Month: November 2016

The Ten Magic Secrets of Life

I recently submitted a DNA sample to ancestry.com, to learn about my ethnic heritage. I was kind of surprised with the results. Turns out I’m half Scandiwhovian. I’m a Nordic. A Viking. A descendant of rapers and pillagers who terrorized the west coasts of Europe for hundreds of years.

I am Tippy the Terrible.

Well not really, but I must admit that discovering I had such strong Norse roots kind of went to my head. I began imagining my ancestors chasing unicorns through the elfin forests of Lapland, and across the wolds and into the wealds of the ancient European landscape.

"The Unicorn Defending Himself". Tapestry, circa 1500.

“The Unicorn Defending Himself”-Tapestry, circa 1500.

One night I drifted off to sleep meditating on images of horn-helmeted men disembarking from longships, with blood-curdling war cries and swords and shields swinging about their heads. And then suddenly I was there with them, on a unicorn hunt. I found myself footslogging with a hunting party for miles upon endless miles, across a windthrown, treefallen forest, before I grew weary and sat down upon a gnarled log to rest.

Without warning, through the dreamy mist, an old wizened Viking appeared. He sat down next to me, placed a bony, wrinkled hand upon my shoulder, and spoke with a deep, crackling voice:

“My name is Olov Ragnarsson. Remember that name, for I am your grandsire from ancient times. And I am one of the foremost unicorn hunters who has ever lived!” he puffed up his chest proudly as foggy breath streamed from his mouth and nostrils. He then touched his finger to his lips and whispered, “Listen to my secrets, for I am wise, having survived many seasons on the sea and in the woods.

“Yea, my skin has shivered through scores of winters, and sizzled beneath thousands of summer suns, while hunting unicorns. And I’ve enjoyed my share of those triumphs one boasts about in the firelight. Many times have I stood proudly before the admiring gazes of my fellow savages, while studying their faces through flickering flames, for any signs of veiled envy.

“But I’ve also suffered my share of humiliations,” Olov lowered his head in shame. “These weak moments have led me to skulk in the shadows, pelted by prideful stories volleyed from the mouths of luckier or more skillful compatriots.”

He straightened his raddled frame as best he could, and held up two fingers next to his face, and continued, “There have been two great Messengers in my life. I call them Success and Failure. These Messengers have taught me valuable lessons. Lessons that I have chopped and macerated and reduced in this charred and boiling stewpot of my mind, to the reasonable number of ten.”

“I’ve named this decalogue The Ten Magic Secrets of Life. They’re magic, because anything touched by unicorns is magic. And they’re secret only because so many fools refuse to learn them.”

He gazed at me with puzzled eyes. “I understand that you, in your modern time, have this thing called a ‘blog’. I want to share my secret decalogue with you, that you may pass it along in your ‘blog’ to the young unicorn hunters of your time.”

I began to protest. I tried to explain that most of my followers weren’t so young. And they probably had no interest in something as dull as a life lecture. And that in fact, I was feeling a little bored myself. I yawned, and asked him if he had any good Viking jokes I could pass along.

“Quiet!” he bellowed. And blue flames shot from his eyes, as he sizzled me with a contemptuous stare. “Honor thy grandsire, and make me not ashamed to be your progenitor!”

I gulped and shut up.

After a long minute of smoldering rumination, Olov commenced to share his secrets.

“I share these secrets now,” he kind of muttered in solemn, barely audible tone, “for the benefit of young hunters, new to the path, tremulous with ambition to score a kill. Learn these lessons, you whippersnappers, and apply them to every pursuit of the one-horned beast. If you shall, I guarantee you a mickle of fine trophies on the trail, a center stage in the lambent glow of the campfire, and a life of magical euphoria, showered in the stardust of all past, present, and future glory.”

Then Olov began enumerating his secrets, while pushing succeeding fingers up from an enclosed fist, one-by-one, as he progressed through the list.

“THE TEN MAGIC SECRETS OF LIFE!!” he announced with stentorian fury. Then he hushed his voice, as if to sacralize his secrets.

I. “No unicorn stays in one place permanently, and nothing is certain about the habits of a unicorn. This favors the adventuresome hunters over those who want every hunt to be the same.

II. “It is impossible to know anything about the magic of unicorns. Their magic can only be felt.

III. “Every unicorn has a price. None can be had for free.

IV. “Unicorns are numerous, and they often come to you on their own. They don’t always have to be hunted.

V. “The need to hunt unicorns never goes away forever. So take your naps when you can get them. (so this is where my love for naps came from!)

VI. “No unicorn ever saved the world with its sacrifice, and none ever will. But many have saved themselves from hunters, when not trying to save the world.

VII. “Unicorns are naturally wild and independent. When you try to change or control them, this will be the beginning of your troubles.

VIII. “When a unicorn gores you, it’s sending a message. It is better to learn from this message, than to imitate the unicorn and pass it along to other hunters.

IX. “The first unicorn hunter to end a tit-for-tat, always wins the high ground.

X. “Gratitude is a rare commodity. Think fondly of the unicorns you’ve slain. This repays their legacy with a treasure more precious than many giant pots of gold.”

After Olov spoke the word “gold” a golden fog enveloped him, and he faded from sight. And then the forest around me dissolved. And then I realized I had just awakened from a dream.

I feared Olov might return in my next dream, and run me through with a sword, if I did not comply with his wishes. So I quickly jumped out of bed and wrote down his ten magic secrets while they were fresh in my memory. Then I got on my computer and dashed off this post.

By the way, ancestry.com also says I have Spanish blood in my veins. I’m done with the Vikings. Those bastards are too scary for me. So tonight I shall go to bed harboring meditations on lances and windmills, and a toilworn old jackass named “Rocinante”.

When He Came Back

saturndevouringhisson_by_peterpaulrubens_1636

I was ten years old when my mother divorced him. I didn’t know at the time that he had molested my sisters. Neither did she. Nobody knew but them, and they kept their dark little secret to themselves until they became adults. I just knew about the abuse we all knew about. His verbal abuse against my mother and all of us children.

I also knew that he could be fun to be around at times, but then in the middle of the fun he would turn on us. He’d lash out and belittle us and threaten physical violence. He’d lure us into relaxing and showing our vulnerabilities, and then he’d move in for the attack.

He rarely actually resorted to physical violence, but his verbal assaults and threats were terrifying, just the same.

So when my mother divorced him, I felt relieved. Very, very relieved. My spirit lightened. The world looked bright and new. I learned how to relax and be vulnerable and how to play, without fearing the mercurial temperment of a sadistic stepfather.

My new stepfather was a drunk. A likable drunk, but a terrible, falling-down drunk just the same. Two years after the wonderful divorce, my mother made a stunning announcement. She was leaving the drunk and going back to my previous stepfather.

I was now twelve. I pondered what it would be like to have that asshole as my stepdad again. And part of me was excited about the prospect. Maybe he would be different this time. Maybe he had changed. Maybe this time he’d only show us his fun side, and never the sadistic side. I actually looked forward to having him back in my life again.

I was young, naive, and possessed of youthful optimism. It’s the kind of optimism you develop after you’ve gone for awhile letting your guard down, without any harm coming to you.

But I was wrong. He was just as abusive as before. Maybe worse. My carefree childhood was over at the age of twelve. I had to put up the old guard and once again try to hide my vulnerabilities.

I went a little crazy in the ensuing years. But I also learned how to resist and and stand up to this bastard. My failure was letting myself go crazy. That took a long time to overcome. But my success was learning how to stand up for myself. It’s a lesson that has served me well ever since.

I draw from my childhood experience an important lesson for those who are happy, and for those who are horrified, about the recent presidential election.

When he came back, I hoped my stepfather would be a different, better person. He wasn’t. You see, he was a sexual predator. Just like the president-elect. Sexual predators have committed themselves deeply to taking advantage of the vulnerable. If they don’t sexually abuse them, then they abuse them in other ways. Because it’s not about sex, it’s about power and control. And they haven’t learned any other way to obtain power and control, than through abuse.

Based on my personal experience with the sexual predator who was my stepfather, I doubt our new president will change after he assumes office. I believe the next four to eight years will be difficult for vulnerable people who place trust in him. He will not save you. You must save yourself. The occasional good times you experience under his leadership will quickly be overshadowed by problems he will create for you. Be alert, and avoid complacency.

And for those who distrust him, keep in mind that the opposition party will not completely protect you from him. Just as my siblings did not completely protect me from my stepfather. We colluded, and tried our best to be strong together. But we only had limited success.

You must protect yourself. Do your very best to learn how to resist oppression and stand up for yourself. And be as self-sufficient as possible. Try as much as you can to avoid relying on political leaders. Your best hope lies within you, yourself.

And most importantly, don’t let yourself go crazy over this. Calm, objective reason and sanity is what you need most during a time of crisis. When you lose that, it can take a long time to recover it.

Take charge of your life and be your own salvation. That will give you your best chance of succeeding during the next presidency. And for the rest of your life afterward.

Noah’s Art

Note: This post about a museum first appeared in my erstwhile blog, “Golden Daze”, in March, 2015. I’m reposting it, with a bit of an update, because the docent of the museum has appeared in the October 30, 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

"Welcome". It's an anagram of sorts.

“Welcome”. It’s an anagram of sorts.

Desert rats worldwide have a common problem. They are landscape-challenged. Arid conditions prevent cultivating broad greenswards that require careful and tedious manicuring upon riding lawnmowers. The scarcity of water discourages weeping willows that droop over emerald ponds teeming with carp. And the sylvan pleasance and backyard woodlot are just east coast fantasies to dream about, for your average desert rat.

Instead of grass and trees, desert rats have junk. They adorn their barren yards with detritus such as colored bottles, old tires, and rusty retired automobiles. Some desert rats are sloppy, with hardscapes surrounding their shacks that are downright depressing. Others have moved up the scale, to a level of kitschy, with a little artistic planning and arrangement. And some desert decorators have talent that lifts them into a league of their own.

Noah Purifoy

Noah Purifoy

Noah Purifoy was that kind of decorator. In fact, he was legendary.

Noah Purifoy was born far from the desert, in Alabama, in 1917. He was a pretty smart guy, and earned a bachelor’s degree before serving in World War II, and a Masters of Social Service Administration shortly after the war. In the 1950s he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Chouinard Art Institute. He was gifted at art in a peculiar way. He developed the uncanny knack to turn junk into something interesting and provocative to gaze upon and admire.

In the 1960s he became the founder and first director of the Watts Towers Art Center, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. But he didn’t sculpt the famous Watts Towers himself. That was the work of Simon Rodia. Noah’s star of fame didn’t really begin to rise until after the Watts riots of 1965. He and six other artists collected several tons of debris from the riots and created the ground-breaking 66 Signs of Neon traveling exhibition.

Noah created many other works of art, following this, and is credited with re-defining black artistic consciousness through assemblage sculpture.

The left sign says "White" and the right says "Colored".

The left sign says “White” and the right says “Colored”.

In 1989 he moved to Joshua Tree, California and became a desert rat. He was 72, but not at all retired. He continued his work in the humanities by collecting all kinds of junk, including many old toilets, scrap wood, scrap metal, and discarded tires. And then he began adorning his acreage with odd sculptures designed to awe and inspire. He quickly showed even the most veteran desert rats the true art of desert landscaping.

"No Contest"

“No Contest”

Over the next 15 years, he sprinkled his property with dozens of junk sculptures. It opened to the public with the name, The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. But most folks just call it Noah’s Art.

the-white-house-4

By 2004, Noah’s health had failed to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair. And he was drinking and smoking heavily. One evening he dozed off in his wheelchair with a lit cigarette in hand. His little desert shack ignited and he burned to death.

But Noah’s Art remains. It’s still open to the public. Admission is free, but you are welcome to leave a donation. An 81-year-old lady named Pat Brunty maintains the grounds and serves as docent.

Pat is a friend of ours, and a very sweet person. And she’s a hard worker, which is amazing for someone her age. She does much of the manual labor required to keep Noah’s museum open and presentable to the public.

Pat Brunty and her dog Freckles.

Pat Brunty and her dog Freckles.

Pat is also pictured on pag 54 of the October 30, 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine. There’s a short article in the magazine about this unusual museum, with several pages of photos.

Pat can give you an impromptu tour if she happens to be there when you visit. She knew Noah personally, and has some interesting tales to tell about this character.

Noah’s Art is an outdoor museum, subject to the destruction of the elements. It is slowly falling into labefaction, grinding and sifting back into the desert sands under the oppressive Mojave wind, sun, cold and heat. If you want to admire it before it disappears completely, you can find it near the corner of Blair Lane and Center Ave, in Joshua Tree, California. And you can learn more about it at noahpurifoy.com.

"Homeless Shelter"

“Homeless Shelter”

Samuel Wilson

Samuel Wilson, 1766-1854

Samuel Wilson, 1766-1854


Samuel Wilson was a middle child, born the seventh of thirteen children. He came to this world near Boston, Massachusetts, on September 13th, 1766. And he was a solid American, the descendent of one of the oldest families of Boston.

But when he was a boy his family did what many American families have done. They moved, searching for greener pastures. And so they left Massachusetts and resettled in New Hampshire.

Around the same time, our nation was born, and war came to the colonies. There are many things that can kill children before they reach adulthood, and war is one of them. Samuel took the risk. He joined the Revolutionary Army at age 14. But seven months later the war ended and he returned home alive, a war veteran at age 15.

Adventure has also been known to kill people at a young age. But Samuel was willing to take that risk, also. At age 22 he caught the traveling spirit, and he and his brother, Ebeneezer, headed west on foot. They settled in the pioneer town of Troy, New York.

Samuel and Ebeneezer teamed up in Troy and started a family business. At first they invested their sweat and energy into making bricks. The hard work didn’t kill them, and after this success they moved on to the laborious trade of meatpacking.

Then the brothers made a risky business decision. They leased some land along the Hudson River and built a dock. Now they were able to ship meat to buyers downriver, and throughout the country. And the risk paid off. The two men prospered. Soon their business grew so large it employed about 200 people.

Samuel Wilson became rich.

Many men wait until they’ve proven themselves before they start a family. At age 31, Samuel’s new fortune emboldened this rich bachelor to travel back to New Hampshire and marry Betsey Mann. She was the daughter of Captain Benjamin Mann, a Revolutionary War hero who fought at Bunker Hill. Samuel brought Betsey back to Troy, and they began adding new little Wilson citizens to the town’s population.

Prosperous family members tend to attract other family members. And so it happened with the Wilsons and the Manns. Many of their numerous extended family members relocated, so that before long the town of Troy was abustle with brothers, sisters, in-laws, nephews, and nieces of Samuel and Ebeneezer. Samuel didn’t mind. In fact, he liked it when his little nephews and nieces saw him on the street and called out to their uncle. He was an affable man, and very family-oriented.

In fact, his avuncular ways were popular even with those who were not related to him. Samuel Wilson had become a beloved pillar of his community.

And then war broke out again. In 1812, the new United States declared hostilities against their old enemy, Great Britain. Britain was testing the muscles of our young stripling nation.

Our military began recruiting, and the ranks of our army and navy swelled. With all these new recruits came a new need. Food. The U.S. Government had to feed its growing military forces.

We often associate prosperity with peace. But it’s also quite available with war, at least for those who are strategically positioned. And Samuel and Ebeneezer were in just such a position. They subcontracted with a man named Elbert Anderson, from New York City, to provide meat from their meatpacking operation for troops in New York and New Jersey.

They stamped each barrel of meat with the initials “E.A.–U.S”. “E.A.” stood for “Elbert Anderson”. But what did the “U.S.” stand for? Nowadays it’s easy to assume it stood for the United States. But this was 1812. Our country was still very young, and so the initials “U.S.” were not quite so obvious to the average citizen.

One day a visitor to Troy asked a dockworker about the meaning of the “U.S.” initials. This dockworker was very familiar with the popular and avuncular Samuel Wilson, so he jokingly replied, “Why, Uncle Sam Wilson! It is he who is feeding the army.” Several bystanders overheard him, and they repeated the joke.

There was no internet in those days, but the phenomenon of things going viral is nothing new. It happened even back in 1812. And so it occured with the Uncle Sam joke. It went viral and spread all the way up and down the eastern seaboard. Before long, anything owned by the government and bearing the initials “U.S.” came to be called “Uncle Sam’s”.

And that is how Uncle Sam became the symbol of the United States.

Samuel Wilson died in 1854, at age 87. But Uncle Sam as a symbol continues to live on. His life is a fitting symbol of our country, because it represents the fortune that any American can achieve, with a willingness to take some risk, hard work, and a little luck.

In 1961 the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as the origin of Uncle Sam. And in 1989, Samuel Wilson’s birthday, September 13th, was designated by Congress as “Uncle Sam Day”.

Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served and fought over the years for our beloved Uncle Sam!

Our National Zzzz Debt

The election is almost here, and who the hell knows who’s going to win? But I think the loser will be our national debt. Neither Trump nor Clinton seem like they will do what it takes to lower our national debt.

Should we worry? I wasn’t sure, so I did some internet sleuthing to see if I could understand our national debt better.

According to http://www.usdebtclock.org/, the national debt is currently approaching 20 trillion dollars.

Are you bored yet? Yes? Okay, here’s a fun fact about the national debt. If you lay 20 trillion one-dollar bills end-to-end, they will wrap about three-quarters of the way around Donald Trump’s head. And they will nearly cover his mouth.

Who do you think our government owes the most money to? Did you answer China? If so, you get a big “nnnnnngggggg!!!”. You may have gotten that impression from listening to Donald Trump, but no, China is not our biggest creditor. But they are our biggest foreign creditor. We owe about 1.2 trillion dollars to that nation. A close second is Japan, who we owe 1.1 trillion dollars. Our total foreign debt is about 6.2 trillion dollars.

Actually the country our government owes the most to is the good ol’ USA. Our government borrows money from trusts owned by our government. This is called intergovernmental debt, and much of this borrowing is from the Social Security trust fund. We currently owe more than 6 trillion dollars to ourselves, with 3 trillion of that debt being owed to Social Security.

Aha! I caught you sleeping. So here’s another fun fact to keep you awake. The fiscal year 1835-1836 was the only year the U.S. Government has not been in debt. Which is the same year Bernie Sanders was born.

This guy was president the only time we had no national debt.

This guy was president the only time we had no national debt.

The best way to evaluate U.S. debt is as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product. Currently our public debt (which does not include intergovernmental debt) is at 77% of our GDP. But our total debt is about 106% of the GDP. Let’s check out Wiki, and look at total debt historically. Wait! Wake up!

Here’s a joke to get your eyes open. No? No more of my jokes? Y-you’d rather just slog through the dry facts? Well, shit. Okay.

In 1910, our ratio of total debt to GDP was just 8%. But by 1920, thanks to World War I, our percent of total debt to GDP had grown to 29%. But hey, war is hell and hell is expensive.

By 1930 it shrank to 17%. This was at the start of the Great Depression, which some say was triggered by tight monetary policies. But in 1940, thanks to Roosevelt’s New Deal, it had risen to about 48%. And in 1950, after World War II, the expenses of global warfare had caused the debt ratio to skyrocket to 92%.

But by 1980 it had shrank to 32%, thanks to three decades of high progressive income tax rates. However, those income tax rates were drastically reduced under President Reagan’s trickle-down economic plan of the 1980s, which cut the top tax rate from 70% to 28%. By the year 2000, our shrinking ratio of total debt to GDP had reversed course and risen to 56%.

In 2008, after Bush cut our taxes and started two wars, the ratio was up to 68%. Then the housing market collapsed and the Great Recession struck. The government moved in to bail out Wall Street and just two years later, in 2010, the percentage was towering at 92%, and rising.

Today it is at 106% of our GDP, thanks to whatever the hell happened this year. It had actually declined from 103% to 101% from 2014 to 2015. This year’s jump illustrates just how difficult it is to get our national debt under control.

I see no better way to control and reduce the national debt ratio other than to reintroduce the high progressive income tax rates of post-World War II. We can’t seem to cut our way out of this. Yet no major Presidential candidate other than Bernie Sanders has had the political balls to propose such a thing. And Bernie lost.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in 2009, that the United States is on a “fiscally unsustainable” path because of projected future increases in Medicare and Social Security spending. Their trust funds will run out of money, and the government won’t be able to pay back what it owes these funds.

Old folks often vote for politicians who promise lower taxes. Perhaps when they get hit with high medical bills and lower Social Security benefits, they’ll change their tune.

Wait a second, I’m one of those old folks.

Expect to see me right there at the forefront of the new, old-fogie revolution. I’ll be pushing politicians to raise taxes on the rich, and get our national debt under control.

If, by that time, I’m not dead.

Okay I’m finished now. WAKE UP!!