Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those be well-tried before you give them your confidence.
This advice won’t make someone a lot of friends, but at least it relieves them from the burden of trying to do so.
Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those be well-tried before you give them your confidence.
This advice won’t make someone a lot of friends, but at least it relieves them from the burden of trying to do so.
Philosophy and politics make lively conversation. But if you take them too seriously, they can snap a few wires in your brain. Such seems to be the case with John Samuelson.
Samuelson was born in Sweden in 1873. He lived an adventurous life at sea, according to his stories of being shanghaied, shipwrecked, and captured by an African tribe. In 1927 he immigrated to the United States, drifted inland, and staked out a homestead in the Mojave Desert.
On one part of his 160 acres was a low hill piled with granite boulders. Samuelson kept busy fetching water from a nearby spring, and building a modest house out of the plentiful rocks on his land. But his mind was on fire with philosophy and politics. So in his spare time he ventured to the low hill with the granite boulders, with chisel in hand. And there he memorialized his views by carving them into the rocks.
As lapidary as his views were, his command of the English language was limited. And so the epigraphs were mangled by spelling and grammatical errors. Nonetheless they’re decipherable enough to show that this Swede was a controversial thinker.
The epigraphs on Sam’s Rocks contain much that people might agree with or disagree with. But it doesn’t matter whether someone’s philosophies are agreeable or disagreeable. If they take them too seriously, they will go mad.
In 1928, John Samuelson officially filed on the homestead he had spent a year building and chiseling out. But his application was denied. An official discovered he had not obtained American citizenship, and the law forbade non-citizens from owning a homestead.
He left the Mojave Desert and all of his hard work, for Los Angeles. But he wasn’t forgotten. He had befriended the writer of Perry Mason fame, named Erle Stanley Gardner. And Gardner wrote about him in Argosy magazine, and in a book entitled, Neighborhood Frontiers. Gardner was fascinated with John Samuelson, because the old Swede was crazy and entertained him with fantastic yarns about his adventures at sea.
In 1929, at age 56, John Samuelson went to a dance and got into a fight. He shot two men, killing one of them. But he never stood trial, because he was quickly judged insane and sent to the bughouse. A year later he escaped, and the madman fled north to Washington State. He eventually landed a job in a logging camp. And in 1954, at age 81, he was killed in a logging accident. He must have been very physically fit, because not too many people work as loggers, at that age.
Samuelson is no more, but his legacy lives on in a dusty old book written by Erle Stanley Gardner. And also in Sam’s Rocks. Sam’s Rocks lie in an obscure location in the Mojave Desert. But not as obscure as pre-internet days. A little googling can help anyone find them.
There is a fear that if too many people learn of this spot, and it becomes popular, taggers and vandals might destroy this unique monument to a cerebral madman of the West.
So if you are the hiking type and want to visit them in person, do what I did. Investigate diligently. Be persistent, and you’ll eventually find them. And if you give it that much effort, I feel hopeful you will respect your find, and enjoy it harmlessly.
When we begin to take our failures non-seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves.
Katherine Mansfield, Author
And when we fail to laugh at ourselves, even that is laughable.
A few months ago I caught a cold while having heart surgery. Damned doctors, why don’t they cover their surgical masks when they sneeze? But I felt relieved that at least I didn’t catch the coronavirus.
And yet, I did. That’s because the common cold is actually a human coronavirus. It’s not the bat, pangolin, or lab-created monster virus that has been ravaging the world lately, but it is still technically classified as a coronavirus.
So we’ve all had the coronavirus, and most of us many times. I don’t know of anyone who’s never caught the common cold.
Years ago I read an interesting book entitled Ah-Choo! by Jennifer Ackerman. It was published in 2010, and a Kindle version is still available on Amazon. I recently came across a book review I wrote about it, for another blog. I had a cold at that time, so it was a rather snotty book review, as you can imagine. So keep a little distance from your computer, as I resurrect this review.
Ah-Choo is all about the common cold. It isn’t about how to cure it though, because there was no cure at the time the book was published, and sadly there still is no cure. I guess we’re too damned busy trying to cure that other coronavirus, to be working on this one.
But Ah-Choo contains many fun and informative facts about the common cold.
For instance, adults get 2 to 4 colds per year, and children up to 12 times a year. And the average person gets about 200 colds in their lifetime. This means that if the average cold lasts 14 days, we spend over 7 ½ years of our lives sniffling, wheezing, coughing, and feeling miserable.
But maybe it’s not that bad, because one of the mysteries of science is that one out of four people infected with the cold virus are asymptomatic. Sound familiar? Kind of reminds me of Covid-19. These asymptomatic infections cut the 7 ½ years of misery down to about 5 ½ years. But we spend the other two years spreading our colds around to others, without realizing that we, ourselves are infected.
All it takes is one little rhinovirus particle to infect us with the cold. The path of infection often comes from finger to nose or finger to eye. We tend to touch our face about 16 times per hour, so the cold virus has become well adapted to the nervous predilections of human beings. And if you suffer from rhinotillexomania (habitual nose picking), your chances of picking up the virus are greatly magnified.
Strangely, the cold virus doesn’t actually damage any cells of the body. Rather, it triggers the immune system to set off an inflammatory cascade. It goes into overdrive, and the misery we experience is from its attempt to rid our body of the virus. In other words, our body’s cure can be worse than the actual malady. Just like some Covid-19 restrictions. At least, in my opinion.
Nobody has ever cured the common cold, but lots of remedies have been tried. In ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder recommended kissing the hairy muzzle of a mouse. In colonial America the prescription was to soak your feet in cold water, and shove orange rinds up your nose. Nasal irrigation has been touted. And chlorine gas was once thought to do the bug in, at one time leading President Calvin Coolidge to sit in a chlorine gas chamber for a full hour, inhaling the deadly vapors. Any longer and he might have for sure lived up to his nickname of “Silent Cal.”
Antibiotics don’t work either, and can be dangerous to use when unnecessary. But codeine cough syrup has been shown to put snotty-nosed children to sleep. It’s not particularly good for them, and it doesn’t cure the cold, but it does keep those fucking brats from running around loose, dripping cold virus all over the carpet.
Beware of the many mountebanks that tout expensive cold medicines. Nostrums containing ingredients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, and Echinacea enjoy little scientific support. And be very skeptical about any remedy that claims to boost the immune system. Remember, cold symptoms are actually caused by the immune system already going overboard. The last thing anyone would want to do is give it a boost.
The treatment that seems to be recommended most by ethical medical experts is the use of single ingredient medications to treat individual symptoms. In other words, instead of taking a capsule that treats many symptoms at once, they say we should take something like an aspirin for a headache, and an antihistamine for a runny nose and sneezing.
The best, most effective cure for the common cold is time. This is because time is the only cure. So save money and avoid buying expensive snake-oil remedies. Follow the science when it says to take individual medications to treat individual symptoms. And call in to work. Relax at home and read the 245 pages of Ah-Choo!
But if your boss discourages calling in, then by all means, go to work. And stand very close to your boss when you sneeze. Perhaps this will encourage a change in policy.
Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I know a few people like that.
When we met and fell in love, I had no idea how much my wife had been sought after. But not by Don Juans bearing roses in clenched teeth. No, the people who had stalked her, and who had clamored for a few minutes of her time, were the lovelorn, the desperate, and the distraught.
After we’d been together for awhile, Kay revealed to me that at one time she had worked as a psychic. Not only that, but she’d had such a reputation for accuracy, people would flock to her from miles around to pay for a reading.
I wished I could say that I knew that, but I couldn’t. I’d never been psychic.
She charged $20 for individual readings, and $25 for group readings, and this was back in the 1970s, when the minimum wage was around two bucks an hour. So she made some decent money on the side, exploiting her psychic powers for profit.
But Kay says the work was mentally draining. She’d have to spend the day before a reading, in a meditative state. Visions, and other revelations would come to her at this time, but the deep meditation required for this would leave her feeling exhausted.
But did she really have psychic powers? I’m a skeptic and told her so, right from the start. To my surprise, she said she felt relieved. Now I wouldn’t be hounding her to read my fortune, and to tell me all the terrible things that might be in store for me.
Bushwa! I thought. But then again, who knows? Since I believe nobody can read minds, how am I supposed to get into her mind and know that she can, or cannot, read minds?
Another reason she felt relieved is because she claimed she had turned her preternatural powers off. Kay says that you can get in a mental place where your powers become stronger. But you can also let go of your powers and they will become weaker. One day, Kay decided to allow her powers to weaken and fade away. These days, she says it’s very rare for something psychic to occur to her.
She claims she was born with these powers. When she was a small child, she claims to have had the premonition that her brother would die young. But she kept it a secret, because she didn’t want her mother getting upset. Sure enough, when her brother was 33 years old, he was killed by a drunk driver while jogging by the side of a highway.
In fact, the day she decided to stop being psychic was the day her brother died. She knew it was coming, and she didn’t like knowing such things. But there were other reasons. She had also grown tired of hearing people’s problems, and feeling their pain, and being liked only for her psychic powers, rather than people getting to know her as a person. Especially because it wasn’t just strangers who treated her this way, but also coworkers, friends, and even family. Plus, the Bible says it’s a sin to be psychic, and Kay is superstitious about the Bible.
And then there were those times when she’d read someone’s fortune, and dread telling it. For instance, how do you tell someone who has cancer that they aren’t going make it? Kay hated being the bearer of bad news.
When she was 24, she worked at a nursing home. She kept sensing something about the charge nurse who worked at the home. One day she had all the nerve to walk up to her and tell her that she knew something about her past. That she’d had a baby girl who had died. The nurse felt shocked. It was true, she confessed, and it was something she had not told anyone about, because she didn’t like talking about it.
Kay also told this nurse something else that had been weighing on her mind for several days. She informed the nurse that soon there was going to be a mass killing or mass suicide somewhere in the world, and that a lot of people were going to die. About a week later, the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana occurred.
After this the nurse was so impressed, she started hounding Kay for readings. This left her feeling irritated. Then another nurse began hounding her for a reading. But she refused. She was tired of being pressured to provide psychic services.
But one day she changed her mind. She suddenly got the urge to do a reading for the nurse. So she went to her house and sat in front of her. But then her mind drew a blank. Nothing came. It was an awkward moment, and Kay felt embarrassed.
Then the lady’s daughter walked in, whom Kay had never met before. Kay looked at her, then looked back at her coworker, and warned her, “Don’t let your daughter get into any red sports cars this summer.”
The mother freaked out. It so happened her daughter had a friend who drove a red sports car. She absolutely forbade her daughter from riding in it. And that summer, the daughter’s friend got into a terrible wreck that destroyed the passenger side of the car. Kay’s advice had possibly saved the girl’s life.
When Kay gave an individual reading, only about one or two things about a client would come to her. But her clients would press for more. She could have embellished, like many so-called psychics do, but she chose not to take advantage of her clients.
There were only three main areas of interest for her clients: They wanted to know about their future love life. Or, they were going through a difficult time, and wanted to know how things would turn out. Or, they were distraught over the loss of a loved one, and wanted to hear some news from the departed soul.
In group readings, Kay would ask for a piece of jewelry from every member of the group. She would hold it, rub it, and do readings from what she picked up off the jewelry. Kay could also feel their physical pain, such as back pain, or any other pain they were currently experiencing in their body.
The information she got only applied to the owner of the jewelry, so it wasn’t the way fake psychics work, where they say something aloud that’s vague, and almost guaranteed to apply to at least one person in the group.
One day Kay was shopping, appropriately enough, in K-Mart. An employee walked up and told her that he’d heard of her, and that he didn’t believe she was psychic. He challenged her to prove it to him. Kay had never met him before, and knew nothing about this guy. But she said, “Okay. You can’t wait to get off of work. You have a brother who’s in the military, who is visiting, and he’s at your home right now.” The guy turned pale. He looked like he’d been stricken. He admitted, “You’re right,” and turned around and walked away.
Sometimes a skeptic would accompany a client to a reading, and would scoff and jeer in the background. Kay always found this funny, because she always shocked these skeptics with her accuracy.
I’m a skeptic, myself. And even as I write this, I too am scoffing and jeering. Yet with a wary mind.
I worry that if what Kay has told me is true, she may secretly harbor psychic powers, even now. That’s a little unnerving. How the hell can I get away with anything?
And so, as I go about my day, I try to think random thoughts to throw her off. I’ve gotten very good at this, and can sometimes get away with being sneaky. Now, what the hell was I doing? Oh yes, I’m writing a post. I’ll admit that I get distracted easily, using this strategy, but it’s worth it.
Kay will never be able to read my mind.
I can’t imagine how anyone can say: “I’m weak,” and then remain so. After all, if you know it, why not fight against it, why not try to train your character?
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, 7/6/44
Or if you’re too lazy to train your character, just don’t admit to being weak.
I’ve had five different stepparents. Two I liked and three I didn’t. One of those that I didn’t like, was married and divorced to my mother twice. He raised me through most of my childhood years.
He was abusive. But not very often physical. Mostly it was mental and verbal abuse. My mother, my siblings and I were frequently the targets of his inner, unresolved conflicts and anger.
He also molested my sisters. He lived to the ripe old age of 82, but my mother divorced him for the final time, some 20 years before he died. But the divorce occurred long after her children were raised and the damage to us had been done.
If you are a parent, married to or preparing to marry an abusive person, you might want to be wary of what lies in store for you and your children down the line. I’m not sure what that will be, exactly, but I can relate what happened in my own family.
All of my sisters married and eventually divorced abusive men. One of my sisters developed multiple personalities. Sometimes she goes into fugue states, wandering away from home and reemerging somewhere, a thousand miles away, with no memory of where she’s been or how she got there. Sometimes she’s locked away in mental hospitals for her own protection. She’s neglected her health, and is now a mental and physical wreck.
Another sister had her nose and jaw broken by an abusive husband, requiring major surgery to her face. She emerged from her last divorce with little money, and had to restart her life at the age of 45. She came close to serving time in prison one evening, as she stood over this husband while he slept, holding a baseball bat over his head. But she resisted temptation and divorced him instead. Finally, after three failed marriages, she found a good man.
My brother has been happily married most of his adult life, and has been fairly successful. But before he set out on the strait and narrow, he was doing hard drugs. He joined the Army on his 18th birthday, but had a problem with fighting and going off into drug-induced rampages. On one occasion he trashed the barracks. This led to a court-martial and discharge. He had to work very hard to rebuild his life after the military, but in the end all has turned out well for him.
I too emerged from childhood with a messed up mind. I was depressed, confused, and poorly equipped for survival in this wild world we live in. And that was compounded by poor physical health. I dropped out of college. I failed to notice, or failed to care about, one golden opportunity for success after another. I came close to suicide on several occasions. But eventually I developed the insight needed to turn my life around and build a successful marriage and career.
My mother has ended up an odd old duck. She’s poor, but spends her money like water. Then she begs for more from her children. She has a nervous talking habit that never quits. It drives everyone nuts. She remembers our childhood very differently from the way we remember, and sometimes speaks wistfully of that ex-husband who molested her daughters. We kind of avoid her, and she lives alone.
This is no sob story. I don’t have much to cry about. For the most part, I feel happy and fulfilled, no thanks to my ex-stepfather. This is a warning. Think of your children when deciding who to bring into your life. Abusive spouses come and go, but your children will always be your children. You want them to always love you, don’t you?
The human spirit is very resilient. But it’s most vulnerable during the tender years of youth. Abusive parenting doesn’t toughen children up. It weakens them. But when or if they restrengthen as adults, their strong spirits will never forget what they endured. And they will do their best to avoid any further abuse. Even if that means avoiding those who raised them.
Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.
John W. Gardner, former president, Carnegie Corp.
But at least we’re able to scribble things out.
I decided I wanted to become more proficient with my camera. So I hired a professional photographer to give me some one-on-one training. His name is Jay Pegger. Jay took me out into the field so he could give me some pointers on how to shoot.
We came upon a beautiful Joshua tree that Jay thought would make an excellent photographic subject. So he told me to frame up a picture.
Jay: Frame up a picture. But before you do, you’re going to want to increase your focal ratio. (I creased my forehead) You know, your f/stop.
Oh, that seemed easy. I already knew the control for adjusting f/stop. So I made the tweak as instructed.
Jay: Before you shoot, let me check your adjustment.
He took the camera.
Jay: What the f___? I thought you knew how to adjust f/stop!
Me: I do. You told me to increase it, so I took it up to f/22. That’s as high as it can go. It was at f/11.
Jay: No, no, when you increase f/stop, that means you decrease the number.
Me: Come again? You mean more is less?
Jay: No, not at all. And I thought you told me you’d studied all this. I didn’t realize you were such an amateur! Listen carefully. F/stop gets bigger the smaller the number, because it’s a ratio of the size of the diaphragm that controls the size of the aperture. More f/stop means more light.
Me: Before I got fixed, I always stopped my f-ing if I knew she wasn’t wearing a diaphragm. I know what that aperture can do to a man.
Jay: That’s not funny. I’ve heard all those stupid jokes many times before. That’s why I try to limit my students to more advanced photographers. Now listen! Wrong diaphragm, wrong aperture. There’s a diaphragm in the lens of your camera.
Me: So tell me, Jay, what does the “f” stand for, in f/stop?
Jay: Focal! Focal! Got it?! Focal!!
Me: I rest my case.
Jay: Oh, Jesus! Look . . . just remember, you increase f/stop by reducing the number. But if it will make things easier, let’s just talk about aperture. Now, increase the aperture in your camera.
I took the camera back and fiddled with the controls. This would be easier if I wasn’t already at the highest f/stop. Or was that the lowest f/stop?
Me: Hey Jay, I’m already at f/22. How can I possibly increase the aperture any further?
Jay swiped the camera out of my hands.
Jay: Listen! You increase aperture by increasing f/stop! You increase f/stop by reducing the number! This isn’t brain surgery!!
Me: Alright, alright! I just wanted to make sure, that’s all. I suspected it all along. Just checking, that’s all.
I didn’t really suspect that, but I didn’t like Jay being mad at me. It hurts my feelings to pay someone by the hour to yell at me. I took the camera back, and reduced the f/stop number down to f/8.
Me: I’m at f/8. Is that good, or do you want me to reduce the f/stop further?
Jay: Reduce?! Reduce?! No damnit! I want you to INCREASE the f/stop further!!! INCREASE it to f/6!
His temper-tantrum was leaving me feeling panicked. And when I feel panicked I have a hard time thinking straight. With shaky fingers, I fiddled with the controls.
Me: Okay, okay, calm down. There, no, wait. Oh goshdarnit! I increased the f/stop to f/10!
Jay: Goshdarnit?! GodDAMNit!! Don’t you fucking listen?! It’s motherfucking impossible to increase an f/stop from f/8 to f/10! Motherfucking impossible! Understand?!!
I stood there tremulous. My eyes darted around for any weapon I might use to defend myself. There was a stick about 10 yards away.
Me: Jay, Jay, I’m sorry. I’m just a little nervous. It would help if you’d stop yelling at me.
Jay’s pupils visibly dilated, as if there were out-of-control f/stops whirring about in his eye sockets. But after a long minute they receded. He actually started to calm down.
Jay: You’re right. I’m sorry. But this whole f/stop issue really bugs me. Every new photography student seems to have a learning curve when it comes to f/stop. And wanna know something? I’m sick of it! It really isn’t that hard to get. But I’ll try to be a little more patient.
Me: Thank you, Jay. Now, could you tell me why you wanted me to increase the aperture?
Jay: Oh, well that’s to reduce your depth of field. We want the Joshua tree to be in focus, with the background being slightly out-of-focus. It makes for a striking effect.
Me: So you increase aperture to reduce your depth of field?
Jay: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. (Breathing more deeply and calmly) Now just go ahead and increase your aperture, and let’s take this picture.
I fiddled with the camera’s controls.
Me: Jay, do you think f/22 would give me a big enough aperture? I mean, when I look through the viewfinder the depth of field doesn’t seem to have gone down much.
Jay: You son-of-a-bitch!!!
I ran for the stick.
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