In Praise of Nothing Personal

My brother, John Scheck, has e-published his collection of humor essays, called Nothing Personal, and it’s available on Amazon.

Nothing Personal by John Scheck

A long time ago I printed a bunch of John Scheck’s funniest essays from his blog and put this printout in my bathroom for people to read while relieving themselves. I’d have guests over and they’d disappear for way longer than anyone needs to finish his or her business, and meanwhile the other guests and I could hear loud laughter echoing from the bathroom. I couldn’t tell you how many times people emerged from their potty break praising that they’d just read the funniest shit ever. “When is this coming out as a book?” they’d inquire.

Well, here it is in all its glory, a collection of John’s funniest essays that once appeared on his blog back when blogging was popular.

Scheck’s book is wickedly funny, sure, but what I really enjoy is that beneath the biting humor is some truly poignant social criticism. We are, for all intents and purposes, a fucking horrible society, truly demented and awful, and Scheck cuts through the niceties to point out what a pile of ridiculous piffle we’ve become. Moreover, most of us are batshit crazy and narcissistic nitwits, and Scheck reminds us that we have to seriously laugh at ourselves if we truly want to make sense of where we’ve gone wrong.

Here’s a sampler from the book, some of Scheck’s ideas for a 78-word short story to enter into a competition held by Esquire Magazine.

Esquire Magazine sponsored a short story competition in which all entries had to be exactly 78 words (in honor of their 78th birthday, clever huh?). The brevity thing was in tribute to the Hemingway ultra-short “For sale, baby shoes; never worn” which is supposed to be such a masterpiece. I find that horribly maudlin but that’s just me. Here’s my slightly longer version.

Say No to Drugs
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. Why’re we selling the shoes you may be asking? The baby’s dead, that’s why. Are you happy now, you intrusive, heartless pricks? Your next question—if I know your type, and I think I do—is to ask how the baby died. Ever heard of crystal meth? Not exactly anyone’s idea of pre-natal care but the old lady is totally hooked on the stuff. Me too. Want the damn shoes or not?

Or this one:

Talbot’s Dream
For as long as they could remember Talbot had told his friends and family that his big dream was to live in Paris. He studied French and received the highest marks. He said he would go after he graduated from the university. He got married, bought a house, and fathered two children. He taught them French.

He never made it to the city of light, as you may have guessed. He died suddenly and tragically of old age.

The best humor is really like a form of excision surgery where something has to be cut off to save the body from infection. Scheck’s book excises the inflated egos of the truly stupid and monumentally inept, all the while making us laugh out loud as he hacks away at these diseased parts. He rarely pulls punches and offends with an almost indifferent cruelty, and yet the honesty of his satire is what makes his humor so goddamned appealing.

The great Marty Feldman said it best about comedy: “Comedy, like sodomy, is an unnatural act.” Amen, brother. Scheck brilliantly exemplifies Feldman’s simple premise in every one of these humor essays. Whether brief or long, each essay bites through the polite, boring veneer of dishonesty and delusion that prevents people from seeing how utterly ridiculous they really are. Look in a mirror, folks, then read Scheck’s humorous take on everything worth mocking. All great philosophies worth knowing begin with criticism and doubt about the nature of everything, and Scheck’s philosophy, like his humor, shines brightly like an exploding star.

You must be warned: you might crap yourself laughing. That’s why I planted a copy in my bathroom all those years ago; it seemed the appropriate place for people to read this collection and not embarrass themselves.

The Boy in the Bubble

Coronavirus Chronicles
Day 18: Philadelphia, USA, 30 March 2020, 10:30 a.m. EST

The view from my bubble to the streets below.

There was a TV movie in the 70s starring John Travolta about a lonely teenage kid who lived in a hermetically-sealed bubble because his body couldn’t produce antibodies, thus he was isolated and disallowed any human contact out of fear such contact would infect him with something his weak immune system couldn’t fight. Like all TV movies of that era, it was cheesy and silly, but now, after 18 days of complete isolation in my Philadelphia loft, during which I haven’t come in contact with another human being and I clean, scrub, and disinfect every possible inch of the place, I feel lonely and isolated like Travolta’s character in the film. Sadly, 70s teen babe extraordinaire, Glynnis O’Conner, clad in a bikini, is not waiting on the other side of my bubble like it was for Travolta’s character. That lucky, disco-dancing Vinnie Barbarino creep.

It’s Monday, March 30, 2020, and the world is in a place it’s not been in 100 years, paralyzed by a viral pandemic that is spreading like a wildfire and infecting people with such an alarming virulence that governments worldwide have ordered people to create their own bubble like mine and not come in contact with other people for…well, for as long as it takes to stop the spread of COVID-19, the villainous coronavirus. In the USA it’s killing about 1.7% of people who contract it, which is alarming mostly for the simple reason it spreads rather easily and the tally of the afflicted is growing rapidly. Too rapidly. Since I went into isolation the numbers no longer makes sense except to report, as a former medical scientist myself, that it is NOT GOOD.

I’m bearing witness to this unprecedented madness high above in my top-floor loft with its view of Center City Philly below, normally filled noisily with people coming and going in great numbers on foot or bikes or in cars, but now it’s virtually empty. People are bunkered in their homes waiting out this pandemic, and I hope, like me, they are concerned about what kind of world we’ll face when we finally emerge from our self-imposed home incarceration. Our economy is in shambles, our investment portfolios—for those of us fortunate enough to have them in the first place—are decimated, and our futures are ambiguous if only because we’ve no idea when this virus will run its course or scientists will find a vaccine that protects us from its ravages.

I am lucky in that I don’t need to leave my apartment for any reason. Thanks to Amazon and Instacart I can order groceries and home supplies and it all gets delivered to my door. I have provisioned myself the last three weeks with enough food to last months. Secondly, my company is in good financial standing so I work from home every day and the paychecks will keep clearing for the foreseeable future. I also have a decent amount of savings and credit to keep me afloat for a very long time. Moreover, I was always somewhat of a doomsday prepper, so I have an ample stash of emergency rations, medical supplies, and other critical survival must-haves in my supply closet. I have three powerful HEPA air filters that keep my loft free of dust and allergens. I even have solar panels I can mount in my south-facing massive windows where the sun passes for 12-15 hours a day. I have a decent-sized battery storage unit that can keep all of my critical electronics charged if power should ever be cut. I even have solar-charged lamps and lanterns to light my place for the same reason. I prepared for this outcome years ago, honestly never even imagining it would happen, and yet I prepared all the same.

I could bunker in my apartment for a long while like Charlton Heston’s character in the film The Omega Man. How weird to see such a science fiction plot finally come true in my lifetime. As I kid I watched that film and had nightmares. Guess what? I am living in that nightmare right now. COVID-19 won’t kill even a small number of humans, but it will infect a great number, and not knowing its true potency at this time is the cause of so much uncertainty and fear. We just don’t know how deadly and dangerous this virus will be, nor do we know how to combat it medically. Thus we wait.

The first 10 days of isolation had me wallowing in anxiety out of fear I’d caught the virus while flying home from Spain, but as the distance grows between my last human contact and the present, coupled with the fact I feel healthy and virus-free, I’ve calmed down and resigned myself to remaining in isolation until there’s a vaccine. I am an active, fit, and mostly-healthy 56-year-old man, but I do have type-2 diabetes and an aortic aneurysm, so I will not tempt fate. Catching the disease at my age is a crap shoot, and although based on the stats for my age group that I have a 98.2% chance of surviving infection by COVID-19, I do not want to temp fate as the 1.8% who didn’t survive it. Bottom line: I don’t want to catch this bug, and I won’t if I stay isolated.

How strange are these times? It’s difficult to process what’s happening with any kind of sane, rational, and coherent thoughts. All I can do is survive it and hope that I can emerge safe from this in a few months.

Until then I just wait.

Coronavirus Chronicles

Day One: Valencia, Spain, 11 March 2020, 13:16 GMT+1

Proof of life, 11 March 2020, Valencia, Spain

So it’s March 11, 2020 and I am in Spain, which is rapidly becoming the next cluster of ever-increasing coronavirus infections, although in Valencia, where I am living, the rate has been relatively slow. However I have decided to go back to Philadelphia tomorrow as I’m worried if I wait a week or two longer I will be stuck here as I am sure, like Italy, Spain will be barred as a starting point to travel to the USA. Spain has been, as far as I can tell, extremely lackadaisical in handling the containment of the virus’s spread, so it’s no wonder the numbers are bounding upward at such an alarming rate. The US is the same, and I imagine in a week or two both countries will be at the low end of a pandemic.

I’d rather be safe at home in my already well-prepared apartment in Philly than here. I’m not exactly Joe the Survivalist, but I readily admit I have been a prepper for years and my my apartment is well stocked with food and other survival provisions that can keep me comfortably ensconced in my home for a month or two if the need arises. So luckily the window is still open to get my ass back to the USA tomorrow. If I’d have waited another few days I am certain I’d be fucked.

Tonight I am catching a Renfe AVE train to Madrid, where I’ll spend the night at the airport Marriott, and then fly home to Philly tomorrow at noon Spanish time, arriving home at 4 pm EST. Madrid is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus infection in Spain, so I’m consciously aware of being highly vigilant in avoiding personal contact or large crowds.

En Route to Madrid, 11 Mar 20 18:30 GMT+1

Moving through Spain at 300 km/hr on the glorious Alta Velocidad aka AVE train from Valencia to Madrid. I’m in Coche 9 and it’s pretty empty. People seem wary and just a little concerned, but no one is running down the streets in a Chicken Little panic. It all feels creepy like a dream after eating spicy food; humanity is reacting to this unprecedented crisis with fear, yes, but also with some curiosity as this is so fucking weird what’s happening, and how astonishingly fast it’s gone into the red worldwide. The World Health Organization has declared it a worldwide pandemic. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. OK, most people who catch this will recover fine, but people are going to die, and that’s shitty. I hope I am one of the lucky ones.

Madrid Atocha Train Station, 20:00 GMT+1
You can sense the growing, “It’s every muchacho for himself” right now as people are avoiding even looking at each other, as if they can mind meld the damn virus with thoughts. I caught the first cab I saw and the driver looked healthy and safe. He told me no one is riding cabs in Madrid. I told him to wash his hands and don’t take on any sick looking fares.

Marriott Near the Airport: 12 March 2020, 04:00 GMT+1

I left my hotel TV on CNN and awoke to the news that Trump has suspended all Euros from coming to America on Friday at midnight. This doesn’t affect my ability to get home so I am pleased. But I praise myself quietly for deciding to go home before it got weird. It’s just gotten weird. I had a mild anxiety attack at the thought of being stuck in Spain, but it passed when CNN clarified that I’d be able to fly home in a few hours.

Day 2: Madrid-Barajas Airport, 10:10 GMT+1

I’m through security and found an isolated seat where I can hide until my flight boards. Lots of Americans are scrambling for flights home even though Trump’s ban is only for Europeans, but everyone, like me, feels the door will be shut in a few days even for us. I’m feeling mild anxiety as I just want to feel safe and at home. If I do get sick I’d rather be in my bed, in my home, so my only goal is to get on this flight and get back to Philly by 4:00 EST today. Once home I’ll at least have my familiar environs. Being stuck in a foreign country during the early stages of this zombie apocalypse has been, to say the least, surreal and a bit scary. My odds of making it home without catching this motherfucking virus are probably 30% yes, 70% no. I trust my hale immune system and my ability to heal, but I am still a bit wary.

Philadelphia, 4:47 PM EST
Eight hours later I made it home. The journey ends where it began. I’m putting myself on a self-induced 14-day quarantine at home. My flight was packed with Americans heading home before Trump’s European flight ban goes into effect, even though technically Americans can still fly home from Europe after Friday. No one was taking chances. I heard lots of coughing and sniffling, so I’m assuming I may experience a COVID-19 infection. I’d say the odds are in favor I don’t, but I want to be safe.

Day 11: Philadelphia, 21 March 2020, 9:10 AM EST

My self-isolated state has encompassed the last ten days since I returned March 12. I’ve had no contact with another human since then, and as of yet I haven’t exhibited any symptoms associated with COVID-19. I was not only lucky to get out of Spain when I did, but even luckier that I probably wasn’t exposed to the virus on the flight home. I will hold off celebrating this fact for another week or so, as I may just be carrying it but I’m asymptomatic. Until next Thursday I will not take any chances infecting others by emerging from my apartment. Even after that date I’ll probably stay isolated for up to another month if necessary.

Philly has handled the crisis well. Restaurants still deliver food even though their dining rooms are essentially closed, moreover through Acme Foods and Whole Foods/Amazon I have been able to order groceries that get delivered to my door. Also, in my “doomsday” closet I stockpiled about 6 months of emergency rations (Army MREs and Mountain House freeze-dried meals) a few years ago when I got all “prepper aware” while recuperating from a broken arm and not having much else to do but prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Smart move; I can literally remain in my apartment for months if necessary. It helps I am wealthy enough to afford such luxuries and that my job is not in jeopardy, and even so, I can live well for quite a while without a paycheck coming in at this point. However, my company is fine, and though things may slow down, we should weather this storm well.

The last week was a difficult and anxiety-ridden period as I saw the world outside going nutty over this virus. I decided after the second day to stop watching or reading the news because it only added to my anxiety about whether I was sick or not. I swear, there was a three-day period where every stomach rumbling or allergy stuffiness episode had me convinced I was ill with COVID-19. The ensuing panic would subside only after I realized, rationally, that I was fine, but in those minutes of frenetic panic I’d hyperventilate myself into a shortness-of-breath episode. Of course I realized I could breath deeply and that I was just in a state of too much oxygen being breathed in and not enough carbon dioxide coming out, which feels differently than the shortness of breath caused by pneumonia; my brain’s breathing mechanism realizes the oxygen to CO² ratio is out of whack, ergo it slows breathing to allow the excess O² to get absorbed and the resulting CO² to exhale, which makes me feel like I cannot breathe, but of course I am, just slowly. I wonder if I am the only fool to hyperventilate himself into thinking I had COVID-19. Of course, after each of these very minor and silly episodes I was fine. No fever, No cough. No weakness or fatigue. I was not ill with COVID-19; I was just being a silly billy running around gasping for the air I was actually breathing in fine. My lungs were not damaged or incapable of fully expanding.

Sleeping was difficult for a few days, mainly from the time change returning from Spain, but now I’m doing fine. Last night’s sleep felt refreshing, the first time I’ve awoken and actually felt like I had restful sleep. Based on what I know about the incubation period for COVID-19, I still have many days to go before I can feel confident I didn’t catch it, but each day without symptoms is a good sign, and the fact 10 days symptom-free have passed since my last human exposure makes me feel less anxiety than each previous day.

My greater concern is more scientific. Is it better we become exposed to the virus and develop immunities, or avoid it altogether? I prefer not to catch it as I am diabetic and also have an aortic aneurysm, and although I have both conditions well under control, and I am physically fit from lots of bicycling and long hikes, I’d rather not test myself by getting sick with this damn virus. However, over the long term it may behoove me to suffer through an infection as having immunity now for this early strain may benefit me if the virus evolves into something deadlier that I’d not have to face if I were immune. I am sure every epidemiologist in the world is positing the same theory. Yes, we do not want to expose those who are vulnerable to the virus to its ravages once infected, but maybe it is, long term, in the best interest of humanity that our young become immune to it. Natural selection is a motherfucker and viruses play the game as well as any piece of genetic material in our world. They are clever, adaptive, and sinister little Darwinistic machines.

This leads to an insane but true thought. Is our compassion for, and protection of, the weakest among us the right strategy? I mean, sure, isolate everyone over 60 or those under 60 with underlying health conditions. But for a vast majority of people it may be better for them to catch this virus and suffer through its infection into their system. Some 80-90% of people who have caught this virus only experienced mild symptoms and seem to have recovered fine. Now their immune systems are prepared to fight any new hybrid of this genetic code that tries to attack them in the future, moreover they will never be carriers, and hence vectors, of it again.

My guess is that scientists feel we are close enough to getting a vaccine that we can absorb the massive cost of isolating humanity in the short term if we are in fact rolling out a vaccine within the next year. I certainly hope that is the case. If not, how long can people be isolated before it’s no longer economically feasible? And since 80-90% of those infected recover fine, then let people catch it, carry on with life, and this thing will die of its own loneliness seeking hosts that don’t exist.

Anyhow. More later.

Philadelphia, 21 March 2020, 23:10 PM EST; Day 11, Part II
It was a good and bad day in isolation. Good in that I ordered groceries that will be delivered tomorrow by Acme Foods, bad in that I was edgy and nervous all day for no apparent reason other than I’m still unsure I won’t get sick. I know I should be more existential and even oblivious to this fact, that even if I get sick it will be mild, but I am so completely fearing getting sick that my squirrelley obsessiveness is starting to get irrationally stupid and panic-laden. What, my neck hurts from working at my desk all day? OMG, COVID-19! Then comes the five-minute check: no fever, no fatigue, no sore throat, no cough…all right, I’m fine. Breathe deeply and get my pulse down. There you go. Crisis over. I’m a nutty motherfucker, I freely admit.

This COVID-19 is a hypochondriac’s nightmare, and as everyone who knows me will attest, I am a wildly neurotic and laughably chronic hypochondriac. I have expended more adrenalin worrying about being sick, infirm, or dying than any ten human beings. What’s even funnier is that when I actually get sick I’m the calmest person in the room. But anticipating getting sick? That sickens me to the point of near paralysis. Seriously, I’m a goof.

I sit here at my desk in a state of calm resignation that I just have to let the chips fall where they may with this whole COVID-19 coronavirus shit. I mean, every day a human being is alive there’s a great risk of getting in a deadly car crash or other unexpected accident, or dying from one disease or other, or a fucking pile of space junk can crash down on one’s  head. Life is a crap shoot.

As my 9th grade Biology teacher, the great Alfreda Buckner, who was also a trained mortician, once told us when we whined about homework, “Children, you don’t have to do anything in life you don’t want, except die. We all have to die.” That, in Mrs. Buckner’s terse words, is the essence of evolution. Mrs. Buckner was a brilliant woman. Like all living beings, we humans exist for a while, then we don’t exist. We can fight to exist longer, or not fight to exist longer, but in the end we all have to cease to exist. There are millions of ways for humans to die, but in the end we all die. C’est la vie. Worrying about this fact doesn’t ever change the ultimate outcome. I only wish I were zen enough to fully comprehend this simple fact; I’m not. I’m a hyperventilating mess right now.

Luckily, we humans have consciousness so I can record my thoughts for posterity during this weird turn of human events and let people understand how I, a nobody and about as anonymous as any other bloke, suffered through this monumentally unprecedented modern human experience. The world has literally shut down and people are bunkered in their homes awaiting salvation from this pandemic. I wonder how many others are suffering from the panic and anxiety that has left me reeling on occasion. When this is all over and we go back to living as we always have—if that is ever possible—then we can all have a laugh about it, or tell a few amusing anecdotes and stories about our experiences.

What keeps lingering in my hypochondriac panic is this rational thought: these past decades we’ve seen one of the largest mass extinctions the planet has ever experienced as countless species have ceased to exist due to environmental changes or simply through natural selection. Is that what humanity is facing? Has nature decided to punish us for our misuse of the planet the last few hundred years? Have we done this to ourselves and sealed our own doom? Crazy question, yes, but one that obviously has to be asked. Maybe this virus is just the first wave. Maybe the shit has hit the proverbial fan and the next wave will be devastating.

But I fucking hope it’s not true. However this fact has haunted me in my isolation and panic the last ten days.

 

A Brief Confession

It’s 1968. I was a wee lad that year, a precocious, rascally, blond-haired goofball filled with unbridled energy and joie de vie, the youngest child of nine and spoiled beyond reason, and my favorite song was The Rain, The Park & Other Things by The Cowsills, mainly because I adored little Susan Cowsill, who on every TV performance seemed so perfectly flighty, silly, and adorable to my five-year-old self, moreover, like me, she was the baby of a huge family, thus we were kindred souls, which of course meant I was madly in love with her and this amazing psychedelic bubblegum monster hit. I imagined that she and I would blissfully skip down the hill on 22nd Street next my house, hand in hand, singing this perfect song. And then we’d smooch a little. I am sure most boys my age in 1968 thought the same thing about her. And yet I knew I was her one and only boy. She was my Flower Girl. Silly me.

I was five in 1968, and while vaguely aware of the tumultuous events of that trying time, I was mostly oblivious like any other kid. I remember the morning after Bobby Kennedy was shot, as my Mom’s friend Barb Schneider and Mom, grief-stricken and shocked, sat talking about it all morning while watching the news reports on TV. I have vague recollections of the Vietnam War, mostly that I wanted to be a soldier when I grew up, and that’s exactly what I did when I was 19. I remember a little about Mom and Dad and my older brothers and sisters watching on TV the events of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and all the crazy street protests by the hippies getting smashed by the Chicago PD. I don’t have many memories of all that insanity and turmoil in 1968, really, just vague flashes mostly.

What I do remember vividly were the great memories with my family and friends, and of course the amazing music on the radio. Or when a favorite music act appeared on Ed Sullivan or some other variety show on TV. Those memories are still in technicolor and stereo in my mind. Life was grand in the late 60s on my personal level. My family was happy, healthy, and thriving. My neighborhood was safe and filled with great people. My best friends were Jon Ramsey, Buzz Phillips, and Terrence Thrap, and we were midget Tom Sawyers that summer, nutty, bold, and adventurous. One couldn’t find a happier kid than I was at that age.

I’m an old man now, with most of my life behind me, and yet this song still brings me more joy than just about any other in the history of pop music. It takes me back to that vivacious, spirited, nutty kid I was in 1968, who once—just once!—wanted to smooch with little Susan Cowsill, my eternal beloved, my Flower Girl.

Make America Sane Again

The Lords of the Deplorables, President Donald Trump and his faithful Fox News apologist and chief fluffer, Sean “MAGA-Douche” Hannity

It’s time to address the gigantic elephant in the room: How much damage to our American democracy can we tolerate by Trump and his insane posse, which are the following: loyal partisan shit-for-brains minions who gladly and willfully violate both the Constitution and legislated laws to protect the outlandish behavior of their psychopathic leader with his blithe venality and arrogant disregard for the rule of law; science-and-reason-and-logic-denying right-wing Jesus-freaks who wish to turn the USA into their private theocracy where their creepy religious dogma becomes federal law; hyper-malevolent rednecks and xenophobes and racists who want America to be white and Christian regardless of what non-white, non-Christians want; Fox News limp-wristed-quasi-fascist dork commentators (especially Hannity and Tucker “Why do we give a damn what this smug, douchie, tubby asshole says?” Carlson); idiotic elderly “get off my lawn” grouches who blame their shit lives and miserable disposition on everyone but themselves; and, mostly, the creepy oligarchic assholes financing it all who merely want all power rested in their control at the expense of the remaining 300 million citizens of the USA? Oh, how much damage this gaggle of virulently power-grubbing swine have done in the last three years. Too much.

Yes, America, we’re in a real pickle. Due to our uniquely weird Constitution, with its insane  “two voting US Senators for each state even if that state has about 50 booger-eating idiots living in it while California by itself has 40 million people, is the fifth largest economy in the world (greater than the UK’s, which has 26 million more people than Cali!), and yet is represented by the same number of US Senators as these booger-eating DakotaWyomingTuckyDelaVermontTana states, where there are virtually no people and hardly any economy worth noting, and the equally appalling Electoral College where, as we saw in 2016, the winner by more than 3 million national votes lost to a far less popular candidate. Trump bragged about his “HUGE” victory, but, really, he took his sister to the prom and probably paid her to do so. Whooopee, Donald.

Some democracy we have in the USA. It’s a rigged democracy and we all know it. Trump and his foolish gang of thieves and liars and power-hungry creepies have just exploited it through clever gerrymandering and denying voting rights to millions of black and brown folk. Meanwhile the true majority must sit back and get royally corn-holed by this power-mad and insane minority-rule cabal of horrible ideas, grubby-greedy-sleazy wealth hoarding while tens of millions of citizens fall into poverty and ill health (our life expectancy in the USA since 1997 has declined while the rest of the “civilized” world experienced increases), and complete indifference to the fact our planet’s climate is heading to an Armageddon-like awfulness, sooner rather than later.

For the rapacious and power-nutty far-right and its oligarch overlords, it’s all about four simple things:

1. Tax cuts for the ultra-rich at the expense of everyone else. A simple wealth grab, period. A class war in which the upper 1/2 of 1% is kicking the crap out of the remaining 99.5%. You know, these super-wealthy “winners,” they need more yachts and vacation homes and private jets and Bentleys and caviar. They worked so hard to get where they are while the rest of us sat on our fat asses watching TV and popping Oxy. That’s what they think of we the lesser beings with no wealth. Bloomberg more or less said this in his first debate with the other Democratic candidates in Las Vegas. Oh, how hard he, and he alone, worked to make himself so fabulously rich. All those secretaries and IT techs and janitors who worked for Bloomberg, what a bunch of lazy bastards! They so deserve their meager wages compared to his bloated and obscene wealth thousands of times greater than their meager earnings. He did it all HIMSELF! Get it, losers? You deserve to be shit poor while he deserves to possess more wealth than a hundred million Americans combined. Tough titty. He and his ilk have rigged the game in their favor. Share their wealth? Screw YOU, commies. We’re merely their servants.

2. Criminalizing a woman’s right to control her reproductive choices to appease the Jesus freaks who apparently care more about this than the income inequality that makes a vast majority of these twits as poor and screwed as everyone else. Their willingness to self-destruct in order to maintain their religious “purity” is astonishly short-sighted and pathetic.

3. Cutting all government regulation even though most of it works fabulously at protecting the citizenry. Deregulation benefits the rich owner class and resigns the remaining 300 million citizens to living with a filthy air and water and food supply and zero protection from the dangers of unbridled industry, and also offers them mostly slavery-like employment prospects, and moreover forces diminishing political and economic power upon their futures.

4. Lastly, merely destroying anyone politically to the left of Heinrich Himmler and usurping all their purchase of governance. Listen to the mouthpieces of this madcap ideology. They don’t just hate anyone to the left of them, they want to crush them, eradicate them, and burn up even the mere memory they ever existed. Me, Social-Democrat and leftie that I am, just want to tax the super rich more and equitably distribute income more fairly, and maybe live in peace with even the biggest assholes out there if they will back off encroaching on my ability to live and speak and not worship some silly deity freely. That hardly makes me a menace. Yet in their eyes I am not just a fellow citizen who disagrees with these psychopaths, I am their enemy and must be first silenced, then marginalized, and then eradicated. I served my country with honor as a soldier, only to find myself considered unpatriotic and a traitor merely because I disagree with their twisted ideology and its power-rapacious fascism and eliminationalist intent towards its opposition. I, on the other hand, disagree with these morons ideologically, and vociferously so, but I do not wish them dead, nor even a smidgen of ill health upon their being. I just don’t like them and think they are raging assholes. But they are asshole Americans for whom I would have, as a US Army soldier for over seven years, gladly fought to the death with our foreign enemies to protect their right to be wrong and stupid and boorish and fanatically creepy. Notice the difference? (Complete transparency: If Tucker Carlson were lying on the ground engulfed in flames, I wouldn’t even pee on him to save him. Just saying. Even a magnanimous Liberal has limits to his or her compassion.)

That about sums up where we’re at in the USA in 2020. We still have tens of millions of amazing people who work hard, live right, and care about the future of fellow citizens and the planet’s health. Even the categories above that I mercilessly mock contain plenty of truly good folk who either have lost their gaddamn minds or are just wandering in an intellectual wilderness poisoned by their myopia and inability to accept science and facts contrary to their narrow worldview. They may be lost, but essentially most are good people too, patriotic, caring, lawful, mostly neighborly; however they hold acrimonious and often repugnant views, adamantly so, that are based on bullshit and not reality. It’s sad to witness this madness in such normally decent people.

The real zombie apocalypse we face isn’t that a virus has taken over the brains of people; it’s a zombie hoard fueled by the idiotic, deliberately divisive, and utterly specious sophistry and propaganda pumped into their naive brains by the lords of oligarchy and their sinister minions who do their evil work. These vile minions and mouthpieces pump up the hate and malevolence and spite in these sadly misguided, under-informed, and poorly-educated people with a overwhelming deluge of ugly and divisive sophistry and propaganda in order to divide the middle and working classes and keep them at each other’s throats, distracted by this unnecessary in-fighting, and meanwhile out the back door all the wealth of this nation gets put into the clutches of very small group. It’s a brilliant and successful tactic as we’ve witnessed.

The USA is at its heart populated with fine people. However, not enough people are angry enough, and care enough, to truly take back our government, economy, and environment from the destruction caused by this oligarchic coup d’état we’ve witnessed the last 30 years that is finally coming to fruition and turning our democratic republic into a totalitarian state run by the oligarchs, where our citizens have become subjects and serfs to this powerful oligarchic cabal, and meanwhile, sadly, most citizens are oblivious to this transfer of power from the people to the few ultra-rich assholes pulling the strings of our sham democracy.

One thing we must all understand is that Trump is merely the useful idiot propped to the top by the oligarchs because, even to their utter amazement, he’s wildly popular with the “base” peasantry the oligarchs need to vote for their seizure of political power. Trump himself is an egomaniacal fool and blathering buffoon by all accounts and is mostly just the front man for this junta. Trump also provides a tremendously loud voice that echoes the insane irrationality and abject malevolence of his followers, all their weird beliefs and goofy conspiracy theories and boogieman enemies list, and all their disgust with everyone who is not like them and ergo “un-American.” He is the vulgar hammer-wielding champion who expresses even the ugliest thoughts they themselves have been afraid to express openly, and to their delight Trump vows to crush their enemies with this hammer in his hand.

Moreover, no matter how corrupt, incompetent, and morally depraved Trump has been in the past, no matter how disgusting and venal his words and actions are now, his followers oddly forgive him in a way they’d never have forgiven any other public figure. Trump is not only impervious to the purity test to which most politicians and public figures are subjected by the mob, his followers have largely given him a get out of jail free pass. The man has bragged about sexually assaulting women, viciously mocked the handicapped, called Mexicans rapists and murderers, coddled and supported violent fascists at the Charlottesville rally in 2017, and numerous other acts of abject moral depravity, and yet he hasn’t suffered politically with his base, all because he’s as stupid and angry and ugly as they all are, and they adore him for this. King Donald of Redneck Jesusland.

Trump’s asshole populism is like the WWF in the late 90s when it went all “Attitude Era” with beer-swilling Stone Cold Steve Austin flipping the man the bird and exposing his ass to the adoring crowd, and The Rock being all “look at me, I’m a ragingly and cartoonishly egocentric asshole and you love me for it,” which catapulted the WWF into such popular heights that its CEO, Vince McMahon, became a billionaire nearly overnight after crushing his rival the WCW, owned by Ted Turner. Common folk with ugly thoughts love it when some asshole, unbridled and not giving a shit, expresses the deeply-hidden darkness in their damaged souls that they’d be terrified to openly express. They absolutely love it when someone steps to the microphone and lets it all hang out. The more vulgar and insulting, the better! Suck it!

Trump figured out this WWF-like asshole populism (he’d been on the show numerous times in the past, as a matter of fact) in his 2016 campaign and exploited it like no other public figure would have ever dared to try, let alone someone running for President of the USA. Dignity and humility? Screw it. Fair play? That’s for pussies! Taking the high road? LOSERS only! The more assholish he became, the more offensive and shocking his personal attacks against his opponent, the more this behavior made Trump hugely popular with the drooling and angry and stupid masses. Even a flaming racist redneck asshole like George Wallace didn’t have this kind of audacity, and he was a lulu of a divisive asshole in his day, wildly popular with his racist Southern brethren and reviled by most enlightened and thoughtful American citizens.

We have seen this kind of bloviating asshole of a fake populist before in history. In fact, the similarities are ridiculously apparent. Both were idiotic creeps and phony nationalists. Both appealed to the abject ugliness of the common folk. Both laughably claimed that he, and only he, could “save” the nation. Both were cartoonishly demonstrative in their expressions of self-love. Donald Trump, meet Benito Mussolini, your spirit animal.

Let’s compare some of their utterings:

Nationalism über alles:
Benito:”All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”
Trump: “America First!”

Excessive self love:
Benito: “This is the epitaph I want on my tomb: ‘Here lies one of the most intelligent animals who ever appeared on the face of the Earth.'”
Trump: “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!” “People love me. And you know what, I have been very successful. Everybody loves me.” “”I’m also honored to have the greatest temperament that anybody has.”

Shared wisdom:
Benito: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”
Trump (Quoting Benito in a 2016 Tweet): “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” [Trump is more of an orangutan than a lion, but, oh well, to-may-to, to-mah-to.]

Strike a pose, psychic soul brothers:

Il Duce, please meet…

…The Douchebag…

Moreover, why do you think the Jesus freaks love Trump despite the fact he’s the most damaged, sinful, and deplorably immoral contradiction to every tenet of their supposed “Christian” faith? Because he’ll help do their bidding, of course. The man hasn’t touched the Bible his entire life and has about as much spiritual faith as I do (which is none at all), and, let’s be honest, how many abortions do you think he’s financed and covered up with generous non-disclosure agreements during his lifestyle which, according to his shamelessly self-promoted boast, made him the premiere New Yawk high-society cocksman of the 70s and 80s? Pay no mind to the vast amount of lies the man tells on a daily basis. Or how he’s cheated nearly every business and romantic relationship he’s ever had. Despite knowing his well-documented failings as a moral being, the Jesus freaks love Trump more than any public figure I can ever recall.

The Jesus freaks seem to have made Trump infallible to religious criticism like Catholics treat the Pope. Trump is a pig, the Jesus freaks all agree, but he’s their pig. Maybe, the way the Jesus freaks argue about Trump, and I posit existentially, Jesus would have embraced the Roman Emperor Caligula, the wildly nutty autocrat who murdered his sister who he’d impregnated, forced the wives of many prominent Senators and citizens into prostitution during his public orgies to which he made everyone attend, and slaughtered thousands of Roman citizens mercilessly for dubious and often insanely whimsical reasons. But, you know, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, sayeth good ole Jesus. Render unto Trump what is Trump’s as long as he criminalizes a woman’s right to her reproductive system and promotes to the Supreme Court justices who will gladly allow the Jesus freaks to enact legislation marginalizing LGTBQ citizens in their states and locales. Trump is more Baby Huey than Caligula, but they are both examples of inherited wealth and power producing unstable and destructive progeny.

Hey, if Trump grabs a pussy or two or a hundred against the will of the pussy’s owner, dumps two trophy wives in the trash and marries an even more vapid and creepy and inarticulate one for his third, bankrupts nearly every company and capitalist venture he ever ran, lies with every breath he takes, whatever, dude, he’s just Donald being Donald. Obama exemplified every virtuous and clean-living tenet of Christianity like few other Presidents. The right-wing maniacs tried for eight years to dredge up even a molecule of dirt on Obama’s past and could find none. They even resorted to making up phony shit about his birthplace, academic performance, and make-believe friendships with left-wing radicals, all to no avail. And here’s Trump, the most perfect example of an out-of-control moral degenerate if ever there was one, and he’s given a complete pass. It’s only in a zombie-dominated world that this total douchebag of a man man is revered.

Like I said, a madness has infected so many normally sane minds. I must point out, however, that while most Jesus freaks may have been sane in the past, nearly all were hardly logical or governed their thinking with reason and scientific fact. Reality passed over them years ago and it failed to penetrate their simple minds. But still, these people have sunk to a new low in their adoration of this scumbag. Now most are just blindly or myopically nutty-cuckoo fanatical and cannot start terrorizing the non-believers and faggots and dykes and trannies fast enough with theocratic laws that massively violate the Constitution, but course Trump’s SCOTUS will let them run wild. The Handmaiden’s Tale is but a lame warning of the kind of religious tyranny that religious fanatics truly desire.

Obviously the crème de la crème of the white master race. You’d be high on opiates too if you looked this frighteningly awful. Sieg heil, fatties!

The white working class in the Midwest is another sad, sorrowful story. The skyrocketing number of opiate overdoses in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri, among other states in the region, coupled with a huge increase in suicides and ill health and early deaths caused by obesity and smoking and alcohol abuse, all of which has led to a slowly declining life expectancy in these states that has dragged down the national average, points to a massive increase in the existential angst and mental breakdown of these citizens.

Declining incomes and job prospects, and a general decline in living standards, has led to rapidly increasing divorce, illegitimacy, and substance abuse rates among the white working-class denizens of the Midwest since 1997. The numbers are unbearably depressing to look at since I hail from Indiana, one of the hardest hit states by all this opiate addiction madness and all the other social pathologies causing so much self-destruction among its denizens. It has tragically affected my own family back in Indiana, so I understand it from first-hand experience. Time and time again families have been torn apart by this horrible crisis of people abusing themselves to such extremes.

Back in the 60s and 70s when opiate addiction was mainly concentrated in black ghettos in large cities, white Midwesterners couldn’t have given a damn about saving all those poor souls. Now it’s hit them much harder than it ever afflicted the ghettos. Only now it’s a crisis to these people as their own kids are getting sucked into addiction and self-destructive insanity.

The economic and social decline in the Midwest began 30 years ago as its cities turned into the “Rust Belt” as manufacturing, which has provided so many good union jobs for the people, declined as companies moved production to countries where labor was much cheaper and totalitarian governments relaxed environmental and labor protection. Meanwhile these jobs lost were not replaced with comparable transitions, so the people suffered. Most of the young, talented kids left the Midwest to go where the colleges and high-paying jobs were located, so after 30 years anyone “left behind” in these economically-depressed areas lived with diminished job prospects and little hope of social elevation, so why not turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to ease the pain?

When Oxycontin flooded the Midwest in the 00s, and later cheap heroin from the Mexican cartels, a vicious cycle began that has been devastating the Midwest ever since. The finical crisis of 2008, which laid waste to the Midwest (as it did everywhere in the world), where things were already shitty in most rural areas and especially in Rust Belt cities like Toledo, Flint, Dayton, Rockford, Fort Wayne, et al., was like adding gasoline to a fire and accelerated this crisis into tragic proportions. Once people are hooked on dope, it’s an endless nightmare to get off the shit. And more and more people got hooked. And more and more people have died from overdoses.

I can paint a good picture of the crisis, courtesy of the Center for Disease Control. Have a look. It’s frightening. As you can see, the Midwest is the epicenter of this crisis. The good news is there has been a mild decline in a few of these states since 2017, but not enough to say any progress has been made to reverse it. Indiana, my home state, had 1731 OD deaths in 2017 and 1701 in 2019. Ohio: 5337 and 4197. Kentucky: 1574 and 1386. Wisconsin: 1157 and 1188. Michigan: 2632 and 2727. Missouri: 1412 and 1505. Illinois: 1482 and 2900. West Virginia: 1047 and 958. Tennessee: 1816 and 1918. Minnesota: 688 and 679. Pennsylvania: 5795 and 5070. in 2019 in these 10 states, 40,696 people died from overdoses. Add to this total all the suicides not due to drugs, early deaths caused by obesity-related pathologies like diabetes and heart disease, and deaths caused by alcohol abuse, and you have a gigantic pile of dead self-destructed human beings in these “fly-over” states.

So who have white Midwesterners turned to save them? You guessed it, the worst possible person to truly address all the problems these people faced: Donald Trump.

Trump came along in 2016 and somehow convinced this disaffected mass of white working-class people in the Midwest that he was their champion, that he would hear their grievances and do right by them. Oh, did they latch onto this man as their hero! Pay no mind that he offered zero evidence of how he would help them, he just blamed it all on that dirty, non-American-born Muslim President Obama and Trump’s opponent, “Crooked Hillary,” and of course all the murdering and raping Mexicans pouring over the border to take their jobs in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. That was his campaign to woo these people: simple, angry, blithely untrue, and pandering to the lowest depths of existential depravity within them all. Solutions? Sure, he told them, he has the best solutions, though he not once articulated exactly what they were. And how they cheered him at his rallies! Donald the crusading hero. The man of the people! He who had never pumped gas for his cars in his entire life. He wasn’t a man of the people, and, as we know now in 2020, he hasn’t been a man for the people either.

Since 2017 Trump’s actually done nothing to change the plight of the working classes (thank Obama, Trump, you’re riding his wave, dude). Despite all his babbling and phony promises, white people in the Midwest are still shooting up and sniffing dope and drowning themselves to death with booze and shitty, diabetes-inducing food, all with a mindless madness that increases every day. Their incomes have not gone up, they still work shitty jobs like slaves, and their lives are really no better, and in fact worsening, than when Obama was President. But Trump has their vote because he gives them that “Attitude” they love so much. He is the voice of their spite, anger, hatred, and malevolence.

Let’s examine what Trump and his minions have actually done. Or not done, as sometimes doing nothing is a great strategy to make government shrink and become more hated by the people.

Firstly, Trump has done everything he can to debase, destroy, and eradicate our regulatory government agencies. He placed in charge of these regulatory agencies the leaders and CEOs who worked in the industries these agencies regulate. It’s like putting a wolf in charge of protecting the sheep. What the hell would any self-respecting wolf do with such power except gobble up all the sheep? Moreover, Trump has defunded and humiliated our State Department into total irrelevance at a time when diplomacy matters more than any time since before World Word II or the Cold War. His “America” First policy isn’t about benefitting America, it’s about enriching the oligarchy and taking power away from the citizenry, especially the citizenry opposed to his policy of trashing what’s left of our Federal bureaucracy. With no one to mind the sheep pen but the wolves, how will the sheep do anything except bow to the will of these new masters?

Funny too, how the Republican Party whined relentlessly about the national debt under Obama, even as the debt fell over the last four years of his administration, only to become remarkably silent about this very same national debt rising dramatically after Trump’s tax cuts to the super wealthy. The national debt is now greater than it ever was under Obama, even in the dark years after the finical crisis of 2008. What do the Republicans have to say about the huge national debt under Trump? Curiously, not a goddamn peep. Mitch McConnell, who couldn’t stop bitching about the debt under Obama, now has his lips sewn shut about it, apparently. And where’s the goddamn Tea Party, which sprang into existence (with copious financing by Charles Koch and other oligarchs) by their extreme hatred of excessive government spending and ballooning national debt?  Oh, where, oh where, are thee, Tea Party patriots, when the national debt is more bloated than Trump in golf attire after a big burger-laden lunch at Mar-a-Lago? Silence. The slimy hypocrisy of all these unctuous creeps is astonishing. But let’s at least be honest: the Tea Party, and Republican opposition to the national debt, was never actually about the national debt, no-sir-ee; it was about destroying the agenda and legacy of the black guy in the White House. But I digress.

Next up for Trump if he wins in 2020: Grandma’s (and YOUR) Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Cut, cut, cut, bitches, and tough shit if you have to eat cat food in your elderly years, and forget about that hip replacement surgery, Gramps! Your entitlements are getting cut to make Sheldon Adelson even richer. Or Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Or Charles Koch. Or Betsy DeVoss. And, of course, Jared & Ivanka. Ergo, if Trump wins in 2020, wave goodbye to your entitlements that you actually paid for and deserve. Mine too. I’m about 10 years away from collecting my Social Security. I give it a 50/50 chance of being there in full in 2030.

And that’s where we are, America, whether you accept these facts or not. I assure you everything I said above is factual. I may not express these facts with sugarcoated niceties or deliver my message with respectful care and restraint to not injure the feelings of the idiots who don’t accept these facts; my apologies. I cannot help you if you’re too stupid or myopically fanatical to see the folly of your self-destruction in voting for someone who seeks to make us all into serfs and subjects to the power of a few oligarchs who are about to start running things with unbridled majesty and lawless abandon. Trump and his Republican enablers in the Senate and Supreme Court have proven that the man in power, and his groveling, loyal, and insane minions, can do whatever the hell they want. The Constitution is their toilet paper. And you are the idiots who blindly follow this path to totalitarian rule by the few.

You have been warned.

 

The Politics of (Slam) Dancing: RIP Andy Gill and The Gang of Four

How do I even begin to describe the English Post-Punk band Gang of Four? In the 1980s their music was part of the soundtrack of my insane, picaresque, and highly irregular life, where I quit college and ran off to serve in the United States Army, which took me everywhere and nowhere, often at the same time. It was a time when, while serving my country, I also danced, fucked, drank, and partied nearly every night, so music of course played an immensely important role. And few bands epitomized the insanity as eloquently and brilliantly as Gang of Four. The band’s music was noisy, punky, funky, and thought-provoking, but mainly it was just cool, kind of like my life in my early 20s; it made little sense to anyone, but that was the point.

Sadly, the band’s guitarist, main songwriter, and leader, Andy Gill, passed away on February 1, 2020 at the young age of 64.

So let’s kick off this essay about one of my favorite bands with my favorite song by the band, the first one I heard by them, and of course it was while acting badly that this magical event happened. First give this a listen and then read what I’ve written below. You must hear the band’s music to gain any cogent context to my essay.

Damaged Goods – Gang of Four (1979)

I can recall vividly the first time I heard this maddeningly vibrant and frenetic work of Post-Punk Funk genius. I was at a club in San Antonio called Rocky’s in early February 1983, and on that memorable night the DJ spun a series of crazy songs like this to rev up the crowd of slam dancers who’d taken the dance floor hostage by the sheer number of them. Just before he played this he played Wardance by Killing Joke and Pay to Cum by Bad Brains, two songs of similar fast-paced velocity and angry energy that got Doc Martens boots stomping like no other. Then came this song, with its killer intro where the bass and electric guitar’s nutty interplay kickstarts the jam, and then, a few bars later, the drums propel the band into slam dance nirvana. Rocky’s small dance floor was now packed with guys and girls flailing around as if they were epileptics who’d taken speed.

It was a cathartic moment, to say the least. I generally eschewed slam dancing for its thuggish and hyper-violent stupidity, but on this night I gladly joined the fray like a possessed demon; I was a young soldier in the US Army and had lots of pent-up anger to release with all my gusto. Or maybe some girl had rejected me. Or I temporarily lost my mind. Whatever the case, on that night I felt like slamming around with my fellow moshers with as much sweat and anger and vicious antipathy as I could muster. Since I was a tall, fit, strong, and confident fucker, just a few weeks removed from Basic Training, I was a formidable slam dancer. My memory is clouded about how violent the dancing got that night, but the next morning my hoops buddies at the Fort Sam Houston gym all noticed the copious bruises that covered my torso during a shirts vs skins game and I was a skin.

The irony is that the band, Gang of Four, was pretty much washed up at this point in 1983, although at that moment a new variation of the band, with only two original members, had a cool New-Wavish Disco-like dance track called “Is It Love?” that was popular at clubs, even though it sounded nothing like what made the band famous back in 1979 with its epic debut album Entertainment!. That album was one of the greatest records of its era, highly praised by critics and fans alike, and is now regarded as one of the seminal works of Post-Punk. It was still cool and relevant in 1983, at least to me, since the next day after that epic night of slam dancing at Rocky’s I sought out and bought it at a San Antonio record shop near my Army base. It remained on my active playlist all through the decade and well into the 1990s.

You want some more of this amazing band’s cool music? Here’s another epic tune from their 1979 debut. I can still feel this vibrating out of my orange-padded Sony Walkman headphones from back in the day. Again Gill’s scratchy guitar licks highlight this highly danceable track filled with thought-provoking social critique and Dave Allen’s kick-ass bass line. Singer Jon King growls about being a bored, married, middle-class bloke (at home he’s a tourist) who is looking to fuck a stranger down at the local discotheque where people celebrate the soulless, bland, boringly decadent capitalist lifestyle. You got your shit drink in your hand, a pack of rubbers in your top-left pocket if you get lucky, and all the while you’re dancing to shitty corporate music. Meanwhile your wife, who also feels like a tourist, is contemplating fucking a stranger too. Touché. Fucking brilliant, mate.

At Home He’s a Tourist – Gang of Four (1979)

To describe Gang of Four’s sound is rather difficult other than to declare it was influenced by Punk but also by Parliament-Funkadelic’s funky grooves. Guitarist Andy Gill stripped down his riffs and chords to scratchy, minimalist, detuned funk grooves, but with a hyperactive Punk edge, and his interplay with bassist Dave Allen’s overtly funky lines and drummer Hugo Burnham’s bouncy and frenetic beats created music that was often danceable and yet also induced aggressive feelings amid all that funky noise. That was it, no frills, no sweetness, no moon in June love-dovie shit. It was cool, minimalist Post-Punk funky noise, unpretentious and yet thought-provoking, with lyrics that denounced the English middle class existence as desperately dull, overbearingly repressed, and largely incapable of having much soul. Vocalist Jon King often sneered his parts with his thick English growl, equally desperate and often self-deprecating in his introspection as he lamented the stark and empty life he led amid the colorless society of 70s Britain.

At its best, Gang of Four’s minimalist sound, just the bass, drums, guitar and voice, with no multi-tracking or overdubs or any other studio trick, could be mesmerizing and yet ass-wiggling funky too. Gill’s insistence on laying down the guitar part like fragments of a conversation, with pauses and then a frenetic pulse of noise between Hugo Burnham’s drum beats, while Dave Allen’s bass sketched out the actual melody of the song, if that was what you’d call it, created a groove so electrifying and yet profoundly minimal that you found yourself hypnotized to its pulsing beat. Meanwhile the band injected its socio-political idealism into your brain with carefully-constructed phrases of alienation and irony-free dissent, stating, in effect, “I did what’s expected of me in a capitalist meritocracy system, embracing the process of social elevation through self-improvement and getting a higher education, and yet I’m more fucked than when I started.” Andy Gill and Jon King were shitty Marxists in that they had zero answers in their art, just questions and complaints, but they certainly created a sound that captured the very essence of their existential angst and disgusted self-examination.

I present Exhibit A of this breathtakingly cool minimalist rock art, the superb song Paralyzed from the band’s second album, Solid Gold. It is the very definition of the sound we old timers called “Post-Punk.” It’s difficult, in retrospect, to fully describe how radical and cool this all sounded back then, but, honestly, it still sounds pretty fucking vital 40 years later. This tune as much as any other by the band epitomizes the hypnotic brilliance of its simple yet profoundly masterful sonic delivery.

This wasn’t music readily available in the early 80s at mall record stores, nor did it get airplay on mainstream FM radio stations. I wasn’t even aware of it until 1983. By then the underground music scene was evolving into something else and banished the records by British Post-Punk bands that failed to evolve into the obscure import bins at hippie head shops.

I had to work my ass off just to find Gang of Four’s albums in San Antonio. I do recall that on the day I bought Entertainment I also found and bought the Psychedelic Fur’s new release Forever Now with its super-cool track Love My Way, ABC’s amazing New Wave dance-friendly debut The Lexicon of Love, Depeche Mode’s ultra-awesome Synth-Pop masterpiece Speak & Spell, and U2’s brilliant third album War with its lead single New Year’s Day that MTV introduced to America in February 1983. A great day for my music collection to say the least. I cannot recall a better single-day score than this one. Those five albums, along with Prince’s 1999 and The Time’s What Time Is It?, were the reasons the winter and spring of 1983 fucking ruled in my life. Oh, there’s more to why it was a glorious time, but this cool music was certainly the perfect soundtrack to all the crazy wild shit I did then.

Here’s another monster track, To Hell With Poverty, released in 1981 as a stand-alone single. Again the band’s funky sound plays its complementary role to Andy Gill’s stripped-down, scratchy, noisy, absolutely insanity-inducing guitar licks, and all the while you can imagine slam dancers bopping around wildly to its frenetic pace. Singer Jon King sneeringly implores his lover to join him in relishing the night with cheap wine while forgetting that, in a country of supposed wealth and opportunity run by maniacs, they’re two broke bitches working shit jobs, but to hell with it, have some fun, get drunk, dance, fuck.

To Hell With Poverty – Gang of Four (1981)

At Gang of Four’s center was guitarist and bandleader Andy Gill, who created a new Rock guitar archetype that influenced a whole host of bands in the past 40 years since Entertainment!’s debut in 1979. His twitchy, nervous, barely musical playing invoked a brilliant white noise that was surrounded by his bandmate’s insanely funky interplay. Call it White Punk-Funk. Not as groovy as black Funk, but certainly more cerebral and political. The Red Hot Chili Peppers (Gill produced their 1984 debut), Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, et al., paid homage to this sound, perhaps with their fans largely unaware of the source material, but, alas, that’s Rock & Roll; it’s all good, bro.

As I stated earlier, Andy Gill was only 64 when he died on February 1, a mere eight years older than I am. I am sad because in the 1980s the Gang of Four was seriously one of my favorite bands and played an important part as the background music to my crazy, nutty, weird, and insane life back then. In other words, perfect music for a nearly perfect (perfectly imperfect?) time. You had to be there to understand. Oh my, what a fly on the wall witnessed while observing me in 1983!

You millennials missed so much back in the dark ages before iPhones and apps for everything and Instagram and Amazon and Google and Facebook and all the horeshit that mostly makes your lives fraught with impersonal information overload, fake news and phony outrage over nothing, and zero true physical social interaction with humanity at large. Take away all the time you waste texting and Facebooking and TikToking and Redditing and all that bullshit; what would you do with your time, little millennial sheep?

Ah, what does an old fart like me know? The past is over, so why bother dredging it up? Well, because. Just because. Maybe there’s something to learn in remembering how it was before now. Just maybe. When I hear Gang of Four music I hear the faint echoes of my life well lived then, and how it influenced me to live well now. My true physical youth was long ago, but my brain remains young and vibrant even well into my middle-age years. I look, feel, and act much younger at 56 than 99% of my peers born around the same time. So I must be doing something right. I am not ready to give up on life or quit having fun. Writing about my past life isn’t the lament of some tired old dying fuck, it’s a goddamn joyful celebration of keeping that ebullient spirit within me alive for a hopeful and awesome future. Get it?

Here’s that New Wave Disco tune that was the band’s 1983 swan song. It’s actually cool. Andy Gill also sings lead while bassist Sara Lee kills it with a Bootsie-Collins-esque funk groove. And again, Gill’s guitar work is as masterful as it’s also understated. When I heard this in 1983 I had no idea it was the same band that recorded Damaged Goods until I asked the DJ, “Who made that record you just spun?” Handing me the album cover so I cold write it down (I always carried a small reporter’s notebook and a pen in my back pocket), he tried to defend GoF’s new sound after I was surprised it was by what I thought was a Post-Punk band: “They ain’t sellouts, man, they’re just trying to evolve.” Indeed. If Paul Weller could disband The Jam to form a slick Motown-esque soul group called Style Council in 1983, why couldn’t Andy Gill go all New Wave Disco with GoF? RIP, Mr. Andy Gill.

Is It Love? – Gand of Four (1983)

The Hysterical Age of Unreason

Every new day brings another outrage du jour on Twitter where large gaggles of apparently deeply sensitive people screech incessantly about some HORRIBLE act by someone that requires a hundredfold overreaction that is equal parts bullshit grandstanding and completely specious reactionary blathering. Every time it happens we should have on hand a response that exemplifies this silliness for what it is, pure theater of the absurd.

So when the Christian Lesbian Conservative Transexual Vegan Outrage Coalition expresses its absurdly overreaching and grandstandingly overreactive response to some act or event, let’s just play the following clips instead of reading all the expressed, wildly bloviating outrage over something.

You think slaughtering lesbian chickens for your pro-life-Christian trannies of color rally for vegan Muslim fat shaming non-binary atheists is hunky dory?

OMG!!!! THE HORROR!!!! I’m soooo outraged I could scream! There. We’re outraged. Move on to the next silly made-up controversy of the day. Chicken Little, the sky ain’t falling, you disingenuous dipshit. For fuck’s sake, grow up. You don’t want “justice,” you just want attention.

As for the smugly sanctimonious “woke” crowd engaging in their condescending “douche-splaining” and “cancel culture” about how the rest of us are all barbaric violators of all that is just and good and should be outlawed or at least shamed into obsolescence while they are of course above it all and goody-goody-two-shoes-morally-and-ethically perfect, let’s dust off this classic retort from our favorite absurdly sanctimonious do-gooder of old about YOU, woke person:

I don’t use Twitter and I could care less about joining in on a group-piling-on jack-off fest with faux outrage or laughably ridiculous sanctimony, so, really, just fuck off, people. Like any of you silly fuckwits are really above anyone or anything. Newsflash. You’re not. Hell, I know I’m not, but I would never declare otherwise, especially to make some gas-baggy, hyperventilating rhetorical point.

Pay no mind to the fact I no longer care to learn every silly, nuanced self-described “personal” attribute” or gender identity by which the wokies call themselves. I don’t know what “genderqueer” or any of these other new-fangled identity monikers mean, and frankly I don’t care. I am far from being a homophobe or transphobe as much as I am far from being a sexist, or racist, or even a bully. I don’t feel this way out of hate; I feel it out of sheer indifference to your neurotic self-delusions about who you are, moreover how much you hysterically want ME to care. I don’t. Sorry. But I don’t hate you for this. I_JUST_DON’T_CARE.

Look, you can identify yourself any way you wish, and call yourself whatever your heart desires, but I truly don’t give a fuck about you enough to give two shits what you think you are or what you call yourself, or even how you construct your identity. My inability to keep pace with fashionable terms—and that is what a lot of this “gender identity” hoopla is about, really—doesn’t make me a fiend, a hater, or a bully. I’m just too fucking old and tired to care. I need to know your pronoun? Why? Can’t I just call you by your name? Or some neutral pronoun like you, it, or that? That seems easier than learning all the fashionable names you’ve invented and for which I cannot keep up merely because I am seriously uncool and totally lazy on this subject of self identity. But I’m certainly not a hater. You have a cock but identify as a girl? Cool. Go for it, Sparky. You are a guy who sucks dick? Fantastic, and more power to you! You’re black! Great. Christian? Awesome. Ginormous right-wing, climate-change-denying pro-Trump fuckwit? Yay! Get it? Be whatever you want to be. But whatever that is, do I REALLY have to give a shit?—or just merely respect your right to be that…whatever.

As a liberal thinker since I as a young child, I have always championed the cause of civil rights and liberties for all American citizens, and, when possible, world citizens. I don’t care who you worship, who you fuck, or what your race is, if you’re a biological or self-imagined gender of some sort about which I have no idea because it’s all getting confusing and changes with the wind; what I care about is that we all have the right to be whatever we want without the government or majority or anyone else fucking with our rights to exist in the manner we choose. You’re gay, a person of color, transsexual, vegan, genderqueer, or you worship Jesus or Allah or the fucking devil, whatever, I will gladly defend your right to be whatever you think you are or want to call yourself, even if I am largely indifferent to whatever you are or call yourself. I don’t have to fully agree with your life choices, personal identity, beliefs, or biological being to defend your civil rights in a free democratic republic where all citizens are equal. I do it simply because, as a human being, I want to be treated as I would treat others. And I would hope others think the same. I certainly don’t care if you understand what I think or who I am. Just respect my rights as I respect yours.

Don’t berate me because I don’t fanatically agree with your identity, beliefs, or life choices. I don’t have to, and, frankly, fuck off if you think otherwise. I certainly don’t care what you think about me. I’m a white, straight, left-liberal, atheist, free thinker, non-breeder, and libertine. So what? Those qualities are only important to me. Just respect my right to be who I want to be, because I deeply respect yours regardless if I think you’re a silly fuckwit or a decent person. I don’t know what it is to be “woke,” but I do understand the idea of intellectual enlightenment, where logic, reason, and continual self-education are the massive keys to open the doors closed by stupidity, intellectual myopia, superstition, fanaticism, and prejudice. Have an open mind and allow all ideas to be expressed freely, whether they agree with yours or repulse the fuck out of you. Have the courage to stand up for your convictions, but be careful to the extremes with which you hold your beliefs or expect others to agree with you. If not you will be sorely—monumentally so—disappointed, or worse, you’ll resort to intimidation and violence in your frustration.

I don’t think I am better than anyone any more than I think I am particularly smarter than anyone. But I am reasonable. Logical. Skeptical. Doubtful. Mostly I’m wary of fanatics and fanatical thinking. Excessive self-righteousness to me is a dangerous way of thinking. No, more to the point, it’s a poisonous intellectual position. Tragic. Destructive. Counterproductive.

In the past fanaticism led to genocide all over the world. And to what end? All those poor innocent people slaughtered by fanatics who thought they were more “woke” and supporting the most moral, ethical, right, and just cause. Catholic Inquisitors. Protestant “reformers.” Nazis. Soviet Commissars. Chinese Cultural Revolutionaries. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The KKK. Pro-Life activists who murdered abortion providers. And so forth. Alas, they were not enlightened or even remotely just or right, they were just assholes who used fanatical groupthink, intimidation, and extreme violence to “convince” others of the sanctity of their insane beliefs. Fuck that.

So, please, give me a break, all your wokies, religious fanatics, and hysterical, hyperventilating screamers. I am sure you are not only far from perfect in your sanctimony, you’re probably a bit of a neurotic, ill-informed, and illogical douchebag to boot. Get out of my face. Tone down the shouting and try to calm yourself of your hysteria, real or fake. Please. It serves no substantive purpose other than to call attention onto you, idiot, loudmouth, and asshole that you are. Fuck off.

The Doobies Summer 1975

On May 15, 1975 my crazy Mom uprooted my family from our home in Rock Island, Illinois and moved us to Makakilo, Oahu, Hawaii. Her husband and our Dad, Mike Scheck, had died of cancer a year and half prior to our move, and Mom felt we needed a new life to get us all out of our extreme grief.

I was the Scheck child in the deepest throes of depression and grief. I was the youngest and hardest hit by Dad’s long illness and death; before he died I was a vivacious and athletic Tom Sawyer kind of kid who’d fallen into such abject despair that I grew fat and nearly comatose as I stumbled through life miserably. Worse was that I started wetting the bed nearly every night because my nightmares were so horrific. Much worse was I’d become almost obsessively suicidal, but luckily they were just thoughts upon which I’d not acted yet. I rejected god and religion, and most of my childhood friends were perplexed and frankly repulsed by what I’d become, fat and weird and depressive, though none would say anything because they at least understood my grief. Mostly they tried to help me, but I was in a deep, dark hole. I think there’s no doubt my Mom moved us to Hawaii to save me.

Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is catapulted by a tornado out of the dull, dark, black-and-white Kansas and steps into the technicolor brilliance of Oz? That’s how it felt when our United Airlines 747 jet landed in Honolulu and we first walked out of the airport and drove to our new home in my brother Mike’s Mercury convertible. It was, literally, paradise on Earth, at least to my depressed, pathetic, tubby, twelve-year-old self.

Hawaii is so incredibly beautiful when you first experience it through your senses, the sight of the lovely, lush, hyper-green mountain ranges on both sides, and in the middle the most beautiful flora and fauna you could ever imagine, all surrounded by the aqua-blue Pacific Ocean, moreover your sense of smell is literally assaulted by the gorgeous scents of the fresh plants and flowers and fruit trees and salty-sweet ocean breeze; the feeling you get is so magnificently exhilarating that you feel like you’ve died and gone to the very best version of heaven you could ever imagine. I spent my first hour in Hawaii hyperventilating with utter joy as we drove to our new home. This ain’t Kansas, Dorothy. It was 180 degrees different than the Rust Belt shithole we left behind in Rock Island, Illinois, and all the tragic memories that hung over it like a foul, tepid swamp mist.

I was saved already. That first hour in Hawaii awoke me from a dark nightmare that had lasted about 18 months and nearly destroyed me. It was like a shot of adrenalin to overdosed junkies near death that causes them to almost leap up from their deathbed. I was vividly awake with a gigantic gasp of air. Arise, you fat, depressed little bed-wetting Lazarus! You’re alive!

Our house was located on the southern foothills of the Waianae Mountain range on the western side of Oahu that overlooked Barber’s Point to the southwest and Honolulu and its ubiquitous and massive former volcano Diamond Head far (about 25 miles) to the east. Our house was about 1000 feet above the ocean and about two miles from it, and was situated on a steep hillside, with a gigantic back porch called a lanai that was on stilts about 15 feet above our back yard, with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean that still makes me smile some 45 years later when I think about it. There were days when we could see schools of whales in the ocean below with the telescope mounted on our rail. There was a huge mango tree in our back yard that yielded fresh, delicious fruit every few months and smelled divine. I could sit on our lanai for hours and never feel bored or sensory deprived.

My brother Mike was in the Navy and stationed at Barber’s Point Naval Air Station, and he and his Navy buddies were renting the house when my Mom visited him just after the previous Christmas. Now that they were all getting out of the Navy and leaving, the house was ours to live in, so Mom moved there and rented it for us. Mike left a few weeks after we arrived to make a motorcycle trek across America with his best Navy buddy Nick, which took the whole summer. He left behind all of his furniture and possessions, especially his massive stereo system he’d bought when he was stationed in Okinawa, with a powerful amp, turntable, reel-to-reel tape deck, and quadrophonic speaker array that created the most perfect audio experience possible. Dude, it was the shit, Moreover, he and his Navy buddies left behind all their albums, acts like T. Rex, The Allman Brothers Band, Doobie Brothers, Yes, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Alice Cooper, Little Feat, Rolling Stones, et al. It was a treasure trove of great music from that era.

They’d also, and probably not on purpose, hidden their pot stashes all over the house like a stoner’s Easter egg hunt. I literally found joints and buds hidden in every nook and cranny of the house. I was only 12 and had never smoked anything before except an occasional cigarette I stole from my Mom. All I needed was the chance to try it for the first time.

One day I stayed home alone while Mom and my sisters were out shopping and my brother John had left to play tennis. In this “Home Alone” experience I cranked the Doobie Brothers album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits on our stereo, opened all the windows in the house, and sat on our lanai to smoke my first joint with my neighbor and best friend, Danny Cunningham, who had a Hawaiian mother and a white, retired Army Master Sergeant father. Danny too had never tried pot, so this was going to be an amazing experience for us both.

So, wow, how cool was it that my first pot high was in Hawaii, with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean, coupled with the most amazing aromas a human being could ever smell, and with a really cool record playing on the stereo! The pot was pretty potent shit and in no time Danny and I were blazed out of our minds, dancing around the lanai like idiots, laughing like crazy and feeling weirdly, magnificently, and spiritually awesome. Bliss to the max. The rest of the day we sat at Danny’s house listening to Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album while we polished off two more joints.

I wish I could have bottled those intense feelings and drank them whenever I felt low the rest of my life. It was as if those last two years of nightmares, grief, anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies I felt pretty much all the time were lifted and exorcized like I had been possessed by a demon and I was now free. It would take me years to be whole again, but the momentum was finally shifting; after this day I not once had suicidal thoughts or wet the bed ever again, and I was moving in the right direction to the light away from the darkness.

No shit. It literally saved my life: Hawaii. The pot. The amazing music. Look at the healed me a year later, smiling, happy, sane (and probably high!). That which does not kill me makes me stronger. Goddamn right.

Thank you, Hawaii, marijuana, and The Doobie Brothers.

1999 in 1983

I arrived at Fort Sam Houston, located in near-northeast San Antonio, Texas, on a Friday evening on January 21, 1983 after being stuck in a crippling ice storm that grounded my flight from St. Louis for three days. I was on my way from Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky to my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Sam’s US Army Academy of Health Sciences, where I was to embark upon a rigorous, 4-month, 6-day-a week schedule of Chemistry, Microbiology, Hematology, Parasitology, Immunohematology, and all the other fun courses in the Basic Medical Laboratory school. My class was BML3-83.

So I arrive at my new unit’s HQ that Friday night to learn I’d arrived too late to enjoy the weekend pass that was given to the rest of my class that arrived that Wednesday when I too was supposed to arrive, but was delayed. I was confined to the barracks for the weekend because I wouldn’t get properly signed into the unit until that Monday, so I was basically a captive until then. The Sergeant on duty handed me two wool blankets, a pillow, and bedding, then escorted me to my new room, where he handed me my new meal card and gave me a quick but very demanding set of rules for what I could and couldn’t do. I couldn’t leave the barracks compound and especially not the post. I could go to the mess hall, gym, and Post Exchange (PX). That was it. Nice.

Luckily at the St. Louis airport I’d purchased Prince’s new album 1999 on cassette, so I loaded it into my Walkman and headed downstairs to my barracks day room, where there were a couple of TVs, a few pool tables, and some food machines. Sitting in one of the TV lounges was a tall, lithe, utterly gorgeous blonde girl wearing only PT clothes (Army logoed T-shirt and shorts) and flip-flops; since I’d just come from Basic and hadn’t seen a hot girl in ages, I naturally walked over to her and introduced myself. Boldly desperate would be the best description of me at that moment.

She too had arrived late as she was a Reservist from Maine who finished Basic in December and went home on leave for a few weeks before AIT, and, like me, her flight was delayed, although for other reasons than mine, so alas she too was confined to the barracks for the weekend. She had taken a year off from the University of Maine after her sophomore year to join the Army Reserves for the college money, went to Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and here she was at Fort Sam for BML. Late, like me.

She was tall, beautiful, fit, and smart. My kind of girl.

Right away, as if to ward me off, she declared she was engaged to the love of her life, which I duly noted but ignored, as I sensed immediately that this declaration of monogamous intent in her life was a weak attempt at repulsing her own urges, not mine, and of course within thirty minutes of meeting we were in her room making out like maniacs, our clothes coming off with frenetic naughtiness, with my cassette of Prince’s 1999 blasting on her little boombox. Music that, as we all learned while listening to it, was the sonic representation of sex. Perfect for this moment.

It was, I should say, a wildly erotic and fun weekend, the two of us all alone in that huge barracks for those three nights and two full days, taking breaks only to go to the mess hall for food and the PX for beer. We played the fuck out of 1999 as we screwed like a couple of rabid dogs. It should be noted we also played my recently-purchased cassettes of The Psych Furs, The Cure, The Time, Ray Parker, Jr. and Raydio, Depeche Mode, and Stray Cats, but mostly our fuckfest of a weekend was serenaded by Prince. Dance Music Sex Romance, all right.

That Monday, after we had our first formation with our classmates who were all back from a wild weekend pass that they bragged about to us relentlessly, she informed me she really loved her fiancé, although, yes, for sure, she had a great weekend and I was a great guy, and hot, but that was it, we wouldn’t be repeating our weekend’s carnal adventures. And we didn’t.

We remained close friends all through our training, and, oh, man did she make fun of and mock the endless line of insane and slutty girls I caroused with those four months as I experimented with my newly-found confidence with women for the first time in my life. When we parted at the San Antonio airport four months later, as our flights left about the same time, she heading back to Maine and her life there while I was off to Fort Benning for my first duty station as a Regular Army Medic, we kissed for about ten minutes. A great kiss, the best of my life if I may be honest. “I love you, you psychotic, wonderful asshole” she confessed quietly, with tears flowing. I just nodded in agreement, too chickenshit to be as brave as she was at that moment. But, hell yes, I fucking loved her. We realized with that amazing kiss that we probably should have been a couple, but such is life. Choices had been made. Paths were set to follow. Neither included each other.

She married that fiancé a year later as she told me in a letter while I was at Fort Benning, which was the last I ever heard from her. And that was that.

I stalked her on Facebook about 2009 and she looked as amazing as she did back in the day. She was still married to the same guy and had three kids and two grandkids. She’d led a beautiful life and was still gorgeous and cool. My life path had gone well too. We were just not meant to be a couple. But that kiss in 1983 at the San Antonio Airport, holy fuck, it spoke of an alternate universe where I am sure we’re still in love and playing 1999 every night as we frolic in bed like we did that incredible weekend.

Thank you, Prince, you super-cool, nasty, sexy motherfucker.

Una noche de fútbol en Valencia

Watching Valencia FC versus Chelsea FC, 11-27-2019, at Bar Canada in Valencia, Spain

My best mates in Valencia and I gathered at Bar Canada on Avingnuda Regne de Valencia in the Russafa neighborhood to watch Valencia CF play Chelsea FC in a Champions League fixture. On hand in the green shirt was my very good English mate Clive, who, like me, is a diehard Arsenal FC fan and avowed hater of all things Chelsea, and, as you can see, my brother John attended, sporting his Valencia CF shirt, and next to John in the black sweater and blue shirt is his best mate in Valencia, the Belgian ex-pat Lodewijk. The other two chaps were friends of friends who are now my friends after a fantastic night watching a brilliant match, which ended in a 2-2 draw. Many adult beverages were consumed and we all went home happy.

Watching Valencia FC versus Chelsea FC, 11-27-2019, at Bar Canada in Valencia, Spain

Missing was our good English mate Chris, originally from Newcastle—who is now, like John, Clive, and Lodewijk, a permanent resident of Valencia—and the owner of Bike Alao; Chris was off to Girona visiting his father, though we texted him constantly with photos and commentary. Also on hand was London native Jonathan (standing behind me in pic #2), another fanatical Arsenal hooligan like Clive and me, who works for Chris’s Bike Alao shop in Grau. It was one of the best futbol matches of the year and about as exciting as European soccer can be, full of dramatic goals and wildly exciting attacks by both clubs. I only have a few days left in Valencia before I head home, but I am so glad to have made so many epic memories on this current trip. I’ll miss my good friends here until my next trip on 2020. This time I stayed 46 days after staying 40 back in February and March, and hopefully next time I can stay much longer. It is slowly becoming my second home.