MORE & BETTER

OVER & BETTER

Being retired gives me a lot of free time.

Being old gives me a lot of things to think about because I have seen and gone through a lot of stuff, good, bad and mildly okay.

Especially while washing the dishes.

It occurred to me between a saucepan and a cheese grater that two words have played a major, often devastating, role in my lifetime movie, “You Married Whom?” They are “Over” and “Better”.

Over does not refer to the space above a rainbow, but, rather, the conclusion of things I happened to enjoy a great deal. Most people feel somewhat disappointed when the parade finally ends, with the last Cub Scout Pack and its long-suffering Den Mothers with their water bottles and dropped neckerchief slides. Later in life they may be saddened that this or that lovemaking was far too brief to be historic. My problem with over was more interesting in my mind and often life-threateningly different.

Two minutes into a taste, an activity, an experience, as soon as I sensed that I really really liked this taste, activity, experience, I began to worry that this taste, activity, or experience would end.

Imagine that.

My mind would instantly take over the whole stage play and inveigle me into wondering how I might possibly obtain more of this thing I had not even finished yet. Food, love, fun, laughter, whateveryagot.

More.

More.

More.

Dangerous? Well, consider my view of the second martini. My lips were wrapped around the second but my mind was planning the delightful demise of the third. My tongue was enraptured by the crème fraiche on top of my dessert, but my eyes were examining your dessert in hopes that you were not going to finish it and I might cop a dollop so’s I could keep going into the land of enough.

Enough.

The problem with enough is that it is another way of saying OVER. I was against OVER, so I feared ENOUGH and went past it like Stonewall Jackson’s army fooling General Pope in Virginia.
“Bring Back The Parade!”

I do not go into this detail of my misspent youth to lash myself with the whip of conscience, but to warn my fellow travellers that this view of OVER can become toxic, but not ultimately suicidal.

All it takes (and I mean ALL quite ironically) is identifying the maladjustment, seeing it for what it is, and letting it go, one taste, event, experience or activity at a time.

OVER is not the same as DEATH and it does not mean NEVER AGAIN. OVER can often bring something new and—wait for it—BETTER.

We shall take up the subject of BETTER next time. In the meantime, listen to

BEING HUMAN MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY

(I was fortunate enough to be granted an interview with America’s foremost consultant in the brand new field of Apologistics, Dr. Raleigh Plune, PhD, MA, BA and Dean Emeritus of Flent College, Marleybone (pronounced Throatwarbler Mangrove) England.

Miller: Dr. Plune, it is an honor to have you here as my guest at the end of a year which has been filled with some really awesome errors by a number of highly placed world citizens.

Plune: It certainly is and was.

Miller: For those readers who are not familiar with your field of learning, would you be kind enough to tell us, exactly what is Apologistics?

Plune: I’d be happy to. Apologistics is the scientific application of age-old methods which can bifurcate the mind of the recipient or recipients in order to apply a endo-hypnotic balm assuring him, her or them that what he, she or they believe happened actually was his, her or their own delusion.

Miller: I’m sorry?

Plune: (laughing at my question) Wrong.

Miller: I beg your pardon?

Plune: No, you don’t.

Miller: What am I missing?

Plune: Basically? Everything.

Miller: Would you please illuminate?

Plune: No, but I shall attempt to explain the cardinal principles of Apologistics. Rule number one, the cardinal rule of all effective public or private apologies, is to eschew the personal pronoun completely.

Miller: I don’t get it.

Plune: You certainly don’t. (laughs snidely) You appear to be trapped in what we like to call, APR.

Miller: APR?

Plune: Accepting Personal Responsibility. When one does that one has lost. There is no return from the land of the lost. The personal pronoun is a trap from which there is no escape. The “I” of “I’m sorry” happens to be my client, let’s say, a woman who has serially cheated on her husband with all six of the local campus fraternities.

Miller: Hypothetically?

Plune: No, actually it was Dean Barnrack’s wife, Delia, at the University of Omaha at Lartch.

Miller: Oh, my god.

Plune: Incredible woman. I consulted with her and by the time I was finished, her husband ended up apologizing to her for not being supportive enough in her hour of insupportable need. You see, that is Rule 2 of my program: “Every time you’re caught is a golden opportunity to turn the tables on your accuser.”

Miller: If she had said “I’m sorry” to her husband that would have been wrong? But hadn’t she cheated on the poor sod? Was she not guilty?

Plune: Guilt is strictly a matter of perspective.

Miller: Oy vey. What did Mrs. Barnrack say when the Dean caught her?

Plune: Tied to their double bed wearing nothing more than a Phi Dabba Psi paddle?

Miller: Eeew.

Plune: You’re really not cut out for this interviewing gig, are you? Delia Barnrack had been coached by me to say the primal sentence.

Miller: I can’t wait to hear what you’re supposed to say to your spouse when caught in flagrante delicto.

Plune: “Oh thank God!”

Miller: “Oh, thank God”? Surely you jest.

Plune: I suppose you would try the old, “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?”

Miller: Nope. I’d say, I am sorry. I have no excuse. And I’d throw myself on her mercy.

Plune: (Laughing into a coughing fit) “I” am sorry? “I” have no excuse? You poor silly man. Cardinal rules apply: No personal pronouns. No owning the so-called offense. The only personal pronoun Apologistics permits is the I in the sentence: “I did not (have sex with that woman) do whatever it is you think I did.”

Miller: What kind of an idiot would believe that?

Plune: Jesus, Miller, who raised you? Most people want to believe the best of the people with whom they have chosen to live. If they have to accept their spouse is a shitheels, it means they must accept their own inability to choose a half decent life partner. Feed them what they want to hear and keep repeating it. When all else fails, borrow a page from the NRA and say crazy-ass shit like, “Good guys with guns will always trump bad guys with guns”.

Miller: Like Matt Dillon? John Wayne?

Plune: More like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was one of my best students. You will recall when he was caught red-handed with a mistress and a child.

Miller: Didn’t he say, “I feel terrible”?

Plune: I feel terrible is not admitting guilt. Nor is “mistakes were made”. Your best friend in any guilt-sit (possible guilt situation) is the magic word, IF. “If mistakes were made”. The door to punishment must always be kept closed by any means at one’s disposal.

Miller: Your program is reprehensible. Rotten to the core.

Plune: Of course it is. But try convincing most of our Senators and Congresspersons, huge numbers of pastors, priests, teachers and swimming coaches. I have worked my magic with all of them. The next time you hear a governor or a General say, “Bad judgment was used,” you can be damned sure I was there.

Miller: Wow. Who knew?

Plune: Obviously not you. Let me leave my card with you, just in case.

WE ATHEISTS CAN LOVE CHRISTMAS TOO, YOU KNOW!

Most every religion ever “discovered” by humanoids has “unearthed” some really wonderful stories in which godliness comes to visit us in what is too often a vain attempt to get us to shun our evil ways and tame our animal natures. (It is also true that every religion has also come up with some doozies to scare the unholy crap out of those of us who do not stay on the designated path—be it trying other faiths, failing to color within the prescribed lines, or forgetting to show enough respect to the persons, most often men, who run the local show.)

I cannot and would not deny that the good things that religions have gifted us with can be wonderfully warm, fuzzy and a great help in directing our feet—especially when the days are more night than day—i.e., Winter in our hemisphere. Who on earth, in his/her right mind, would argue with Good Tidings, Joy to the World, Good Will to All (wo)men, and “Here’s a little token of my love for you, Dad, a brand new Audi so you can stop stealing mine every time you come to visit.”

Notwithstanding the fact that my sainted mother accused me of ruining Christmas in Bainbridge, Maryland in 1944—-I was 4 and my older sister and brother inveigled me into sneaking downstairs and reporting back to them what was under the tree. They then blew my cover and for the next 20 or so years, my sainted mom reminded me that I had ruined Christmas in 1944—I still love the holiday. I’d love Chanukah too if I had ever known it existed before 1956. Same for Kwanza which came even later. Not because I believe the wonderful miracle of the virgin birth (I have no idea why so many religions fell in love with virgin births—I suppose because everyone had decided that “down there” on men and women was too icky for godhead. “The God of Love has pitched his tent in the place of excrement”.)

As a non believer I have no problem singing Christmas Carols because they are filled with Good News and happy feelings about us all. I may not be religious but I am, much to my occasional disappointment, an inveterate optimist and each year while my friends and I are smiling at each other and promising to stop doing bad things in the next year, I get swept away in the few days/weeks of “Hello there, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year” and The Little Drummer Boy, Walking in the Air, Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” A wonderful infusion of good feelings.

We secularists are at a distinct disadvantage because we don’t have any neato stories which have been around for centuries and keep getting illustrated by the best artists of all time and given musical form by everyone from Bach to Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (“Silver Bells”). Those of us who seem to be defined by what we don’t believe in have a hard time because all we have is the golden rule which predates all the most popular religions. Singing about Rules and Regulations could turn people into psychotic abusers because we hate being told what not to do and what to do. And we don’t even have a Golden Ruler with lights shining out his nose or wings or any of the fun visual stuff. We have no visuals at all. Our iconography is best described as non-existent. (Suggestions welcome)

So, I’ll travel along and sing with great gusto when “Silent Night” comes by because it’s a beautiful song and it brings back all the best memories except the time in 1944 in Bainbridge, Maryland. Does that me a hypocrite?

I doubt it.

NEITHER TROUT NOR QUAIL

For many generations we of the English-speaking world have tossed around a powerful metaphor which has caused us immeasurable cultural harm. I refer, very simply, to these dangerous words:

NEITHER FISH NOR FOWL

In my own personal history I have never heard this metaphor employed to connote something admirable, valued or worthy. As many metaphors have done (because they are powerful in ways of which we are rarely aware by capturing emotional neurons and giving weight where there is none) Neither Fish Nor Fowl has led us to feel good about ourselves and our friends who come down solidly on one side or the other of a particular life choice. (cf. “My way or the highway” “namby-pamby” “Casper Milquetoast” , “undecided” and “spineless”.)

It would appear to me that we have evolved (sic) into a culture where compromise is next to spinelessness. We rarely hear from the people who are willing to work with the NRA to fashion some rules that will reduce the senseless violence without totally destroying the 2nd Amendment. The other side of that token reveals the NRA folks who refuse to countenance limits because they are afraid that they will lose everything. They are, in effect, projecting on their opposite numbers their own sense of all or nothing.

Even inside the metaphorical game we find “Hawk” or “Dove” (rarely Dove or Hawk). The metaphor makes compromise impossible. Dovish is not a label that would please a Hawk. And Hawkish would disqualify any Dove worth his soft heart, making his friends turns their backs on him.

To be sure, there are many areas where it is inadvisable to be neither salmon nor partridge. For example, I would not blame a person for running away from his/her lover who intoned, “I am sort of in love with you.” HR folks do not enjoy candidates for employment who say they are not exactly sure they wish to work here at HugeImmenseBigCorp.Com.

I suggest, however, that there are areas where it’s just wise, relaxing or fun to be neither smelt nor Hummingbird. “I’m not sure there is a God, but I like the idea and I am a church-goer because I feel better when I go along with the religion deal.” “Until something better comes along, I’m voting for one of the two parties I am offered.”

I suggest in this current civilization (sic) we have created, those statements would not make us particularly popular at cocktail parties or on Match.Com. There is more respect to be gained by making the tough decisions, standing for something (whatever it might be), being deeply committed, going to the mat for gold or silver or Muslims or Mormons or global warming or dinosaurs and cave women and Jesus and Socialism and Big-Little Government and being wobbly on gay marriage is tantamount to being wobbly about the primacy of GOD and some plan that is more important than humans.

Because that what it always boils down to—subtraction….Subtracting somebody or somebody’s opinions or beliefs or behaviors.

All I know is that human life is sacred. Anything else is nuts.

The Mind Is A Terrible Thing

How Many ADHD Kids Does It Take To Screw In A Light bulb?
Answer: You wanta ride bikes?

I am not qualified to self diagnose on any level other than the fact that I tend towards the nuts end of the human spectrum. I have myriad fears that make sense to me but to no one else. I have survived a childhood which seemed to be based on life as a Hall of Mirrors wherein tragedy lurked everywhere…or, as I have quoted before, my father’s oft-repeated cry, “All hell is breaking loose, boys!” (My Mom used to regale us with tales of how her Uncle—who was younger than she was—was run over by a car going the wrong way on St. Charles Avenue right in front of Christ Cathedral.)

My dangerously fecund imagination has, however, made me rich and for that I am immensely grateful. Whenever one of our soap opera contract players required a tragedy dripping bathos, I was right there with an invention from my dark mind. (e.g., “How about she gets pregnant by both men the same night?” I sold that one to Procter and Gamble on The Guiding Light and they bought it but backed out after they let me go…chicken-shites.)

At any rate, I declare that I was/am ADHD before it was invented. I went off to kindergarten in 1945 and never looked back. Just everywhere else. Everything in front of me, behind me, to the sides of me was grist for my inquiring mind. I couldn’t multitask but I sure as hell could run off on tracks only visible to my greasy mind. In some ways it made me really smart, just unable to use what I had come up with. In other ways it made me my teachers’ greatest challenge and constant burr under their pedagogical saddles. If you think in metaphors, you are probably a pain in the ass to your friends as well and have started at least a dozen half-finished blogs.

I shall finally get to the point of these meanderings: Facebook, email, Google Chrome and You Tube have taken me from ADHD to MADHD..Mega Attention Hyperactivity Disorder. Whatever.

I have leaped from distracted to driven. Examples? I check my email and while checking my email get distracted by the little boxes that show up announcing that one of my sons “liked” what I had said on one of their FB posts. In the midst of going to FB to see if they also left words liking me, I hear a buzz from the iPhone at my elbow and check to see that it is an email announcement that the BBC has a special on series DVDs they want me to consider. I like loads of BBCA shows and so I need to know if COPPER is on the list. Nope. Back to my original quest. While finding the “like” from one of my sons, I see the little red dot on the upper left-hand corner of the whatchamacallit and grab the notation that a friend of 12 of my other Friends would like to be my Friend and so I accept him/her with magnanimity and then go to check to see how many Friends I have now.

Do you think my FB photo needs to be replaced? I am really bored with it after three days. I better check my iPhoto collection to see what I’d like to look at a hundred or so times a day. I choose one and send it up to my FB page and then move along to see my son’s posting about liking what I said because I am no longer cognizant of what he said that I reacted to. Ah, it was a photo of him and my grandson.

Do you think my download speed is slower than usual as I download the larger version of the photo? I do. I click on SpeedTest to check.

I am exhausted and you are bored.

The only good things I can say about the worsening of my original diagnosis are: a) This keeps me from going back to smoking cigars; b) It keeps my braincells and neurons firing 12 hours a day and 3) You wanta ride bikes?

Hey, FAB has a $600 Bugatti Espresso Maker that sits on your cup and looks gorgeous.

Good Times.

In Which I channel the Late Rodney King

Perhaps you are feeling as I do these days…there is no light at the end of the tunnel and you might settle for it to be an oncoming locomotive. Things are topsy turvy. The electorate appears to be saying things which are significantly different from what the Congress is saying and, as my sainted father used to say at the drop of a really small hat, “All hell is breaking loose, boys!”

This morning while washing the dishes—where I do all my heavy-duty philosophical thinking and my deeply painful depressive future-casting (cf. Hypochondria, V. Miller in your standard desk reference)—I was visited by the invisible fairy of optimism. He/She/It upon the instant suggested that perhaps I really do love our country, carbuncles and all, and all its crabby, mean-spirited cave dwellers, complainers, whiners, zealots and preternaturally cheery loonies who find themselves within our borders in spite of their neighbors’ disdain for the way they eat, speak, mow their lawns, take out their trash, raise their children or vote.

The fairy of optimism dropped a follow-up piece of invisible baggage in the form of a metaphor which, oddly, made me feel better right in the face of evidence wholly to the contrary. It said: “We in America are just one unbelievably huge dysfunctional family no different in its makeup from the family which raised you and the families which raised everyone else.”

“Whoa, there, big fella”, I retorted as I wished I hadn’t used the heavyweight Le Creuset pot in which to bake macaroni and cheese. “How will that help?”

I got no direct answer, so I continued to hold the thought and wonder if The Family of Man (not meaning it in a gender-specific manner) could be a helpful way to try to look at what appears to be a real low point in our national existence. (Low compared to 1860-1865? What are you, a moron? Well, yes, but it sure seems like that war settled only the question of slavery and little else—which is not to say that is a minor accomplishment—but some of our secessish brothers and sisters appear to be at the very least less than reconstructed.)

Oh, well, I thought as I smiled to think of John McCain as the grandfather who hates everything and yearns for the life he lost right at the beginning of his adulthood. Instead of getting laid and learning how to get along with others, he was too busy staying alive. That can make any man a little hard to get along with. My Dad was never the same after WWII. He had a nervous tic that made him look as if he had St. Vitus dance. He went quiet and believed that he was robbed of a career in the USNR because of that huge bulge of Commanders in 1946.

Newt Gingrich is that slimy little uncle who teaches ethics at the community college whom no one really wants to invite for the holidays but we do anyway because he’s family and always brings a new wife and gives us loads to gossip about. We just don’t like to leave him alone with the teenage nieces just in case he’s not finished scouting. Nancy Pelosi is like Aunt Rachel who wears the pants in her family, constantly talks about making things better, but is so irascibly dedicated to her own dreams that no one can stand her and so she rarely gets what she wants. President Obama is the brother-in-law for whom everyone had fond hopes but never really had what mom called “gumption” enough to get out of his own way. But he is really charming and makes everyone feel better until after his or her naps after the turkey. Uncle Mitt? Actually a grandfather on our cousins’ side, not really related to anyone by blood. He likes to stare off into the crèche and you never want to ask him his version of the Bible because he will confuse the bejesus out of you. But he is really easy on the eyes and has great hair.

By the time I had gotten all the hardened cheese out of the inside of the heavy pot I had run through most of the central cast of characters in our current days of ick, including Chris Christie, who has to sit at the head of the table because nobody likes to be cramped in next to him. And he has great stories to tell. Only Grandma Clinton has the balls to tell him no more stuffing. She seems really tired these days and you get the feeling she would like to tear everyone at the table a new rectal section. But we all look to her because it is rumored she has some really good ideas and besides, she married our Grandpap Willie who keeps making googly eyes at Newt’s wives and trying to hug them under the mistletoe. Unfortunately Grandpap Willie is not at all fond of Uncle Barney Frank and his husband. And it makes seating at the holiday table a real hassle. “Get over it, Willie!” Grandma Hillary cries. “Stop being an idiot.” She is known for settling arguments that way. Brother Paul Ryan is something of a scold, a very severe young man who, it is generally agreed, takes himself way way too seriously after he was elected Homecoming King in High School.

I cannot say that this was a successful experiment, but it reminded me in ways I would rather not think about that we are a family and we were born into it just as much as the one whose DNA we carry. And, for us to cry, as we once did as youths, “I didn’t ask to be born into this family” well, that’s just as terminally dumbly immature now as it was when we threw our last adolescent tantrum.

We normally cut our family members (some of whom are real dicks and, in some cases, actually felonious dicks) more slack because they are ours. However, the more I start subtracting people from membership in my family, blood or national, the nastier I become. I am not suggesting that I oughta take a serial killer to lunch, but that is just the kind of moronic logic I use to keep from going to eat with you whom I do not know, but you just might be my cousin Marge or Marty and, like it or not, we are related.

Please pass the cranberries and don’t take any first!