5 Depressing Thoughts to Usher in the Winter Solstice (Silver Lining Edition)

Depressing Thought: If the universe keeps expanding as scientists claim it will, someday our solar system will be so isolated that the night sky will only hold the moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.

Silver Lining: We’ll all be dead.

Tides HotelDepressing Thought: The Arctic is melting at rates unprecedented in the history of mankind.

Silver Lining: Future oceanfront lots in Branchville, SC are going for a song!

Depressing Thought: I weigh more now than I ever have in my entire life.

Silver Lining: The increased fat might help me survive future famines caused by global warming.

photograph by Gerry Pacher

photograph by Gerry Pacher

Depressing Thought: Because of Obama’s establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, I missed my chance to visit Havana in all of its quaint, frozen-’50’s shabby grandeur.

Silver Lining: Cuban children may soon be able to eat meat on a regular basis.

Depressing Thought: Warren Zevon will never make another record.

Silver Lining: Neither will The Ray Conniff singers.

Ray Conniff in 1979

Ray Conniff in 1979

Cub Scout Psychic Scars

I was probably the most ineffectual Cub Scout in the history of that organization, the ineptitude of my tenure comparable to that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s career as a cavalryman in the Light Dragoons. The Norton Anthology of English Literature claims, and I quote, Coleridge was “probably the most inept cavalryman in the long history of the British Army.”  Of course, Shelley never joined the Light Dragoons, nor did Keith Richards. Come to think of it, I don’t think Keith Richards would make a very good Cub Scout either, an organization that promotes:

  • Character Development
  • Spiritual Growth
  • Good Citizenship
  • Sportsmanship and Fitness
  • Family Understanding
  • Respectful Relationships
  • Personal Achievement
  • Friendly Service
My Father and I

My Father and I

I did, I think, climb a rung from Bobcat to Bear, but only because my father signed documents claiming that I had completed steps I hadn’t, like planning a fire drill in the home. Daddy hated scouting because he had been, or so he claimed, chased around a tent by a  lascivious scoutmaster on a camping trip in his youth.

I do, though, remember successfully satisfying one requirement all by myself: going outside to watch the weather. When it came to carving a replica of the Statue Liberty out of soap (or tying my shoelaces for that matter), I was a complete – to use a quaint term from those days – spaz.  Whenever it came to father-and-son projects like the Pinewood Derby, the ol’ man performed about 99.8 of the work (he’d take the kit to work the day of the big race and construct the car on the government’s dime) and I about .02% (I’d apply decals after the paint had dried).

Mosey's car 2 web

The one aspect of Scouting I did enjoy, though, was receiving each month an issue of Boys’ Life where I could travel “[t]hrough the Himalayas with Lowell Thomas,” learn about fitness exercises that would transform me from a 40-pound weakling into a 75-pound he-boy, and read inspirational sports fiction.   However, what I really loved about Boys’ Life (and my Aunt Virginia’s Cosmopolitans) were the cheap ads in the back.

Even back then — perhaps I’m imagining this — I suffered a bit of cognitive dissonance in the clash between the high-minded goals catalogued above and the prurience and dishonesty of the ads. For example:

specs-300x203Of course, any Good Citizen, future radiologist who bought the glasses, would stare at the bone structure in his hand rather than directing his penetrating gaze leftward to check out the chick.

Or what could be more creepily Freudian than this family drama:












The good news is that all bad things must end, and with the onset of puberty, I lost interest in scouting and Boys’ Life and the Hardy Boys.  David Johnson’s father had a copy of Terry Southern’s Candy in the drawer of his bedside table.

So it was “Farewell, Sea Monkeys; Hail Perverted Hunchback.”


Dick Cheney, Hunter S Thompson, and Warren Zevon Walk into an Enhanced Interrogation Station

Cheney's angry Elvis imitation

Cheney’s angry Elvis imitation

Well, this isn’t exactly news, but to say that Dick Cheney lacks empathy is to say Christopher Walken isn’t warm and fuzzy or that no one is likely to confuse Michelle Obama with Ann Coulter. Sunday on Meet the Press, Cheney couldn’t even bring himself to express remorse over the well-documented torturing of innocents when he was in charge post 9/11. I’ll hand the metaphoric mike over to Andrew Sullivan:

He was then asked about the 26 people whom the CIA admits were tortured by mistake. One of them was even frozen to death. A sane and rational and decent human being, who presided over the program that did this, might say: “The decision to torture was an extremely agonizing one, but I still believe defensible. But of course the torture of innocent people is horrifying. I deeply regret the chaos and amateurism of the program in its early phases.”

So what did Cheney actually say? When confronted with the instance of Rahman Gul, the individual tortured to death, Todd asked what the US owed these torture victims. Cheney actually said this:

The problem I have is with all the folks we did release who ended up on the battlefield … I have no problem [with torturing innocent people] as long as we achieved our objective.

Cheney makes Orwell’s Big Brother seem like a straight-shooter by comparison. He calls “water boarding” and “rectal hydration” “enhanced interrogation.”

Warren Zevon and Hunter S Thompson

Warren Zevon and Hunter S Thompson

On Meet the Press, reeking of hubris, he exhibited the same stiff-bodied surety he displayed when assuring the American people that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that we’d be greeted as liberators. As my main man Hamlet is wont to say round about Act 3, Scene 4, line 82: “O shame where is thy blush?”

Well, obviously, Dick Cheney has no shame, and my fantasy of his being prosecuted is about as likely to happen as the Carolina Panthers winning this year’s Super Bowl or Hunter S Thompson and Warren Zevon rising from the dead to perform some rectal hydration enhanced interrogation on Cheney himself.

What’s that word W liked so much?  Oh yeah, evildoer.

Dylan Deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature, Damn It!

In my book, Bob Dylan should win the Noble Prize for literature, and before you scholarly snobs start tsk-tsking that Dylan is a mere folk-singer-rock-star- minstrel, not a poet, let me share with you these gems from past Noble-winning poets.

In this world all the flow’rs wither,

The sweet songs of the birds are brief;

I dream of summers that will last


                         from “In This World” by Sully Prudhomme

Keep dreaming, Sully.  You’ve been dead for 107 years.  Here’s another:

The vase where this verbena is dying

was cracked by a blow from a fan.

It must have barely brushed it,

for it made no sound.

Evening sunshine never

Solace to my window bears,

Morning sunshine elsewhere fares;-

Here are shadows ever.

from “A Sigh” by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

No doubt it loses something in translation.

When I bring to you colored toys, my child,

I understand why there is such a play of colors on clouds, on water,

and why flowers are painted in tints

—when I give colored toys to you, my child.

from “Colored Toys” by Rabindranath Tagore

We can’t blame a bad translation on that one; it was originally written in English.

Ah but not the bottle, not the chicken,

Would I touch, however fine and tender;

Nothing but herself, but Fraulein Anna!

Her I’d set upon the pony, clasping

Both my arms around her, and would gallop

All along the street, along the village,

Up the hill, and stop at Friedli’s hostel -

Then we would be married in the autumn.”

from “Puberty” by Carl Spitteler

Compare the above with this:

Darkness at the break of noon

Shadows even the silver spoon

The handmade blade, the child’s balloon

Eclipses both the sun and moon

To understand you know too soon, there is no sense in trying

or this:

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind

Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves

The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach

Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free

Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands

With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves

Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

or this:

When Ruthie says come see her

In her honky-tonk lagoon

Where I can watch her waltz for free

’Neath her Panamanian moon

An’ I say, “Aw come on now

You must know about my debutante”

An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need

But I know what you want”

or this:

It was Rock-a-day Johnny singin’, “Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa

Our Love’s A-gonna Grow Ooh-wah, Ooh-wah”

I rest my case!



America’s Dystopia Jones

Motorcycle Gang in The Wild OneOh, for those quaint days of yore when the worst your uptight cinematic town had to fear was a motorcycle gang led by Marlon Brando cutting doughnuts on Main Street, shattering the plate glass windows of hardware stores. [TRAILER HERE]

how-to-be-on-the-walking-deadNowadays, it’s brain-eating zombies upsetting the ambiance of the townships of Televisionland, shuffling like Roman Legions down Martin Luther King Boulevard, crossing the tracks, headed toward gated communities guarded by underpaid military retirees in police uniforms.

For whatever reason, we First World consumers crave catastrophe, whether we’re curling up on the sofa with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, programming our DVRs to record the latest episode of The Walking Dead, or listening to the dulcet intonations of NPR announcers bringing us up to date on Ebola and ISIS.

Horror is all the rage in Late Empire America. Walking your rescue dog past young Bentley’s house, you can hear heavy gunfire and explosions emanating from his manipulations of a video console. Hmm, sounds like he’s playing Mortal Kombat Armageddon, or is it World of Welfare: Let’s Kill the Bloodsuckers?

Edwin Butler-Bayliss

Edwin Butler-Bayliss

All of this got me to wondering when the West quit writing utopias a la Thomas More and started portraying the future world as a nightmare. Of course, my go-to unscholarly source is Wikipedia, and it anoints Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver Travel’s as the first dystopian “literature “– though Oedipus Rex might lay some claim to being the first with its plague-ridden Thebes ruled by a tainted king whose sexual misdeeds make the Clinton/Lewinski dalliance seem downright wholesome in comparison. But Oedipus Rex predates empire, and I suppose you must have an empire, a nation state, or a fucked-up planet to qualify as a dystopian society. My colleague Aaron Lipka tells me the civilization must be a fallen one. I’d add that God has to be Dead.


Phas 2, Part 1


“Well this stuff will probably kill you/ Let’s do another line.”

Tom Waits, “Heart Attack and Vine”


On Dummyline Road east of Slidell,

I’m standing at the counter of a dirt-floor,

concrete-block shit-hole of a juke joint

doing shots of shine

with my main man Alphonse DuMar.


There’s a black bluesman sitting on a stool

in the corner blowing bad harp,

and by bad, I mean not-good, shitty, shrieking.

I wish he’d shut the fuck up.


I’m the only white cat in this joint,

the proverbial peanut in the Hershey bar,

as we used to say back in the day

before the PC Police put the nix on colorful language.


The shine burns going down, sears my esophagus.

I shout up to Mr. DuMar,

who stands six-four-and played tight end for Tulane.


“The body ain’t no temple,”

I holler over the harp.

“It’s more like a nation,

with little white blood cell armies

that attack invading viruses,

and if you abuse a territory,

like your esophagus,

it might revolt, attack your capital ass,

rising up in a cancerous insurrection.”


Alphonse shakes his big black shaved head.


“Don’t be talking no shit like that in here, mon.”


Just then, like an answered prayer,

the harp ceases its screech.

Vowel rich intermingled speech instead.


In my head that song by the Box Tops clicks on.


Lonely days are gone

I’m a goin’ home

My baby, she wrote me a letter


Problem is I ain’t got no baby –

or no home for that matter.

Been sleeping in my van for the past six months.


It’s parked outside next to a portable sign on wheels,

one of them signs with removable letters,

a sign that says



Some thieving teenager named Willie Horton

maybe made off with the W and H.


“This shine burning a hole in my gut,” I say,

and Alphonse say, “Then just one more.”


The shine is poured,

the glasses raised,

and I brace myself for a slug of fire.


I don’t even hear the pistol go off

but feel the shot rip through my gut,

and scrunch over and howl

like Lee Harvey Oswald

on that day in Dallas.