Saturday, June 30, 2012

Penny for Your Thoughts.

Penny Palfrey, a 49 year-old Australian grandmother of two, stepped into the water and set off from Havana, Cuba on Friday in an effort to swim 103 miles to Miami. She is doing it without snorkel, flippers or wet suit. Oh by the way, she is also swimming without a shark cage, even though much of the trip is through heavily shark-infested waters.

Chief Justice John Roberts also swam through shark-infested waters this week, by being the deciding opinion in the history making decision that kept the Affordable Care Act pretty much intact and gave The President a decisive win against the do-nothing Republican House, maniac Tea Party loons, and the red state reactionaries. In what was clearly a reasonable, well thought out opinion, Chief Justice Roberts essentially told the Veruca Salts of the Right that, like the character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you don’t always get what you want by simply demanding “I want it NOW!” in  the petulant tone of a spoiled baby.

Of course, Veruca Palin, Veruca Cantor, Veruca Limbaugh and the rest of the flock stomped their feet and threatened to hold their breath until they turned blue. They branded Chief Justice Roberts a traitor and immediately vowed to begin an effort to repeal the law that the Supreme Court deemed Constitutional. Forget the fact that it passed both Houses of Congress and was signed by the President; the Verucas wanted it their way and thought that Roberts was the just the guy to give it to them.

Meanwhile, Penny Palfrey swims her way to Miami, “excited and a little nervous”, as she moves toward her goal one stroke at a time. She estimates the trip should take anywhere between 40 to 60 hours. She is swimming in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby, so calm seas are not guaranteed

President Obama knows a little about stormy seas too. When a good portion of his own party backed away from the healthcare plan because they were afraid of the political fallout if The Supreme Court had ruled against it, the President stood firm and risked it all, because, as he says, “it’s the right thing to do”. Both Roberts and the President put country first this time, while the Verucas called them traitors, socialists, incompetents and Lord knows what else.

The President, like Penny Palfrey, sees his journey as a series of strokes, each one leading toward a goal. He fought the Right on bailing out the auto industry and won. Now it is well on its way to being healthy again. He fought for TARP, and staved off another Great Depression. He promised to get Bin Laden and he did. Unemployment is coming down, albeit slowly. He introduced a number of programs to help those who are underwater in their mortgages get back on their feet, and it seems to be working. And has pushed relentlessly for a bill to begin rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure; one stroke at a time.

Unlike the President however, Penny Palfrey is not alone out there. She has a crew of 15, who protect her from sharks, provide medical assistance and keep her hydrated and nourished. With all this help, she must be a socialist, no? No one who works with her is asking her political affiliation. Instead, they are working as a team for the greater good of the mission. The Verucas, on the other hand, would be sitting in their ivory towers after having dumped her into the ocean to fend for herself and rowed back to the country club just in time for cocktail hour. But if by some miracle she survived, they’d have been the first to greet her at the shore, touted the indomitable human spirit to the cameras, and claimed that this great feat could never happen in an Obama Presidency.

Yesterday, while Penny put one stroke in front of the other, President Obama made his way to Colorado to inspect damage done by the wildfires out there. He didn’t fly over it in a helicopter the way George Bush did when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. He walked among the ruins. He didn’t ask whether or not they were Republicans or Democrats, he just declared the entire area a disaster zone and promised Federal aid.

Now the Verucas would (and did) say that it was a purely political move, and maybe there’s some truth to that. But aside from George Bush, I cannot remember a president in my lifetime who didn’t visit the site of a natural disaster. These visits demonstrate leadership and unity. They are designed to let all of America know that we are one people who work for the greater good; one stroke at a time. I guess the Verucas would have just let the whole state burn up though, because to offer assistance that came from tax monies might be deemed socialist. But President Obama did what presidents are supposed to do, which is to lead by example.

The Verucas, Palin, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Beck, Cantor, McConnell, et al, have one goal; to continue to foment discontent in America. That is how they make their millions. They need you to be riled up to insure that they have a means to continue to make the very substantial living they do. It sells books and coffee mugs. Your anger brings them huge speaking fees. They are the 1% and don’t give a rat’s ass whether you have health insurance or not. And they do it one stroke at a time. 

“Each swim comes with its own challenges; this is a really big challenge”, says Penny Palfrey. So too does each generation, I think. But it takes a visionary and not a Veruca to understand the challenge and rise to the occasion.

The Verucas want the United States to return to a white-dominated male society. Oh sure, they talk about freedom and democracy for all, but trust me when I say that all of that seems to go out the window when it gets to the backyards of the elite. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the color of America is changing. And all the lashing out at President Obama is merely a reaction to giving up two hundred and thirty six years of Veruca rule. They want their power back, and they want it now. True freedom and democracy may be slow to evolve, but eventually it does; one stroke at a time.

So they can demonize Chief Justice Roberts for upholding the Constitution. They find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in Congress, stalemate and block any attempts at real change in America. They can question and re-question the birthplace of our President.  They can bad mouth, tear at, backbite, bluster and filibuster all they want, but they can’t change what’s happening here. It’s changing; one stroke at a time.

For those who want to opt out and follow the libertarian way, please, by all means go right ahead. Think of all the money the rest of us will save when the small government folks stop using Federal money for disaster relief, roads, armed forces, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Education, Environment, and any other services they currently take advantage of. Why, the deficit will be gone in no time!  

I haven’t mentioned Mitt Romney’s role in all of this. I want to thank him for two reasons-- First, for giving President Obama the role model for the Affordable Care Act. Without his tireless efforts, the idea of the individual mandate might never have made it to the Supreme Court. Second, I want to thank him for having offered absolutely no plans to deal with the issues that President Obama has so ably demonstrated he is capable of dealing with over the last three years. It should be an interesting debate this fall to hear exactly what he believes, although that may change three or four times before then.  

Finally, I hope that Penny Palfrey makes it to Miami safe and sound. She is a courageous person and a true role model for women and men everywhere because she believes that large, seemingly impossible goals can be achieved with stepping into the water first and with unwavering tenacity and courage, arrives at the place she’s imagined.

For the Verucas in total, I wish I could say the same for you. And for Veruca Palin in particular, a while ago you asked America how that “hopey changey thing” was working out for us. All in all, I’d say, pretty damned good. And like Penny Palfrey and our President, we’re doing it one stroke at a time.

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pants on Fire!

I have come to the conclusion that I am a disgusting, dishonorable person. There I said it. But it doesn’t make me feel any better, because I know that the older I get, I will become more disgusting and dishonorable with each passing year. From this day forward, I should not be allowed near children, puppies, or clergy, lest I taint them with the stain of my disgustingness and dishonorableness.  

Why the self-flagellation? I’m almost ashamed to tell you but the lightning speed of my fingers across this keyboard, which far outweighs my will to stop and hide my shame, compel me to do so. It is as if Mother Conscience Herself is forcing a confession from me under the glaring million watt dangling light bulb of Her virtue. And rest assured; her light bulb is not one of those squiggly, new congressionally-mandated light bulbs which were designed to resemble the light provided in the dingy, freezing, prison cell of a Russian gulag hellhole. Nay, gentle reader; Hers is the light of truth and morality, of penance and punishment, of guilt and self-abhorrence. Hers is the power of conscience, which right now gnaws away at my immoral soul like a thirty-two pound New York City subway rat chomping down on the remains of a dirty water hot dog which has been discarded on the tracks by some faceless, corpulent Wall Street heathen. 

What is my crime you ask? Murder? Robbery? Stealing extra Splenda packets from the convenience store coffee station? No, my action against humanity and morality is much more heinous than those insalubrious deeds. Mine was the sort of infraction for which Sister Jane Aloysius, my sixth grade nun from St. John the Baptist School in Fairview, New Jersey would have beaten the skin off my knuckles with her crucifix-studded ruler and then locked me in the boiler room until I had repented.

I lied....about my age... by three years. Oh dear God, Jesus, sweet Jesus and baby Jesus...all the Jesus’s rolled up into one big Jesus...I didn’t mean to do it, I have no idea why I did it, and yet I did do it.

And it felt goooooood.

I should have prefaced this piece by saying that I am a recovering liar. As a child, I often had to lie to my psychotic mother to keep her from physically beating me senseless. It didn’t work all of the time, but I attribute that to the learning curve in trying to become an expert liar.

“Ma, the reason I didn’t scrub the bathroom floor today was because I was playing Johnny on the Pony over on the grassy knoll in Dallas and the Secret Service questioned me all day.”

As you can surmise, living in Jersey and being eleven years old, it was difficult to convince my mother that Mr. Zapruder was, a) the father of my friend Billy Zapruder, and b) Billy’s father had his own private jet and that’s how I got home in time for dinner. That one was good for an intimate conversation with the metal vacuum pipe.

But I got better at lying over time. By twelve, I could lie convincingly enough to skip most of the 7th grade by convincing Sister Agnes that I had whooping cough. This allowed me to stay home and watch hour after hour of sitcom reruns such the Dick Van Dyke Show, and of course my beloved Andy Griffith Show. I became such an adept liar, that I eventually convinced myself that Andy was my father, and that he couldn’t live with me because he was a big TV star and had to live in Hollywood. Of course I never said it aloud for fear of derision by my friends, and so I stuck to the story that I used whenever I had to decline the father and child communion breakfasts; my father was a truck driver who was at that very moment hauling meat across the mid-west toward New York. As time wore on the story grew until eventually, my friends nearly believed that dear ole Dad was the only conduit between fresh hamburger on the table and night after miserable night of Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.  

Like any drug, lying is addictive. In my high school years I lied about a myriad of things, smoking in the bathroom, cheating on a test, throwing the cherry bomb in the toilet, etc. In adulthood, I naturally gravitated to sales jobs, which allowed me to lie with abandon! And while it felt good at the time to close the deal on the best danged little photocopier in the industry (a true piece of shit by the way), I always felt remorse afterward.

When my children came along later in life, I vowed that I would, if possible, quit lying altogether. What kind of example would I be setting for them if I couldn’t tell them the truth? And while I will admit that it was difficult at first to tell a five year old that their drawing absolutely lacked any life or character (it was a hand-turkey), I felt that I was doing the right thing and that eventually, my tactful side would develop enough over time to minimize the psychological damage to them. I was dreadfully wrong on that one, by the way.

But this latest lie bothered me, mostly because it didn’t really bother me. I did it when someone requested my age for a PR promo, and it just sort of fell out onto the paper. I think more than anything, the fact that it was so easy to do and get away with opened up a can of worms in my head. Right away I began to wonder if this was the start of a pattern and perhaps it was time to call Nicole, my supersonic therapist, who could help me ward off the stampede of hyperbolic falsehoods I was sure were waiting in the wings.

As it turns out, a recent article in the Saturday Wall Street Journal by Dan Ariele (Why we Lie, May 26, 2012) showed me the light! Professor Dan (of Duke University, no less) says that EVERYONE LIES AND CHEATS at some point in their lives! EVERYONE!!!!

Wow. It does my heart good to know that I am not the only one who struggles with this. I will sleep better tonight knowing that there are lying bastards all over the place! Politicians (no surprise), religious leaders, doctors, teachers, drug dealers, spouses (both ex and present) and an unlimited list of others all lie through their teeth once in a while.  According to Professor Dan, we do it for many reasons; some include protecting ourselves, to profit, and to justify conflicts of interest.

So you have wonder then, what keeps us all from robbing each other blind and becoming a nation of Madoffs? Well according to Professor Dan’s studies it seems that things like honor pledges, moral reminders such as the Ten Commandments, and even signature placement on forms are enough to keep most of us in check.

Now you would think that the big, fat, liars in this country, the ones who walk away with billions as a result of their fallacies are the ones that are doing the most harm, wouldn’t you? But Professor Dan points out that it’s the cumulative effect of the little lies-cheating on taxes, lying on insurance claims, etc, that really add up to the big bucks. But how do you know how much cumulative harm say, lying about one’s age, does to society?

As an isolated instance, the little white lie probably doesn’t cause a lot of fibers to unravel from the national fabric of character. But like monetary bilking, the cumulative effect can be catastrophic, especially in hard times like these. And while I hate to sound like a droning harpy, the most damage being done is being done by politicians who for the sake of their own re-elections, will lie repeatedly. What they fail to realize is that year after year of lies and unmeant and un-kept promises causes a breakdown in trust in the system, in each other and in the ideal of America.

There’s a lot of hate in the country these days, most of which is the result of lies in the press and in Washington. And I’d like to suggest that it might be oh so refreshing for all to be unbiased, fair and balanced, and filled with the sense that working for the greater good enhances all of us. Imagine if a politician actually told the truth for a change? Wouldn’t you find it a lot easier to have faith in your government?

All of this starts at home, of course. So I vow that in the future, I will swallow my pride and declare my true age whenever asked. And in that same sense, I think that I probably won’t have to meet with Nicole, the supersonic therapist because I don’t see this one breach of trust as being the beginning of a life of crime.

The final hurdle in our quest for honest is of course, just who do we believe? How do we know who is lying to us?

The short answer is you don’t. The hard solution is how and who do we trust now that we’re armed with the knowledge that there is larceny in everyone? Well, all I can say
to that is that trust is built upon the actions we observe in people and the interactions we have with them. Once in a while, everyone will disappoint us, including ourselves. So I might suggest that since we are all imperfect people, learning to forgive the occasional lie and putting it out of our hearts might be a best practice for us. This way, the next time your best friend, spouse, co-worker or child betrays your trust, all you have to do is look in the mirror, smile and say, “Who am I to judge? I’m a lying bastard too!” Forgive yourself, and understand that you are not disgusting or're just normal.


That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat! Abbondanza!  


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Milestone or Millstone?

At precisely 12:01 am on June 1, the chronological odometer on the tiny space in time that’s been allotted to me rolled over into what society considers ‘milestone’ territory. Today marks the date of my birth, and I have been officially handed over to that group of wizened, older, people whose job it is to train me in the fine art of pissing off anyone younger than me.

I have already received my official 1,035 page Old Person Training Manual, which to be honest, would only be about 32 pages if not for the extremely large print. It’s beautifully bound, with my name embossed in gold, and has a picture of the drop-dead sexy actor Wilford Brimley on the cover. The book is chock-full of great information which I’ve already begun to implement into my daily regimen. And though I run the great risk of being drummed out of my new gang, I’d like to share some of our trade secrets.

Rule #1- Younger people will rarely punch you in the face no matter what you say to them.

This is an important rule because for many years I have harbored a secret jealousy over this power. Old people use the Law of Presumed Insanity to get away with almost anything.

For example, let’s say you’re in the supermarket and some little snot-nosed punk bumps into you. He says “excuse me” in the proper, polite way. Now prior to becoming an official old person, I would have cheerfully said, “Oh, no problem”, and went about my merry way. But now, being fully and duly authorized to use the Law of Presumed Insanity, I can turn to this kid and say, “HEY! What the hell is wrong with you? I’m walking here, okay? Didn’t your mother teach you any respect for the elderly?”

Pretty cool huh? In the old days (yesterday), such a statement would have gotten me nearly beaten to death with a frozen Cornish game hen. But now, the kid just keeps on going, while muttering something about how miserable old people are!

Rule #2- Pull out of an intersection at full throttle and barely miss getting T-boned by an oncoming vehicle. Then slow down to 3.2 mph.

This is a great one! On a good day with the wind in your favor, you can actually hear the person behind you demanding that God revoke your driver’s license and hear the rounds being loaded into his semi-automatic as he plots his revenge. You can actually learn to read lips and some creative swearing by looking into your rear-view mirror at him.

Rule #3- Carry a change purse and pay for EVERYTHING with change.

I don’t care if you are buying a car! Pay for it with change, and if you are feeling particularly daring, try convincing the clerk at the Home Depot that postage stamps can be used as currency! NOTE: The goal here is to see how long a line you can create and to make them open at least one additional register. Try it, it’s a hoot!

I can’t really share any more than these, but trust me, there are some doozies!

But getting old isn’t all fun and games folks. Hitting a milestone like this can get you down or it can lift you up. It all depends on how you look at it.    

The major issue I have with all of this is that my brain doesn’t know how old my body is. If you took a tour inside my head, you’d find a being that wants to go ride her bike with the other kids after school, play softball in a league, move to New England and open a coffee shop, get back to flying planes, and perhaps be the first woman something or other. And while I know that reality lives in there somewhere, the older I get, the less I want to deal with it, because there’s a part of me that feels like I can still do anything; until I try to do something. Then, when my body rejects the idea of taking up jogging or javelin throwing because it is unable to any longer, I understand the anger and frustration of old people. I understand that their passive aggressiveness isn’t an act of meanness, but a response to the injustice of getting old. So it’s not like I resent getting old, I just wish my brain understood it a little better.

And of course, the idea of being closer to the Grim Reaper’s mini pickup bus doesn’t exactly thrill me either.  Within the last month or so, I have seen at least four comedians pass away, some of whom were friends and all of whom were members of my new club. I’m not afraid of going, mind you; I just have too much to do yet before I get on the bus.

I’ve said before that being a stand up comedian teaches you everything you need to know about life, including when to get off the stage. As I move into this first decade of my sunset years, there are a couple of things I know for sure. And just like I shared the secrets of the Eldherhood of the Traveling Adult Diapers, I’d like to point out some of the things I believe about life.

#1- Life isn’t about quantity, but quality.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t give a rat’s ass about making it to Willard Scott’s friggin 100 year old list, if I can’t do at least 74.9% of what I can do now. For whatever time I have left here, I want to make some noise, scream and dance, make people laugh and go out on my terms. Because if I have to wind up in some nursing home having imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt, I’d rather jump into the bathtub with the clock radio and end it now.

#2- Money is cool, but love and friends are way better.

Last Tuesday, my friend Nick, along with several other people who I love dearly got together and gave me a surprise birthday party. It was the first birthday party I’ve ever had and I will carry the memory of it with me to the end.

If you’ve never had a surprise party given in your honor, it is a surreal experience. You are led into the room expecting one thing and suddenly, you are faced with people who have played both major and minor parts of your life. One by one, you spot new faces, and it takes a second or two for their presence to remind you of where they fit. And in a blink of an eye, the whole of your life is presented to you. You understand that life is not a day by day experience but merely pages in an entire book. And although each page can make you laugh or cry, love and hate, be grateful or be vengeful, it is the book which has the true meaning. 

There were about eighteen people there at my surprise party, most of them comics. As you might expect, the lines were flying around the room like lightning bolts.

While all the laughing and playing was going on, at one point, I just stood back and looked at these wonderful, creative people who had chosen to be there. Some were relatively new in my life, and others I have known for nearly thirty years. Scanning the table, I had little vignettes in my head of some moment I had shared with them as my eyes rested upon each one. Most were happy times, with a few moments of sadness. With others, there had been long gaps in our friendship over this thing or that. Some I had lost contact with just because of geography and changes in our lives, which caused us to have less contact than we had in other times. But the book, the sum total of it all, filled me with joy because in that one instant I thought, gee, maybe I didn’t waste my time here.

I very rarely share my fear of wasting time with anyone, so I want you to know how difficult it is for me to write this on something as public as this blog. But I promised you my truth in the beginning, and so here it is. My single biggest fear in life is that I will have wasted it on trivial things, like regret and revenge, fear of trying and trepidation over monsters under the bed, and of course, the wasting of time itself. Looking around that room, I understood, maybe for the first time, that our time here is one thing, one finished product, one edifice. Our days here are just the bricks in the wall and not the wall itself. I know now that while I have not always adhered to a proper appreciation of life and thus have weaknesses in my wall, I can remove those bricks and build a doorway where they once prevented entry. Passing through it, I can build the wall of my life from both sides with stronger bricks from the lessons I’ve learned.

I suppose that I ought to end this essay with some pearl of wisdom gained from a life lived, or some quote from someone more eloquent about these matters than I, but really, I got nuthin! There’s really no secret to life other than to live it with a child’s energy and innocence. There’s no shame in getting older because there’s always SOMETHING new to be done. There’s no shame in not being rich because you chose a different path than the one who focused on wealth. There’s no regret needed for mistakes made unless you didn’t learn from them. Finally, there is nothing worse than living a life that has not given love to all, even those that piss you off. Love keeps you young. Love gives you joy and hope. Loves allow you to take that last breath and say, “I’d do it all again, just like this.”

So, when the time comes to get off the stage, I’ll know. I’ll wrap it up with my big closing bit, and if I’ve written it correctly, go off with a big laugh. Or maybe I’ll do the hands bit and just piss everyone off.

That’s it, I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!