Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Berkeley bathroom experience

Yesterday we were wandering around in Berkeley, and I found myself at the mid-campus Campanile just about the time that nature was calling. So I ambled over to an interesting academic building where I knew a bathroom could be found.

When you're sightseeing on a college campus, finding a facility is not difficult, if you know what to do: just act like you're any other student or professor whose cerebral deliberations are caught up in the clouds of knowledge-pursuit; walk right in the nearest building like you belong there. Before you can say fool on the hill you'll discover that magic sign, "Men" or "Women", as the case may be, which offers assurance of imminent deliverance.

It is really a very simple prospect, much easier than, say, finding an appropriate place to do your business in a moment of need in the downtown area of any major city. Although in the downtown predicament, your troubles are over if you can locate a McDonalds. God bless MacDonalds. I mean, I didn't really appreciate McDonald's until I stumbled upon one in Rome while searching for a cup of identifiable American style coffee.

But I digress. So there we were at Berkeley yesterday and I walked up the stone steps of a lovely old building called Moses Hall. I immediately understood after entering the place that I had stumbled upon the hallowed halls of the Philosophy Dep't. It seemed a little unusual that the old Hebrew, Moses, would be associated with philosophy, which is Greek thing.

Nevertheless, slipping with no trouble at all, into my accustomed perpetual-student identity--just, for a novelist, like putting on an old glove--I ascended the well-worn marble stairway with its absolutely smooth wooden handrail, then turned a few corners, and located, within a minute or less, the appointed place for bladder catharsis.

I stepped inside the bathroom, and oh, what a philosophical experience it was.

Indeed, a time warp it was. Suddenly, I was back in a bathroom in Allen Hall at LSU, where I had studied as a clueless English major back in the day, 1970 or thereabouts. This bathroom in Berkeley was almost an exact duplicate of the one I had made frequent use of when I was a student:

Marble walls, perfectly illuminated in the bright sunshine through large, old wooden sash windows with brass handles. White and gray streaky, dappled marble, and not only on the walls, but also the large partitions between roomy toilet stalls. Chrome fastenings on the partitions, well maintained and not rusty nor grimy. Pristine white fixtures: large, sparkling urinals, and toilets with chrome handles.

Ancient, rounded lavatory white fixtures with separate hot valve and cold valve, shining with seasoned chrome anneal that was old enough to reveal at its spout edges and knobby handle-ends the brass integrity beneath.

An entire floor of solidly grouted 1-inch hexagonal white ceramic tiles. I mean, an Interstate gas-station bathroom this was not.

It was a perfect place for a philosopher to productively continue his pondering, even while enduring the interruption of a trip to the bathroom.

And I thought: this place was built in the '30s, just like the bathroom in Allen Hall, where the main hall walls had been painted, old Post Office style, with murals that depicted for posterity those swarthy, 1930's-style agricultural workers who had heard America singing while they coaxed fruitful productivity out of the land of milk and honey, between rows of wheat 0r barley or corn, back in the day when our parents and grandparents were working themselves out of the "Great" Depression. This was my memory of the halls, back at the ole alma mater, LSU where I first learned how to think too much: Allen Hall, shaded by stately oaks that reside perpetually in the verdant groves of academe. So very similar in appearance and feeling to the campus I was now exploring.

Sure enough, as I exited the building a few minutes later, there was a brass plaque on the wall in the vestibule entryway: Moses Hall was built by the University of California in 1931.

Since I am now a Republican who resides in North Carolina, I have heard, from time to time, a critical word or two about Roosevelt and his New Deal. But one thing I can say for those NewDealers--the WPA, CCC, etcetera etcetera etcetera--they sure knew how to do bathrooms with aesthetically exceptional sustainability.

And I walked out of there relieved.

Glass half Full

Sunday, September 22, 2013

From Panhandle Park to Park Presidio

In San Francisco this morning, we drove westward out Fell Street. We passed along the north edge of Panhandle Park, which is an 8-block long strip of greenery that provides overstory of shade and repose within this city that seems to vibrate continuously with energy and good will.

As we crossed Ashbury, I glanced through the narrow park toward the Haight, and my mind traveled back in time, as it would for so many of us boomers who vividly remember the color and serendipity of the late 1960s, and how the untamed zeitgeist of that era was expressed here so freely and recklessly.

'T'was here that the shot heard round the world was fired, or so it seemed to us at the time. No gunshot is it of course, of which I speak, but rather, a double shot of my baby's love, yeah yeah yeah. On a good day you could loosely refer to the late 1960s free love movement that way. Or, on a bad day, you might think of it as a big shot of what James Taylor referred to, figuratively, as "hot steamin' junk.' That's a phrase that could mean different things to different people, as I'm sure the bard intended when he wrote the song, so I leave the true meaning of the shot to your active, or inactive (as the case may be) imagination.

As it later turned out, however, my subsequent life, after that heady, youthful time of vicarious hippie wannabeism took a different turn.

And so, on this brilliantly sunny Sunday morning in September of 2013, our son was driving me and Pat to a nearby church.

Yesterday over breakfast, you see, I had been explaining to some of Micah's friends, one of whom was our friend, pastor Toby, how things used to be in San Francisco before they were born, back in the day. How the shot heard round the world had been fired by Life magazine and Time, and the record companies. It was a huge shot of flower-power publicity that softly propagated the Haight-Ashbury pipe-dreams of peace, love, and turn on tune in drop out, etcetera etcetera etcetera onto my g-g-generation, a generation that was, for a while, lost in space, as brother Don later called it.

And so I had explained on Saturday morning to the thirty-somethings that, while the Panhandle Park groupies of forty years ago had sat, anesthetized on gonja, and drifting into a zone where logic and proportion Fell far behind-- even as their post-beat dharma-laden layback lifestyle was being lionized by pop culture--there was another noteworthy group in the vicinity.

This other group was a dorky, uncool assemblage of zealots of a different homo sapiens breed. They, like, wore, like, plastic protectors in their shirt pockets and sported horn-rimmed glasses instead of the Lennonish granny glasses. Collectively, these guys developed an obsession with transistors and solid-state circuits into a totally new industry that would, before too long, change the world in a very big way.

Focused and driven, and forty miles from the epicenter of hippie heaven, these Silicon Valley guys were busily shaping our future. Ultimately, they invented and developed the electronic hardware, programming, and text through which you now catch my drift.

Situated down the peninsula, around Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Cupertino, etc, they broke ground on new frontiers of calculation and communication, fomenting breakthroughs that have profoundly shaped the future, and generating thereby as-yet-unimagined career opportunities for many an enterprising post-'60s young person, including, long about the late 1990s, our son.

Although our son is certainly not a dork, he nevertheless has followed in the electronic footsteps of those Silicon Valley pioneers. His life path has taken a far different trajectory than mine did. My personal development, you see, had skipped a beat or two during that comfortably numb time of Alice's distractions, when Grace Slick had posed a few questions over in the Park and together we took a detour through a Haight-Ashbury rabbit hole. Not that I was actually there, you see, but I was one of those dreamers who strung along, vicariously, from out in the hinterlands.

But this morning, well, we zipped right on past all that flashback stuff this morning, going to church--Christ Church of Park Presidio, a few blocks north of Golden Gate Park. Does that sound really old-school? Well, yes. But hey, Truth trumps pipe dreams in every Time.

So there we were at Christ Church this morning. And there we heard our friend Toby teach from the Bible about a forty-day flood, long ago, that imposed, like it or not, the judgement of God, and there we learned of Noah, who participated in our Creator's redemptive processes upon the earth. And we understood more deeply, through the Noahic foreshadowing, Christ's grace, which redeems us and enables us to flush away the rabbit-hole distractions that had flooded our youth with chaos and confusion.

Forgive me for putting it in these terms: Jesus was the original flower child; but he didn't have to do LSD or any other such thing to accomplish our salvation.

All the bad stuff of this world that would destroy the good in us--it descended like all hell breaking loose, on him at the cross, and took its fatal toll. But then he raised from the dead, somewhat like, thanks to Noah, the human race had emerged from the Flood. You believe that?

You gotta believe, baby. Faith is what keeps this whole damned world from falling apart.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. It's been a beautiful, beautiful Sunday in San Francisco. On days like this, I think life is just a walk in the park.

Listen, y'all: Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Glass half Full

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Train Wreck?

Recently, the Speaker of US House of Representatives, John Boehner, called the Affordable Health Care Act a "train wreck."

If the new law wasn't a train wreck already, after yesterday's proposed defunding (239-180 vote) in the House, it is now.

It is a defundsive derailment. This is, like, Congressional terrorism, y'all.

But then so was the Declaration of Independence. This kind of conflummucks has happened before. There's nothing new under the sun; that's what the Bible says. (I don't know what the shariia rendering would be.)

I think the Republicans don't like a government takeover of health insurance because they think taxes will go sky-high in order to pay for it, and methinks this is true. This situation is a little like colonists in Boston, back in 1775, who resented paying taxes to their absentee King, George III. So they had a Tea Party in Boston Harbor. Remember that from 5th grade history?

Americans are still expressing their freedom with tea Party tactics, but nowadays their celebrations are all over the map, farflung from Boston, in places like Peoria, or I suppose, Macon, Pocatello or Bakersfield.

On the other hand, or, the other side of the Aisle, as they say in Washington, maybe the Dems have been caught up in a little revolutionary activity of their own. I seem to remember that back in spring of '09 or '10, whenever it was that Affordable Health Care Act was passed by Congress, it was some "Reconciliation" hijinks somewhere between the House and the Senate that got the Demmie legislation rammed through to become law.

I think you could have also called that Congressional terrorism--an earlier version, and also, btw, a Democratic version.

So our two Parties are both using legislative pyrotechnics to enforce their polarizing definitions of revolution on behalf of We the People.

Fighting fire with fire.

One fire is ignited by the bumbling, frictionary heat of government control; the other is the street-level heat that we will all feel when the lower economic half of our population is wandering in 'n out of hospital emergency rooms with no way to get medical treatment.

I think probably either way it is a train wreck.

It is then we will rediscover the truth, as spoken by somebody-- maybe it was Tip O'neill or one of the Taft boys-- that all politics is local.

Communities will just have to decide for themselves how they're going to hash this stuff out. Each hamlet, town, city, or state (if they can manage some pragmatic caregiving on that level) must find some kind of consensus about how to handle all those po' folk who keep draggin into the local Meds with gunshot wounds, bloody noses and/or cancer or deetees or dependencies or whatever the cases might be. I think my nurse wife agrees with this.

The way I see it, it's either back to local medicine man stuff, or back to the future--as Orwell would say, 1984. One way or the other, we gotta keep this nation on the rails somehow, and reasonably healthy.

Glass Chimera

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Isaiah and Abu Musa

About 2700 years ago, a boldly outspoken man named Isaiah lived in Jerusalem. He was regarded by his Jewish contemporaries as a prophet who could speak to the people on behalf of Y**H. One of the many truths that he spoke in the name of our Creator God was this:

". . . My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

Later. . .

About 46 years ago, Moshe Dayan, known to the local Arabs as 'Abu Musa', commanded Israeli troops as they once again occupied Jerusalem for the Jews. But Dayan noticed that his soldiers had performed an inappropriately presumptuous act. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore, as recorded in chapter 53 of his book Jerusalem: a Biography. . .

" As they proceeded across the Temple Mount, Dayan saw an Israeli flag atop the Dome of the Rock and (he said) 'I ordered it removed immediately.' "

Furthermore, some other Israeli occupiers on that victorious occasion wanted to

. . ."accelerate the messianic era by dynamiting the mosques on the Temple Mount, but (Israeli) General Narkiss replied 'Stop it.' "

Those two mosques still stand today. But there is no temple on the Temple Mount, also called Haram al-Sharif. There is, however, a very special wall beneath it. On that wall, Moshe Dayan inserted a note:

" 'May peace descend on the whole house of Israel,' "

Abu Musa then declared (as reported by author Montefiore):

"To our Arab neighbors, Israel extends the hand of peace, and to all people of all faiths we guarantee full freedom of worship. We've not come to conquer the holy places of others, but to live with others in harmony."

As God, who knows what He's doing, declared long ago through his prophet:

"My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

My faith is that God, his house and his Temple, resides in the hearts and lives of his people.

Glass half-Full

Thursday, September 5, 2013

G20 and Syria: The Play's the Thing

a Play by Cousin Will Shakesword

Scene 1: As the curtain rises, we see a large, Czarish ballroom room in Petrograd, filled with G20 potentates sipping a little vodka icebreaker before dinner.

Enter in the foreground, Vlad the Man, with his aide-de-camp Nikita.

Vlad the Man: (speaking softly to Nikita) "See young Potus over there. He hath a mean and hungry look. Methinks he is hell-bent on making trouble here.

Nikita: Thou art correct, as usual. He looketh to me like an upstart, alas a Trotskyite if I ever saw one.

Vlad the Man: Ha! Comrade. He is but a featherweight. His own red line hath done him in. Between Iraq and a hard place, the slings and arrows of outrageous weapons will make worms' meat of his good intentions. But look! Now he doeth consort with yon BigBrit.

Enter BigBrit and Potus, on the other side of the stage.

BigBrit: Oh Potus, be not sucked into this trap that that wily jackal Bashir hath contrived to confound thee. 'Tis but a fool's errand. My own EmPees hath delivered, by their good cautionary counsel, our assets from the slings and arrows of outrageous misjudgment. Methinks thou shouldst do likewise, and heed the red flags of yon isolationist democrats and heretofore obstructionist republicans, lest thou and thine suffer in the long run the unkindest cut of all. Forsooth, Syria is a tar baby! It will sticketh thee to the hoots! 'T'will drag thee by the boots (aside). . . on the ground. Ask not for whom the bell doth sound. But wait! Here cometh Francois, with belligerence hot upon his countenance.

Enter Francois, with fist in the air, proclaiming loudly.

Francois: Aux armees, citoyens! Yon tyrant Assad hath spewed a plague upon the citizens of the world. To the barricades! Strike while the iron is hot. Spare him from the guillotine not. Let not his foul chemical hell abound. Undeniable evidence hath been found. Let us run his assets in the ground. Drag in the missiles from all around!

Potus: (quietly, to BigBrit) This brigand's speech doeth suit our purpose well, as all the G20 potentates will tell, for while we in this Ruskie venue do confer, yon Vlad concludes it is war that we prefer, until such time as Congress will reject my ruse, and thus extinguish our Allied fuse. Meanwhile yon Vlad doth tremble in his boots, as he thinketh we Allies to be in bellicose cahoots. Yeah I heard this from a bull moose long ago, a good Potus never ceases to put on a show. So I tell thee, and I say it quick: Walk softly and carry a big stick. But wait! What sprite from yonder stage prop breaks?

Enter ghost.

Ghost: Then all will be as 'twas before, when Bashir's atrocities the world doth abhor.

And Vlad the Man gets a democracy lesson, when We the People curtail the Potus war obsession. And while Potus schmoozed through that czarish hall, our better angels heard the cooling call, for there is no end to this global shame, 'til Bretton Woods doth move against dunces in the game.

But then I woke up and all hell was breaking loose.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress