand that for all eternity will refer to the beginning of this millennium. It is Halloween and it is scary to think how much history we are living and that things will never be the same again. Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trick or Treat?

Trick or Treat
I really am trying to get down with the hope thing but for the Obama campaign to purchase a half an hour of prime time t.v. at the cost of three million dollars is more outrageous and foolhardy than the McCain campaign springing for fancy duds and makeup for Ms. Palin. Delaying the World Series is a seriously bad idea and will piss off any undecided Joe Sixpacks majorly, as it would me, if the Dodgers had survived the Phillies. Thirty minutes of primo airtime is a glaring reminder that Obama had stated that he would finance his campaign with public funding. I believe legislation that provided for public finance of presidential candidates was intended to level the playing field and insure that the presidency could not be bought. Obama is ahead and I hope it stays that way. But, anyone who wanted to hear what he had to say has heard it and the thirty minute program will be perceived as an arrogant, premature victory lap and a cruel jab at McCain who fell to consorting with the devil in this campaign but whose commitment to using public funds certainly smacks of higher ground. To throw away three million dollars of the hard earned grassroots dollars that fueled this genius campaign is as tacky as the garb Sarah Palin showed up with from the Anchorage Consignment shop, Out of the Closet.

I don't know whether his health insurance plan will be economically feasible but it would help remedy an inequity that is shameful for an ostensibly civilized country. I am also impressed with Obama's plans for righting the misguided joke that is "No Child Left Behind" which manacles student and teacher to endless preparation for standardized tests and virtually guarantees that the staggering drop out rate will only increase. Our personal experience with charter schools has been a mixed bag although at present both of our boys attend them and for both we feel that, despite two hours a day in the car, it is the best situation available. Unlike our neighborhood home schools, the charters our boys attend are ethnically and racially diverse and have educational philosophies we can live with. Obama acknowledges the endemic failure of large bureaucratic education machines and promises to double federal funds to charter and community directed schools and place greater emphasis on insuring the quality of education offered at these smaller institutions. While it might be fiscally impossible to carry off, I also admire Obama's commitment to create a large network of parent/infant education programs and to offer an automatic $4000.00 tax credit towards college tuition for any student who completes 100 hours of community service. Consistent in his education policy is an enormous respect for the teaching profession and proposals are outlined to help future teachers with college tuition and elevate the stature and compensation of educators toward parity with other professions. McCain's solution was to take folks fresh out of the military and stick 'em in classrooms. Heck, anyone with a pulse can teach.

I doubt that Obama would be where he is today if he had attended an inner city high school and community college. He truly appears to get it about education. I have been listening to endless NPR interviews with swing state voters and it occurs to me that the chasm in America isn't a cultural or ethnic or religious one. Education nurtures tolerance and open mindedness. There certainly are highly educated people of faith who would have the government adopt their personal religious views, but generally what polarizes America more than race or culture is education. It doesn't matter what friggin' wars we win or if the economy rebounds. The state of our current educational system is a the gravest threat to the next generation and I think it will be good to have a president whose own life experience reinforces the dire need to fix it. But, it saddens me to think of how many God damn bake sales the three million bucks being squandered on air time could have averted.

My absentee ballot has been mailed and I voted for Obama. I remain skeptical about the man and will always wonder what the results would have been if the campaign coffers for both candidates had been equal. Nevertheless, I am awed by the brilliance of his campaign and I sense he will somehow better our educational system and maybe the hope thing is a teeny bit contagious. If nothing else, at least I am more optimistic than Himself. Ultimately, only Obama's accomplishments in office, if he is elected, will prove whether the ends justified the means.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Chris and Bob 10-23

Chris and Bob 10-23

Chris and Bob 10-23

Bob and Chris are married now and I am in a plump bed overlooking the Santa Cruz board walk, having been lulled to sleep by the surf and barking sea lions and two Atavans. I drank three large cups of coffee on the road, Being an alert driver was to my advantage but having to stop to pee every half hour or so slowed me down a bit. It was a tight squeeze dropping Spuds at school at 8:30 and making it to the county courthouse in Santa Cruz by three, but even with my uncooperative bladder I was making good time until I crossed over from the 5 to the 101 via the 152 and the road was closed and I waited in a long line of cars for nearly forty five minutes. I was ultracaffinated, unfed and panic set in. My predilection has always been to drive way fast but it is one of many impulses I manage to keep in check usually and while a Volvo wagon may look like a housewife car, it actually has power. Lots. When I hit the 101, I knew I had to make up for lost time and was well aware that I was risking a ticket.

I was pulled over outside of King City. The cop was one of those really pugnacious short guys in the de rigueur mirror sun glasses. "How fast do you think you were going?" (This is a sadistic trick question) "Ah, maybe 80?" He raised his eyebrows. I told him the truth that I hadn't had any sort of ticket for over fifteen years. He said, "Well, now you got yourself a doozy." Despite my irritation of being delayed I found his use of the expression "doozy" rather quaint coming from a little cop who couldn't have been more than 30. I told him I was late for my best friends' 3 p.m. wedding in Santa Cruz and he said, "You're not gonna make it," but then he advised me that he was going to write my citation noting a speed of 80 mph although the speed I was travelling at was actually sufficient for him to revoke my license and tow my car on the spot. Tell that to those assholes who wouldn't talk trucks with me at the car show.

I actually arrived at the court house with time to change clothing and throw on some makeup in a public bathroom stall. We went to fill out the papers but it turns out that Chris's drivers license expired months ago and wouldn't serve as valid i.d. Fortunately, they allowed me, fortunate to still be bearing a current driver's license, with a neatly affixed donor sticker (and who was also able to promptly present to my CHP friend my proof of registration and insurance so although I am a scofflaw, I am a responsible adult) to sign an affidavit (it would have been cool to have been made to swear it on a bible but they didn't go that far) stating that I had known Chris Berry for 12 years, although I realized later Chris and Bob have been together nearly 15. Based on my personal experience, it takes about fifteen years to get the significant other thing to mesh with the significant self thing and I see how much better prepared Chris and Bob are to formally commit their lives than I was as a child bride in 1991.

Bob has always had a weird sort of hyper-alertness thing with numbers dates and coincidence. We used to say the word "synchronicity" a lot but we got sick of it. The dates and numbers thing and because I know that they don't need a blender, inspired me to buy a pen engraved with the wedding date of 10/23/08 for the signing of marriage documents. This active awareness of how things fit and drinking in numbers and symbols and omens is consciousness raising (a phrase I use as hesitantly as "synchronicity"). There is a strange miraculous order of things working away beyond one's control and this is comforting if you stay awake. Due to my tardiness and in an act of staggering generosity, Bob and Chris checked me in to my lovely waterfront boutique hotel and my room number is 1023. I presume that Bob had requested this room specifically but he hadn't and it was my destiny on 10-23 to witness a marriage and sleep alone, in the glaring absence of my own beloved, in room 1023.

I had made a comment on Himself's blog about a trip I made through Pescadero during college and this inspired Chris and Bob to chose the excellent and funky tavern Duarte's there for the wedding dinner. It was one of the those really good meals made even better by ravenous hunger and pure sweet joy. I knew that my beloved, home with frozen pizza would have loved the restaurant and the food and the company and the occasion, and if he had his rightful place at the table I probably wouldn't have gotten a speeding ticket. I also probably wouldn't have been able to polish off a bag of salt water taffy from the honor bar, order a ten buck pot of coffee from room service because I have no patience for those silly one cup in room coffee makers or schedule a massage for this morning but I would have given up all these indulgences to have had him standing beside me when our dearest friends made their vows.

I am sad that Himself missed this milestone and even more than my profligate indulgences, there is a peacefulness to having a short time alone. I remember being lonely and alone in hotel rooms in my travelling days. I remember being lonely and alone in my own home and in my own marriage until we learned our significant others truly could make our significant selves stronger and glorious and more significant. My mother lived most of her life alone having somehow gotten the notion that if she surrendered to love something would be taken from her and not reciprocated and leave her bereft and naked. My father and my sister were terrified of being alone. My sister desperately clung to relationships that demeaned and exploited her and I think my poor dead Sheri may have felt like dirt, bereft and naked and was magnetically pulled to liaisons that would reinforce this. I like this hotel room and I like the sound of the waves and I am alone here but the voice in my head is not a lonely one.

From here I'll go to Chris and Bob's in Mt. Hermon and I will walk in the redwoods and make dinner and complain about their kitchen. I will sleep alone again and wake to light streaming through the redwoods. Bob and Chris are married now. Tomorrow I will return to Casamurphy and the brilliant, curious, sweet, open man who honors me and wants to spend his life by my side. Married.
Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Woman Who Wanted to Be a Lady

The Woman Who Wanted to Be a Lady

I am now the mother of a sixteen year old. We've had some very bad experiences at the DMV recently which were partially my fault. Perhaps it was less than supportive to have said "even retarded people drive cars." Nevertheless we dined at a nice place and there were some gifts of clothing which he will probably accompany me to Target to return and a big outing with friends this weekend to the Universal Studios Halloween Horror Spectacular. My life and my self, as I recall, improved quite a bit at age sixteen and I have a feeling this will bear out with my 16 year old as well. There are always kids in front of his school and some mornings when I drop him he'll kiss me goodbye and other days he'll barely grunt. Today the kids in front of the school seemed innocuous and I intuited outside of the school's center of social power and it being his birthday, I grabbed him and kissed his head. My signals were wrong apparently and he leaped from the car and called me "stupid" sandwiched between two words at the top of Lenny Bruce's list. In wanting to express my joy at his birthday, I inadvertently embarrassed him and in turn, his rage shattered me. I was five minutes away from the school and my phone rang. There was an apology and it was a heartfelt, loving one. Maybe 16 will be better than 15. Sweet.

Eventually my elderly Volvo will be the perfect rock solid vehicle for a new driver and this to me signals the beginning of the end of my days as chauffeur. I want something with a bench seat that will accommodate me and Rover only and I want something I can haul stuff around in. I've even sold Himself on the idea. I want a pick up truck. An old one, from the late 50's or early 60's. An Apache or a Cameo seem wonderfully suitable. Spuds and I rose Sunday at 4 a.m. and drove to the Pomona Fairplex to look at old trucks at the Vintage Auto Swap Meet. There was a sea of beautiful old cars and a number of trucks like the one Rover and I covet. I have never been to such an event but soon figured out by observation that the car owners sat on camp chairs chatting with each other. They'd keep an eye on their own cars and jump up and hurry over to engage in conversation anyone who lingered appraisingly. There were some very cool trucks. I lingered and examined and took pictures but I was approached by not a single seller. I thought I was doing something wrong or wasn't savvy to some ritual of protocol and then it dawned on me. I looked up and down the aisles of cars and saw that about 95% in attendance were men and the only other women I saw had male companions.

I publicly aver my intention to purchase a truck and to drive it around town with my not a foofy toy poodle dog. I also note my surprise and anger and sorrow at the realization that apparently unless I am accompanied by a person with a dick, no one will give me the time of day with regard to buying one. This is all true, I swear it, but the other truth is I lost a night of sleep because I felt bereft and sad and hopeless because I wasn't treated like a lady. I was not treated in the fashion that my poor old mom taught me to expect.

I think part of it is that Himself, for all the blight and noise and dirt in our neighborhood, really prefers to be at home. When we are out in the world, for him there is an almost magnetic pull to get quickly in and out of the car and in and out of the restaurant, or whatever place, in order to get home as quickly as possible. I know he appreciates the comfortable nest I've created and I love it that he loves to be there, but, sometimes it seems his urgency about returning makes me feel neglected. The other thing is that my beloved sees and relishes my strength and formidability. This adds a great frisson to our relationship and increases our intimacy. It would sicken me to have an old school husband treating me like a poor helpless thing and ordering my food or scrutinizing my checkbook. Yet, there is an old hurt that won't go away. I don't know if this is just another way in which my poor ma fucked me up or my negative response is entirely reasonable. I am wounded each time we park the car and he bolts towards our destination and is half a block away before I've snapped my keys in my purse. I am embarrassed when the check is settled at a restaurant and he is trotting down the street while I am still navigating out of the booth. My husband thinks it very silly and perhaps this comes out of his deep true respect for me, that he feels compliance would upset his vision of me as equal, competent, self reliant and strong. I don't know if walking beside a woman or waiting for her to depart a restaurant are outmoded conventions or they should be. I certainly see my own hypocrisy in feeling humiliated when they are not observed. I don't know what to do with such loggerheads. What do you do when you question the rightness of something but still desperately need it in order to feel loved?

A correspondent noted this week that my husband is a gem, and I agree, although she noted that she wouldn't want to be married to him herself. She added that he wouldn't want to be married to her either, the truth of which I can also attest to. Himself and I worship each other and while I joke about excoriating him in public each time he displeases me, he knows that my grappling here with our small struggles really just proves to the world we have created, and continue to create, a spectacular life together. We worked very fucking hard to shed the weight of shame we each carried when God brought us together and my life with him and the children we've made are my proudest accomplishments and every effort we make in words or thought or deed to strengthen our bond is golden. I am a big sissy who needs to be shepherded out of a restaurant. I want an old truck. No one will sell me one and that righteously pisses me off. Someone remarked that a lady driving a truck like the truck I want to drive could never be demeaned and how I wish that were true. Yet, maybe by sifting through the mess in my head and spouting off and keeping my arms and heart wide open, someday, truck or no truck, it will be.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hope. Hurt. Hope.

The season is done for our Dodgers. Spuds and I attended a heartbreaking game. There was a particularly obnoxious and astonishingly loud guy two rows ahead of us. He spewed venom during the entire game and whenever we were bested he would violate the personal space of some nearby Phillie fan and stare menacingly with both middle fingers rigidly extended. He never crossed over the line far enough to get kicked out of the game but he hovered at the edge the whole agonizing night. There were two Phillies fans in red jerseys right next to us and beer and peanut shells from the tier above were pelted down on us all through nine humiliating innings. We said goodbye to the stadium. I told Spuds that when our set of three post season tickets arrived in the mail, I filed them away, saying to myself, "We'll never use those". I told Spuds how proud I was that we used two of the three sets of tickets and that our Dodgers are the Western Division Champions to culminate what started off as a pretty pathetic season. I told him this stuff because it's true and because I can't bear to see him cry but I guess it lacked gravitas because I was crying so hard myself.

Casamurphy currently houses two very elderly televisions. One is in the children's dungeon and the other, a 15" model, is mounted on the wall over our bed. Himself is a good sport about getting out of bed and standing right next to the screen and reading production credits to me. Subtitled films are pretty much out of the question though. When there is something of interest to watch with the children we all have to huddle in the bed and squint at the tiny screen. After conferring with my skeptical beloved, I ordered a 37" t.v. to be discreetly wall mounted on a rotating arm and placed so it can be seen either from our living room or kitchen area. Since I pushed the "submit order" button on the Costco site, I have not heard the end of it. My beloved, I think, has visions of me braless, in a housecoat and pink foam curlers, parked with a 40 ouncer, pork rinds, an institutional sized carton of Ho Ho's and a carton of Camel straights in front of the set, watching my stories. I get it. He was raised in a house with the television always on. Now he lives in a house where the television can be turned off. Like with most things at Casamurphy, all you have to do is ask nicely.

There is a quaintness about Himself's thrift and, perhaps not as often as either of us would like, I am inspired by it and although my beloved will roll his eyes here, I have become more conservative and less wasteful under his watchful eye (fascist regime). We buy no books these days as he finesses the waiting lists in three different city library systems. I am more than half way through a new novel "Atmospheric Disturbances" which is getting huge buzz and was a hard score from the library system. I don't love it and it has a lot of stuff about meteorology being a metaphor for life stuff that sort of eludes me. I am curious about how it will end but not in a great rush to finish it and there are a few other things I would have preferred to peruse, plus a new episode of Entourage on-demand. But, I dutifully plodded through it because it is due back at the library on Friday and we could incur fines of 25 cents per day. Even on the weekend. I got through about thirty pages and put it away and removed my glasses. I rolled next to him and let my body sink languidly into his. He raised an eyebrow and said bitterly. "I guess you're not going to finish that novel."

Usually yelling at Casamurphy involves directly or indirectly a person who is going to turn 16 years old in less than a week but over the last few months Himself and I have raised voices and ruffled feathers, just the two of us. I was even referred to as a Bubblehead. Blame it on Obama. I have tried to make myself love Obama more, not to piss off Himself but to sort of more drink in the zeitgeist of the time. I was almost wishing Obama would say "For the sake of political expediency, I joined one of the largest black churches in Chicago. I had no idea what Reverend Wright was saying because I never went there" and that this would be true. I have not read Audacity of Hope or Dreams from My Father, and my beloved has refused to obtain them from for me from the library so if anyone has a spare copy of either, I would be much obliged. I poked around trying to find something to rationalize Obama's continued association with Wright only to have reinforced again and again in The Audacity of Hope, Obama sites him as being an inspirational father figure. I know what Obama said about forgiving our elders because their wounds are deeper than we can ever fathom but it does seem inevitable that Obama was well aware of Wright's crackpot views and remained his adherent even after deciding to run for president. Nevertheless, if he does become president it will be an interesting time. Maybe Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton will disappear, like all embarrassing anachronisms should. Perhaps Spike Lee is too much to hope for. An aside here, but I notice, as I prepare to publish this, that my spellcheck suggests "Osama" as a correction of "Obama."

I am afraid for Obama. Maybe things are so fucked up that four years, or four lifetimes wouldn't be enough to set them us right. But there is the hope thing. Plus, I think it will be refreshing to have a president who is intelligent and an intellectual. Smart. I look forward to having a smart president. Ever since she was elected to the senate, it was pretty much assumed that Hillary would be the Democratic Party’s nominee. Obama's spectacular upset was so not a fluke. His brilliant campaign strategy has been virtually flawless from day one and his creation of a corps of volunteer organizers is unparalleled in an American political campaign. This kind of community organizing has roots in the civil rights and peace movements. Which brings us to Himself and Myself's most incendiary topic of all, William Ayers. How many married couples pout on opposite sides of the bed due to disagreements about the Weather Underground? I said that it seemed reasonable that Obama, having been reared in Indonesia and Hawaii, might well have been introduced to Ayers as a prominent professor of education and neighbor with common interests and let it go at that. Himself says, that there is no way in hell, that Obama, a political being with roots at the former radical hotbed, Columbia University, could not have known Ayers back story.

Eons of Reagan and Bushes have rendered the American peace movement of the 1960s completely discredited. I remember when I was in my late teens and early twenties and I heard that the Weather People had bombed some sort of government facility, thinking, after a steady diet of Vietnam atrocities on the nightly news, that it was cool. I haven't done a complete investigation of the Weather Underground but I read what was available about Bill Ayers on the web and watched again the documentary "The Weather Underground." Interviews with Ayers indicate that he has no regrets about opposing the war in Vietnam and wishes he could have done more. It also seems, not only from Ayers but from other former members too, that the group intended to gum up the works by bombing buildings pertinent to "the machine" but never aimed to take human life. Three members of the Underground were killed in a New York townhouse in a bomb making accident but there were no other deaths that I know of that could be attributed to the Weather Underground. The bomb being made at the time of the accident is reported to have been targeted for an officer's tea dance at Annapolis which contradicts Ayers and others when they claim that all missions were planned to avoid loss of life. Perhaps the New York group were renegades. Perhaps military officers were considered less than a life form. Other bombs were planted throughout the country and the group was scrupulous about contacting the media to insure that all targeted areas be cleared of people. After 9/11 it is easy to look back at the Weather People and their ilk as evil madmen. But what a different time it was. The civil rights movement caught the hearts of educated white kids and made their complacent lives of privilege feel repugnant. They responded to the carnage we saw in color on t.v. during the dinner hour with a horror that at the time was entirely appropriate. Outrage and disgust can lead us to do some pretty stupid things but some of these stupid things attracted attention and helped end the war. I note too that almost all of the former Weather People are presently engaged in work that pursues social justice. I forgive them their acts of passionate youth. I think they are probably good people.

On our bedroom wall opposite the t.v. hangs our Ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract. The glass was cracked ages ago by some errant child flung object and we haven't gotten around to replacing it. As goes with the territory of all intense relationships, sometimes we wound each other. I don't know if keeping the promises we made seventeen years ago posted over the bed inclines us more to fall back together, heal, and grow closer, as we do again and again. I do know that if we lived in a society with no concept or institution of marriage, the way Himself and I live together and the way we love each other would be a definition. A definition with a nice big television on the living room wall that never bothers a soul. I've been honored and asked to witness the marriage of Chris and Bob. Bob stood beside me under the chuppah seventeen years ago and for over twenty-five years has inspired me to live with faith and hope, often while either one or both of us was going through fucking hell. We have both been so sweetly rewarded and the ceremony I can't wait to witness (if I knew what to wear) will legally sanction another beautiful definition of the notion of marriage.

As additional punishment for those of you who have slogged all the way through this entry, not that I would presume to tell you how to spend your money, BUT, I think it is safe to say now that even if Obama isn't a shoe-in, he has lots and lots and oodles of money. Even money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which you'll be reimbursing for the rest of your life. Please do though consider making a donation pronto to help defeat Proposition 8. The thought of my children learning of its passage sickens me.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Meet Your New Landlord

Meet Your New Landlord
It hasn't been mentioned much but one of the worst things about our financial crisis, which I hope becomes known as W's folly, is that it is inevitable that China is going to buy up more U.S. debt. We are already into China for more than 500 billion dollars. We are into Japan for about 600 billion which is no good either but the obligation to China is more scary, particularly because China is now in a far better position than Japan to bargain hunt and buy up additional U.S. debt and it is speculated that this well might double our indebtedness. I have said before that China's one child policy, although carried out savagely, was courageous and is projected to have reduced the world's population by 700 million. I admire this and wish other nations would institute similar policies but of course enforce them with compassion.

40 million died under Mao's regime. Now, China has the second largest (nearly 7 trillion) GDP of any nation in the world. Since the transition towards a free market in 1978, the GDP has risen on average of 9.9% per year and per capita income has increased about 8% annually for each of the last 30 years. Putting to practice the theory that individual lives are expendable for the greater long term good has indeed radically diminished the starvation that was rampant when Mao came to power and has groomed China to become one of the world's big financial powers.

The road to prosperity for China has been a brutal and ugly one. They put a lot of energy into the Olympics which I guess was nice of them and while they are tops in terms of population control, I do not think they are a force for good in the world. The extent to which we will be inevitably beholden to this nation, whose philosophy is so contrary to our own, is frightening. Burma is considered to be the second most corrupt country in the world. It is impossible to exert international economic pressure towards ushering in human rights there because China, with a huge "fuck you" to the civilized world and to human rights, continues to stuff the pockets of and provide arms to one of the cruelest dictatorships on the planet.

The United Nations, established Millennium Development Goals with benchmarks for the year 2015 in the areas of quality of life, governance, health-care, education, gender equity, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, economics, human rights and the environment. In 1964 a loose coalition of United Nation members called the Group of 77 formed in order to address problems specific to the third world. The group, which now numbers 130 nation members is charged recently with helping to implement the Millennium Development Goals. The leader nation of the group, due to pressure from China, in cahoots with the Organization of the Islamic Conference is currently Sudan. Yes, THAT Sudan, one of the most corrupt nations on the planet and the folks that brought us genocide in Darfur. China buys oil from Sudan and sells them weapons, about 80 million dollars worth of armaments in 2005 alone. I'm sure, despite their naughty little genocide that Sudan will provide great leadership that will herald enormous progress on the implementation of the millennium goals.

In 2005 China was elected to the presidency of the United Nations Security Council and has used its veto power against sanctioning Sudan and Burma and also the dictator Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. They provided Mugabe arms necessary to carry through a rigged election and even some lovely blue tile for the roof of his palace. China also vetoed sanctions against Iran and sold them ten billion dollars worth of weapons in the year 2005. They also provided materials and guidance for the development of Iran's Shabab 3 and Shabab 4 ballistic missiles which could blow Europe to smithereens, and similarly were instrumental in Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons.

China provides weapons to maintain oppression in Nepal. North Korea depends on China for 2/3 of its fuel and 1/3 of its food. The favored weapon for street crime in Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and South Africa is the Chinese manufactured Norinco pistol which is aggressively (black) marketed to generate billions of dollars in illegal income. In addition to facilitating mayhem and murder throughout the world, at home the Chinese have a shitty track record with democracy advocates, ethnic minorities, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Ulghurs and human rights activists.

Falun Gong is a spiritual practice inspired by Taoism and dedicated to the cultivation of virtue and character based on the principles of truth, compassion and forbearance. In 1999 10,000 Falun Gong members staged a silent protest at Communist headquarters. This led to a huge crackdown and it has been estimated that nearly 60% of Chinese forced laborers were incarcerated due to Falun Gong affiliation. Most distressing is that several completely reputable reports corroborate that many Falun Gong prisoners were executed and that their organs were routinely harvested and sold.

I still like that the idea of the one child policy but China seems also bent on reducing the population by supporting dictators who build palaces and gorge on caviar while their countrymen die of disease, disaster, famine or genocide, providing weapons to the least stable nations on the planet and murdering practitioners of a mild faith in order to profiteer on human livers, kidneys, eyes and hearts. And soon they will be holding a trillion dollar note signed by George W. Bush on behalf of the citizens of the United States.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


It is erev Yom Kippur and I am attending bootcamp instead of Kol Nidre. I was scheduled to deliver a brief sermon at our little temple during the service and I blew it off, confessing that I'd felt no connection there at Rosh Hashanah and would feel like a hypocrite trying to instruct and inspire. I had pretty much decided to skip services there all together but Spuds specifically asked to go there and I agreed to accompany him for a few hours. The four of us discussed alternative observances or gestures to capture the spirit of the day and Himself demurred working in a soup kitchen. I looked on line for services which might be appealing and that one could attend without being a member of a shul but the choices were either "prayer free non-theistic humanistic" or creepy Chabbd sponsored Ortho with men and women divided by mehitzah. I was Goldilocks and all the porridge seemed lousy. I am pissed off, mainly at myself, that I can't seem to find the right fit to make Yom Kippur the experience it's been in the past. I was in a big rush to get the minutes away from being 16 year old's proof of driver's training to take him to the DMV and my cellphone fell out of my pocket on Hollywood Blvd. A nice lady returned it but I don't do things like that and it proved that I am atypically agitated. We got to the DMV and were informed that a photocopied birth certificate is unacceptable and I did some howling and steering wheel pounding. I suspect the not yet permitted to drive teenager riding shotgun was gratified and comforted to see that there seems to be a genetic propensity for loss of temper, despite the staggeringly bad example of safe driving. Sadly, I see bootcamp as a better anecdote towards becoming chill than the beautiful and most sacred of chants, Kol Nidre.

There were times when we gravitated towards becoming more Orthodox in our observance. We even found a modern Orthodox shul we liked in Pico Robertson that has no mehitzah and women participate equally on the bimah but it was just too far away to make it realistic for us to join this community. But we could have and we might have. And today is one of those days that would have been easier to get through if we had. There are 613 mitzvot. That's a lot of commandments and the commitment to keep close to God by honoring the mitzvot is daunting but it would also make irrelevant so many of the choices I agonize about. There are ways to eat and pray and fuck and fight and I envy those who have chosen God first and foremost and are so filled by that that they don't have to weigh the many alternative scenarios that confound me. I would shuffle, with my family to kol nidre with modest clothing and covered head. I would know what I needed to do to keep God in my heart and my house and Friday night movies and cheeseburgers and bootcamp instead of kol nidre wouldn't be issues and God would be right here. All God. All the time. I long today to be a sheep.

I continue this now on the morning of Yom Kippur. I am an early riser, even on the weekends there is bootcamp and the farmers market but this morning there was no reason for us to get out of bed. Half awake our bodies wrapped together in lazy comfort. I had gotten behind in reading Himself's extraordinary blog and was amazed to find a gorgeous piece there that paralleled very closely one of my own about ambivalence to organized religion. Both pieces had genesis in our conversations and readings but that we both came to such similar conclusions and felt the same longings, seemed an extraordinary thing for two people to accomplish. I felt the grace that I so often whine eludes me as our two bodies rested as one under the quilt in the warm morning.

I have a miserable headache for lack of coffee but Spuds and I are going to go pray. Himself and almost 16 have decided that driving to see his deaf angry decrepit father in the County Orange is a less odious form of atonement than attending the inevitably lackluster services at the tiny shul. I think again about how we could have taken the plunge and committed our lives and the lives of our children to the orthodox Jewish way of knowing God. Spuds remembered being the least observant of all the boys in his cabin at the Jewish camp and he said he felt sheepish that our home is not strictly kosher and that we see (often R rated!) movies on Shabbat. The way we have chosen to live makes feeling God's presence more challenging. While observing an orthodox form of any religion keeps the comfort of God close, it makes for a limited version of God. Like I said before about High Holiday Jews who make the obligatory visit to shul once a year when the focus is on the narrow aspect of the God of judgement. I am frustrated right now at my failure to click into the spirit of the days of awe, and in many ways the Orthodox shetl seems a comforting place. Judaism purports tolerance and we are commanded to welcome the stranger. Taking the plunge into the Orthodox world pretty much insures that while we might welcome those from outside our little communities of worship, they are destined to remain strangers. Perhaps I have been seduced by the secular world and my entrancement is that thing that keeps me unsettled and longing. But, the God I know inhabits taco trucks and Korean coffee houses and the kitchens of all our dear friends who cook pork and shrimp and pray to Jesus.

The God in me challenges and confounds and sometimes because of the way I have chosen to live, I feel forsaken. I am not a sheep although sometimes, when there seems no peace for me, I long to be one. I will go now and pray in an eastside barrio shul, full of misfits, oddballs and seekers. What made me bristle there on Rosh Hashanah is really just what makes me bristle at being in my own skin. I have consciously made the choice to live as a Jew but an unanchored one. This makes it harder sometimes to bask in God's grace but because I am here in a big world and not compartmentalized in a ghetto, perhaps it is more awesome when I do. The Dodgers will be playing the Phillies tonight when the service concludes. We will be glued to the t.v. when there are three stars in the night sky and our atonement is complete and we are bidden again to eat and drink and make love. Instead of the final blast of the shofar we will usher in this new year screaming for Manny and drinking coffee and eating lasagne, and finally, despite the frustrations of this years' season, somehow I know that God will be close.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Choose Your Temple

We hadn't been to our little temple in over a year, since we held the service for my dad there. Many young families with kids have joined and the Rosh Hashanah service was well attended. It was followed by a children's service with over 120 participants, which I believe was the greatest attendance for any holiday or event in the seventeen years I have been a member. I had attempted about 16 years ago to help bring young congregants and their families to the temple but the older members felt threatened and resistant to change and there was a huge schism. The young folks just picked up and went on their way but the older folks, or at least the very few who are left, still grind this axe and refer to the young families who tried to find a home there as "bad people." One of the very last of the oldtimers died last year and the landscape at this year's service was a tiny handful of mainly childless, mainly single, and perhaps more eccentric than usual, people around my age, who have stepped in over the last dozen or so years as the minyan died off and lots of young families I'd never seen before.

The kitchen was the same. Filthy and filled with rat traps and roach motels. The faucet and sink were as useless as when I cooked there 15 years ago. The fridge was crammed with rotting food and plastic bottles each containing about an inch of flat Shasta cola. I imagine the influx of young families has led to improved contributions but the kitchen has never been a priority despite the congregation's obsession with eating. I made a nice lunch and plates were heaped ridiculously high and people were quite shameless about packing up leftovers for themselves to take home. There are a number of mentally ill, or borderline mentally ill congregants and I was snippy and impatient with one afflicted woman who was bossy and critical when I was rushing to set up the lunch before the service ended. I knocked myself out in preparing this gesture of thanks to the synagogue and then I sort of trashed my good intentions by being an intolerant, unkind bitch.

The temple cannot afford a full time rabbi and each year hires itinerant clergy to conduct services. I'm sure the woman hired for this year's services touched the hearts of many congregants but despite my efforts to feel some connection, I was left cold. I speak no Hebrew and often find the services boring but in a comforting, peaceful way. The rabbi concluded what I found to be a very uninspiring, inarticulate sermon by singing (I am one of those people who should never sing in public but at least I know better than to try) a few particularly mawkish lines from syrupy Jewish folky Debbie Friedman. Himself and the kids flashed me that "what the fuck are we doing here?" look and I could only shrug. I usually have a few moments of heightened consciousness in the midst of a service at the tiny shul, if nothing more from the miracle of it having survived, in what is now the middle of a barrio, for eighty years. Rosh Hashanah, except for the praying and writing and inventory making I did to precede it, was a washout and I left the temple less full of hope than when I entered.

I am dreading Yom Kippur, the holiest of holy and am weighing making a brief obligatory visit to the shul or simply atoning and trying to connect from my home. But if I do stay home, it will be because the people at the temple I have been affiliated with for so many years are simply not evolved enough for me to pray with. What an asshole I would be to take this stance on the eve of the day of atonement. We have already decided that Spud's Bar Mitzvah will be held there and I need to get off my high horse and work this through because I would be a huge hypocrite to send him off to make a major spiritual passage at a place I cannot bear to be. I pray I am able to make peace and find the comfort that drew me and cemented me to the temple seventeen years ago. At least on Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, I can stay the fuck out of that disgusting kitchen.

The Jewish Lifecycle is sort of a precursor for modern psychotherapy and while I am struggling with the communal aspects right now, I still identify as a Jew (as my beloved seems to drift towards Buddhism) and to me, the Jewish prescription for living is prescient and sage and comforting. Although we don't practice it in a traditional way or as regularly as perhaps we could, we strive for Friday night Shabbat and the sanctification of time each and every week to soften the bang bang bang. For us it is usually no more than lighting candles and sharing challah, but it drills in the message that we need this quiet family time to keep us sane. There are proscribed mourning rituals that guide through the first year after a loss. The emotional stresses of marriage, and divorce and childbirth are addressed so reasonably that these directives might well come from a modern psychologist suggesting coping strategies for times of loss and stress. The freshness and sensibility with which Judaism addresses our emotional needs keeps me tethered here, despite my struggle to feel a part of a community.

With all my blessings, it is a luxury now to be able to consciously search for spiritual connectedness. There are many aspects of Judaism that I do click with but at the moment the small community of Jews, right in my own backyard at the temple I love just leaves me cold. I suppose there is a large degree of snobbery that made me feel distant and aloof during Rosh Hashanah, but whatever the reason, I felt the soaring that eluded me on the holiday at Chavez Ravine when I stood and screamed with 55,000 other fans, as the Dodgers completed their three game sweep of the hapless Chicago Cubs.

It is a new Jewish year. Tzipi Livni, the new prime minister of Israel, is a highly skilled diplomat and maybe this and a feminine sensibility will pave the road for some peace there. The House of Reps. passed the bailout but perhaps we taxpayers will suffer a bit less than we expect, criminals will be punished, and we will learn enough from the post mortem to take steps to prevent this from happening again. About 5% of U.S. mortgages are subprime and in some degree of default. Employment is faltering so this will probably go up some before it goes down but even the direst of predictors think it won't exceed 10%. I presume that the 90% or so of mortgages that are in good standing will continue to yield a profit. Even the mortgages that are in default have some equity, even if it doesn't represent the full value of monies owed. I hope that the taxpayers don't get left holding the bag of bad debt without realizing the profit from the large percentage of U.S. mortgages that are still viable and income generating. Bob and Chris are getting hitched, in sort of shotgun fashion, before the election and the possible passage of Proposition 8. I wish them a lifetime of happiness and keep the hope that the stupid proposition goes down in spectacular defeat. I am not awestruck by this year's Days of Awe and am currently worshipping only the God of baseball. I am thankful for the things around me that I know are good and I am hopeful too that good may spring from that which disgusts or terrifies me. And we have our work cut out for us against the Phillies.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Bailout We Can Believe In

A bailout we can believe in.
(Thanks to Catherine Boyer)