Monthly Archives: May 2016

Lunatic Families

The Scream - Vincent van Gogh

The Scream – Vincent van Gogh

A few days ago I was discussing lunatic families with a blogging buddy of mine named Gibber Jab. Actually, she’s only a comment buddy of mine. Hey, when are you going to get a blog, GJ?

But it got me to wondering just how many people have crazy families? I’m not talking about Addams Family crazy. No, let’s go out further. Let’s go way out there to Manson Family nuts. Got anyone in your family like that?

I do. In fact, there are several branches on my family tree that are full of squirrel food.

I’d like to impress you with the nuttiest branch I can find, then see if you can top me. So I’m going to tell you the story of my sister-in-law, “Reba”, and her children. (All the names have been changed, by the way, so don’t go trying to google their police records.)

Two of Reba’s kids are in prison. That would be my nephews, Lenny and Jay. Lenny’s locked up for molesting children and for selling child porn on the internet. He’s done ten years so far, and we expect he won’t see the light of day for at least another ten.

Jay has also done ten years. But he recently won parole, and will likely be released before the end of the year. He’s doing life for trying to stab a man to death, whom he randomly chose to kill. When Jay gets out, he plans to stay away from his crazy family, and settle in San Francisco. Wise decision, Jay. Glad to know you’re the sanest one of the bunch.

Then there’s my niece, Zena. She’s an intelligent young woman, but a very quiet wallflower. She keeps secrets. We suspect she was molested by Lenny while growing up, but I doubt you could ever drag that secret out of Zena. Her mother, Reba, taught her to be clandestine, and to never discuss family matters, even with family.

She graduated from high school with a full scholarship to a Catholic university. But she only finished one semester. Reba is a practicing Wiccan, and is rabidly anti-Christian, and hates Catholics. She convinced her daughter Zena to drop out and hook up with her high school boyfriend, who was a drug addict at the time.

Soon after getting married, she had a baby and went on welfare. But a few years later she divorced her drug-addict husband. Then she met a man in a bar and had sex with him in the parking lot. Nine months later she had another baby.

The father of her second child is an alcoholic. In fact he’s done several stints in prison from drunk driving convictions. He barely scratches out a livelihood, living in a ramshackle hut with no running water, out in the middle of the desert. He can’t pay child support, but still has joint custody. Zena won’t fight him on the child support or joint custody, because he knows a secret about her. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Zena recently had a boyfriend, but they broke up a few months ago. Zena is very heavy, but we doubt that’s the reason for the breakup. In a careless moment, she dared to allow her boyfriend inside her house. That’s when he called it quits on her. The inside of her house is her secret that the father of her second child holds over her.

Zena has lived with her mother, Reba, for the past eight years, where she’s raised her children, who are now 10 and 7. And Reba is a hoarder. Her house is filled from floor to ceiling with boxes of junk. And her car is so full of junk, she can’t drive it. And she rents four storage units, all piled full with junk. Reba is very sick in the head.

The house is a hazard to live in. It’s a mold hazard, fire hazard, and avalanche hazard, because of all the hoarded junk. If Child Protective Services discovered that Zena’s two children lived in these conditions, they would probably charge both her and her mother with child endangerment, and take her kids away from her. Their dysfunctional fathers would win full custody.

Shortly after Zena broke up with her last boyfriend, she discovered she was pregnant. Now she’s plotting child support revenge on him. But as my wife and I watch this drama unfold, we suspect Zena has met her Waterloo. The boyfriend knows about the packrat conditions she’s raising her children in. And unlike her previous paramours, he’s a decent man, with a decent income.

We doubt he’ll allow his child to be raised in a deathtrap house. One call to CPS, and Zena will lose all of her kids. He’ll gain custody of the one currently in her belly, and she’ll be the one footing the child support bill. And not just for one child, but for three.

It’s all coming to a head.

Meanwhile Zena, in her quiet, wallflowery way, has been hinting about committing suicide.

That’s my lunatic family story. Can you top it?

The Virtue of Lying

Beneath our skulls hide many mysteries that could get us into trouble. Isn’t it nice that these impenetrable skulls allow us to tell lies and get away with it? If we couldn’t tell lies, just think of the power others could hold over us.

Most scientists agree that lying is a necessary survival tool for human beans. In fact, research conducted by MIT University discovered that nine out of ten people have lied at least once in their lives.

Some people regret having told lies, but shockingly, three out of four liars derive secret pleasure from being able to deceive others. That according to a University of California, Los Angeles study.

And most philosophers have advocated in favor of bending or breaking the truth. Socrates spoke of the pleasure gods derive from observing good liars in action. And even Immanuel Kant, that paragon of truth-telling, once remarked that it’s more fun for him to lie and earn one gold piece, than tell the truth and earn ten. Yes, lying has been a hallowed, sacred practice of humankind since our evolutionary ancestors gained the power of speech.

The canards we tell, and the mendacity we engage in, keeps our imagination stirred up. It seems a lie told long enough can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, when it inspires invention. Consider the religious lies told for centuries about the existence of flying angels. The Wright Brothers were deeply religious and were trying to become angels themselves, when they invented the airplane.

Orville Wright's famous first airplane flight.

Lies inspired the Wright Brothers.

Nearly everyone agrees that lying is wholesome. Think about our political leaders. They lie all the time. And look where lying got Donald Trump. He’s a billionaire, and now he’s just one opponent away from becoming our next president. May the best liar win.

You may feel sceptical about all this foofaraw I’m making in favor of lying. But I’ve researched this thoroughly and know what I’m talking about.

Believe me, I would never lie to you.

They’re Out There

My wife and I have been watching old episodes of The Twilight Zone, on Netflix. I’ve been a big fan of this vintage sci-fi series most of my life, and have already seen just about every episode.

But the other night we were watching an episode about a man with amnesia. Funny, I couldn’t remember ever having seen this one before. I probably have, but I just can’t remember. It seemed a little familiar, but then again . .

This really bugs me.

Could it be that many years ago I spent 30 minutes of my life watching this episode, yet now those 30 minutes are gone forever from my memory? How can 30 minutes of my life vanish, just like that? As if they had never existed?

Perhaps if I search hard enough I can find those 30 minutes again. I’m sure they’re out there.

Somewhere.

Off, in a distant place . . . known only to those . . .

Who search The Twilight Zone.

View of the Twilight Zone, from the Spitzer Space Telescope.

View of the Twilight Zone, from the Spitzer Space Telescope.

An Amazingly Accurate Amazon Review of a Product I Paid For

I love living in the desert. But my sinuses don’t. This desert makes my sinuses as desiccated as a lunch of sardine sandwiches. Or a bowl of corn flakes without milk. Or a sprinkle of salt on the underside of a snail.

But not quite as dry as my jokes.

I thought I’d do something about it, so I went on Amazon and found the Seneo 3.0L Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier with Sensor Control, Auto Swing for Whole Home and Office. (What a mouthful.) It has a 4.5 star rating, so I bought it.

The Seneo 3.0 L humidifier, which I paid for with money.

The Seneo 3.0L Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier with Sensor Control, Auto Swing for Whole Home and Office, which I paid for with money.

I read customer reviews on it, before the purchase, but after I received this product I discovered that some of the reviews weren’t as accurate and informative as I hoped they would be. Some of these reviewers admitted that they were given a free product in exchange for their review. Huh? Isn’t that bribery? Well I guess that should have been my tip-off. I’ve since discovered that many companies offer free or discounted products in exchange for submitting an Amazon review.

This is apparently a growing trend, and I suspect that this reduces the quality and reliability of product reviews. I’ve been a loyal Amazon customer for many years, partly because of their customer review feature. But after this experience I’ll be more circumspect about any products I purchase through Amazon.com.

Anyway, I wrote my own review of Seneo’s humidifier, which I posted on Amazon as follows:

I Have Not Received a Free Product for this Review

This big white beast will pour out a Sacramento tule fog at it’s strong setting (Level 3), and a gentle spring mist at it’s weak setting (Level 1).

The online product description says it will support 12 hrs continuous use at the strong level, and 33 hrs at the weak level. But I can only get 7.5 hrs at the strong level, and 21 hrs at the weak level. At Level 2, I get about 13 hrs.

It makes a low whirring noise, which I find slightly annoying. But what irritates me most is a loud knocking sound it occasionally emits. I think this occurs when it draws water from the removable tank. This noise happens about every 20 minutes, and startles me from a light sleep, even when I’m wearing earplugs.

It displays a readout of relative humidity which seems inaccurate, because it is always at least 15% higher than the readout from another humidity gauge in my bedroom, even when I initially switch the machine on. This leaves me wondering if the manufacturer is trying to fool me into believing the machine is doing a better job than it actually is doing.

The humidity level is displayed in large, very bright white LED letters, along with the temperature reading (in Celsius) of the water inside. This display cannot be turned off, and it’s so bright I had to construct a cardboard shield to block the light, so that I can sleep with this unit turned on.

This unit will not raise the relative humidity level in my bedroom, unless I keep the door and the windows closed. Otherwise, in order for me to feel like I’m benefiting from it, I must be no further than two or three feet away from the humidifier.

I can only pour 2.75 liters into the water tank, in spite of the claim that it has a 3.0 liter tank.

The instruction manual is skimpy, in my view, and written in comical pidgin English. I had to figure out some of the features on my own.

I have not received a free or discounted product in exchange for this review. Therefore, you need not suspect the accuracy and detail of information I have provided.

The Day I Converted to Islam

Jean-Leon Gerome, "The Muezzins Call to Prayer"

Jean-Leon Gerome, “The Muezzins Call to Prayer”, 1879.

(This is the next post in a series of two. The first in the series was posted on 5/15/16.)

I was stationed at Incirlik Air Force Base, Turkey, many, many crescent moons ago. Incirlik is in the south of Turkey, about 70 miles west of the Syrian border, and about 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a beautiful area with a clement climate. In fact, it reminded me of southern California, where I grew up.

And just like the lowlands of Southern California, Incirlik was hemmed by tall, snowy mountains, called the Taurus mountains. I love mountains and decided that before I left, I’d make a trip up to those highlands and drink in their beauty up close.

I had a Turkish “friend” who drove a cab, and who always tried to accomodate my wishes (for a fee, of course). He would respond to my requests in pidgin, “No ploblem!”

We got about halfway up the slope on a winding highway. I was just sinking into a reverie, lost in the magnificence of giant boulders, forests, and deep sky, when my Turkish friend pulled into the parking lot of some outpost sort of building. He told me to wait in the car, and that he would only be a few minutes.

Shortly after, he emerged from the building with some man in tow. The man was short, but strongly built. He looked like he was in his thirties. He wasn’t wearing a uniform, but he had a kind of official demeanor to him. My friend told me to get out of the car. Then he and this man led me about fifty yards away, to the edge of a giant cement culvert that passed under the highway.

I cast my eyes down to a breathtaking drop of about two hundred feet. This was a massive storm channel, and it would be a long way to fall for any careless person. I caught my breath and exclaimed, “Wow!”

My friend was pale and fidgeting. But the stranger appeared quite calm and sure of himself, while gazing off into the distance. My friend cleared his throat and said, “L-let me ask you something.”

His demeanor seemed abnormal. His nervous behavior, the yawning maw before me, and the whole weirdness of this situation, spelled danger. It occurred to me that they were planning to throw me over the railing. My stomach got the collywobbles. I was all ears concerning this question he wanted to ask, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hear it, over my pounding heartbeat.

“D-do you believe in God?”

There it was. After more than a year in Turkey I thought I’d done a good job at hiding my atheism. I knew how being “allahsiz” (without God), was anathema in that culture. So I never spoke of it, and always treated Islam with respect.

But the Turks, and I guess so many others in that region of the world, tend to regard Americans as being godless heathens. Which in my case is very true. And apparently, someone didn’t want any heathens trespassing through their sacred mountains.

I knew what I had to do. I had to convert. It was CONvert or CULvert, for me.

Fuck Allah! I thought. “Yes!” I emphatically answered.

The color quickly returned to my friend’s face. He mopped sweat from his brow and beamed widely. “Of course! Of course! How could anyone not believe in God?!” he effused. “Why, look at these mountains! Look at this scenery! Someone had to create all this.”

The other guy seemed satisfied. He strode back to the building, and my friend and I returned to the car.

We continued our tour of the Taurus mountains without further incident.

Thanks be to God. God is fucking great!

Unexpected Unbelief

We atheists like to spread the good word and gain as many converts as possible. After all, how else can we validate our beliefs except by getting everyone else to believe too? Or unbelieve, I guess.

So imagine my delectation after all my door-knocking and handing out blads, to discover something I never expected about Arabs. They’re atheists! Well, not all of them, but a surprising amount sure seem to be.

According to the digital news site, GlobalPost, a growing number of Saudis are privately calling themselves atheists. You can’t publicly declare yourself to be an atheist in that country. That’s a capital offense. But anecdotal evidence indicates that more and more Arabs have grown disillusioned with Islam lately, and are willing to admit off-the-record that they don’t believe in any of that religious crap.

A heretic being prepared for stoning.

Preparation for a stoning.

And New Republic magazine reports that the number of atheists in the Arab world has been vastly underestimated. In 2012, a WIN/Gallup International poll revealed that 5% of Saudi citizens identify themselves as “convinced atheists.” That’s the same percentage as in the U.S. Also, 19% of Saudis consider themselves to be nonreligious. Who would have thunk?

Most Arabs caught in the act of not believing don’t receive the death penalty. Instead, they usually only get a few months or years of jail time. Even so, I can understand why an atheist in a Muslim country would feel reluctant to “come out of the closet” so to speak.

If I lived in that part of the world, I’d certainly keep it to myself. On the outside I’d have all the appearance of your average fanatic, if that’s what it took to stay alive, or out of the calaboose. And in fact, that’s exactly what I did one day in Turkey, many years ago.

More on that, in a few days . . .

Food to Smile About

Leave canned or boxed food in your mailbox, Saturday, May 14th.

Leave canned or other packaged, non-perishable foods in your mailbox, Saturday, May 14th.


It was my noblesse oblige that brought me to the grocery store, and duty is never fun. The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) is holding its annual Food Drive this Saturday, May 14th.

Sigh. So I went to the supermarket to find some canned goods to leave in my mailbox. That’s when the conservative side of me began to grumble. “These poor people,” my inner voice whined, “have often made bad choices. They’ve gotten mixed up with drugs and alcohol. They’ve committed crimes. They’ve made stupid career decisions. And now, I’m supposed to feed them?”

The liberal side of me began clearing its throat to say something guilt-inducing in response. But I shushed both of these voices. There was something deeper and more distant stirring within. My own childhood.

I grew up poor. And it was mainly because my parents (and stepparents) made piss-poor decisions. I never went hungry, but some of the food I got was barely palatable. In those days, a food commodities program existed for helping the needy. My mother would sometimes take us down to a government food bank, where we would be rationed various packages of low-quality comestibles to haul home and figure out how to cook.

There were mystery meats in cans with white, generic labels. There were bags of sour tasting raisins. There were containers and containers of pinto beans, corn meal, and other assorted staples. All low-quality. Some laced with weevils. But it was mostly edible, and kept the meat on our bones.

It wasn’t my fault that I was poor. That was the doing of my foolish parents. And it’s the same today. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), 22% of all children in the United States today, live in poverty. That’s more than 16 million kids. And none of it is their fault.

No, it’s not their fault that they’re poor. Sometimes it’s not even their parents’ fault, though all too often it is. Regardless, these kids can’t help their circumstances.

When I focused my thoughts on the children who will benefit from the NALC’s Food Drive, my mood brightened. I liked the idea that children would be consuming some of the food I was buying. Now I was on a mission I could truly enjoy. I focused on foods that I liked when I was a kid, during the occasional times when we could afford better fare.

And it wasn’t very expensive. I loved refried beans when I was a kid. They don’t cost much. So I took some off the shelf. I also found some sweet creamed corn, and some sloppy joe sauce. And as I was leaving I spotted some Kraft maccaroni and cheese. One of my favorites, as a kid. So I grabbed a few boxes.

All-in-all, I only spent about 13 bucks. I wish I could do more. I wish I could feed all the poor kids in this world. But we have to be practical about these matters. (That’s my conservative voice coming out again.)

We all have our own charities, so I won’t ask you to do what I did. But if
you’re looking for a way to put a smile on your face, I recommend it. Get down to the grocery store and think about children while shopping for food. Leave it in your mailbox this Saturday.

You’ll be smiling all the way home. 🙂

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