Monthly Archives: July 2011

We don’t swim in your toilet — etc. etc.

“Don’t wish too hard for anything,” said chere Grandmere, “Because you just might get it.”

She was right. She almost always was.

All my life from the moment I first dipped a toe in water, I’d wanted my own swimming pool. Even when I lived in a waterfront home, which I did for 17 years, I persisted in thinking a pool would be the proverbial icing on the cake of blissful bucolic living, even though the ocean was quite swimmable out front.

Later, when I was first living with the person who was to be my second wife, we decided that we must buy a house together. A ‘love nest’, as it were and one that would feature all our domestic fantasies to accompany the fulfillment of all those other fantasies. We looked at many houses one long Saturday, and then the realtor showed us one with a pool. A POOL! I tell ya, I thought my dream had come true.

I could picture rollicking poolside parties with generous libations, bikinied ladies, and perhaps even birthday-suit (and nothing more) romantic moonlight swims when daughter was away. It would all be good.

There it was in the back-yard (indeed it ‘was’ most of the back-yard); a large kidney-shaped (notice how pools are never liver, spleen or heart shaped) pool, filled with lovely azure water, and beautifully landscaped around. We, needless to say, fell in love with it. Added to which, we had a 12-year-old girl, who also fell in love with it. To complete the picture, we could actually afford the place. Well, we couldn’t really afford it as such, but we could meet the mortgage qualifications.

We bought the place, and I was just longing for the day I could take my first dip in ‘my very own pool.’ One Friday we moved into the house and then Saturday dawned ever-so-brightly. Look out pool, here I come! We walked out onto the patio, my new lady looking ever-so-scrumptious in the new swimsuit she’d bought for the occasion – and then we gazed out at the pool.

Something was very, very wrong. Half the water was missing! We were aghast. We phoned the pool guy who had checked it out for us. “You must have a leak in the vinyl lining,” he said. “These things happen,” he added, showing an utter lack of concern. I asked him what I should do. He suggested hiring a diver to find the leak and then patch it.
Divers are very costly. I thought I could don mask and snorkel and find it myself, since the pool guy said I’d be able to hear the water whooshing out. I damn near drowned, and gave the task up in short order. We hired a Scuba diver at $100 per hour. He found the leak and patched it, all in about 10 minutes. He still charged the C-note.

And so it began. We filled it up with the garden hose, and that took a while. But, truly, that first swim was heavenly. Daughter put on her new little white bikini for the occasion. She dove handsomely into the water and then emerged. As she climbed up the ladder mother and I realized that the swimsuit had turned utterly transparent and you could see her birthmark and every other little bit one doesn’t normally offer for public scrutiny, in fine display. Mortified she ran into the house and refused to go back in the pool for days, even when wearing an alternative and non-revealing suit.

Other things I found out about pools:

  1. They’re hideously expensive to operate: You have to heat them in chillier climates, like ours. You have to maintain perfect balance or they go all murky and disgusting. Then when you dump heavy chlorine ‘shocks’ into them – known as burn-out – you can’t use the pool for a couple of days. Days that tended to be the two warmest days of the year, we found. And, those chemicals cost a king’s ransom.
  2. They get plugged up with leaves and other bits of effluvia, and so they have to be skimmed.
  3. They get dirty with cruddy stuff that settles on the bottom. So, they have to be vacuumed. Adolescent girls, even under threat of loss of pool privileges, never want to vacuum the pool. Ours would have been quite content if the pool’s condition was the same as her bedroom’s – disgusting.
  4. They attract frogs. Cute little frogs regularly found their way into the pool. Once in, they couldn’t climb up the steep and slippery sides to get out. They’d end up in the skimmer reservoir and I’d rescue them and liberate them. But, if we went away for a few days, it would be too late for them. I’d find them in that same skimmer reservoir, bleached white from the chlorine, with eyes that looked like the ones possessed by the demonic kids in Village of the Damned. I still feel bad about those poor frogs.
  5. When the pool is started up in the spring the pump has to be primed to get it going again. This is an agonizingly frustrating task that always seemed to be on a complexity par with launching a space shuttle, and was often less successful.
  6. People pee in pools. Mainly kids are to blame for this. But, there is a natural tendency when immersed in water to have an urgent yearning to also pass water, even with adults. That used to thoroughly piss me off, if you’ll pardon the expression. You can’t really ask visiting adults to make sure they visit the toidy before going in the pool. But, if you had any sort of social gathering, you knew the next day was going to be a write-off as far as pool-use was concerned because the balance would be screwed. It doesn’t take many parts per million of urine to water to change the whole chemistry. And most, no matter how urbane and cavalier about body functions are loath to actually swim in pee.
  7. Eventually the thrill is gone and you end up using the pool simply to justify owning the sonofabitch.
  8. Pools actually detract from the value of a house. When we split a few years later and were selling the place, it took us ages to find a prospective buyer. “Most people simply don’t want pools,” the realtor said.

“They’re very wise,” I replied.

Today, if I were terrifically rich, I might own a pool again. But, that would only be if I could afford somebody to care for it on an ongoing basis and I lived in Palm Springs. Otherwise I will continue to heed Granny’s wisdom on the matter.



On person’s ‘dysfunction’ may be another’s genius. I mean, look at that Van Gogh guy

A popular term in the realm of counseling, psychology, social work, and other related fields in recent years has been ‘dysfunction’ and the related term ‘dysfunctional’, mainly used to describe a behavior, or a being who is, to state the case (clinically, of course), a fuckup.

My online dictionary defines dysfunction as follows:

dys·func·tion also dis·func·tion (d s-f ngk sh n)

n. Abnormal or impaired functioning, especially of a bodily system or social group.

Yep – fuckup.

When I was addiction counseling I tended to use “dysfunctional” a lot in reference to clients. And, it is true that at certain levels they were dysfunctional. Their addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, got in the way with their ability to cope at the mundane levels that applied to work, domestic tranquility, social responsibility, financial common sense, honesty, cooperation, and so forth.

Yet, at other levels, they were often highly intelligent, and especially creative. I had Native Indian clients who would turn out carvings that they bartered on the streets in return for a quick fix or cheap jug of wine. Carvings that should have been earning them thousands. But, they were dysfunctional in their inability to see that cause and effect. I had other clients who painted, who wrote, who turned a sterile rehab centre into a bit of a garden paradise. I was often amazed – and impressed.

But, why should I have been amazed. One area of their lives was messed up. The rest were intact.  I also realized that all of us have our own areas of dysfunction – some not so bad, and other worse. I knew that I did, and I knew that I had also successfully addressed a lot of my own dysfunctions (albeit, they’re like scar tissue, they never really go away). It is only when a dysfunction comes to control all other behaviors that it becomes an individual, domestic, and sometimes a societal problem.

Yet, that said, I want to go back to creativity. I recall how comic Jonathan Winters (an admitted recovering alcoholic and depressive) once said he was loath to go into treatment because he was afraid of losing his comedic chops. It was the disinhibiting aspects of booze that led to his anarchic humor. Fortunately, he did quit the stuff, and continued to prosper in his realm.

A few years ago Jungian analyst Linda Schierse Leonard wrote a fascinating study of addiction and creativity called Witness to the Fire in which she pondered the connections between artistry and, OK, dysfunction, and cited how many who are addicted suffer the same fears that Winters did.

And, if we consider some of the great creative minds of all time, we can appreciate the fact that many of our most profound thinkers and artists were not entirely ‘functional’ and you just might not want to have them around to tea. At the same time, at what loss would we be if they hadn’t done what they did, despite being dysfunctional, in any conventional sense. Consider the following:

Kris Kristofferson: Brilliant mind, gifted songwriter (Sunday Morning Comin’ Down reveals a lot about the guy), as well as being a West Point graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, he was also for years an unrepentant drunk and drug abuser.

Vincent Van Gogh: Sort of wrote the book on wacky genius. Starry Night forgives many severed ears, in my esteem.

Albert Einstein: One of the great minds of all time, yet a lacklustre student and also a chronic womanizer. Yep, lovable old Al was a skirt-chaser, E=mc2 notwithstanding.

Dylan Thomas: Every coed’s favorite poet, and gifted indeed he was, and everybody loves ‘Fern Hill’ and ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’. He was also a repulsive, out-of-control drunkard who stole from his friends, screwed around on his equally alcoholic wife, and snuffed it at 39.

Eugene O’Neill: Arguably the greatest American playwright was a chronic alcoholic for years, though he did get sober. At the same time, he likely never could have written The Iceman Cometh or Long Day’s Journey Into Night if he hadn’t been mightily messed up at one point. Same applies to Tennessee Williams.

Jerry Lee Lewis: The man was always a walking, talking mass of dysfunction at all levels, yet he was arguably much more pivotal than Presley in that he wrote and arranged his own stuff. And, damnit, the ‘Killer’ is still performing rather than being dead.

John Lennon: In my opinion the true creative force behind the Beatles (Paul was the ‘cute’ one), but an admitted chronic alcoholic and drug abuser, as well as having been a wife abuser in his first marriage.

Keith Richards: The true musical ‘force’ behind the Stones (sorry Mick) and an erudite and immensely knowledgeable man as evinced in his bio Life (highly worth a read) who is also an ex-junkie and is very candid about his erstwhile exploits.

Amy Winehouse: Amy, about whom I wrote recently, epitomized dysfunction at one level, but also epitomized an unearthly talent at another – much as her prepredating female musical martyr, Janis Joplin did. If Amy’s gift can rivet a geezer like me it says much about her universal appeal, something very few female vocalists today come close to.

Hey, I could keep on going with this, and so could you. My point being only that maybe we are too quick to consider people dysfunctional, and should maybe look more at what they gave, and in some cases continue to give us, without being too quick to judge. Ask yourself if all your perceived dysfunctions are necessarily negatives in your life.





Life is short — death is long. Suck it up! (Special thanks to Jazz)

This is blatant theft!

Theft from my cherished cyber-buddy and soul-sister, Jazz (who is also known to me only, so you can’t use the name,  as ‘Conchita’). I was struck by her recent blog entitled “Life’s Too Short”. In her case life was too short for her to wear challenging shoes just for the sake of fashion.

While I absolutely agree with some of her areas of displeasure (though not all – we may be soul kin, but we have our individual quirks, too – I was struck more by the concept. And suffering today from a singular lack of imagination, I thought I would follow through with a few of my own sources of singular displeasure.

So, for me, with geezerdom pending shortly Life is Too Short for:

  1. Watching and/or listening to Nancy Grace fulminate about anything. She makes my skin crawl.
  2. Caring about the plight of kids with peanut allergy. Can’t eat peanuts? Then don’t. Don’t try to control what other moms put in their kids’ lunches.
  3. Giving a toss about the sexual preferences of other people. Whatever gets you through your nights and days and thwarts loneliness is OK by me.
  4. Fulminating over the fact that younger Jeopardy contestants don’t seem to have a clue about anything that happened before they were born. Politicians are disconnected from history, why shouldn’t these smart people be. Politician and ‘smart people’ are mutually exclusive, it seems these days. But, I’m not going to despair about that, either. If society has dumbed down let future generations pay the price.
  5. Not letting those you love know that you love them.
  6. Carrying on carrying on with practices and behaviors you know are deleterious to your health: smoking, drinking to excess, becoming obese, refusing health check ups, or pathological gummy bear consumption, whatever.
  7. Procrastinating about getting involved in: a particular hobby, helping an organization in your community that could use your talents, telling your kids that you love and respect them, but only if you do, no point in lying at this stage, telling your parents (if still living, of course) that you love them, but again only if you do. For life is also too short for about 97% of guilt.
  8. Wishing your house/yard was neater and more magazine-like.
  9. Being ashamed of your own particular pleasures. If you happen to like zither music and having your living room lamps encased in plastic wrap to offset the black-velvet paintings, that is your right.
  10.  Worrying about using the in vogue politically-correct expressions for a host of things, people, afflictions, societal groups and so forth. I prefer cutting to the chase while refraining from being rude, insulting, or seemingly racist. People who are wheelchair-bound are crippled, not “other abled”. Blind folks are blind, not sight-impaired or, God help us, “Visually-challenged.” I use reading glasses. Am I not visually challenged, too? Oh, and as a home bread maker, a particular favorite loaf of mine has traditionally been called ‘Squaw Bread’. Am I supposed to change it to ‘Aboriginal Female Bread?’ Well, I ain’t gonna.

RIP Amy. It should have and could have been so different

A predominant bete noire for those who toil in the field of addictions therapy is the obvious contradiction between omnipotence and impotence.

The counselor may believe, due to the behaviors of a client, that he/she is at the top of their game and is making headway and is, goddamnit, saving a poor soul that was well on the way to the ghastliest perdition or death. And then the client goes and fucks it up and it’s back to square one – if indeed the client is still around.

Amy Winehouse isn’t any longer. I don’t know why. Nor, I suspect did she know why in the last few hours before she quit the planet in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that she would soon be going “the way of Janis/Jim/Jimi etc. etc. etc. And in her ongoing personal hell of substance and illness she no longer was left with the option of going the way of Eric Clapton or Keith Richards. All tragic. All predictable.

Something that has always confounded me, as both a counselor, and as a person who (and I am not embarrassed to admit it at all) who struggled with substance abuse himself (in my case alcohol) blessedly many years ago now.

So, I say, with no smugness implied, that I did it. And I have continued to do it on a daily basis for a decade-and-a-half. In other words, I ‘got it’. I got something at least that has kept me on a chosen path after I made what was arguably the most difficult decision in my life. In other words, I chose life. Amy didn’t. I don’t know why not.

Hence the omnipotence. Here you had a magnificent talent (I think she was the best singer of her genre since Etta James (and as a huge Etta fan that is, for me, saying a lot. And James, FYI, is an ex-junkie who kicked most successfully). And she had fame, and she had success and she had those that loved her and cared.

And yet she chose (and I use ‘chose’ advisedly) to continue on the path to self-destruction/martyrdom. I have known others like her, and I have seen a few buried over the years. A few that could not or would not do what to the non-addicted should be obvious.

Despite the fact that I worked as a counselor for a number of years, ran a rehab, and dealt with innumerable clients addicted to many substances. Some have made it into a blessed clean-living sobriety; some continue to go back on a perilous (and potentially lethal) path of recovery/abuse. Some of them may make it eventually. Where there is life, to lapse into cliché, there is hope. But, with Amy, and others like her, there is no life and no hope. Could she not do it? I cannot say. Would she not do it? That is, to me, more likely. Why would she not do it? I have no answer and I suspect nobody else has one either.

Just a sad loss that could have turned out differently.

Big Brother (or Murdoch) may be listening to you

I suspect the recent and unlamented demise of Bin Laden filled Rupert Murdoch with a certain trepidation.

That arose from the fact that once the world’s #1 arch-villain had passed from the scene the crown had to pass on to another and the guy that Private Eye magazine chose to christen ‘The Dirty Digger’ quite naturally needed to assume the honor.

There’s a huge responsibility to be assume when one is deemed the international bastard par excellence. I mean the earlier title-holders like Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot and David Hasselhoff set a standard not easy to live up to. Waver just a bit and another bit of vileness is bound to replace you.

There is a reason we have such creatures on the planet, and we’ve always had them back to the days of Attila and Genghis Khan, it keeps the peasantry in its place. You know, “Don’t hate that piggish Lord Dukeofearl, folks. Not when Saladin is at the gates!”

The heads of the world’s religions have always known that, which is why they trot out Satan upon which figure we can blame damn near all our transgressions. “Not me. The Devil made me do it.”

George Orwell also knew the psychology behind villain figures, which is why in 1984 he offered the always to be feared (much more than ‘Eurasia’ and ‘Eastasia’) character Goldstein. Goldstein, you see, is the international scapegoat for all the sins of Orwell’s metaphorical future society. It matters not what excesses the state perpetrates on its benighted populace, for Goldstein (who may or may not even exist, much as there was doubt that Bin Laden was actually around as long as they said he was) will always be so much worse.

Murdoch, of course, does exist. We’ve seen the recent pictures of the man we are now expected to love to hate. On the one hand, you’ve got to admire the bastard. He’s 80-years-old (an age at which a lot of guys are already looking at the bulbs rather than the blossoms), is in charge of the biggest media empire ever, and has a young popsy wife (one of her responsibilities, apparently, is to protect the old bugger from badly aimed custard pies).

I guess one of the reasons we are expected to hate Murdoch is that he is so unrepentant over such transgressions as wanton phone hacking, impeding police investigations (arguably costing lives), and coopting a lot of lawmakers and other who should have fucking known better except mammon is powerful temptation and Murdoch knows it. I mean, erstwhile media lord Conrad Black, who is a learned boy scout compared to Murdoch is doing time (rather unfairly, in my opinion), which Murdoch who even tapped the Queen’s phones, for crissake, trots around a free man while empires (like the British one) crumble in his wake.

And then there is his Medusa-haired acolyte, the viraginous Rebeka Brooks who was known to make seasoned editors wet themselves in business meetings, such was her profane wrath. But, the less about her, the better. Murdoch, of course, wuvs her to bits.

I guess another reason we hate Murdoch is that his legacy is one of crude vulgarity and profit at all costs.

”What did you contribute to world culture, Granddaddy?”

“Well, lad, I put bare-titted tarts on Page 3!”

“Wizard! Just the sort of thing a 14-year-old needed.”

And then there is Fox News.

Yet, there is also The Simpsons, arguably his only redeeming decision.

Do I hate Murdoch more than anybody else on the planet? Nah. There is an actual person of my erstwhile acquaintance that holds that honor. But, in Murdoch’s case his transgressions are legion and as a sometimes journalist I’d take great pleasure in seeing him taken to task.

And then he can be replaced by another bad person.



Nowadays a simple ‘Oops!’ just won’t do at all

I once shared domestic space with a fine lady who had a little ‘control’ problem. If she were to sneeze with gusto she tended to ‘leak’, and would punctuate that unwelcome occurrence with an “Oopsie – I think I peed a little that time.”

No big deal for her. She was used to it and quite resigned to dampening her knickers, it seemed.

What she regarded as a ‘normal’ occurrence for her is now a matter however for the pharmaceutical industry to have staged a huge marketing intervention. According to them there is a huge need and it seems that 99.3 percent of women (especially, though not exclusively) suffer from this distressing happenstance once they pass a certain age.

I don’t mean in any way to be either distasteful here, or dismissive of something that the pill-pushers seem to see as an incontinence crisis of mammoth proportion. And maybe my lady of the past was just too dismissive of it. What do I know?

Nowadays, however, everyone from Whoopie to some athletic looking lady will tell you there are ways around it. Well, in fact, there always were. They are called Kegel exercises, but when the big drug boys get in they want you to get their product rather than embarking on a regime. Quick fix, I believe it is known as.

But, as with every drug concoction the information must be accompanied by the mammoth disclaimers that inform you that while your pants may stay dry and you won’t be publicly mortified any longer, you might suffer from dry mouth (along with you dry other bits), constipation, diarrhea, gastritis and all sorts of other disagreeable side effects that just might drive you to opt for Depends and let it go at that.

But that is, of course, the other side of the equation of the pharmaceutical racket. Every drug you take in has a down side, regardless of what it’s for. And if the side-effects have only been reported by one person in 10,000 users, it still must be accounted for.

In my case, for example, I take a very low-dose statin due to a s light cholesterol problem. I don’t like taking it. I don’t like taking anything at all. But I do, because I also don’t like the idea of heart attack or stroke.

Anyway, one particular statin pusher (I think it’s the one where the poor sap is berated by his bullying and ever so much wiser brother) informs that the drug will render him happy and healthy for another 3 decades at least. But the disclaimer indicates that use just might cause (in rare cases) everything from beri-beri, to yaws, to a blown out liver and complete kidney failure. I mean, the potential side-effects list goes on and on.

“Nah, Charlie. I think I’ll just risk the stroke, if it’s OK.”

I mean, in a litigation happy society it has to be done, I suppose. That’s because people don’t always realize that when they pop any kind of a pill, even simple ASA, the med is holistic. It doesn’t just kill the headache but impacts the entire body.

I think life was simpler back in the days when, if my old man had heartburn he mixed up a bit of baking soda in a glass of water, and my lady friend simply uttered “Oops!”


No — I don’t want to be on your committee, so please don’t ask me to join

I stand accused and accountable for many things in my lifetime, but one thing nobody could ever accuse me of is being a ‘joiner’.

I’m not a club or organization kind of fellow. I got kicked out of cubs when I was a kid, and I was regularly in the badbooks of my Sunday school class; living in infamy in the eyes of the girl teacher with an unfortunate complexion, and possibly in the eyes of God, too. That might explain some later complications in my life.

Knowing deep in my heart, soul and other bits of my firmament about my revulsion to getting involve, I must confess I do find it odd that I have served (according to my CV list) on some dozen community boards over the last couple of decades.

But, I know I am still not a joiner and while I have served those organizations well (in varying degrees ranging from enthusiasm to agonizing ennui to outright near homicidal antagonism) in my own way, I remain a non-joiner.

You see, with joining comes responsibility, and I hate responsibility as much as Lou Grant hated spunk. I mean, I am basically a pretty responsible guy, but I still hate it for with responsibility comes ‘obligation’. Obligation is even worse because that means you have committed to doing stuff.

What the hell was I thinking when I signed on to this? That has been the prevailing thought never far from my mind when I’ve agreed to get involved in something or other like a board, a committee, a marriage? No, I won’t go to the latter, though the obligations therein often prove to be the most onerous and the rewards not always as satisfactory as I anticipated.

As follows, however, are the things I never, ever wanted to join and never have, much to my relief:

–         The Projectionist Club: It’s only a certain breed of cat that heads in that dweebish direction. I suppose nowadays it’s not a matter of pushing a 16-mm down a school corridor on a trolley, but I suspect the players are similar to the ones when I was in school. Quite simply, I never looked well in really high-waisted trousers and have never gravitated in the direction of (as practical as they might be) plastic ballpoint pen sheaths in the breast pocket of my buttoned to the neck shirt.

–         The US Marines: I always thought they had the coolest dress uniforms and that provided a certain allure. Oh, and babes. I suspect marines score lots of babes. But, then I thought about shooting people or (more importantly) being shot, and stuff like Iwo Jima and so forth and decided to demur.

–         Mercenaries: Big bucks in going off to some wretched African enclave to help quell some insurrection. But then too I thought about being shot, tortured and all the other downside things, and again demurred.

–         Teaching school: Oh wait. I did that. Well, I haven’t always followed the directions given by my inner muse. Anyway, I knew from about Day 3 that I didn’t want teaching to be my life. This, despite the fact I was a good teacher (ahem) and my students generally liked me and I liked them. But, all the anal protocols and I just didn’t get along.

–         Becoming a heroin addict: No, I’ve worked with them. There isn’t a great future in the practice no matter how good you get at it.

–         Being a gigolo: Charming thought. You get to dress nicely on somebody else’s dime, drive a boss car and go to high-end restaurants all for the sake of doing the nasty with somebody who’s paying the tab. But then I thought, what if the person paying the bills has zero appeal – which might be the case if she has to pay for it? Added to which, time and age tend to quash performance, hence demand.

–         Steeplejack: Acrophobia.

–         Miner: Claustrophobia.

–         Politics: Please, though some may doubt it, I have some personal integrity and standards of behavior.

–         Veterinarian: I actually thought of that at one point in my unfocused youth, mainly because I am very fond of animals. But then the equation of having to put animals down led me away from such foolish thoughts.

–         Farmer: Sort of an idyllic musing. I like farms and in my teens worked on one and I loved it. Love the smell of hay and driving a tractor and all that stuff, and then sitting around on the verandah drinking applejack after a hard day’s work. But, the thing that kept me from it knew I couldn’t raise livestock, mainly because you raise livestock with a view to murdering the poor critters. That’s why I won’t, for example, eat lamb or veal, and when I rose chickens years ago I let them die of old age.

No, I guess I am generally pretty contented with the choices I’ve made in my life in terms of what I’ve committed myself to. Not perfect, but not awful in terms of my personality.

What are the choices you are glad you didn’t make, or what are the choices you have regretted getting involved with?