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Wednesday
Dec142011

Dysfunctional December

This December I have the rather weighty and somewhat ignominious matter of some gross family dysfunction to reflect upon. And you could say that for the past several years, that has been the case. All true. This year we get to the rather rounded and convenient numbers of five and ten. Much of this has already been written here. I guess what gnaws at me is that for all the time having passed, nothing has been resolved. I feel like I've used the time for learning, but I'm not sure the other parties have progressed.

I'm talking of course about two parents and two separate meltdown experiences: the first with Mommy Dearest during this very week in 2001, and with Father Knows Best on this very day in 2006. In mom's case, it hasn't been an unbroken period since that sad email flame battle (which was more the work of my sister Nikki). For about two months at the end of 2007 and a short few days into 2008, there was some attempt at connection but that bombed out again as mom and Nikki and Chris all aligned against me once again. In dear ol' dad's case, it has now been five years since direct communication has passed between us. Or, as I'll say later, two years since I've said anything in response.

To get this out here in front, I'm not really glad of this. I'm not even happy with my own handling of things. I'm complicit in it too. After being turned into their plaything in my adult years about a decade ago, even years after I was just their legal plaything as an infant and into my teens, the whole strain of things grinds one down and makes it hard to always work from any rational mind. My life story essentially is one of being broken by the interplay of these two characters, either directly or by proxy. I have been left to pick up the tab on their party together, and then some of the sequels to that. There are plenty of regrettable moments in the whole sad story.

In my defense though, you have to realize what kind of emotional stonewalling has been the tactic of the various characters involved. So far, my experience has been that neither side has been able to address things at the level I'd move to. In each case, there is a good does of shutdown that goes on; on my mom's side, it is accompanied with a smokescreen of vitriolic statements and open hostility; in my old man's case, it's more or less a blanking face and a physical departure from the tension and then his subsequent manipulations as he's often been responsible for the places I've lived in. In either case, I really feel that my message isn't being heard, no matter what volume or tone my voice, or no matter what choice of words. In desperation, I err on the side of more volume and more colorful words of the sort that can get a person fired from a job. I don't like it. I know when it happens that I'm consumed by the wrong stuff. But at moments like these monumental breakdowns with people I share fundamental relationships with, after trying anything else, it seems the only thing left to do. And then I shrink back into a fearful state of not knowing if I just wrecked things more. This thought is accompanied by a feeling of liberation, that I have no business aspiring to be a member of a club that so clearly throws up barriers to membership. Maybe then it makes sense to start to wash my hands of it all. Such has been the pattern when things have gone this way.

Mommy Dearest Meltdown

Telling this story is so difficult because of the way the elements are interlaced in a way that might inspire and even confound authors of soap operas! Certain themes are present and criss-cross in three dimensions of time, space, and emotion. In 2001, the meltdown was preceded by a Thanksgiving dinner that symbolized a huge shift from the year before. What happened a year before in 2000 was almost magical, even though there was a giant cloud over it that I was not aware of at the time. My grandmother (mom's mom Sofia) had died just the week before Thanksgiving in 2000, and my reunion with them all (I dub it "version 3") happened literally in the wake of that—or, specifically two days before when her memorial was held. It was the first I had seen of anyone among them since March 1996 (in the case of seeing mom, but that was explosive and terrible), and more completely, I might have to say that it had been since late 1994/early 1995 that things were normative between us. Thanksgiving 2000 was party like, with the entire gang, including my aunt Lisa and uncle Steve. I met niece Katie that week and fell in love. The coming year was the time when reality settled in as sister Chris made her allegations against my old man, crediting him with molestation and other abuses. That of course rocked my world but made me feel for her and that side of the family in a way that I'd never felt. So as the holidays approached in 2001, I naturally thought maybe it would be a bit like the year before. I was wrong in a big way.

What I didn't realize was how the matter of Sofia's estate was causing friction between mom and aunt Lisa. I still don't know the stories, but it seems to have been quite divisive even to this day. So back then, when I was putting my two cents in about wishing I could buy one of Sofia's two grand pianos, and hoping that maybe one would be kept around for the benefit of the family, especially young Katie or any other kids that might come along, I was sort of an extraneous voice in that matter. And, in my mom's usual way, she hung on to it for some time and didn't say anything. Some weeks before Thanksgiving 2001 I inquired if she was having dinner again and that I'd like to be there. (This was meant to address and correct a giant faux pas in 1994 when I skipped out on Thanksgiving dinner at just about the last minute just as I felt overwhelmed by the five day engagement to Robin, which I cancelled the day before.) I did end up getting to Thanksgiving dinner in 2001 but it was a quite subdued affair of mom, Nikki and Katie, Steve, and probably no one else. It was a head-down time. By that time, Nikki had not even bothered to talk to me since the end of 2000. Yep, most of the year that I was back in the picture, she had shut me out. I've never really understood it though maybe I could repeat a few things she's said. It just doesn't make sense. On the way home from that strained dinner, I visited Chris separately. She was back in San Pedro living with her sons' Cuban family. By comparison, visiting her that night was fun.

In the first half of December 2001, there started up an email thread with me and mom writing about some things. I was pressing on about the pianos, and asking if she would put me in touch with Lisa. I didn't know what to make of her reluctance to do so. I had come into an inheritance that summer and was semi-seriously thinking of buying one myself. (Of all the money spent on musical gear that summer and traded or sold off within a year or two later, I wish I had bought a piano instead.) Somehow, Nikki got involved in this email conversation, even as she was replying using mom's address, almost as if she was her secretary. The rather innocuous talk about pianos and my intent to be supportive of anyone's interest in music gave way to larger themes of alienation and the shape of family and reproductive decisions, having kids so young as she and mom and Chris all did. And for my trouble, Nikki saw fit to throw up in my face the matter of Robin's abortion—one thing that she seemed accepting of when I told her about it on the very first reunion night at Sofia's memorial a year before. She also decided to make declarations that I shouldn't invite myself to "other people's holiday dinners." Beg your pardon, Nikki? She's my mom too, and that's a family style holiday. Okay. All that went south fast! By just a few weeks after Thanksgiving, "version 3" was in the trash. My memory tells me it was December 16th. Done deal. It was one of the first email flame battles I had (the other was with Shelby earlier in the year), and it spared nothing in its incinerating blaze. It was a tragic lesson in how digital communication was sorely lacking.

I was quite devastated. My reason for getting in touch with that side of the family in 2000 was to help piece life back together after many years of depression and angst. Seeking reunion was one major proactive step toward getting my own life back into some shape. Seeing it crumble all over again was painful, especially after the molestation news caused a permanent upset in things down here in San Diego. The genie was out of the bottle with that one, and with that being the case, there wasn't even a "normal" life to return to in the world with which I was familiar. This was uncharted territory.

There is a bit of an exception to that, but it doesn't really change the game much.

Conning the Con: Old Man, 2006

In 2000, my old man found out that I was in a renewed period of relations with mom and her crew. I never intended to tell him, nor was it his business. But he did find out (almost certainly from Virginia while she was in the hospital) and made it his business, and his meddling set a feedback loop into action and his warnings to me to leave them alone went unheeded as I told mom and Chris about his notices, and they in turn moved closer to opening up the old dusty vault and then finally Chris delivered her old news about how she was abused by him. That day was momentous and wretched. I cursed the day I was born. The coming months were dismal. My grandmother Virginia died in April, and the house I was in became his. It was too valuable a tool for him to manipulate me with. He knew I wanted stability, but he knew that my "disobedience" (I was 27 at the time, and living at Virginia's house for nearly three years before she died. We had our own deal going) was going to cause problems, and I'm convinced he was perfectly okay with playing house games to keep me off balance following my pursuit of family completeness. Just a couple months after Virginia died, the house was dressed up in new carpet and a few other bits. I had already painted it on my own during the six months I had it to myself. But now he demanded I rent it out in part. I could stay but I had to be the resident manager on his behalf. Okay. I got to stay. I got to keep my studio space, which that summer grew to be as big as ever. I rented two rooms to younger guys.

By the end of 2001, things leveled out with him under those terms. Nothing more was said about family matters. It was strictly a business relationship that was useful enough to both of us. That basic arrangement went on until mid 2005. Lots has been written here about that. Suffice to say, at the end of the year in 2001, staying at my house was a comfort, even as it was terribly ironic that I no longer trusted my old man as far as I could throw him. 

But in 2006, the picture was quite different. The meltdown was epic. This was nearly a year and a half after the eviction, but I was still not content with his property grab. By this time, Kelli and I had moved twice and we were living about a mile from our old house, at the house of Mr. Calabrese, a church friend of Kelli's and mine. He had two houses next door to each other. The one we were in was usually rented to his son and Brazilian daughter-in-law but they were out of the country for one year. The old house on Quapaw was rented out to a couple and was partially open to Kelli and me for keeping some things as we would at a storage locker—one rare concession that was granted us. (One night Kelli was longing for a teddy bear that was in a box there. I drove over to the house in the middle of the night, and almost burglar like opened up our area and grabbed the bear and went back to Kelli with it as she slept. She was quite surprised at finding it next to her when she woke!) After having made so many keys during the rental years, I had a few left over even after I turned in a fistful of them upon my departure. My old man is a wily fellow, and I knew his tricks and decided to reserve a few for myself.

The rental arrangement with the couple came to an end in September 2006, and then it was to be empty. He had already ordered me to take my stuff out, and I'd collected the miscellaneous furniture and boxes earlier in the summer. The old man gave a date when the couple would be leaving, and said that if there was anything else I should want to get, we could go over there and get it. He was offering that he'd be there to let me in. But since I had the key, I went over the day before, just after the couple left, and grabbed all the stuff that prior verbal agreement or actual receipts said was mine to take:

  • Washer and dryer
  • Fireplace screen (a big beefy thing that the old man made some years before)
  • AC outlet cover plates, light switch plates (all stainless steel that I'd bought myself)
  • Small hardware I'd installed
  • Vertical blinds on four large windows (I'd bought them in the period before Virginia died)
  • Dining room and other light fixtures (also from before Virginia died)
  • And everything else I could lay hands on that wasn't something he bought or inherited—rather random junk

I needed little more than a piano dolly and a screwdriver and wrench to get it all. Then I took it to my new house and offloaded it into the back yard, behind a gate. Some went into the garage which was locked. I cleaned the place out of everything I could find. All that was left of what I put up or installed was the paint on the walls. 

He called me the next day to see when I'd like to come over and get things. I told him I already got the stuff the day before. He did a double take. I told him 'yeah, it's all okay. I got everything.' He drove over to Quapaw and had a look then came over to where I was at to confront me. He was rather stunned. I told him I had everything and that I'd take it all back and reinstall it if he wanted to include me in his little financial games which never seemed to include me or Kelli. The stuff was essentially useless to me, and barely worth selling or trading in most cases (the laundry machines being the most profitable at $225 for the both of them). I didn't really want the stuff at all, but I was tired of his total dominance in the matter, and felt that if he can inherit a place and move toward selling it, that I, as a seven year resident who was inclined to stay and do my share to the best of my ability, should be able to share in the profits.

That didn't register with him. It never does. It's all him or it's nothing. Somehow, I suppose that even after this little stunt I had enough keys to return again on November 29—two months later—and employed another bit of subversive "Occupation" (a word that now has currency in situations like this). This one was straight out of his own playbook, from the chapter on messing with locks: he used to take combination locks that had missing combinations or were left open and he'd drill them out enough to read the tumblers. Or he'd gut a padlock and use it for looks only or to work in some confounding way. This time it was my turn to con the con for once. I was able to get into the back of the house so I could unlock the front door. There, the steel screen door could be opened and its lock disassembled. I took it apart, gutted its interior, turned the barrel backward so it wouldn't open from the outside, and reassembled it with the thing in a locked position. While the lock was taken apart, I was able to remove the realtor's lock box and hid it elsewhere on the property. It was proto-Occupy! It was just an inconvenience measure made in protest.

And getting on to the pivotal stuff, just two weeks after the lock stunt, another drive by on December 14th revealed that the house was indeed up for sale, replete with the sign out front. Or maybe it had been that way but this one day inspired a streak of righteous indignation and a last ditch effort to get my voice heard. I availed myself of a Sharpie marker on hand and scrawled a protest message in "open letter" format—my own 95 Theses posted in public. Seeing that sign gave me a clear feeling that my ship was sinking, and it was all I could do to write an impassioned Occupy-style note on the realtor's sign. (I had had my biting words with the realtor himself earlier on, searing him for taking his profit off this dreadful family breakdown that accompanied this sale. Later on, I had the presence of mind to write a few haiku about it all.) 

The sign, written just before dusk on a day not long before the solstice, was left for all to see. I thought it might be a day before I heard about it. I had barely left for home over at the Calabrese Compound, sat down to dinner with Kelli, and then there was a knock at the door. It was the old man. Best I can tell, he must have been informed by a neighbor named Len, a guy about the old man's age, and who was just crotchety enough and buddy enough with my old man that he'd rat me out. (I know he called before about noise in the early days of my renting the place. Len also came by one day and in some conversation was going on about all sort of antisemitic talk about Jewish conspiracies and the New World Order. Quite a character. His wife was rather sweet by comparison.) At any rate, barely an hour passed until the old man was on my doorstep. It was a bit of a shock but I had to expect it. I didn't know it would be the defining moment that would put an unprecedented five years between us.

The Betrayal Ratio

I answered. He had the sign with him. I confirmed it was my work. In fact, I told him to come inside. I demanded it. I told him to "come in and sit the fuck down!" He refused and I reiterated that maybe he needed to come in and listen to me for a change. Not accepting my generous offer of hospitality, within moments he made his way out to the driveway and then to the front of the house, down a deep driveway. I let him have it. I'm pretty sure he was threatening me about the missing lock box and the earlier house cleanout. My notes say more about my giving him the third degree about betrayal. Somehow, he likes to claim that I betrayed him with my calling the city. It might be that way for him. But his more absurd claim is that he never betrayed his parents and their trust. And he also has made similarly absurd claims that the trust level was (or should be) 100%. Um, I'm afraid he's clueless as to how his own mother felt. But on this evening of December 14, 2006, that betrayal statement set me off in a huge way and I incinerated him as he tried to escape to his truck out on the street. I was literally screaming in such a way my throat hurt. It was epic. Kelli followed us outside and was watching from the driveway.

What the hell was there to carry on about at such outrageous and disruptive levels? He wanted to talk betrayal. He had one or two things that he could level against me: turning him in for illegal construction and perhaps relating to my mom against his wishes. (There might be something lost to memory but those are the ones I know he felt burnt by.) But what about the strand of betrayals he's spun all through my life? I had a nice long list that was fresh on my tongue at the time: 

  • Molested my sister which led to all sorts of unknown dysfunction that exploded years later
  • Cost me my relationship with my mom time and time again due to his various ways of manipulating her legally and financially
  • Threatening my step mom with violence enough that "no dentist could fix the damage" and causing her to flee for her safety
  • The totally uncalled for instance of throwing my childhood dog over the fence when she was in his way as he worked
  • Never really made a plan for me to get to college but always made talk that I "could never learn too much"
  • Never really showed me genuine support for playing music, and always commenting and acting in such a way that undermined my own ability to commit in a deep way
  • Using draconian disciplinary methods to try to make me a better student while I was trying to just be a kid who was dealing with the usual mess of new adolescent experiences, with the added load of 8th grade being the year I met my mom and her family and tried to adjust to that
  • Opened a locked door to spy on me and my new girlfriend Robin in the wee hours in September 1994—he didn't know we were fully awake and knew
  • Charging me rent to put a lock on the door in response to that violation—his messed up actions caused me to have to pay...him?
  • Telling me to leave home so he could have a Russian woman move in, and who never did
  • Eavesdropping on me from upon the roof as I talk to my girlfriend
  • Took my car off the work ramps while getting the timing done, causing me towing and repair fees at a commercial shop
  • Sided with Bill Francis (tenant/"helper" at Virginia's house after she was widowed) on New Year's Day 1997, essentially re-evicting me from a house he did not own months after the pressure to leave his house
  • Essentially ignoring my needs as a tenant at that same house when I was a paying and contributing resident, and always fast-tracking his own ideas of how to "raise the value of the house" which proved to be useless, illegal, tasteless, and offensive to me
  • Not attending my wedding, let alone supporting it in any way at all
  • Evicting Kelli and I early in our marriage so that he could make his point about my choice to rebuild a relationship with mom 

And that might just be a partial list. But the meat of it is there in a general chronological order. Over time, you might say he meddled in or totally wrecked my relationships with women time and time again. And not just girlfriends. He's cost me two mothers. He's said and done things that threatened to sabotage things with Kelli too, and seeing that coming, I was not about to stand for that. It was an intense 15 minutes if it was even that long. He made his way for his truck and drove off. Kelli and I regrouped. It was one of those sweaty palms, frantic and pacing times, not knowing what all that had unleashed except pure passion.

Epilogue

The following day, he sent me an email saying the realtor was planning to press charges for the matter of the missing lock box. I never responded. I think it was bluff-calling on his part, and I think that if the matter is to be settled, let the one who has the most to gain take a modest few dollars and pay for it out of his profits!

On December 18th, after a weekend of hand-wringing and discussion about the Thursday before, Kelli and I both resolved his presence was threatening enough to need to at least attempt limiting it. So we went to the family courthouse and applied for a restraining order which we did not get. But even the gesture of doing that was a huge step up in our young marriage of just two years and a few months. After the two years of couples' therapy where we had to repeatedly deal with a triangulated relationship with my old man and the house as the third party in our relationship, it was a breakthrough moment of clarity, that I'd look after Kelli's interests before my own, or before I let worries about what it took to protect the house sideline what I should be doing for Kelli. 

In the middle of 2007, I was left to find the house had been sold in April for $515,000. I found the listing online months after the fact. I was not even notified. It was far from the $569,000 I think he thought he'd get if he got prime market price. His dumb remodeling efforts cost him. I knew they weren't needed and would add nothing. He didn't listen to me. So he paid. And I am happy to assume that the state of the house was not even as nice as when I lived there, so I hope that cost some more. And why shouldn't it? It's a box of stucco, sheetrock, wood, and other bits. He inherited it and took everything for himself. I can't tell exactly how much he invested into it after he got it, but I reason that with new carpet a time or two, the material and labor in doing the remodel work (none of it good), and taxes, I can't even really get the number up to $20,000—his total investment into the structure and the taxes. I'm sure the city got him for something. Any way you cut it, $515,000 is far more than he deserved to collect, given his antics during the decade preceding the sale, and in some ways, throughout his whole relationship with his parents.

The time since that fiery night in December has been nearly silent. Most of the communication was aimed at me, but in a few cases channeled through Kelli, as he or maybe even a caretaker or some other party called or emailed one of us. There was one invitation in 2008 to sit and have some summer evening date with step mom Eda, her son Rene, and his new interest at the time—the guest list being what he would still like to remind me of as "the family" I knew. But in the same letter, the dripping condescension that suggests Kelli is the undermining element to our glorious family picture is unacceptable. Another letter was channeled to me through my former pastor, and it drips with more of that black and white thinking that glorifies the Lucas family mythology and degrades all else. He also made a drop of several of my old books at yet another house following the year at the Calabrese Compound. I got word that he needed hip replacement, and he sent an email, written in the third person, saying he would be in the hospital this date to that. I've stayed clear of responding. What I have to say gets said on this blog. I know he reads it, or used to read it. I can't tell if he's losing his mind, but he's certainly into some incredibly immature thinking with plenty of distortions and omissions. The couple things I've heard from him about any effort to change the course seem to sabotage that message. I don't see anything that indicates any real change of heart, contrition, or a new spirit of any mutuality. My Father's Day offer to reconnect still stands: a year or more of family therapy must guide it, and since he's enjoyed the windfall of cash, he can pay for it. I think he's too full of himself to do it. I'll gladly be proven wrong.

The carnage is pretty severe. Each parent is unable to relate to me. Each blames me for reminding them of the other. Each harbors so much anger about things far in the past. Neither seems to claim much responsibility for the shape of things. In some ways, they are perfectly created for each other. The thought amuses me. But I feel bad for them. They are literally pitiful. What a miserable life to lead! I don't hate them. I wish they'd get their shit together as people. It seems even their advancing age (both 67 now) hasn't really taken an edge off. For mom, she lost a son to the law in 1974 (me), and a son to death in 2011 (James), but she's locked into her story enough that even when I show my face, it is the safer thing to do to ignore me, even though I've heard stories about the huge hole in her heart after I was taken from her. For the old man, he still has the same house as he had in 1970. It's the same house he drove my mom out of; my step mom too; several tenants; and ultimately me. When's he going to see that has failed him? When's he going to find that no relationships equals a death? I think of them both as tragic figures unable to learn new ways to live.

For me, this all has been a great teaching/learning experience. Oh, a lot of it has been heart-rending stuff in the moment. Fortunately I've had a great many teachers and advocates and therapists who have helped channel me toward newer understandings. Fortunately I have Kelli. Kelli has been a total angel. She's been the best thing that has happened in my life. Ever. Make no mistakes about it. Don't any of you ever misquote or distort that. Kelli has been an agent of bringing balance into this picture where for a lot of years, there was none. (Soon I will tell the story about her arrival on the scene ten years ago now, my eyes for her being opened by the 2001 and 2006 story told here.)

Some of my teachers have been known to say, "God comes disguised as your life." One favorite scripture that I've had to mull over and take seriously is one where Jesus is alerted by a disciple that his mother and siblings are outside waiting for him. He replies (paraphrasing), 'who are my mother and my siblings? The ones that do the will of my Father are my family.' All this deconstruction has happened for a reason, to draw me out of a rather parochial picture of what family is and has driven me to actually reinvent what all that means and how I might function within a larger, more nebulous picture of family. Kelli is a key building block of that new paradigm. While we don't really talk much of having kids, we do realize that it is a noble goal to chart a course together that itself is an act of resistance to the kinds of things that dissolved parental relationships for both of us. And in another way, relationships forged within church or other spiritually situated settings also have a way of patching up the damage and building new relationships in ways that the old original ones only hinted at. I find myself often dripping in gratitude that my broken, dysfunctional clan of origin has given way to seeing many new members in a new, nebulous family of fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, and others. 

Tuesday
Mar092010

Did They See It Coming?

would you go to a psychic who didn't see the misspelled sign in their future?Proofread, people

P-S-Y-C-H-I-C versus P-S-Y-C-I-C...

Would you spend your money getting your future told if these people didn't predict their signs would come back from the shop with a gross misspelling on just one of them? The sad thing is, the bottom sign looks like it was hand painted on both sides, which means that someone had to do it wrong TWICE!

Monday
Oct122009

Enlightenmental Illness

Oh wonder, wherefore?
Enlightenmental illness!

Saturday
Mar012008

A Dumb Question Deserves A Dumb Answer

I was doing some produce-mongering this week and a middle aged woman was passing by as I unloaded the truck. On the tailgate was a bag of jumbo carrots which were the size of a child's forearms. They were huge. So the lady says, "Man those are HUGE! Where do they grow those?"

I said, "In the ground."

Friday
Oct122007

34

Thirty-four old years
Thirty-four spins 'round the sun
How many more, God?

Wednesday
Oct102007

Shoulda Been Born A Dog

buber on kelli's breast, oh so adoringI think maybe this was all a mistake.

I should have been born a dog.

Then I wouldn't have had to worry about certain things.

The dog only needs to learn a few things, then it is set for life. It does not have to perpetually be reeducated to advance with new job descriptions. A dog just has to be.

No one berates a dog for not going to college to get a degree. A dog is spared crushing student financial aid debt.

Any doggie debt is soon forgiven when he smiles and wags his tail and comes running to the door to greet his master. Forgiving debt among humans undermines the economy and makes people jealous of one another.

No one expects the dog to keep up with where the parents were at his age.

buber found in the county animal shelter, huddling next to the wire enclosure so someone can see how eager he is to be pettedA dog with a broken family somehow gets more love when people realize his fractured past.

A dog's leash does not function the same as the way humans are led around these days, thinking they are free to come and go. The leash at least keeps the dog near his keeper, who probably loves him more than anyone else would. Not really the same in human terms; the things that restrict our freedoms are not the things that keep us in close touch with what is best for us.

That said, who are we to lead dogs around on leashes?

People feed and house dogs without question, but humans create elaborate laws to justify why other humans must starve or remain homeless. We call it sound economic theory. We wage war to enforce these policies. We call it the facts of life. Anything else seems foreign or idealistic. We arrive at this conclusion with the same mind that blindly says the Bible is the literal word of God, and that every word within is true. Except maybe some of what Jesus said about feeding the poor and housing the strangers and orphans.

buber looking out the doorway into a blast of white lightDogs sense a world beyond the world humans understand. Every now and then, certain humans sense a world beyond what other humans understand. To humans, a curious dog is a novel conversation piece between dog owners who meet in passing. But a human that runs off the track and investigates other worlds must be kept in line, and talk about such a person is conducted in hushed tones as if he did something wrong. Maybe prescribed drugs, maybe full time work, maybe imprisonment will knock a sense of "reality" into such a person.

People will stroke a dog for hours out of pure love and affection, but can go to the office and function within a system that destroys lives in any of a number of ways.

If someone gets a dog to jump for a frisbee or play catch with a ball, it's good the for the dog to get exercise. But if humans make other humans "jump" or "catch" it is to belittle them and keep them somehow in an inferior position as a play toy. This second scenario is not conceived of in order to get fit and to bond; it is to degrade another human.

People will adopt stray dogs of uncertain origin but to adopt stray people from other nations is politically dangerous unless they are exploitable somehow, then the tune changes to justify doing so because its good for the economy. Likewise, adopting stray people from down the street is just weird unless it is holiday season, then everyone wants to do it for the news cameras.

Dogs do not understand capitalism and its motives. If they did, they might actually be mad because it is so contrary to everything they know. They really just would like to be fed and petted and let out for a shit.

Speaking of dog shit, it is unfortunate that dog shit laws do not particularly carry over to laws regulating humans. Dog shit, still an organic substance, is still mild compared to the stuff that is legal for humans to dump. But the national and global economy does not depend on dog shit as much as it depends on other waste-creating activity. Dogs shit because it is necessary. Industry takes a shit and walks off, considering cleanup to be an "externality" for which it is not responsible because it is not a profit making activity.

buber on the floor looking up with the look of expectancyDogs are considered marvelous for their diversity. People even rave about the diversity of the dog world. A black dog has as much chance to be petted and fed as a white dog.

If a dog could laugh, it would laugh at how humans are so vain. Every dog knows you just need to lick yourself to stay clean and attractive.

The dogs at the local humane society (a private affair) have spiffy little apartments which are cooler than most of the places I've ever lived. And newer. And people visit them because they are on a mission—looking for someone to love. The neighboring animal shelter (a public institution) isn't as posh, but the dogs there still have brighter days ahead in most cases. You won't see such eager faces or such nice spaces at the penitentiaries or SRO hotels that house unwanted humans who fell through the cracks of life.

Dogs don't have to worry about the end of the world. Maybe they think about the end of the day. The next meal is not far from their minds, but there is no dog heaven that isn't already being lived or not. Dog heaven probably exists around feeding time and extended petting time, not to mention off leash running time. Dog hell might be at bath time.

Dogs probably don't know hate though they do know fear. Conditioned aversion that is accompanied with barking might seem aggressive. They certainly don't live hateful lives. And they certainly don't wrap it up in religious piety or nationalistic fervor. Humans aren't content to just piss on someone else's property to claim it. We need to kill or exploit people in the other yards we visit.

buber lounging around on the couchA dog that sleeps any time of day is regarded as cute. A human who sits around is regarded as lazy, unproductive, worthless. A human who does in fact work hard might end his day being "tired as a dog" which is regarded as a good thing since it signifies a job well done, even though the dog didn't have to do all that work to justify sleeping throughout the day.

A dog is a simple creature who has no need for technology as a labor-saving device. He has no labor to save, and has nowhere to be except at the bowl at dinner time and at the fencepost at piss time, and at his master's knee or lap at all other times. Technology that would benefit a dog would be one that allows him to get into the food bucket when master is gone. But a cell phone, computer, and automobile he has no use for. And thus is spared the headaches and bills. This is why he is still able to love you at the end of a long day and you just think he's barking and needy.

Dogs do not "waste" time because they have no clocks to measure it. And who are we to say a dog's life is boring or could be improved if we could just bring him more technology to mess with?

Dogs are microchipped to possibly save their lives. People could be microchipped so that their lives could be stolen.

Dogs have their balls cut off to save the world from overdogulation. Hah. Like humanity is in a place to determine what is bad for the earth!

the sign from the animal shelter with the Martin Buber quote, and the cover of Martin Buber's I and Thou bookDogs may not know anything of philosophy but they have everything to teach us about it.

Thursday
Dec142006

Betrayal Sale

the realtor's sign that I wrote a protest message on.Notice! Notice! Notice! Demand Justice!

CALSUR will profit off the sale of this house which is "owned" by a man who snagged it from his son for no reason but family politics. Family had three houses at once. One destined for son, as per grandparent's documents. Son lived here for years, even before father took ownership and proceeded to make illegal and crude "improvements" to the house to make a profit off of what? More rent from son? Sale out from under son? June 2005 son booted out by cowardly and greedy father who finally got busted by the city and sought retribution by eviction. House sale to profit off the total destruction of the family. Think about it! Family values? Property values??? This house was worth more when the family was intact!

Thursday
Nov302006

Techgnophobia

I had to create a pair of new words to sum up my longer definitions of this phenomenon. I hope it makes it into Webster's. When Webster's does come calling, my last name is spelled "Lucas." Please send your money soon. I accept donations of gold.

Tech•gno•sis

1. Awareness of the hidden secrets of technology and technological societies, i.e. that it has limits due to resources, and enviro-socio-political costs that can be too great to bear upon the successful growth and application of technology. Knowledge often averted by minds that love the idea of the democratization of technological progress coupled with ideologies of perpetual economic growth.

Tech•gno•pho•bi•a (Not to be confused with "technophobia", the fear of technology.)

-gno- Gk. Gnosis, n. "secret or hidden knowledge required for salvation"-phobia- Gk. Phobos, n. "awe, reverence, fear"

  1. The fear of venturing into understanding the fuller picture of technology's hidden dark side, i.e. its addictive qualities that will lead to dangerous use, even to complete failure.
  2. A sentiment found in industrialized societies that cannot admit to failings of the entrenchment of their situation, even as the means of production fail, or the environment is destroyed in the process.
  3. Techgnophobe, a person who subscribes to such a belief system, often foolishly, and justifies the status quo with easy answers to replace X with Y.

Example:

"The Club of Rome's Limits To Growth and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth are examples of techgnosis; they admit that there are incredible risks associated with the "success" of the technological societies of the world. These take frank looks at the hidden dark side of technology and growth that results from being able to manipulate natural systems for human gain, oftentimes with short-term goals in mind. Global warming, air pollution and peak oil are regarded by the techgnophobes as nonsense. They don't want to hear about the costs associated with more reliance on technology. They have easy answers like, 'We'll just invent a new car or industrial process to eliminate it,' so they say, not admitting to the fact that more cars and industrial processes does nothing to change the status quo, indeed, it deepens it! Such an adherence is techgnophobia, fear of understanding the full cost of a technological addiction. A Prius car might save X amount of gallons of fuel to operate over its life, but in making it, we have used as much energy and resources as we'd have used to make a combusion-engine car. People who want to paint a rosy picture of progress toward fighting global warming, peak oil, and pollution will laud the Prius with no evaluation of whether production of that car is any more sustainable than any other sort. Their reasoning is fundamentally missing an ethic of conservation, cultural shift of habitual use of devices."

Monday
Apr032006

Soul Food

This last week or so, and in a broader trend as well, I've been working on being a human (being). I've happened into a somewhat balanced work-versus-personal life arrangement. I work part time for AV Concepts now, and the hours shift both within the week and within the days themselves. I am sort of capped at 30 hours for now, and don't really get even that on a predictable basis. Still, for the expenses that I keep, it suffices in some way. I worry a lot less now than I did when I started with the company in August, and had just moved house in a completely tortuous breakdown of the last of my blood-family relations. But you would barely know all that happened.

My project has been to separate from all that downright negative shit the best I can, and get on with things. Kelli of course has been an angel in that regard, offering me at least one relationship where things can go right, and can help reverse years of all sorts of mediocre to downright horrid associations I have of family life. I am always amazed at how doing even some of the most mundane things with her, the most domesticated things, just seems to feel so right. Its amazing to me that she can be not only the woman with whom I do mundane chores, but we talk theology and philosophy, ecology, literature, psychology, and more, but we also can also become the best childhood play buddies, or we can fill any of a number of other roles for each other. I have to say that marrying her is the best thing I've ever done, and I've never done anything more right. It can be amusing sometimes when we talk about the theology stuff. She is in a seriously good school in the field of Christian theology, and is doing exceedingly well, despite doubts she might express. What's funny is that I've taken an interest in most of what she's been talking about, and sometimes pick up some of her texts or read up on some of the topics, people, or whatever. I gather my own body of knowledge, and sometimes it's funny that I would know something she didn't. She was fretting a paper on the Beatitudes and I told her to look into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to say on the matter. She forgot that we saw the same video about him and his belief that the Sermon on the Mount should be lived to the letter! She took my advice and went on to do a great paper. Or last night we were talking about existentialism and somehow I dropped in that Nietzsche was not an existentialist. He prefigured it. She said, how do you know this stuff? I had to tell her I read it on Wikipedia the night before!

However we get our information, we have fun sharing it.

But even beyond the Kelli interactions, I've had a jones to crack into life and wander around some. I got the Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyers Power of Myth series to watch all the way through in one short span of time which I have never done before. I've seen scattered parts of it over the years, but it was nice to finally sit myself down and see all six hours of it in a short period. I also ripped off the audio track so I have that to hear at will now. I just dig that series because it highlights that any human has a far deeper connection than difference with other humans. The themes are so prevalent across the whole chronologic and geographic existence of humankind that it is utterly silly and sad to do the things we do to each other. I know people have their reservations about Campbell, but I think he's important to remind us of how much we all have in common. If nothing else, he is good for sparking further investigation into whatever I find interesting, and that could never be bad.

I had one day recently when I just felt like listening to Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2. I don't know why. The song just smacks me upside the head. The more I hear of the older U2 in particular, the more I like it. I totally missed out on what they were about. I knew they were a favorite of friends of mine, not least of which my pastor Jerry Lawritson who always gives me the best stuff to think about. But in more recent times, I've latched on to the U2 message, and Bono's prophetic speaking of truth.

Today I went to the city library and came back with a stack of CDs the size of which I have not plowed into in one shot for some long time. I got stuff that I have never or rarely dabbled in which somehow jumped out for me as I quickly surveyed the racks: Thomas Dorsey gospel recordings, Harmonic Overtone singing, "Lost" hymns from the New England region, Arvo Part, Bulgarian liturgical music by a male choir (I've been a fan of the female choirs, but this is not as adventurous), Johnny Cash's God album, a PBS documentary soundtrack about slaves in America, and some other stuff.

I spent seven hours in LA reading a book called Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by a feller named Eric Brendes. My work gig would allow me a five hour break between load in and loud out, and ostensibly I was to go to a hotel to rest, but that was going to entail a rush hour drive across central LA and a return drive, to which I declared "poop!" So I sat in the truck in the very noisy and inglorious loading dock of this hotel near LAX and read the book from start to finish (nearly—I had an hour or two at the hotel once I got there at the end of the night, but I did finish it there). This Eric Brendes stepped outside of the material world for about a year and a half and lived a life that even the Amish regard as backwards, but apparently it was a very affirming thing for him to rediscover his ability to do real work, to relate to real people, to enjoy a very long tenured-but-disappearing relationship with nature. The book was a great affirmation of a lot of things that have been batting around in my head: our dependence on "laborsaving" technology and machines has really robbed us of our humanity by robbing us of exercise, community resources and effort, and making us lazy, not just physically but morally too. This book had sat on my shelf for a year or more, but this time, I grabbed it on the way out the door and decided that after a week of computer hell, it was time to dive in. I was not let down. The book was just what I needed. I had recently watched 2001: A Space Odyssey which also is a big statement on man's relationship to technology. And, only a few days after this, as I watched the The Power of Myth, Campbell brings up Darth Vader and cites him as being the archetype of what a person can become when he sells his soul to the artificial entity of the state, to machines, to the low road of convenience.

Then I also cracked into a book on the matter which should be paid some attention even now: The Closing of the Western Mind. This book was actually about the rise of Christianity in Europe, and how it systematically buried and disregarded the accumulated knowledge of humanity (significantly, the Greek knowledge) which led to the dark ages as blind faith took over. I think we should take this as the lesson for our age. There needs to be a balance between the passions that religious experience can provoke, but a sanctuary for the science, literature, and other disciplines that inhabit the secular world.

I happened to bliss out on bass last night, playing along with a previously untried bunch of songs—old stuff, styles I never try to play. I just freewheeled for a few hours, calling up all sorts of songs, finding TAB on the net and having at it. I rarely try to do this, so it was interesting to try to read chords and feel my way through the parts on the fly, but it's good practice. I just never do it. But last night, it was fun trying out some Aretha, Chicago, Aerosmith and who knows what else.

I also ordered the entire Godfrey Reggio/Phillip Glass Qatsi trilogy of movies. I'd seen Koyannisqatsi, but will soon see all three in short order. I watched Naqoyqatsi a few days ago and was bowled over by the music, and put it on once more just so I could hear it blaring from my studio speakers while I got mellow on the futon at the back of the room.

A week ago, there was a party for Jerry at the church, to mark his 20 years of being our minister and friend. I took the time to write a letter which I periodically do to reflect upon his place in my life. The whole day was moving for me. The party itself was fascinating because a good number of people gave some reflections on what he had brought to their lives, and since that sort of thing is rare to hear, it was sort of like meeting him all over again as one story or another was offered, with them all adding up to reassure us of what we already know—we have a tremendously great man for a leader, teacher, and friend. Kelli and I are some of his most devoted students, but also we have a good deal of love for him because he's done so much for us. Twenty years is a long time for people who are only about 30. Anyhow, it was just one of those great times to behold, among people who obviously care about each other, and have some stirring shared experiences. Really, the family that Kelli and I have is centered around our church, and Jerry is a centerpiece of that. I often say that I would not go to other churches if not for this church, with Jerry at the helm. I don't generally feel that I could entrust my faith journey to just any minister. I spent ten years away, and came back. How's that for validating my estimation?

Oh, there is more I want to tell, but it's time for me to go to bed so I can wake in seven hours and go play my part in the Satanic Mill tomorrow, where part of me dies a little with the realization that I am somewhere near the tip of the spear in corporate America's quest for dominance in every way it can possibly acquire. I say that because my line of work provides corporations with all the slick tools and production to help veil their real intent to destroy most things in the drive for profit. I hate my part in it, but for the time being, my part time effort there allows me to carry on my Kafka-esque double agency working for the Man during the day, and subverting it all at night, by studying up on all the stuff that really matters in life—all the stories and songs and theories of how to be free, how to live like humans in an inhumane world, how to enjoy life.

Monday
Apr042005

Uh, Like, Don't You Get It?

One is dangerous enoughOkay, so I was watching a little news this weekend and saw that in Arizona, there are some concerned citizens who want to do something about the illegal immigration problem. So they have banded together and formed some vigilante group that supposedly would do directly the things that the government has not done to protect the leaky border. They say they aren't out there to hurn anyone, only to be spotters, but seriously.

The Minutemen, as they were called, all fit real squarely into the mold of the post-9/11 George Bush redneck America. You know the look—Wal Mart/NASCAR nation dressed in T shirts with "We Will Never Forget" and "These Colors Don't Run" and all that other jingoistic shit that totally misses the point. (When I see bumper stickers with "We will never forget" I automatically adjust it to reality: "We will never GET IT.") The joke is on them—they believe in and support the illusion of small government on one hand but curse the government not offering them the protection they feel is due them. They love to say they want a valuable service such as protection at the borders so that 9/11 doesn't happen again. But they also vote for the guy who claims that he wants to give every one tax breaks (and makes only a nominal effort for the huge majority of the population).

Well, let's remember that 9/11 didn't happen because of Mexicans crossing the borders. And let's remember that those Mexicans who do cross the border are taking our throwaway jobs. And let's remember that those throwaway jobs are the ones that make our lifestyle possible. You know, getting fat and driving around senselessly. I wouldn't diss the Mexicans who come over and grow our crops. One day we will be begging them to share what they know. Besides, usually the Mexicans are pretty benign. They aren't here to destroy our economy, and I don't think that the money they send home to family is really robbing us of much.

But it's not about Mexicans, is it? No. It's about fear. More fear. And, like Michael Moore said in Bowling For Columbine, it might not be a great idea to have guns everywhere if the whole nation is neurotic with fear. Shit, I wonder what percentage of our economy owes itself to fear. Security systems, locks, car alarms, CC video, security guards at strip malls, secret shoppers, guns & ammo, literature, martial arts lessons, insurance, gated communities. Jeeze, is there much of anything that we do that doesn't somehow show our fear of not just the unknown but of each other?

I saw this email going around a while back that if nothing else served as a reminder that all the stuff we expect to have in our lives comes at a price. The infrastructure that brings us water and food and takes our shit away to some hidden locale comes at a price. Fresh water, good roads, and legal protection comes at a price. Social Security comes at a price. Border protection comes at a price. So what's up with these people who want it both ways? Don't tax me but give me the border patrol? Don't tax me but keep 9/11 from happening? Don't tax me but go liberate Iraq? Don't tax me but give me clean air, water, and renewable resources? Don't tax me but give me well paved roads, bridges, sewers, and power grids? Don't tax me but give me cheap gas? Don't take my money as a young worker but don't let me starve and die penniless at 72?

I wonder if these people ever stop to think that getting their $1000 tax refund (or cut or whatever it is) does as much for them as it would if the government hung on to it so that it would be available for a viable border patrol program, and maybe other worthwhile programs. Some would be convinced that reforming Social Security would be a good idea, doing the Bush thing with private accounts. I think that is the most pathetic thing. Social Security would be neither social nor security! It is one of the few insurance plans I could embrace, because it is actually designed to be of real use. I think part of the Bush plan to eliminate SS and to progress with the idea of a so-called "ownership society" is to not only help their corporate buddies, but to make it so that people have to work longer, thereby supposedly keeping the economy stronger by keeping more people working. Well, that is pretty vacuous an argument, especially if it means that people will be in charge of their own retirement funds, a proposition that is put in jeopardy if the economy gets hard and people have to tap into those funds prematurely. It doesn't take into account the part about corporations downsizing or even eliminating their domestic workforce. There is nothing redeemable about the Bush SS plan because it is scheduled to be implemented in a period that will be defined by a failure of global capitalism, economic recession (if not global war and depression), and the promise of more of the same until oil supplies dwindle to a point where the stuff is hardly worth pursuing anymore. Not depletion, just to the point where it is more expensive to hunt and extract the stuff than the economic benefits it can return.

Any Social Security plan really looks doomed, be it the current one or the Bush plan. But I think the Bush plan has malicious intent in it because it stands to help some profit off a program that should be more or less altruistic. Social Security now is a revolving door program—money comes in and gets paid out. But even in its current arrangement, the shifting ratio of workers paying in to retirees collecting benefits is a sign that things could get worse, no matter what. The way I see it is this: Social Security could go bust not just because there are too many retirees, but because these days, and in the days to come when the oil based economy starts to decline, there won't be much work to be done, and it will generally decline as there is less available energy to do work, and keep economies afloat, let alone grow. Unfortunately, the baby boomers will be expecting payments at the same time as the economy tanks because of their lifetimes' very work! Millions of boomers will be collecting the dwindling funds, due in part to their efficiency. You know, a boomer aged CEO or small business owner who benefitted off the cheap foreign labor was directly to blame for putting a few Social Security paying Americans out of work, or at least out of well paying, meaningful work that would put more money into the SS system, or the government that should be protecting our borders. You know, the sort of work that made America great in the middle of the 20th century, when companies AND unions got along and had some symbiosis at work. Oh yeah, the sort of arrangement we had that also gave America a high degree of respect in the world, and the means and courage to stave off the Soviet army.

But now, some years later, we can't even protect ourselves from a group of guys that wouldn't even fill a high school classroom. They have done more damage to this nation than the Soviets did in 50 year of Cold War. Actually, I think we have done most of the damage. Call me a socialist if you will, but I think that the drive for individual profits has destroyed us. What else can explain Enron, Ticoh, World Com, and others? What justification is there for a CEO getting paid 500 times what his shop worker is paid, when in our glory days, and even as recently as 1980, CEOs averaged about 40 times the shop worker's salary? (AFL-CIO website stats.) If I made $10,000 for doing grunt work on the shop floor, and my boss made $400,000, what justifies his need to put me out of work for someone who will work for 60 cents an hour so that he can make $5 million? Or $50 million? And that is only his own benefit—not everyone will get that sort of deal. I can't for the life of me understand it. And I certainly can't understand how it can last. Of course, it won't last. It can't last. But no one making absurd amounts of money today will willfully trade that in just to do the right thing. So it's going to have to break. This won't be graceful.

Bush talks about wanting people to have more of their own money, and he carries on like his $1000 tax cut will do the trick. Sorry George, but I think the average American worker had more of his own money 40 years ago when he worked hard at a job that maybe actually mattered in life, not this silly shit that passes for an economy now, like WalMart, Taco Bell, ARCO, and everything else we surround ourselves with. I think 40 years ago people were willing to make the tax sacrifice because they understood that it takes that sort of trade off to get the services that individuals can't possibly provide themselves.

My humanities class recently had a long section devoted to Athenian polis—someone who either does not need to live within civilized society or cannot live within it is either god or beast, respectively. So these Minutemen patrolling the border in Arizona? Are they gods or beasts? Do they either not need the cooperation of others, or can they not live within such a system? The entire nature of civilized society is built on detailed, structured systems of mutuality and cooperation to achieve common goals. It's one of the things that sets us apart from the animals. Paying a tax is just one part of that. Not paying a tax, or otherwise not contributing to the system in thought and deed is, as the Athenians believed, a hallmark of uselessness. Aristotle said that a man who takes no interest in public affairs is not harmless, but useless. Vigilante justice is not a particularly civilized thing, especially when there is an organized system that it would supposedly replace. We have a system that just doesn't work, but instead of actually getting inside of the system and fixing it, these minutemen wish to operate outside of the system. Going it alone, according to the Aristotle, is part of a man's worst nature.

But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous. Wherefore; if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony.

Let me remind you, the Soviet Union collapsed about three years after its oil production peaked, and also because of their massive military defense budget and closed borders. Sound familiar? Maybe there is a lesson in there somewhere?