We Can Be Zeroes

Now it’s time to close our eyes
Now it’s time to say goodbye
Now it’s time to face the lie
That we’d never cry
David Bowie, “What’s Really Happening?”

The unexpected death of the iconic David Bowie on January 10, 2016 was a shocking blow to much of the world. More than a week has passed, yet news and social media sites are still flooded with eulogies, tributes, and other commemorative pieces about the legendary artist.

Amidst all the tragedy and death in the world, this one seems more difficult to accept. Many of us were born when Bowie already released his classic, Space Oddity. It is hard to comprehend he is gone when he was always there. Truth be told, imagining a world without him in it is a challenge, because a small part of us assumed he was immortal.

His death reminds us that even appearing bigger than life, he is just like us—a mere speck of dust in endless void of space. It is a sobering thought. We get solace from having heroes, ones we can revere and rely upon. We could look up to the heavens, and the Starman would be there. How can such a dynamic force that had such a positive impact on the world just one day cease to be? Simply, we are all mortal. In an Orwellian way, some of us are “more mortal” than others.

Bowie

Bowie, Colored Pencil on toned paper, by Diane Bushemi 1/17/16

I am comforted by the collective sorrow. Misery loves company, after all. More to the point, I am less embarrassed that I cried for the passing of someone I never met, because I am not alone in my feelings. Still, my response is surprising to me. Even though I am a fan and as an artist and musician myself, greatly appreciate his unique genius. However, he was never my favorite. I always assumed I would reserve this type of emotional investment for my songwriting heroes—Neil Young, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Phillips, and Tori Amos. My connection is strong with them for various reasons, and, they have helped shape me into the artist I am and still am striving to be.

Then why did his death cause me so much distress? Like with all celebrity deaths, we make it about ourselves. From water cooler conversations to social media postings, it is about our own responses. It is a way to connect to someone we don’t know and to something we have yet to experience for ourselves. The mere concept of death is terrifying to us. There is a mystery in the unknown, of course. Even more so, there is that fear we would be gone and promptly forgotten. It is troubling enough to acknowledge that we are mortal in body, but we cannot accept that we could be mortal in influence, as well. Celebrities are immortalized in a way most of us can’t be through memories, photographs, film, et cetera. Canonizing the dead is a natural impulse, even more so when someone in the public eye dies. We want immortality to be true, any way we can get it. We can’t help ourselves.

That said, it isn’t the main reason Bowie’s death causes me so much dissonance. I had to take a long, brutal look at myself and figure out why this death affected me and was distinctly about me.

Bowie died of liver cancer. I am a cancer survivor. Pluck! There’s a succulent piece of low-hanging fruit from that Tree of Knowledge. I could accept that obvious connection, nosh on the apple, and leave it at that. Of course it upsets me, I know what he went through because I experienced it myself. I empathize.

If only it were that easy. It is one component, yes, but not the core reason. Get it? Apple—core. Anyway, here goes.

The past two years, starting with my entry into the mid-forties demographic, I’ve looked back on my life a lot, even more so than looking around in the present or to the future. Like the various Dickensian ghosts, it is all scary. For the sake of brevity, I will just say that I am filled with regret. Regret that I didn’t travel more, make more friends, and basically lived too safely. I avoided the path I was drawn to because it was intimidating. Why should I risk trying and failing at being a professional musician when the four-year college with a degree in accounting is right there? Since Bowie released his first album in his early twenties, he eschewed conservative ideals and did what he wanted to do during his formative years—ones that have long passed me by.

I can say with utmost certainty that regret, like jealousy, is a useless waste of energy. Just learn from past mistakes, live in the present, and keep your eye on the future. Right? It is easier said than done. The challenge with me is that my resolve is in short supply. I am a sprinter. I get an idea and take off with it, but run out of gas very shortly before I can achieve much. I don’t have the endurance for a marathon, literally and figuratively. My successes are small and far between, because I use up the majority of my reserves trying to keep myself motivated. Do you know who probably had plenty of resolve and motivation, considering how prolific and successful he was? Bowie.

I started the New Year recovering from an injury. A bulging disc in my neck caused incapacitating pain for several weeks. I was miserable. I couldn’t work out, draw, paint, play guitar, or write. I could do none of the things that I enjoyed. The two weeks for holiday that I reserved to accomplish so much were a complete bust. At least, I was willing to accept that I was physically unable to do anything productive. I wonder if Bowie ever experienced something similar to that.

I was equally unproductive during my battle with cancer. I did two quick drawings, and that was it. I didn’t write, and barely played any music. What did I do with those four months off from work while at home, day in and day out? There is no point in listing specifics. I was fighting for my life; I had no energy to focus on building a body of work for some legacy that no one would see anyway.

Do you know who co-wrote a musical, wrote, and recorded an album, all while battling cancer and accepting that he would ultimately lose that fight?

Damn it, Ziggy. Damn you to space! You make me look and feel bad for myself. I am the Zero to your Hero. How dare you?

Is it possible to be so in command of your life that despite the odds, you still write your own ending? I didn’t think it was possible, yet, Bowie showed that it is. He took something that was out of his control—terminal cancer—and like the maestro he was, orchestrated his dwindling time on Earth brilliantly. From the release of his album on his birthday to his peaceful death two days later, Major Tom was not only the pilot of his rocket ship; he was “Ground Control.”

This isn’t a life-changing revelation. I almost died, damn it. If that didn’t galvanize me, what would? I could carry a lightning bolt as my talisman and focus the rest of my life on becoming immortal in whatever way possible. Or . . . not.

This is not a closed-ended treatise. I have a long road ahead of me still. Not as long as I want it to be, given I am ostensibly halfway through my life already. I trust I will continue to stumble along the way, just like I always do. I hope I will leave more indelible footprints in my path. Until I shuffle off this mortal coil, I still might compose my own symphony that will resonate and continue to be heard when my voice is forever silenced.

I’ll end this with another lyric from his song, What’s Really Happening? I’ve had it on a loop the past week. It seems fitting.

All the clouds are made of glass
And they’re slowly sinking
Falling like the shattered past
Were we built to last?

Canny Granny

Canny Granny

Waste not want not. Everyone knows that. Not everyone knows the original proverb from which it evolved. “Willful waste makes woeful want.”

Grandma would know that. She knew a lot of things. Just like she knew the word “gadfly” when she played it for the win in Scrabble.

She could shoo away an annoying insect while she industriously toiled away in any part of the house needing her careful attention. Nothing could disrupt her rhythm.

Nothing. Not even if a new roll of Scott Towels fell into the sink full of fresh, soapy dishwater.

She could have lifted the roll out, shaken off the excess water, and chucked the sodden pulp in the refuse.

Not this granny.

She’d follow the first two steps, then do what only a resourceful woman during the Depression era would.

Several minutes later, her modestly sized kitchen would be decorated with 1,000 sheets of disposable paper.

She’d vacuum and dust other rooms while the towels air-dried. There was no sitting around idly whiling away time in Grandma’s world.

Hours later, they’d be rolled up and as good as new, ready to clean every surface of her humble home.

Grandma was willful. But she was definitely not wasteful.

Summer Soulless in China

I wish I didn’t know this exists. But, it does.

I wish it didn’t keep me up at night. But, it has.

I wish I could protect all animals from this horrible fate. But, I can’t.

Despite amassing millions of signatures globally for a petition to the President of the People’s Republic of China to ban it, the Yulin Dogmeat Festival to celebrate the summer solstice happened again yesterday, or whenever the fuck China’s time zone rang in June 21st.

Oh, it is happening right now? As I write this? No wonder I am in a shitty mood. I thought it was the dark, rainy weather in Chicago today.

I know, we are all part of the food chain. I am fully aware of that, and even defended the right of Asian countries to open slaughter houses for dogs. We shouldn’t think it is wrong just because we identify the animal as Fido. Pigs can be pets, and some may consider a cow or chicken as one. Yet, we consume them on a grand scale. I argued this years ago when I was a vegan, no less.

What makes the Yulin Dogmeat Festival different?

If a subculture of China considers eating dog meat an appropriate way to celebrate the start of summer, then so be it. It is a puzzling choice considering how often dogs are portrayed—usually in a positive way—in Chinese mythology. I thought they would be revered, not consumed. But, I will set that aside. As long as the animal is respected and fully used, i.e., little to no waste, then there should be no real issue here.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. In order to accumulate the 10,000 dogs demanded for this festival, many are stolen off the streets, from backyards, and even from private homes. Dogs are shipped to restaurants in this small town still wearing the collars their humans put on them to declare ownership of and ostensibly, to protect them.

Cultural relativism be damned, those dogs are stolen “property” (as they are considered) and thus, illegally acquired. It should automatically put an end to this event. It does not. Apparently, the Yulin government turns a blind eye to this, even though many of China’s own citizens are against it, as well.

It does not stop there. The dogs are not only slaughtered, they are treated horribly. Not only are they crammed in cages or stuffed to bursting in nets, they are tortured to death because . . . wait for it . . . it is determined to make the meat taste better.

I would not have believed it, much less known about this horror, if it weren’t for Ricky Gervais. I like his Facebook page not only because he is one of my favorite comedians and a fellow atheist, he is also a huge animal lover. I look forward to seeing a post from him in my newsfeed of an adorable animal picture or video. It makes me smile.

With such good I must take the bad. He posts his outrage over hunters smiling with their fresh kills. It makes my blood boil as well, but I get some solace out of seeing so many people gather to share in his disgust. When I see that, I know there is light. There is hope for this world.

With tremendous reluctance, Gervais posted a few pictures in his campaign to raise awareness about this practice. I just cannot unsee them. One dog is lowered with large, metal tongs into a vat of boiling water; another dog is bound and muzzled with wire while a flamethrower is applied to his lower body; a cat is trying to climb a fence in terror. Yes, cats are on the menu. Perhaps as an appetizer?

In addition, many are skinned alive because, again, the meat is more flavorful and tender. Imagine if that were done to you. Believe it, the animals feel it just as acutely. The difference is that they have no idea why they are being treated so cruelly. Is ignorance bliss?

When animals are tortured, chemicals are released, including adrenaline. Perhaps that is the flavor these sub-humans crave. Apparently, topping meat from animals slaughtered humanely with a special adrenal sauce is not enough. They must suffer for the pleasure of the superior animal.

Ricky Gervais deserves many kudos for being so outspoken about animal rights. This campaign is much stronger and more likely to eventually succeed because of his global influence. It was not enough to stop it this year, but maybe it will work to put an end to it next year.

For anyone who thinks atheists are evil and taking away religious freedoms, think of all the animals whose freedoms are not even considered for a second. Then, look who is brave enough to expose himself to the ugly truth in order to use his celebrity to defend those without a voice. Until then, shut the hell up.

This is where my own conflict causes me additional unrest. What can I do? I can barely emotionally handle these awful truths. I wish I hadn’t seen those pictures, but how else can the point be driven home? There is merit to shock value, as it is sometimes needed to galvanize people into action. Yet, I am left with my hands in the air, not knowing what I could do.

I look at my sweet, adorable pitbull mix and my heart feels like it will burst with love. I’d do anything to protect him. I was already paranoid about his safety before I knew about the Yulin festival. Dog fighting is still a problem in the U.S., and often dogs are obtained illegally. What would I do if my baby was stolen and found out later he was turned into a fighting dog, his loving personality violently destroyed along with his body? What if he was used as bait? What could I do except let a piece of me die?

I look at the pictures, and fantasize about what I would do at the festival. If I saw that flamethrower in action, I’d knock the abuser’s knee out, pull the flamethrower out of his hand, and set fire to him. I would then leap upon his writhing body and gouge his eyes out. I am convinced that would be my impulse response in that situation. I hate that I can feel a darkness like that. It isn’t a part of me. I shouldn’t have room for such violent hatred with all the love I have to give. They did this to me, those horrible beasts.

I feel so helpless. What can I do but cry, be angry, lose sleep, or write in my blog? I am not Ricky Gervais. I will never have that power, nor the bravery to face what scares and horrifies me. I don’t care if I am being a sycophant, I am grateful for people like him who can walk the walk while people like me talk the talk.

Since I do not have the means to end animal suffering worldwide, I must focus on my own home.

Geww at the Hospital 1

I don’t have a flamethrower, but I have enough fire in my belly to rain Hell down upon you if you try to harm my baby.

Let Us Eat Cake

I spent most of my formative years defying my father. I was not a troublemaker, per se. I was a good student, honest, and never smoked or did drugs. No, that was not my form of rebellion.

I defied my father in the only way a do-gooder could—passive-aggressively.

I inherited his height, so I slouched. He gave me his temper, so I threw it back at him. No matter how solid I felt my argument was, he always won our verbal sparring matches. It frustrated me to no end. It triggered the irresistible urge towards defiance just so I could achieve some balance in my immature universe.

We both loved the color red, so I made that small concession in the father-daughter war. Color preference is not a choice, I figured. He never fought me for the red game pieces in Parcheesi, so he must not have adored the color as much as I did, anyway.

He was very organized and precise. How could I be anything but the opposite? From folding blankets a certain way to making Cocoa Wheats without lumps, I did none of it his way. I did not care to be micromanaged.

Then, there was cake.

“Never waste food. You can pick up the crumbs by pushing your fork on them,” he said while he demonstrated the technique. He proudly showed me the crumbs between the tines, and the resulting clean plate. “See?”

Yes, I did see. Still do, every time I eat cake.

Red plate

Dust and Detritus

Blowing dust

It has been over a year since I’ve written anything, much less posted something on The Purple Pedant. September 24th, 2013, to be precise, was the last entry. Why is that? I could leave that as a rhetorical question. But, I’ve been ushered into the “late 40’s” demographic in the past year, which has made these questions harder to resist, yet more challenging and painful to answer.

First off, when I stated that I haven’t written, that means anything I wasn’t required to write. I’ve been writing theater and concert reviews for the past year. I write policies and procedures at my job. I suppose even emails would count as writing; not all are required. Nor are all the status updates and comments I made and continue to make on Facebook. I believe I just canceled out the first sentence of this paragraph.

Rewrite: I haven’t written anything for the pure joy of it in over a year.

That leaves me with the aforementioned question dangling over my head like a Sword of Damocles. Nothing I say or don’t say will justify my word drought. I could make up something like an impressive story or alibi, but disingenuousness accomplishes nothing. In other words, I am damned either way.

Yet, I am writing now. Why should I complain or hem and haw as I look over my shoulder? Just focus on the present and future. Right? I could most certainly view it that way. But, those who ignore history and all that. It may seem like a melodramatic analogy, but it is an apt one. By all means, keep moving forward, but leave a trail of popcorn just in case you have to backtrack to see whence you came.

I spoke recently to a group of women about motivation. It is a word that vexes me. I am pulled prematurely out of sleep to the sound of its alarm every morning, and lie awake at night with a droning reminder that I ignored it for a good part of the day. It is a maddening tinnitus buzzing deep in my eardrums that won’t let up until I vow to pay proper heed to it tomorrow. Motivation is a harsh mistress; it kept me up most of the night so that I am too tired from lack of sleep to make good on my promise. And so the vicious circle continues.

The intent of volunteering to talk in front of a crowd wasn’t to find a convenient platform to whine and vent. I actually discovered several things about myself in the process. I went up on stage without a script. It wasn’t because I wanted to be real and off-the-cuff, it was because I wasn’t motivated to actually write down what I wanted to say. Not even talking about motivation could motivate me. The irony did not escape me. I had to admit that if I was to get anything productive out of this endeavor. Revelation One.

All my life, I’ve been plagued by depression, anxiety, and lack of motivation. It doesn’t matter which came first—the chicken, egg, or . . . sperm. They all feed off each other. I get depressed, which saps my motivation. Once I emerge from the darkness, I get anxiety from not accomplishing anything. I lose sleep due to the anxiety and get depressed from fatigue . . . and so it keeps going, like a holy trinity of neurosis. Revelation Two.

I am also introverted by nature. This translates to internalizing everything, including motivation. I am bursting with ambition and have the loftiest of goals . . . in my head. It is externalizing them, i.e., being extroverted, that stymies me. I can tell people what I want to do, but I don’t do what I want to do. Revelation Three. There is no denying the fact that I am middle-aged. Ugh. That hurts to admit, and is also terrifying. Which brings me to Revelation Four.

There is nothing so galvanizing for me than negative reinforcement. I make mistakes that bite me, thus, I am motivated to not repeat them (until I slack off and repeat them). I have more years behind me than ahead of me, and the ones I’ve lived are salted with regret. It is a terrifying prospect of not achieving what I desire and not living this life like I never want to leave it. Why can’t I just bring my passion with me instead of chasing it down like a moving bus that I missed by mere seconds? Sometimes, that is enough to get me going. Sometimes.

Quite simply, I need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. The path I want to take won’t get forged if I just stand there staring at the map. And sometimes, it is okay to stop someone for help and ask for directions. The other thing that holds me back is my fear of what other people think of me, as well as being perceived as living a fantasy. She wants to be an artist? A musician? A WRITER? No one makes a living that way, much less someone as mediocre and untalented as she is. Diane is an Accountant. That is a realistic profession for an introvert. It is safe.

However, it is desperately boring and stifling, and I need to break free from it. My right brain is elbowing my left brain and jockeying for more space. There is that negative reinforcement again.

I have finally gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter what everyone wants for me. It only matters what I want for me. My closing thought to the Q&A session of my speech was ineloquent but memorable:

The older I get, the less fucks I have to give.

Onward.

Defending the death of Dexter

That was an alliteration I couldn’t resist. I could call it homage to the originator of the book series, Jeff Lindsay. But I won’t. He alliterates ad nauseam in his book titles, as well as in Dexter’s voiceovers in a misguided attempt at making the character likeable, e.g. “dear darling Dexter.” Good gracious God. All he succeeds in doing is annoying the reader—at least, this reader. Jeff Lindsay is a hack who happened upon a promising idea, and then crapped on it after the first book. Yeah, I get it. Angel-no relation-Batista is not a winged being from the heavens. Say it once, and then move on!

Needless to say, the television series surpassed the books from the very first episode. Even the worst season was by far better than Linday’s best book. I have it on good authority considering I read the first five. I have heard they go even further downhill from there. Usually, derivative works are lower in quality, such as the recent Great Gatsby, if not on par with, as was the case in Jaws.

Every episode was entertaining and riveting. The acting was all first-rate, and the evolution of the two main characters in Dexter and Deb were brilliantly portrayed by Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, respectively. All the supporting and guest actors did an excellent job, as well. Who can forget John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer from Season 4, arguably their best season? Anyone who didn’t come away from witnessing that performance and recognize his acting genius needs a time-out on Dexter’s table. I kid. The only season I was disappointed with was the following, season 5. I felt Julia Stiles was miscast and out of her element. I could not suspend disbelief that she would be driven to murder, and could even help Dexter dump body parts and act like they were making conversation while cooking dinner together. If you ask me, and you probably won’t, Claire Danes would have made a more convincing Lumen. She has the required frailty masked by steely resolve to make that character believable.

Do not read any further if you have not watched the series finale of Dexter, by the way. The “death” in my title is symbolic, i.e., the ending of the series.

Or is it. . . ?

My husband and I are both writers, and we can usually sniff out plot turns before they happen—him more so than I. Neither of us had any idea how this series would end. We both knew that it wouldn’t end well for at least one of the characters. It turned out that it ended badly for all of them. I won’t discuss the whole season. It is only the final episode that left me an emotional mess.

The show’s writers took Vonnegut’s advice to be mean to their characters and ran with it. All the key players were victimized by Dexter, in some shape or form. And for that, Dexter had to die . . . in some shape or form.

When Deb was shot in the penultimate episode, it was the gun on the wall (pun intended) that a happy ending was not to be expected. Deb was injured picking up where Dexter felt he should leave off. He did not kill the Brain Surgeon—the season’s nemesis—because he realized he didn’t need to anymore and decided to go by the book and have him arrested and prosecuted. Is that character redemption I see? Not so fast! Dexter left Hannah and Harrison (another alliteration!) in their efforts to flee the country to be by Deb’s side when he got the call that she had been shot. Are you sure that isn’t character redemption? Scoff! That would be too easy.

I suspected even more so that something tragic would happen when the doctor told Dexter that everything went well in surgery. Context is important, because nothing goes well in that show, so it should not be assumed that it was just a plot device to add a little drama. A massive stroke from a blood clot left Deb brain-dead. It heralded the return of Dexter’s Dark Passenger, so the Brain Surgeon had to die. While doing a GSR test on Daniel Vogel in jail, he set it up so that Vogel, a.k.a. Oliver Saxon, would attack him, thus justifying Dexter killing him. Batista and Quinn, distraught by the loss of a detective and lover, respectively, viewed the video playback. It was apparent that they saw it for what it was—a premeditated murder in the guise of self-defense. After a few obvious questions from Batista, they declared the incident justifiable homicide. On the surface, it appeared to be sloppy writing to do away with some loose ends in the plot. But in actuality, it was showing another side to the detectives—more Batista in this case—demonstrating that sometimes ethics are situational. And some people have to die. So says “the code.”

Like he did to Camilla Figg in season 3, he felt it his duty to euthanize Deb. And that he did. I was shaking, trying to keep it together, when he held her hand and emotionally whispered “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He turned off the machine, disconnected the tube and wires, and listened for her breath to cease. “I love you,” were his last words. That is when I did a face-plant into my husband’s lap. My eyes are welling up just recalling that scene. I was devastated.

There was only one convincing path for Dexter to take at the loss of his moral compass in Deb, for which he felt responsible. He could have met up with Hannah and Harrison and lived his life the way Deb would have wanted him to. That would have been trite, out of character, and despite our desire for some semblance of a happy ending, unrealistic. He spoke one last time to Hannah and Harrison, leaving the possibility he would see them again. Then he threw the phone into the ocean to cast away any temptation to meet up with and eventually destroy them the way he did everyone he was close to. After that, he buried Deb in the same place he did his victims, as if she died at his hand, as well. But with her, he demonstrated his love and respect by keeping her whole and uncovered. Her face dissolved as it sank into the ocean’s depths in a symbolic disposal of the mask he wore for so many years.

He drove into the eye of the hurricane, and the wreckage of his boat was found the next day. The assumption was that he died, and in a way, he did. The façade, the emotional growth, as well as any possibility for more connections with humanity, died. Whether he intended to kill himself or fake his death is left for the viewer to decide. Regardless, he made a supreme sacrifice. The last scene showed him as what appeared to be a lumberjack, possibly in the upper Northwest. The cold, dark atmosphere was a stark contrast to Miami’s sunny warmth. He had a full beard, either as a disguise or perhaps to indicate that he no longer cared to maintain a carefully cultivated clean-cut and unthreatening appearance. His father’s image and voice were conspicuously absent. He sat down at a desk, and stared at nothing. His face with that mask fully removed, revealed the monster he always knew himself to be. This was the real Dexter, laid bare for the viewers to see. It was disturbing.

No one was redeemed, no one was happy. Joey Quinn became an honorable cop again during the season, and got the girl in the end. Then, she was cruelly taken away. What will happen to him? Hannah is left with Harrison. Will she be a good mother to him? Will she raise him to be a good, law-abiding person, or will he follow in her or his father’s footsteps?

What will become of Dexter? Did he mean it that he would see Harrison again? If so, would it be from afar? Dexter will continue killing, there is no doubt. But, did “the code” get buried along with the mask and moral compass, at the bottom of the ocean? There are so many questions that have a plethora of possible answers. Six Feet Under ended perfectly by giving closure to the key characters. It fit the theme and spirit of the show. The characters were surrounded by death, so too they must die eventually. The same goes for Dexter. Many fans are angry about the finale. Either they let their emotions cloud their judgment or they just didn’t get it.

On a final note, Jennifer Carpenter must at least get nominated for an Emmy. She has been overlooked for too long. Michael C. Hall should be nominated again, and actually win this time. It would be the appropriate closure to honor a terrific artistic work.

Like a Rolling Boner

I don’t read Rolling Stone magazine, but know people who do. Apparently, it is still primarily about music, along with topical issues to broaden their audience and keep the interest of their readers. I am all for a comprehensive magazine. That is why I don’t look at my husband’s Playboy with disdain. They really do have some great articles and interviews in there, especially their Political Forum. Plus, it is fun to locate the bunny logo on the cover.

Even with my musical background, I don’t usually pay attention to Rolling Stone. I might notice the cover if I pass it on the newsstand. Usually, a musician is on there, hence, the main purpose of the magazine. Dylan (whose classic song I punned in the title), Hendrix, Clapton, Page . . . those are the faces, and others of that ilk, I expect to see. Even actors have graced the cover, and that’s okay. My expectation was upset when Taylor Swift and her wind-blown hair were featured. She can barely play the sparkly acoustic guitar she was cradling in that photo, much less be presented in the same fashion as the musical icons who preceded her. Still, for all intents and purposes, she is making music, albeit mediocre at best. She is popular and Rolling Stone was catering to a growing segment of their readership. Understandable. 

I am, however, struggling with the impetus of plastering the younger, surviving Boston Marathon bomber’s face on the most recent cover. I won’t even print his name here, much less the image. Part of it is laziness; I don’t feel like pulling the photo and saving it to upload here. Also, I struggle with retaining names of Eastern origin. The other part is principle. I just won’t do it. I can’t bother myself to expend the effort to remember the pronunciation or the spelling of his name. I won’t even use it as a tag for this blog for search purposes. Why? Because, he does not deserve even an iota of energy, not by me nor by any other citizen of this country. He exposed himself to a dangerous ideology, and he acted on it. It could be argued that he wouldn’t have wrought the same havoc on his own. It does not matter. He was a willing participant, went into hiding, and eventually ran from the law. He knew right from wrong. He chose the latter, and for that, he should pay dearly. 

He certainly should not be rewarded for his despicable actions. So, what does landing on the cover of a popular, long-running magazine in the space normally reserved for actual musical greats, do? It sounds like he got his proverbial 15 minutes, and then some. He came to this country early enough to be Americanized.  He should know the magazine and its place in the annals of history. Is he shamed that his mug is splayed on a periodical that has a circulation of about 1.5 million readers, and quite possibly, could increase for this issue? Does he feel remorse for what he did after such exposure? Or more likely, does he think he has arrived and was granted the right of passage? He has been immortalized before Allah could reward him with 72 (give or take) virgins. 

Perhaps I am overstating this. Rolling Stone did put Charles Manson on a cover back during his heyday in 1970. Never mind that he was a surprisingly gifted musician (if only he got a record contract). He became famous for being a sociopath, and Rolling Stone hopped on that bandwagon. What is done is done. Somehow, this latest foray into newsworthy journalism displayed an unprecedented lack of judgment. 

In their defense, the article is apparently well-researched. At least, that is what I have heard; I don’t intend to read it. He is also referred to as a “monster” on the cover. That is where my support ends.  That same blurb lends a note of sympathy as a “promising student” whose “family failed him.” So now what? Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? 

I painted that with a broad brush intentionally. The powers that be must have momentarily forgotten their influence. It is not an irrational speculation that other troubled youths heading on a wayward path would see this, and be envious. For better or worse, that would be the aforementioned arrival and right of passage. “I got on the cover of Rolling Stone. Score!” Something to ponder the next time we are inclined to glorify a demon. 

What would the response be if Playboy magazine put this punk on the cover in lieu of their usual Playmate? That would be out of place, despite their excellent journalism within. Maybe they would hide the logo in his mass of curly, black hair, vexing their most determined readers to stare at his mug until the bunny was found, thus burning his image into their retinas. That’s marketing genius, right there. I guarantee that Mr. Hefner would have some explaining to do. 

Certainly, we must know our enemies and understand why they become that way, so that we—as a collective—are better armed to stop it before it starts. Knowledge is power and all that. I get it. But, it is all in the presentation, and perhaps Rolling Stone is not the one to reveal this insight, given the likelihood that the original mission of the magazine was music and advertising its star power. I don’t know why I think that. It could be their name that has popped up in a couple of tunes, maybe one rock group. Just a theory. 

Here is another one: they may gain readers with this, but they might want to avoid the loss of their existing ones if they just stick to what they know.

Relative Freedoms

On this day—September 11—eleven years ago, I spent the majority of it in front of the television watching Dan Rather report on a tragic event. When I wasn’t quietly seething, I cried my eyes out. On this day, over a decade after the terrorist attack occurred, I choose not to talk about it. So, I won’t.

What I will talk about is the collective response to the tragedy that befell America years ago. While the passion has tempered with time, the desire to hold onto that day has not. Are we afraid that if, as the old adage states, we forget history, it bears repeating? Our decisive vengeance did diminish the possibility that any violent, fundamentalist dissenter will darken our great land and attempt, much less succeed, destroying even a mere acre of it. If that truly is the case, and time does heal all wounds, why must we continue to pick at this scar?

We certainly are a sentimental lot. Hence, the reason networks in any medium—television, social, etc.—remind us to remember this day, on this day, as if we wouldn’t otherwise. Our freedom is apparently finite if we do not want to be deemed as heartless and not acknowledge this day in some maudlin way. The moment of silence is requested, quite loudly, regardless of individual beliefs or lack thereof. I prefer contemplation.

We don’t really know or understand hardship. As individuals, many of us do, depending on the circumstance. But again, I speak of the whole. As a group becomes larger, the collective intelligence decreases. That also can be said of tolerance, as well. The irony is lost on the masses; the fools suffer no fools if the freedom to abuse our Constitutional rights is compromised. The hypocrisy is loud and clear, but largely ignored.   

There are millions of people in multiple countries who are in the throes of tragedies that are comparatively equal, if not worse, than what we endured eleven years ago. The difference is that they do not have the freedom to remember tragedies; they just survive them and prepare for the next onslaught. There is no age-limit; children are not sheltered from those storms.  

The soldiers that fight to sustain our freedoms are coming back hobbled—physically and psychologically. Instead of gratitude and assistance, Veterans are thrown into a labyrinthine system that arguably expends more energy in putting up hurdles than providing much needed aid. They survive fighting one war on foreign land to be completely stymied by one on their home soil. In the midst of it all, anti-war protesters can hurl insults at them, willfully ignorant to the reality that the objects of their scorn fought for our right to call them “baby killers.”

Chicago Public School teachers have the freedom to pick up their marbles and picket in their own sandbox over comparatively petty grievances. This is happening while many people in the world have been out of work for years, or worse yet, living in squalor and sometimes dying because they don’t have the means to survive. The parents, as victims of this dispute, have their jobs put at risk to find alternate arrangements for their children since education is being denied them. Millions of people are working in worse conditions, but do not have anyone to fight their battles. All I will say about 9/11 is that eight children died that day. That statistic heightens the outrage; we have no tolerance for child mortality, and I concede, deservedly so. But yet, 350,000 children are being used as bargaining chips with this strike.  Apparently, ethics are relative and sometimes it is acceptable to turn them into weapons. We also put weapons in their hands. They strengthen our battles by holding up signs that scream our views. They have not had the freedom of time and experience to form their own opinion. But, it does not matter. We, as adults, have the freedom to decide what is for the greater good.

We are the salt of the earth with the ability to salt the earth. Perhaps we should reconsider what freedom really is.

How is that for a moment of silence?

Alice in Shame

Did you ever have one of those friends who compelled you in such a way to do things you normally wouldn’t, and then you regretted those actions afterwards? I had one, and even though we drifted apart, I fondly reminisce about her. To preserve her anonymity, I will just refer to her as ‘C’. C wanted to try most things at least once; I did not. Don’t get me wrong; I am a very curious sort. However, I am a calculated risk-taker, usually. She did not blithely venture into uncharted territory, mind you, but her carpe diem approach to life could be intoxicating. I trust you know what could happen under that influence.

We drove halfway across the country with maxed-out credit cards and no itinerary. I was given a CO2 handgun (no license needed at the time) for protection. I tried to fire it in a roadside motel room, but thankfully, the canister blew into a cloud of cool gas instead. I don’t know if there were any long-term effects of inhaling what the weapon expelled. Guns freak me out, but I felt empowered around my friend, C.

Another time, we turned an uneventful evening into a festival of firsts for her. Well, two firsts, to be precise. After consuming sugary cocktails and Pop-tarts, she dyed her dark, blonde hair red with a box of henna I had encouraged her to purchase earlier. We then ambled over to the nearest tattoo parlor, picked a unicorn off the wall, and spent the next hour getting it inked on her outer calf. She squeezed my hand the whole time; that girl had quite a grip. The artist was a dragger instead of a tapper, and that is a sensitive area, so I appreciated the pain she endured. Okay, I did not get a tattoo. I do have my limits. As an artist, I would only mark up my body with my own designs. Oh wait, I didn’t know I could draw at the time. I probably didn’t have the money. Yep, that’s it. I did put henna into my hair one time. Remember that episode of the Brady Bunch? Just picture Greg with waist-length hair and that show would have reached a new level of melodrama. Now you know why my risks are usually well thought-out. I can’t take complete credit for controlling her destiny that night. She was a doer to my thinker. She encouraged me to think about taking risks, and I thought really hard so that she would believe I was the mastermind of that evening. For the most part, though, I experienced her risk-taking ventures that night vicariously. 

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that a night spent at an Alice in Chains concert back in ‘93 would not end for us after the curtain dropped. I have always been a big fan of the band, but C had never heard of them until I asked her to go with me. During the course of the evening, she developed a huge crush on Jerry Cantrell. I can certainly see the appeal. Even now—years later—he looks like Greg Allman’s hotter, younger brother. However, I never cared for long hair on men. My older sister and I agreed on many things, but our paths diverged when the conversation turned to the hotness factor of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon versus Tequila Sunrise. No contest there, in my opinion. Now, no hairstyle can redeem that man, but I digress. Anyway, despite Cantrell really being the creative force behind Alice in Chains, I was all about Layne Staley at the time. Apparently, I was into scrawny grunge rockers in my early twenties. There was something seductive about that dude, the voice, those intense eyes, and sultry lips. Picture Paul Newman on crack, and perhaps you will understand the allure there. I can’t stand cigarette smoking—he was a heavy smoker—but in my fantasies, he abstained while he sang his trademark growl into my ear. Sigh. 

It was a great show, and their performance of Rooster did not disappoint. I also got a souvenir that will remind me of this evening, whether I want it to or not.

I did not have to wrestle anyone for it. One of the crowd control guys was giving it to me as another hand reached for it. He pulled it away until I was ready to take it. As the crowd started clearing out, I passed by him and thanked him for the token. “You know I was giving that to you, right?” he asked with a lascivious smile. Eww. I played dumb, “Yep! Thanks again.” I made a hasty exit before he could go all Indian giver on me. I was a bit insulted. My body was worth a Hell of a lot more than a cracked drumstick. I was an Accountant, damn it. How dare he assume I was just some tawdry, cheap fan-girl? Puh! 

We were hanging out in my car after the show, wondering what trouble we could get into, considering the night was still young. At one point, I entertained C with my Layne Staley impersonation singing Rooster and Man in a Box—spot-on, in my humble opinion. The topic turned to some key “what if” questions. What if . . . Jerry Cantrell came onto you right now, even though you are engaged? I had carte blanche if Mr. Staley propositioned me, as I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. The whole time in the car, we had a clear view of their tour bus, and were sitting there waiting for a glimpse of any of the band members. Layne was not to be seen, but there was a flash of long, blonde hair at one point. 

After about an hour, the bus started moving. We straightened up in our seats as we exchanged tentative, yet eager glances. “Let’s follow them!” Do I have to indicate who said that? So, onward I drove as I followed them through the back streets. I thought the fun was in the dare, and it would peter out and end there. The burning, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I get only when venturing out of my comfort zone came on full-force as we careened into the entrance to I-94N—heading towards Chicago. “Oh my god, we are really doing this!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe we are doing this!” I screamed. “This is so awesome,” as we giggled like schoolgirls. I pushed hard on the gas pedal, lest I lose sight of their big-ass, black tour bus. This was really happening! 

So, we get to the hotel they were staying at. We happened upon a couple of other grou . . . er, fans, who happened to know the floor, and even room numbers, the band were in. I don’t recall how they came upon that intel, but there it was. As we debated what to do next, Mike Inez—the bassist—sauntered through the lobby. He politely stopped for a photo. He really wasn’t on my radar, but who was I to pass up that opportunity. The guy had a great smile and crazy hair. The amicability of one member gave us the courage to seek out the others. 

As we stood in the elevator, C and I exchanged looks that could pass for either excitement or an urgent need to pee. As it dinged our arrival, we hesitated briefly before exiting onto the floor. Like automatons, we proceeded to their group of rooms at the end of the hall. Did we have a game plan? Of course not. We stopped in mid-stride as we happened upon an open room. We peeked into the door. Inside was a man who appeared to be their security guard, lounging in a chair and inactively watching porn. I say that because he wasn’t more “engaged,” but he was distracted enough that we could zip past his room unnoticed, like a couple of ninja groupies. Yes, admittedly, we ceased being just fans at that point. We heard voices behind door number two. Without thinking, I knocked. Then, the folly of our ways hit me, amongst other things that shone a light on our unbecoming behavior. I turned to make a hasty exit, abandoning C, and was stopped by the security dude. Dang, he was huge. “What are you doing?” he asked threateningly. Looking for inspiration, I just stared back at C. As we stalled to think up something clever, the door opened. 

That sinking feeling in my stomach came again as I stood mere feet from Layne Staley. The first thing that came to mind was, “Shit, that is one tiny dude.” He seemed larger than life on stage, but I could eat a meal off his head, and try to share it with him so he could gain a few pounds. He looked accusingly at his security guard as he asked us what we were doing there. I was ready to apologize that we made a mistake, when C held out a piece of paper and pen, and asked for his autograph. Oh, I wanted to be Down in a Hole at that point. His sexy blues looked at her hands with disdain. He then became physically agitated, held out the bottom of his shirt, and said, “Guys, I gotta get dressed.” SLAM! I guess he told us. I think, not sure. We waited briefly just in case he planned to come back out after indeed getting dressed, even though he was fully clothed already. The disappointment welled up in me as I realized we had been dismissed. I didn’t even get to share my impersonation of him. Surely, along with my cuteness, I would have risen above the ranks of his typical mindless fan. This is not how my encounter with him played out in my dreams. 

I turned my head wearily to gaze up at Mr. Horny and he looked down at me patronizingly, “See, now look what you did. Are you proud of yourself?” Umm, no, quite frankly. The ignominy sunk in hard and fast. I was mortified at what we did. Why did he direct that question at me? I didn’t ask for his autograph. I was trying to get out of there. It was all C’s fault! That’s what I told myself. I also considered that the guard was shitting his pants, because he should have stopped us from getting that close to the “talent.” He would be even in more trouble if they saw the adult movie on the bill. While his employers were snuffing the Rooster, he was choking his chicken. How irresponsible of him. 

My head was literally hanging low as we slinked back to the elevator. As it made its descent, my hot and heavy imaginary love affair with the troubled rocker cooled precipitously. “What the Hell did we just do? This is horrible. I can’t believe we would do that to someone,” I said between long-suffering sighs. C didn’t see it that way. “What an asshole. Did you see how he looked at my pen and paper like I was offering him a plate of shit or something?” She might have said that, I don’t remember. I was too overwhelmed with shame and regret. She, naturally, had a great time and would do it again, despite his “rudeness.” 

But he’s long dead, more than 10 years now. 

Yes, when Mr. Staley’s bloated corpse was found alone in his apartment, dead weeks earlier from an overdose, I thought back to what we did. What demons was he unable to exorcise? Did his obsessed fans smother him, or was he drowning in a Sea of Sorrow of his own making? My guess is that it was a combination of both, evidenced by his self-portrait in the Mad Season CD-jacket as being crucified while he sang into a microphone. His respectful, appreciative fans could not shine a bright enough light on his dark soul, so he self-medicated to his demise. 

Despite all my cognitive dissonance in what we did, I can set that aside as I tell this tale in my usual jocular, self-deprecating fashion. Levity is the best psychotropic.

Mo’ Mondegreens!

As promised almost a year ago, here is installment number two of my collection of mondegreens, i.e., misheard lyrics. Finally! I trust you have been waiting with bated breath for this. You may now, devoted reader, breathe a sigh of relief. I have come to deliver on that promise. Incidentally, Microsoft Word does not recognize the term, so my vision is currently being assaulted with the underlined red squiggle under “mondegreens.” There it is again. How dare these miscreant software developers offend my sensibilities so? Even the paperclip seems to be looking at me disapprovingly. Smug bastard.  

As last time, I am following the same format as in the famous books: misheard lyric; performer; song title; correct lyric.

Tell them all hookah, is smoking character . . . One man on the chessboard . . . and your mind is moving all . . . Have fallen softly dead . . . And the requiem’s offed his head. Remember, what the doormouth said.
Jefferson Airplane “White Rabbit”
Tell ‘em a hookah smoking catepillar . . . When men on the chessboard . . . and your mind is moving slow . . . Have fallen sloppy dead . . . And the Red Queen’s “Off with her head!” Remember, what the dormouse said.  

That’s right. I butchered the crap out of these lyrics. I was reminded of that when I got the urge to sing it in the shower recently. I drew a complete blank on the correct lyrics, so sang what I thought they sounded like. Yes, I read Lewis Carroll’s classic. So, I should know better, right? Besides, I’ve heard it a bazillion times, since Grace Slick’s opus is ubiquitous as a soundtrack to let the audience know that something trippy is going on. Incidentally, I always thought this song was about drugs. “Go Ask Alice” is a famous diary from a drug-user, and there was some kind of mushroom involved. What other conclusion could I draw from that? Besides the time it was released, the lyrics sound like they were inspired by an acid trip. I suppose by association it is about drugs. Do you have a better explanation for how LC came up with that psychedelic imagery? It was like H.R. Pufnstuf in lit-form. Certainly, it wouldn’t pass for children’s fiction today. Oh wait—then how does one explain the Teletubbies? I digress.

Where is my job today?
Paula Cole “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”
Where is my John Wayne?

I don’t mean to be such a downer, but in this economy, this one isn’t such a stretch.

Been through the desert on a horse with no brain
America “Horse With no Name”
Been through the desert on a horse with no name

This might have been the product of the listener smoking pot while listening to this song, which, pretty much, is the best way to enjoy this tune.

If the horse had no brain, but did have a name, would he know? I might be able to ponder that philosophically if I wasn’t so baked.

What if I’m a mummy in these jeans of his?
Tori Amos “Crucify”
What if I’m a mermaid in these jeans of his?

Pfft. Mermaids are so 80’s. Mummies are the “it” mythical creature du jour. They are like caterpillars emerging from their cocoons into beautiful . . . zombies.   

Run amok that ill
Kate Bush “Running Up That Hill”
Running up that hill 

This is just stupid. It is beneath my intellect to even formulate a response. Puh!

He got a raisin in his shoe
Jim Croce “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”
He got a razor in his shoe

What up, bitch? I’m walkin’ on nature’s sunshine fruit. That’s right. I’m bad.

As an aside, is it just me or does the new version of the Sun-Maid girl look like she would spread her legs for anyone who found his or her way into that vineyard? Just curious.

Kiss your soul heart. I’ll take your breast away
Sarah McLachlan “Possession”
Kiss you so hard. I’ll take your breath away

Wow. That is . . . awful. As if the song wasn’t creepy enough, that crosses the line from stalker to serial killer. Thanks for tonight’s nightmare.    

I believe I saw La Bamba (jet planes)
CSN “Woodstock”
I believe I saw the bombers (jet planes) 

It was a passenger plane in which the music died, not to get technical.

Watch the freakers eat Kenneth is your, Benzedrine all wet?
R.E.M. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth”
What’s the frequency, Kenneth, is your Benzedrine, uh-huh.

Um . . . what? It sounds like their Benzedrine did get all wet, with some unforseen side-effects. Either that, or they got hit harder than Dan Rather did by the lunatic who attacked him screaming that question.

We are the priests of the temple with earrings
Rush “The Temples of Syrinx”
We are the priests of the temples of Syrinx 

Since most priests are closet homosexuals, that doesn’t surprise me. I know I know. It’s wrong. Sick and wrong!

And you steal rat meat in your Jesus Christ pose
Soundgarden “Jesus Christ Pose”
And you stare at me in your Jesus Christ pose

Maybe that’s why communion wafers taste like crap? 

Bunnies on the table, the fire is cooking
Temple of the Dog “Hunger Strike”
But it’s on the table, the fire is cooking

That doesn’t sound like much of a hunger strike to me. Don’t get me started on the fluffy bunnies. 

If there’s a barstool and your head rolls, don’t be alarmed now
Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven”
If there’s a bustle in your hedge row, don’t be alarmed now

No chance of being alarmed, of course, considering my head inexplicably became detached from my body at the mere presence of a barstool. At most, my last sentient thought would be trying to connect the dots on that non sequiter

You can tell by the way that I use my wok, that I’m a wooden man
Bee Gees “Staying Alive”
You can tell by the way that I use my walk, that I’m a woman’s man 

You get a hard-on while making kung pao chicken? Kinky.   

Grab your teeth I’ve come to take you home
Peter Gabriel “Salisbury Hill”
Grab your things I’ve come to take you home 

Said the man to his grandfather in Salisbury Hill nursing home. Totally plausible.  

The pinball wizard’s got such a super ass
The Who “Pinball Wizard”
The pinball wizard got such a supple wrist

I bet Elton John made that very observation.

Leaping lost anus
Sheryl Crow “Leaving Las Vegas”
Leaving Las Vegas 

Since a lot of people have had their asses beaten in Vegas, it is apt, albeit a bizarre way to put it.

My dad lay and poohed on my room below
Pearl Jam “Jeremy”
The dead lay in pools of maroon below

No wonder that kid lost his shit.

Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gum in your hair?
Jimi Hendrix “Hey Joe”
Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand 

To add insult to injury, the cheating bitch spat her Wrigley Spearmint into Jimi’s fro? Damn right she deserved to get shot!

In Nam’ bodies float
Jimmy Buffet “Margaritaville”
It’s nobody’s fault 

And napalm sticks to kids.

Woman shits on the water, very queer
Crosby, Stills and Nash “Wooden Ships”
Wooden ships on the water, very clear 

A floating version of a Boston plate job; that’s definitely some kinky shit. 

They come to pluck the rooster
Alice in Chains “Rooster”
They come to snuff the rooster 

Is plucking the rooster foreplay for choking the chicken? Me torture you long time, Yankee!

Feelin’ like a ham and mustard shake
Stone Temple Pilots “Interstate Love Song”
Feelin’ like a hand in rusted shame 

Huh. Oddly specific, but I suppose it would suck to feel that way. Or at least you’d feel like Hell after you drank that!