(Non-diegetic music tells the story by evoking emotional contexts. Since it isn’t heard by characters, it’s the story-teller’s voice, evoking feelings about the images and action that shape our perceptions. Each frame in a modern cinema narrative has correlated sounds the viewer expects to hear in the situation . Non-diegetic music creates the emotional verisimilitude of reality that viewers imagine.)
What I’ve enjoyed most about ubering is conversations with and observations of riders and occasional others along the way. I engage with all of them to the extent they’re open to it: riders, drivers, doormen, police, baristas at Starbucks, staff at the delis, whomever. Some of the observations awaken riders picked up at SAN, visitors as well as residents, to things they hadn’t noticed and are commonly taken for granted, like the people living in the streets. Their curiosity awakens, which irritate some who do their best to ignore things like the people living in the streets. I think I’m also sort of prescient–I know how old people are and where they come from. But I judge them only by their behavior.
What I most don’t like about ubering is when I feel taken for granted, like a part of the car–the postman. Uber sets this up in the way ridesharing is promoted. It’s a dichotomy. They tell riders that they needn’t carry cash–that it’s all on the card they use to hail a driver. But there’s no tipping option and the same riders who prefer to feel they needn’t tip drivers are often too demanding. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of math could figure out that the fare they’re paying for the use of the car and driver for a 20 minute ride doesn’t equal minimum wage. They know the driver’s expense for the trip: fuel, car lease, maintenance and insurance must come out of that fare. They smile and say, thank you soooo much for the ride, I really appreciate it. Have a great day! That’s about 95% of riders. The other 5% give the driver a tip.
Uber took the tip option off its app after they were sued by drivers for allegedly stealing part of drivers’ tips. Uber’s management team doesn’t seem to understand or doesn’t care that removing the tip option created an exploitive situation, like leaving a restaurant without tipping the wait staff. Riders say things like, “I thought the tip is included?” Really? You think Uber is taking 25% of the fare and somehow then tipping drivers? How much was the fare? $5? $4?
Some riders are rude by nature and some by custom. Asian riders are polite and condescending. They are sometimes uncomfortable to learn their driver is someone they should respect, it makes them feel uncertain. I’ve asked rude riders to call another car. A week ago, I pulled over and said to two drunk men, “get out of the car. Now.” One cursed me as he slammed the car door but I felt safer with them out of the car. More experience of riders is wonderful than not, Taking scented attractive women to their rendez-vous is fascinating .
The girl, who sang a song she’d made up, her perfect a cappella style, as we passed through San Pasqual Valley to the wild animal park, brought tears to my eyes. Watching her walk away, waving, I felt frozen in the act of uber-driver. I wanted to go with her.
A second thought today was about a letter I received from B today. Two years ago, it offended him when I pointed out that courses in his department were published with different catalog numbers for undergraduate and graduate levels and that they were poorly written and full of mistakes. I didn’t realize they were his work. I also mentioned that some teachers in his department were remarkably uninterested, unknowledgeable or incompetent at teaching and I didn’t realize he only hires his friends, regardless of qualifications. The “teachers” know the courses are absurd in a graduate school.
It was not in my best interests to show him, with specific examples, how these courses were at secondary school level, with lousy writing and misinformation, sometimes self-contradicting. I’d paid $2,600 per class for these courses and it irritated me. It must have been upsetting for B when I wrote about it in the letter to the accrediting board. Two of his teachers threatened me when I questioning their facts. They told me that questioning a teacher isn’t permitted or polite–that students shouldn’t ask questions.
$2.600/3 unit class is a hefty price and represents 50% of the FAFSA loan allocation. I thought about this when I found myself answering exams with answers I knew to be incorrect. Then I learned that the former experience of the school’s online course administrator was that the had been a police commander in Hayward. I tried to imagine exactly how that experience prepares someone for this job. What sort of outfit is this school anyway? No one at the top cares about the quality of courseware or teachers? In any case, a result of the documentation I sent to B about course errors was that his assistant gave a phone number and told me to call a composition professor and when I left a friendly message, B and M, the dean of the school accused of harassment–long distance by voicemail message.
Another thing I don’t like about ubering is the third thought for the day: the philosophy of Uber’s management, policies and practices, is revealed in Uber’s quest for a driver-less car. In their superstitious belief in technology, they see drivers as unnecessary, inconvenient and incompetent; we’re a dangerous nuisance of automotive mobility. Though I well understand this view after managing in traffic 50 hours/week. Drivers who aren’t able to achieve close to 100% alertness in a dynamic and unpredictable situations either make trips take longer or they get hit. Driverless cars are not a real option. Uber’s religious belief in technology rather than a rational understanding, leads Uber to treat drivers as disposable and expendable, while professing to appreciate them. Uber appreciates that drivers are paying for 99.9% of the assets for delivering service. Uber’s policies show zero interest in retaining drivers, their actions show they don’t want drivers to have a say in determining fair rates. The complexity Uber adds to the program that sends ride requests allows them to favor drivers who rent or lease cars from Uber or to drivers whom were enrolled with the promise of $1000 from their first 75 trips. If the driver earns $300 from these trips, Uber makes up the difference. This cost is amply covered by taking 25% of fares while contributing less than 1% of the cost of providing rides.
The driver-less car is nonsense without changing the social and practical context in which driverless cars are used. But despite the thousands of people on the streets, depressed economies of rural areas, rising sea level, catastrophic events from climate change, millennials, influenced by the Star Wars franchise, video games, iPhones and virtual reality believe that technology will make everything ok, that there’s a tech solution to every problem. They believe in the possibility of space travel and extra-terrestrial life rather than managing planetary resources as a social reality. No one really believe the superstition that urban technology, which does permit population growth and warfare is a solution but it pays well and they’d rather do that than sleep on the streets. Climate change suggests there are limits, however, and we’re meeting them.
Will Mercedes, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Kia, Etc. and Tesla abandon their lines related to personal freedom? No. They will incorporate technology learned in robotic car experiments. The idea of lock stepping vehicles is technical child’s play but will you sit in a steel cage moving in a river of steel cages alone or with someone you’d rather not see? Buzzed perhaps? Meditating? Listening to your favorite music? Do you want to get out now? Do you have to pee? Feeling sick? Bored? Where’s the app for that?
Feature a Cmax Energi with performance characteristics of a Mini, scooting down I-5 south of the bend on the kind of clear December night you best appreciate on Mt. Soledad. Zipping under 54 and succeeding strange green signs announcing, H Street, and so on. In and driving it is Michael Winn, known to some as Uberman, not because he was more fond of Zarathustra than of Karl Marx, nor because of his occupation (Uber driving) but in consequence of his ill fit for the distinction, man. Heterosexual in appetite but his mind worked more like a woman’s than a normal man’s.
Waiting for a rider on Florence Street, he observed lights in streets and houses on hills in Mexico, the next neighborhood, looking south, if you don’t count a 30 meter high fence that people go around if they need to leave one and enter the other. At the hole in the fence, called, San Ysidro there’s a bridge over the line in the sand.
–You’re here already? I’ll be right down.
–Yes, thank you. Sky blue Ford, hazard lights on, can’t miss it.
Of course, I’m prompt. Drivers arrive quickly because Uber and Lyft enroll drivers with cash incentives and not a lot of discernment beyond felony check and driving record. Riders benefit from an excess of drivers but drivers compete for scarce business because the cash incentives for drivers doesn’t increase numbers of riders.
Drivers are a representative cross section of the lower economic strata of median incomes around the city. Riders are a little better off than drivers given they don’t have to Uber to pay the rent and they don’t work 6 to 7 days, 10 to 12 hours a day to clear more than minimum wage after paying for car and gas, nor do they have Uber web content that blows smoke up their asses while Uber takes 25% of every fare. With the rates Uber set for this city, a full time Uber driver with the highest performance ratings is lucky to net 25% of fares because the fare are far below what the market will pay. Lyft and Uber seem like childish corporate entities. Ridershare companies need to cooperate in the same way as airlines. Since all rideshare companies have the same business model and costs, drivers, whom Uber calls “partners,” would have to set the standard.
The market will eventually migrate to higher value experience, not based solely on the quality of the vehicle but also, of the driver.
On the rider’s side, about a third use corporate accounts. They Uber or Lyft as an alternative to driving and parking, airport shuttles, rent cars and taxis in short rides between the airport and hotels. Many older out-patients of Kaiser and UCSD Uber instead of taxis for medical appointments and shopping because taxis cost 3x as much for the same service. The taxi is accumulating social status, the reverse of public transit stigma. Did you Uber? Hell no, I taxied! But it’s not that easy, there are other factors:
Because we live in a community of 4+ million souls (counting Baja) and Uber drivers can roam without boundaries, drivers are often new to communities in which they find themselves and very new to the customs and sensibilities of riders that show up in our cars. Many drivers are unable to carry on a conversation in an intimate space with strangers, nor are they able to make their cabins a comfortable container for authentic communication. They know little or nothing about communities they pass through and, with their attention on a computer generated voice telling them where to turn, even when they are curious and want to connect with others, they are unable to be present to another let alone a group.
To make money we go where riders take us and more often than not, these are places we’ve never seen so if we don’t have our heads in a computer brain, driving and the people we meet are fascinating. Every humans being we encounter in and outside the car is awake and aware to something and often, when a rider gets into the car, their heads are in other places. Some say, “how’s your day going?” Some are actually talking on a cell phone as they enter your car and don’t even bother to acknowledge your presence, sometimes because their attention is on making sure they are not cheated. (In most cases, the distrust stems from an experience when a navigation app sends drivers on inefficient routes, not because drivers who don’t know where they’re going, intentionally extend a journey.)
The culture of ridesharing is more like that of a trolley or city bus in a small town, rather than a professional taxi. Riders sometimes treat their drivers like chauffeurs, which works as long as they tip the driver and pay them the respect a good chauffeur is due. The driver’s job isn’t like a taxi driver’s. It has some qualities of a concierge, doorman, personal assistant, interested, non-judgmental listener; a caring person. Riders show appreciation for generous and caring drivers with gratuities. As a group, Lyft and Uber drivers are by no means sophisticated or conscious as in any profession; some are shrinking violets, highly judgmental, passive aggressive, sullen.
The characters portrayed in Uber’s and Lyft’s ads for drivers feature the immediate cash rewards. The ads don’t reveal we’re at the mercy of priorities of a computer program that doesn’t include concern for either our our community’s success, nor even best interests of riders. It’s as ruthless as the risk analysis of an insurance company.
On the other hand, my prompt arrival and attention to the rider’s transportation, safety and comfort reflect a professional commitment behind my performance; a matter of heart.
–Hi, I’m Rachel.
–Hi, Rachel, I’m Michael, welcome to my ride. Where are we going?
–I think I put it on the app.
–The app usually mis-identifies the location of riders and plots inefficient routes. (I read the address the rider input to the rider to make sure it’s correct. I check out the route the app suggests.)
–The app shows 163, through the park. 163 is jammed southbound. We should go 805 to 94,
–You’re right. I trust you, whatever you say.
–Let me know when you know something. I learn a lot from riders. It’s a jungle out there.
–How long have you been driving Uber?
–I’m a veteran; at least six weeks.
–(More laughter) What do you think about it?
I’m having more fun Ubering than any thing I’ve done for money. The ridesharing app is a true technology. Uber and Lyft, however, are not responsible businesses by modern standards. Not since the 19th century has a private enterprise flagrantly avoided statutory required conditions of employment. Uber and Lyft drivers are employees in a practical and economic sense but not on paper. Drivers not only pay for personal clothing and health maintenance, they also cover all the costs of assets they use. We have no sick leave or vacation time, no regular breaks, no dependable salary, no retirement, medical insurance, no Workmens Compensation.
Driver have none of the protections trade unions struggled to create during the 20th century following the great depression. When a driver is ill, pregnant or if her car breaks, she’s without an income. If she’s robbed or assaulted on the job, she’s on her own. Drivers cover the monthly cost of high bandwidth cell service, required for the GPS navigator. And, by over-subscribing drivers and inducing ridership with fares that are far too low, competitiveness arises between drivers, rather than cooperation. The program can send call requests preferentially, for instance to drivers of cars that Uber rents to drivers who have no credit (at inflated rates). Then, by telling riders not to tip drivers and telling drivers not to accept tips, Uber puts a negative cast on normal human generosity.
All the physical assets of Uber are owned and maintained by drivers. Uber is a set of algorithms riders use to reach drivers and pay for rides. Uber seems friendly; calling drivers, “partners” but the 25% Uber takes from every fare, the fact that drivers have no ownership in the business and cash-incentive driver invitation program reveals the extent of thought Uber has given to drivers in its business plan.
Uber drivers can make more money getting others to drive than we earn driving. An Uber driver that delivers a new driver to Uber gets a $200 to $500 bonus after the new driver’s 75th trip. Inviting people to drive pays better than giving rides and costs inviters nothing. Uber offers to rent a car to new drivers for $250/week, an amount that is deducted from their earnings before the driver gets her share. A leasing program costs the driver a little less, closer to $180 per week. Uber gives drivers a credit card for gasoline, also repaid to Uber from the driver’s earnings before the driver is paid. Uber guarantees new drivers will earn $750 to $1000 from the first 75 fares; Uber pays the difference between whatever the drivers earns from 75 rides and $1000. This calculation includes the $250 Uber gets for the car, of course. Since call requests do not go out to the closest driver, nor to the first in line at the airport, Uber’s algorithms can send call requests to drivers who are renting cars from Uber and/or to those whom Uber has guaranteed $1000.
It is ironic that Uber calls its drivers, partners. Since drivers own or pay rent for all the assets used to provide ride services, there is in this sense some truth to this. But drivers are not sharing in the equity of the business in which they are investing; they own no shares in the company yet their investment of time and money in the value of the company is cumulatively immense.
We would really be partners if we earned shares of stock in return for our investment of time, energy and money. By calling us partners, Uber misrepresents our position to manipulate judgment. Uber appeals to our desire for self-sufficiency with its invitation to “be your own boss” and “work when you want to”. Of course, This sounds great to new drivers and then after we see the first Ponzi-like windfall of cash incentives, then we see how in reality we’re grist for the mill yet at this point, there’s nothing we can do but work ten to 16 hour days. Perhaps, an organized strike of drivers would force Uber to negotiate fairly with drivers, however, the cash enrollment incentives defends against organization by rapidly adding drivers.
There are some real issues about which Uber has been and is now the subject of class action law suits brought by drivers: Riders and drivers anticipate that the Uber App is programmed to send riders requests to the closest driver. I’ve tested this several times in denser parts of the city, and ride requests went not to the car the rider stood a few yards from, but to drivers blocks distant. Uber explained that a rider has to be a little further from the car, as a measure to prevent fraud, however, sometimes the request does come to me when I’m close by and sometimes it doesn’t? The methodology of the call routing priorities isn’t shown to drivers. Uber acknowledges that the call system and airport queue is manipulated in an attempt to distribute requests to all drivers even when they aren’t the closest car or the first in line at the airport. However, some call requests are more rewarding than others and the priorities for assigning requests of different values isn’t known.
Recently, drivers got an email from the Uber Fuhrer, telling us that the system may now redirect us to a new rider, while enroute to a call request we’d accepted. This practice eliminates the driver’s choice in accepting or not accepting call requests. While this manipulation of call requests is at least suspicious, changing rider requests enroute assumes that drivers can operate robotically, while in complex traffic situations and while it can take a driver to a closer rider, taking a driver’s attention away from road conditions or asking us to blindly follow instructions of a GPS app, which is often errant, while enroute to a call can be dangerous.
Drivers are subsidizing Lyft and Uber’s unrealistically low fares, in some cases, Uber is competing with city buses and the pool fare is competitive with public transit. While this is an important service for the community, why should it be subsidized by drivers? Uber’s percentage of each fare (25%) should pay for promotion, rather than the drivers who bear the cost of “pool” fares. This particular subsidy builds Uber’s prominence in the market place. Perhaps, if drivers earned shares in Uber equivalent to amounts Uber receives from its 25% of pool fares, drivers would be made whole. Our contribution to this subsidy is real not rhetorical. Uber takes 25% whether or not a trip is cost-effective. My fare from a pool ride from the international airport to a hotel downtown was $1.80.
With Uber’s aggressive enrollment of drivers and inflated charges for rental cars for new drivers, the drivers’ earnings decline to below minimum wage after covering the cost of car, insurance, fuel, maintenance, depreciation, health insurance, social security, unemployment and disability insurance, savings for illness and vacations, i.e., all benefits won by labor unions during the 20th century. Uber drivers, by declaring themselves as self-employed, forfeit these benefits, enticed by Uber’s marketing which calls us partners and entrepreneurs, and by the experience of desperately needed pre-tax cash in the hands of under-employed and unemployed people; money needed to pay for food and rent.
Yesterday, I drove a couple from the airport through a half hour of freeway traffic in the rain. When we arrived at Manchester Hyatt, a luxury hotel where they were staying, the father/husband rushed to the trunk of my car to get his bags out before I could help because, in his mind, this would obligate him to tip me. He then hands the bags to the doorman at the hotel, and gives him $2. I earned $3 for the trip because the man had ordered Uber Pool.
The Uber Pool service works very well in Southern California for students and low wage riders but its often a loss for drivers, depending on how the pool works: whether another rider joins the pool and the length of the trip in which there’s more than one rider. I have yet to encounter a pool rider who chooses the pool fare because of their commitment to the environment. They ask for a pool to reduce the fare knowing that, in most cases, they will ride alone. Riders request a pool fare when privacy isn’t a concern because cheaper than the standard fare which is a fifth of the cost of a taxi and less than an airport shuttle. The pool fare isn’t a lot more than a city bus charges for many trips. It’s nonsense to imagine that it works for drivers.
In the UberPool service, Uber sends a request to a driver and then the computer tries to find another rider along the route set by the first rider. If the computer finds a match, the driver veers from this route to pick up and deliver rider 2 before or after delivering rider 1. Often a second rider is not found and the driver eats the discount. At other times, the second rider is far off course and the driver eats the cost of collecting the second rider. After one of the riders is dropped off, the system can add another second rider. According to Zeno’s law, potentially, the first rider might never arrive at their destination but in reality, in this market, the pool rider rides alone.
Why does Uber tell the world they shouldn’t tip drivers? (Lyft doesn’t do this.) Some riders, for instance, adolescents don’t have the money and they’re riding on a parent’s credit card. Most riders are habitually ungenerous and the system doesn’t allow drivers enough time to evaluate riders before accepting a request. A dollar or two from riders who work cleaning hotels or clerking at Walmart feels precious to me. I’ve given my tips to homeless people I pass on the road and to other drivers and hotel door men, a campaign to seed generosity in my world, which a materialist would call insane.
Uber isn’t capable of generosity, it’s a computer program and its perfection envisions driverless cars. The system attempts to manipulate drivers as if we are machines, perhaps in anticipation of future robotic cars that render drivers unnecessary. It’s an illogical idea. In the first place, franchises of robotic car owners couldn’t take advantage of existing assets. All the cars would have to be purchased and maintained by the franchise. Uber is an effective public transit in Southern California because it is a technology that uses cars and existing drivers. Besides that, the business is based on drivers using a software program, not the other way around.
Transportation wanks undervalue the social aspect although Uber’s marketing exploits it: Riders and drivers are both randomly connecting with other human beings and in doing so, they are discovering their own humanity and the perspectives of others. A typical public expectation about Uber’s drivers is still in formulation. Riders do not know what to expect but they are learning to treat drivers with respect because, that is the way drivers treat riders–as peers. This isn’t the dynamic with taxis. Yet, I hesitate to suggest to others that they should become Uber drivers because driving for long periods in traffic is stressful. The driver’s mind is forced to stay alert to things constantly moving around the car, it’s similar to conditions described to me by someone deployed in Iraq.
One night last week, after driving for ten hours, returning home, I threw my tips out the window in disgust. The feeling was worth it and I don’t miss the money. If I’d refused the money as I wanted to, the rider would likely have penalized me with a low rating.
In last night’s commuter traffic on I-5, i drove a marine from SAN to his apartment deep in Pendleton, It was like driving into Palm Desert fifty years ago. He told me about being on patrol and some of his buddies including some that died. His military dialect and manner of speaking were as perfectly performed as if he’d trained to talk the way he did. (James Joyce) got this.
Human beings connect with others in Ubers, taxis, elevators, trains and airliners. In all these experiences, there’s a stress-inducing element, an element of risk and relatively small physical space. A survey might show people choose Uber over taxis for economic reasons, however, my riders have told me they have been surprised to find that Uber drivers lifted their spirits, while taxis hadn’t. Affordability. yes. But when riders enjoy being in the company of Uber drivers, that experience is as important as the cost savings. The computer program that drivers and riders use to connect is necessary but the least important contribution to the uber experience. Technology is necessary to make ridesharing possible but drivers will ultimately shape and the business.
Orwell’s 1984 wasn’t fantastic fiction, he merely projected the outcome: things had to turn out this way.
The seeds of our present disorder were apparent and Orwell took things to probable conclusions; an automated urban culture in which privacy is impossible. Hitler, Stalin, Franco; not even the notorious East German Stazi had the ability to hack every private conversation, as our national police force does. A national police force wasn’t imagined by those who drafted the U.S. constitution, nor could they foresee technology that allows a national police force to watch us literally without oversight, of course, for our own good.
Orwell saw the rise of this kind of police power because it is predictable to protect the economic hegemony given our constitutional protections, when the population grows so large that it can only be managed by algorithms. It seems astounding that a society formed to promote civil liberty now employs the world’s most comprehensive surveillance of its citizens and visitors.
But here we are and isn’t Mr. Trump our perfect Big Brother.
Nine years older in the lying mirror above the bathroom sink I shape the face of a man who looks back at me curious every morning the same face I don’t know.
6:30. A flight roars out of SAN two miles east.
Portuguese saw the sea level rising. Nine feet in 20 years with tourists wielding plastic money. Above the air quality report in the UT now as storms flood Midway, La Playa, OB and Coronado.
Beach and bluffs along the coast fall in as storms surging over Harbor Island, flood the runways at full moon, submerge embarcadero, Humphries, bones of ancient natives float up in the white sands of the strand and SeaWorld.
The sea digests a channel across 75, south of Loew’s and Coronado is again an island. Beachfront homes fight the tide in vain with concrete walls and lobby for coverage insurance companies exempted from their policies. La Jolla beach hotel and tennis club under water; paddle-boarders skim across approaches to bridges connecting Mission Bay and Pt. Loma. The Hilton surrounded by a concrete dike; looks out over a concrete viaduct full of cars as the ecosystem adapts to an atmosphere seeking equilibrium…
I was floored to see Richard Nixon on TV again, saying he’s running for President; the last time I’d seen him on TV, he was in tears, confessing to a bribe from a developer.
More surprised because I believed in the electoral process then. So I wasn’t surprised later about Watergate and Congress allowed the man who would be president to avoid indictment by resigning. Jerry Ford disappeared into the office of our national embarrassment.
I was incredulous when an untalented melodramatic actor was elected by the people to govern the state of California based on his appearance in General Electric commercials, then to hear he’s using State Police to break a strike at Boron, the company for whom he’d been a spokesperson in commercials. 20 Mule Team Borax. The UT said “the media loves him”.
Reagan’s ascent was as scripted as a Dickens novel, yet I still didn’t get that this was the result of planning that must have started when Kennedy was elected–or, perhaps, assassinated . 1960 or 1963.
Ronald and Nancy had their astrologer to advise them and so we forgive them of being guilty of designing the chaos incited by the War on Drugs, deregulation of the banks and the deals with Iran and Bin Ladin. The U-T depicted the presidential royalty as entitled to a few eccentricities. And anyway, the real decisions were made by bureaucrats. The direction of US economic, social and foreign policy must have been considered in making the office of president into such a complete joke that an Austrian weightlifter and actor specializing in depictions of authoritarian, fascist, if you will, slightly demonic supermen.
The Austrian weight-lifter. Arnold Schwarzenegger, mounted the dais in California, where he became Governor and behold if he isn’t supported by survivors of the murdered Kennedy’s camp. Arnold is much brighter than Ronald and seems cleaner than tricky Dick, and although an unmarried man with a history tainted by tales of womanizing, is given the pretense of family values but selling a Prussian Prime Minister in France might be easier than electing a countryman of the Fuhrer president.
Forcing the Chief Executive and Commander of the Armed Forces to resign for getting head from his adult intern in his home office was classic Republican strategy. The circus trial by media was a good thing in terms of gender politics. However, in a bizarre copycat manipulation of public opinion, in this city, a developer bought the city’s only newspaper to force a progressive Mayor to resign with a daily barrage of front page attacks suggesting sexual impropriety, the developer raised trial by innuendo in the press to global attention. The mayor, whose career the UT all but destroyed, was found innocent in a court proceeding after he resigned. The damage done to the people who elected him was incalculable in much the same way as the damage to public trust of government following the assassinations of the Kennedy’s.
The Rumsfeld-Cheney-Bush war scenario seemed absurd; they used a truly horrible catastrophe, in which thousands died to promulgate a war we’re still mired in; they stripped Americans of constitutionally protected rights; federal funds were used to arm and take control of local police departments, arming and training police like those in Ferguson not unlike the arming of police for Assad, Hussein, Bin Laden… Not even Hitler, Franco or Mussolini achieved this kind of militarization and surveillance over their subjects.
Now cometh this man, Donald Trump, a cartoon caricature of a famous person; he sounds at first innocuous and a little stupid, like Donald Duck. But like England’s Brexit, he’s an opportunistic foil to tap national anxiety. And his wife, Melania, a Shakespearean twist. Can you see the two in regional theater productions of one of the Bard’s early plays: Trump as Bottom and Melania as Titania, the fairy queen in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Or the other way around. Top Bottom Bottom Top, Cherries Rubies, Rubies Cherries. Make no mistake, the apparent randomness is planned. The persona of Trump is shaped to a standard–the archetypical white American male.
The minds that plan Mrs. Clinton’s ascendence are equally historiffically informed: Bill is a people’s person, ergo, Monica, but Hillary is long-barrel practical. Can you imagine the conversation of the three? With Mrs. Wasserman onboard, this pairing of powerful women is hot stuff. The Republicans are having a cow about it as their wives constrain them.
Americans are fed up with this. European analysis of American cupidity say, :what did you expect, they are us?” Who votes when the electoral system is a farce and the executive office, a model of a titular monarchy as a front for an oligarchy?
Fascinatingly, the erotic plays an important part in our puritanical culture. The democracy of it! Rumi, Osho and other prophets of tantra, rolling inddddddd their graves! Bill’s relieved of the title role so that now we can say that behind every powerful woman there’s a congenial man with a sexy glance. (Clang clang clang went the trolley and the myth emerges.)
And, here we are on the brink of catastrophic climate change and in the ring tonight, we have, in red satin trunks, the flamboyant heavy weight contender for the oval office, the tumescent warrior, Mr. Donald Trump, accompanied by his light headed goddess, Melania.
And opposite the Trumps, in pale green trunks held by a pink Patagonia technical climbing belt and pink training bra, defending herself, the myth of American and her husband’s virility, Ms. Hillary Clinton and they are spoiling for a fight.
How Trump fares in campaigning is uncertain, since having no record in governing at this point in history is a plus and it wouldn’t it be scary if he’s actually smart and erudite…Mephistophelean. Big Brother has finally arrived.
Let me now imagine god as a woman; images of faces, tones of voice, eyes closing and opening; a magical thing; I’m rendered hypnotizable by this and how are you? A repulsive attraction for some and I feel this when I raise my eyes to the mirror, like the feel of toxins in my body; I like to fly but I don’t like flying solo. Flying solo and toxins defines me; how can anyone with a rational mind trust this world? And there’s no exit. Sartre made it pay but Zarathustra said,
“…what you abstain from, too, weaves at the web of all human future, your nothing too is a spider web and a spider which lives on the blood of the future. And when you receive it is like stealing, you small men of virtue; but even among rogues, honor says, “One should steal only where one cannot rob.” (F. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra)
Lately, I’ve wanted to feel life deserves applause, as if life isn’t extraordinary, what’s going on here, in this “universe”, which as a mental construct would make Archimedes wonder, not to mention boys like Jesus, Mohammed and Genghis Khan. Wonder is how I feel and now that I know God is female and the sensations sensible that shocked and tingled; made me laugh at the absurdity of sex.
Early on, I had difficulty understanding at times when things seemed inconsistent with survival and I’m not present to life’s wondrous promise and I feel fear, envy the virtuosity of others, guilt about my fear of being known for who and what I am, I disguise competence in my wish to hide; as if invisible, unknown, not wanting to be known but heard. These idiots would nail me to a cross. Always a Jew in a hive of Christians, afraid to go to Shul, let alone Israel. Anywhere. I inherited the experience at Auschwitz, people in uniform are potential Nazis. Catholics, protestants, methodists, mormons, prebyterians, episcopelians, all. It’s not a rational paranoia. It’s an emotional assessment made without thinking, emotional response.
Growing up, my circumstances were appropriate for un-rewardable pagan lives, not far beyond redemption. Curiosity led me to a protestant Sunday school class in the Temple district of Philadelphia, near Broad and Allegheny. That was the first time I heard of original sin, though the terms were meaningless as immaculate conception but I never got the relevance of the cute blond doll baby, they called, Jesus Christ. Nothing fabulous about Moses, David, King Solomon, etc. The holy trio was credible to me than their Santa Claus, a myth I I considered a benign fantasy and I was stunned in disbelief by the conviction of my Sunday Schoolmates about fabulous stories. Much later, after willingly submitting to the notion that immaculate conception is real, it did very little for me for I didn’t understand the representation of characters . Knowing that God is female, I get it. She’s not rendered un-immaculate, no matter whom (or how) she likes to screw and there is no justice in the world for men.
If we believed that story, clearly we are prepared to believe just about anything. Which explains a lot. God didn’t make up this story, men did. What were they supposed to say, when their partner was pregnant again with another dark-skinned kid born while they were out discovering America, who doesn’t resemble them? Did they believe the story? What was their choice? From a practical viewpoint, the incredibleness of immaculate conception and original sin led me to suspect something weird is going on about desire. Erotic love and jealousy, shame, disgust and anger associated with erotic passion are mysterious to a child; the erotic is a subtext in esoteric conceptions of God, devil and Paradise. In any case, Camden, New Jersey isn’t paradise and things can get worse.
The language of this essay may difficult to follow, repetition is intended to draw distinctions and I study my own experience.
The language of this essay may difficult to follow, repetition is intended to draw distinctions and I study my own experience.
When I haven’t felt compassion for the plight of the poor or other kinds of victims of human organization, it is either because I viewed sufferers as responsible for their situations or because I felt I was partly responsible. You can’t feel compassionate for someone you’re beating up, not even when it’s yourself. This would be an oxymoron.
And the will to survive; the natural self-interest of a human being makes us complicit in our downfall, and this could be seen as original sin but it’s not a sin. It isn’t a sin to want to survive, it’s on the mark and we can’t sanely avoid it. Even self-sacrifice serves the survival of something we identify with ourselves. Although I’m certain I didn’t kill Christ nor his followers, I’m open to the possibility that had I been there, depending on circumstances, the way I’m made up, I can see myself in Hitler’s shoes, and even Pol Pot’s. I see myself in the Hitlers in our history and in members of their bureaucracies. Genocide is thinkable for me in that context. On the other hand, I didn’t imagine that people are as stupid and unimaginative as in retrospect, it appears we are. We are too easily influenced by reward. The sweetest little middle class mother feels little discomfort about the plight of victims of the holocaust, famine or of engineering disasters like Fukushima not to mention political phenomena like Goebbels, Dick Cheney, George Bush and/or Richard Nixon, et cetera. It’s not in her interest to disrupt the illusion of distance from the victims.
When fortune smiles on us, our success doesn’t reflect our talent, virtue or intelligence, for good luck, whether accidental or ordained is irrespective of individual circumstances. It’s as true that I’ve caused all the evil in the world as all the good, yet my liability is limited to an arbitrary pittance, perhaps, equivalent to a sum, like $1200 in United States dollars in 2016. It’s mysterious that my personal liability is so limited but it is. I do understand that results were not guaranteed nor harm intentional and that there was contributory negligence—victims are responsible for how they feel their lives turned out. A $1200 price tag doesn’t annoy me and even though animals were hurt in the making of the narrative of my life, the reason I feel no compassion for them is simply because, when I don’t see victims as bringing it on themselves, I see myself as the cause of their suffering; it’s a feeling of guilt associated with gender in narratives of my linguistic heritage, in which this is promoted. I live in a predominantly heterosexual world created by men guided by desires of women that attract and influence men. Bearing and raising children exempts them from responsibility.
Desire came upon me first as I slept, in dreams. I liked the feel of it but, like Psyche’s Eros, I had no idea to what force I’d binded myself and then blinded myself to it with shame. I wanted to feel only desire and at the same time, shame filled me with disgust at the selfishness of my desire. Leopold Bloom. Don Quejano. Miguel Cervantes.
It had been so long since I had let myself express desire and so pleasure is associated with discomfort. I’m nervous when I see desire in a woman’s eyes because desire renders me vulnerable. I allow myself to feel desire and the shame I feel at my helplessness before it flavors pleasure. I can’t feel other than I feel. I can’t pretend that I’m not nervous around erotic desire. Psilocybin mushrooms allow freedom from inhibiting fear but it hadn’t occurred to me before now that this is the relationship with erotic desire that shapes the current politics of the world.
Greek stoics and their Christian counterparts viewed the erotic as animal, subhuman in this sense, and as sinful and evil and they saw female attraction to the male incompletely: their rationalizations accommodated emotional cognition that governed their behavior and thus, the social order, and their narratives of erotic love are true to this experience, requiring explanations by a deus ex machina to make sense of it. Gods made human beings as illogical as we are with respect to erotic desire for their own perverse pleasure. Yet, these narratives about erotic love and desire projected a modern world that otherwise couldn’t have come about, including all good and evil in this world. As time went by, narratives that are consistent with the way the world works continued to evolve and here we are.
The logical conclusion revealed in all great narratives in the literary canon is that the world appears to us as it does to a great extent because we distinguish classes of things by emotional cognition. In terms of intimacy and desire, I see men, women, children, black, attractive, repulsive, admirable, Arab, male, desirable, hateful, fascist, and so on and everyone I encounter, falls into classes by dint of blends of emotions I feel towards them in the moment I encounter them. When I realized that we class each other in accordance with emotions they evoke in us and that usually, we look no further than this, I began to challenge myself to look again and this practice, though reasonable, has gotten me into trouble more than once.
We classify people based on the degrees to which they evoke disgust, sexual excitement, compassion, fear, remorse, romantic longing and so on. Then we rationalize about our emotional judgments, which is like profiling. Emotions we feel in the presence of a member of a class are predicted by the class in which we see them, which is justified by previous experience and this includes emotional responses inherited from personal genetic predecessors. When I understood this, I thought to break away from these patterns of perception. I tried everything: yoga, wheat grass, ayahuasca, ecstasy and LSD. I found that my emotional responses define me; they are traits of a personality that developed from experiences from the moment of conception. I found that I can’t unfeel what I’m feeling and the best I can do is to distinguish the justification I invent to explain my emotional judgments so that rational explanations are both understandable and debunked: Jews are acquisitive, children are innocent, women are sensitive, dark skinned people are animals, etc. Then I saw that I’ve adapted many emotional responses from narratives I’ve followed because in following a narrative, I co-create the universe with the story teller. For example, I feel jealousy when a woman I’m with flirts with a black man because I believe black men arouse sexual excitement in white women, an interesting form of racism. I view my emotional responses either as qualities of myself or as a true fact about another; proving inherent qualities of persons I respond to emotionally and all along I thought my judgments are rational when they are really only consistent with my emotional cognitions.
Rational judgments are not judgments at all. They are rationalizations of emotions we feel about classes of people we distinguish according to qualities of emotions evoked. The Greeks tried to understand what emotion is and wrote a lot about it. Chryssipus, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and then, on to St. Augustine, Spinoza and so on. They all found that emotion is an evaluation about how the object of an emotion is likely to either assist or harm that which we hold most dear, in Greek, our eudaimonia. An object of the emotion of love occurs for us with qualities that evoke longing and desire for the object, imagined as outside the self and possessed of the ability to inspire feelings of flourishing one’s eudaimonia.
Like Cervantes and his alter ego, Don Quejano, I learned that eudaimonia for a heterosexual man in my culture called for accomplishments like bonafide certificates, a child or two to demonstrate virility and confirmation of sexual potency, a female partner to be worn like a scout’s merit badge. I respond to women as men “should” behave but erotic longing and desire are felt emotional awareness towards sexual and/or romantic objects. Romantic love isn’t an illusion, it’s an emotional response, the triggers of which were designed by my earliest experiences and modified continually. I’m genetically “wired” to respond as I do to begin with, even before the egg was fertilized. There was never a decision about this. I thirst and drink to quench the thirst. I fuck to fuck, no need to know who or what it is that I’m fucking with. I’m in love with the object that evokes that emotion. I’m aroused in the presence of an arousing object. I feel embarrassed when I see myself or others behaving selfishly but my erotic interest attenuates the thought and instead inspires sublimation, hence Don Quixote and Ulysses.
Martha Nussbaum wrapped up her book, Upheavals of Thought; The Intelligence of Emotions with the statement, “The longing for totality breeds intolerance of the dividual. We are left not with a total text but with insights from several idealistic pictures we may try to incorporate into the greater chaos of our lives: with Dante’s lucid love of the individual, piercing the fog of envy, anger and sloth; with Mahler’s triumphant compassion, rising above envy, including the whole world of mortal striving in its embrace; with Whitman’s political call to a democratic equality grounded in the recognition of mortality, “with the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty…the gentle soft-born measureless light…”
Nussbaum begins her book with Marcel Proust’s views of love but found an answer eventually in James Joyce’s narrative, Ulysses:
“…we are left with the more tentative and tender love of their [Dante’s, Mahler’s, Whitman’s] comic counterpart, which expresses an attitude we badly need if we are to remain idealists without disgust. By ending with Poldy and Molly, who both endorse and tenderly mock the spirit of ascent [of love], I have tried to indicate that even in their real life imperfect form, indeed especially in that real form, in which the incompleteness and surprise of human life is accepted rather than hated, love and its allies among the emotions (grief, compassion) provides powerful guidance toward social justice, the basis for a politics that addresses the needs of other groups and nations, rather than spawning the various forms of hatred that our texts have identified. In Poldy’s sudden defection from Spinoza. In Molly’s inconstant desire, in the way surprise and passivity are embraced in the movement of the text, we find a mercy and an equity that we need to combine with our other loftier visions—no doubt with our own mercy toward the uneven intermittence of attention and desire that inhabits our own imaginations.”
is a candidate for Feminist Nightmare of 1952. Woman is stigmatized for her erotic nature. Jim Backus’ character quips, “all I know is what I read in the papers” [and]
Marilyn Monroe personifies an ideal female intellect, appearance, speech, behavior, dress, taste, gesture and dependence. I felt cognitive dissonance when evil peeped through Marilyn’s passivity; fear and disgust but not with the erotic, which evokes pleasantly lascivious feelings but at the incongruity of erotic attraction and murderous, thoughtless, predatory evil.
The title, in the vernacular, “don’t bother to knock” characterizes female passivity. Females in the story include a girl of 10, an adolescent, unbalanced Monroe and Anne Bancroft.
The authentic vulnerability Monroe portrays led me to reflect that, unlike her character, I gave no conscious attention to the future I was creating. Narratives promulgated in media, churches and temples supported life having a purpose, even beyond death and a living human being personifies expression of faith. Monroe’s character is faithful. Religion isn’t needed to keep the faith but is a reminder that faith defines human being, however, religion is a narrative that validates the idea of a meaningful life.
(Belief in the state is religious, as politicians know: Stalin, Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hillary could affirm, after a couple martinis.)
My emotional cognition when viewing this film, brought up memories of when I’ve been unable to act on or even to speak of my desire, not unlike Widmark’s portrayal of Jed, self-protective; afraid of being used in preparation for abandonment. Monroe’s portrayal of Nell’s confusion as faith encounters the irony of not admitting knowledge or knowing in what way life could be meaningful when love is neither durable nor trustworthy. Choosing on appearances, wanting to believe feelings but not trusting them, I learned I can get the love I can afford to pay for, dependent, helpless and terrified by my weakness and vulnerability in the face of it.
Not long ago, I viewed a YouTube video of Marilyn Monroe’s last filmed interview and I found a statement published by the last writer to have interviewed her, the day before she died.
In the filmed interview, she clearly explained the nature of the collaboration of a director and an actor.
I got no feeling of connection in the narrative between the writer and Monroe in the written interview but I felt a too familiar remorse.
A reminder that I became hyper-vigilant after unusual circumstances of my birth and of the first 3 years of life, when my mother, unable to care for me, first gave me to her sister, then to an orphanage. My older brother took misguided advantage of my weakness in creating his own misguided relationship strategy.
Survival left me keenly observant but distrustful, with expectations of abandonment and a strategy that continued to create this experience without knowing when or how I produce this result in relationships. I couldn’t admit the imperfection or the shame at my helplessness and dependence and that I felt my existence had been imposed on our mother by her love.
Repeated experiences of abandonment justify the need for hyper-vigilance. Shame was also validated by media and envy of the success of others, and supported by pleasure at the failure of others, confounding compassion since this feeling of pleasure makes me complicit in their plight. Morality and ethics seemed a matter of knowing what I can get away with. Since, I project abandonment and rejection, I’m also vulnerable to those who see it, making their revenge a part of the strategy: all that is required is to desire love and the situation arises. My brilliant mind.
…I represent the product, define its objectives and track its progress. I’m called, Producer, because it is my task to “own” the vision behind the product and where it should go, representing needs of both intended viewers and the enterprise. In light of resources and the creative team’s input, I choose what to work on when and make the call when a product has achieved its objectives.
When I approach making a motion picture as a product for consumers, consideration of public taste shapes both story and style. Depictions of physical violence and terror meet some popular tastes. Slap stick comedy, romance, satire and in every genre, love and erotic desire. A style appropriate to any particular audience can be found for every story. Understanding the audience expected to follow a story may be partially informed by focus groups or other opinions but ultimately, the audience for a movie reflects the spirit in which the story is told, a context for which a producer is responsible.
I contribute to a team’s completion of its work by planning and completing projects with team members acting as elements in a neural network that incorporates experience informed from the perspectives of their particular disciplines, including coders, testers and user experience designers, marketing leaders as well as musicians, editors and writers. I work with colleagues from all these specializations to design, build and perfect the product in the context of the spirit in which the story is being told.
Desire for perfection of the product is reflected in the approach of each team member to the task. In cinematography, for example, this shows up in heightened sensitivity to the experience of the object in focus, an emotional cognition about that object–this differs from rational decision making, because the cognition guides action before rational judgment and thus in anticipation of what happens next, which, since this is unpredictable, is often unexpected and offers unthought-of opportunities to which the artist responds either on principle or again, emotional cognition. Camera operator, actor, director, grip, best boy, recordist and so on, all respond to experience with action in the moment, all guided by emotional cognition about color, light, sound, silence, movement, shape, tone, depth and context in a frame informing a process that Einstein referenced in describing his comprehension of relativity as not of his rational mind.
These photos were made at a festival for children of farm workers and their families, whom I lived among in Santa Maria for a year, 2011-12.
I worked at the library for a while, straightening the rows of books in Spanish that were never checked out, though 85% of the 125,000 population of Santa Maria speaks Spanish at home and at work.
Schools there are bilingual but children are not asked to read the Spanish classics, like Don Quixote, nor do they understand the value of their Spanish and native heritage and grow to feel their cultural heritage has negative value to their potential for success.
I regret not volunteering my time with a literacy advocacy group, when this was requested of me some years ago.
I scoffed at the idea that knowledge would make any difference, I was somewhat erudite at the time and I couldn’t see myself learning anything because there didn’t seem to be anything important to learn from reading narratives. I’d done that since childhood.
Academics have proved a mythical bell curve in which the ability for intelligent cognition for 98% of the population has modest mental capacity and 2% are bright. Regardless of our rational ability, however, we are not so differentiated in terms of emotional cognition, perhaps because this is more difficult to measure scientifically. The term, emotional intelligence is itself confusing.
The nature of agency makes us territorial and self-centered and emotional cognition tells us how anything encountered may impact our selves. From this set of responses, we weave the tapestry of our understanding of ourselves and the world which makes up personal narratives.
Like title insurance, which supports the fiction of ownership of land and buildings so rent is paid to the persona named on the title, our identity cards and numbers set the boundaries of our individual agency just as title insurance guarantees that taxes will be paid by the person named on the title and that that person alone can say who uses the property. Can you imagine how the Homestead Act affected the native population?
Narrative fiction has value for readers. Popular fiction and nonfiction are generally more likely to be an opiate for the masses, guidance for agency. A popular narrative annoying me today is the myth of democracy in America. The election of a president and congress is produced at a cost of hundreds of millions, mostly in media purchases. Every 4 years a feeding trough is set up for media companies. The myth of democracy would collapse if those people over 60 chose not to vote. We should try that next time.
That’s the reason for candidates like Ralph Nader and Bernie Sanders, to give the appearance of rational choices about salient differences. The other two candidates, the real candidates, are ambiguously related to concerns of most people. It’s not that these candidates are selected because their notions are irrelevant. Electoral government is based on the idea that a person can represent the interests of a number of others and as the size of a constituency grows, the less likely it is they will be represented. Plato felt 5000 is a maximum number and we number 400 million. On the evidence, it’s absurd and the result is that people complain that congress doesn’t reflect the interests of the electorate?
Unfortunately because the actual control of government is concentrated in a power structure and the power of a corporate body this size is immense, it looks like a no-exit march to environmental destruction now because the priorities those holding the power are thoughtless of the effect on the many.
We’ve been losing an arms race to ourselves. There are a few choices but they all move the focus of public expenditure from military, technology and policing to social welfare. To accomplish this only requires that we tell the truth that politics is local. The most corrupt aspects of our justice system are local. All social services are locally administered. Governance should logically be local and Plato’s model will probably work.
It’s symptomatic of a recent failure of our form of government that an unprecedented number of formerly deployed servicemen are committing suicide, including some whose, work was operating drones from a base thousands of miles from action. If my employees commit suicide as a result of their employment, you’d shut down the business. A crowd of people dressed in black would surround my place of business, carrying torches, screaming, like Dr. Frankenstein.
Caveat: Work in Progress! Biographic material subject to revision as things appear differently sometimes, when looking back, as time, unfolded, reveals me to me, as if I’m elsewhere and then it seems that I-today remembers me differently. I-today wasn’t present and what was sometimes humiliates me to consider. This line leads me to why am I here now? I have a human need for creative projects. I’m loved by my daughter, who is almost a sister.
I didn’t understand the longterm impact of an emotion of disgust in the presence of an older person, a not wanting to be them; that I couldn’t imagine becoming old and I didn’t want to. I also feared I would die very young. Thoughtlessly, I found myself on the threshold of my own age bias. Perceptions of age in this culture reflect the relationship of erotic love to power and it’s not a sliding scale.
My feelings and the empirical evidence presume that life means something, I’ve given it thought and I rationally choose it despite the evidence. That I wait for things to change is a prayer. Then, there’s music and reading and for some, who can afford it, whoring. The world would change direction if we subsidized sex work. A voucher system. There are epic possibilities for corruption. Expressions of anger and revenge would show up in new ways. A mini series.
My character’s genetic structure must reflect at least a couple centuries of music and theatre. However, the creative process is a form of madness and I had experiences of abandonment at unusual events in the early years. I’m always editing names. Memory delivers images of events that I describe using words, sometimes imagined events. It’s helpful to know the difference and many times it’s hard to say. Memory is not the interpreter but it remembers interpretations associated with emotions in different ways depending on the experience and awareness of the rememberer.
I remember when she went to work as a typist at the Philadelphia Navy yard in 1940, placing me in Loretta’s hands. But I didn’t know where she went nor what people did there. Yet I got how she felt about working at the place. She had literally left the house she and my father rented in Hollywood with my brother, who was 3 at the time. I was born in Chicago on a stop-over to Philadelphia. I met my father finally at the age of 35, when I was on or just over the brink of divorce. He said he married, in sequence, three women, producing two children with each. I’m afraid that’s in the genes. I’ve felt the weight of karma, which endorses my underlying Jewish mentality.
Mother had no time and less energy nor a great desire to oversee temperamental talent but she understood and even felt compassion for its provenance, everything about her experience of my father disgusted her, including the music profession. I get the efficacy of practicing scales but I don’t do it well enough to be profitable. In my world, we have technology that has allowed me to make distinctions in music with as much if not more attention, to hear the Bach in Mahler and v.v. Where would we be with technology if we couldn’t make it possible for a composer to create a symphony without his becoming a skilled performer of an acoustic instrument? This is one of the reasons why I had to wait so long, longing sometimes for the day to come, surrounding myself with instruments I learned to make lovely sounds on but not to play. I avoid playing with others and am generally, uncool. I’ve been a demon for getting jobs done when I’m called upon to do and I’m mostly useful in creative work. I’ve been prescient as a writer, taking things to logical conclusions and remaining alert to changing circumstances.
When I was four years old, she had farmed my brother out to live with our uncle and moved us into the large flat above the store her mother’s second husband owned in Camden, New Jersey and I got to know black people when I wandered away when grandma was inattentive. My brother was unwanted by his aunt having to do with my brothers effect on his cousin, her son, who became the chief administrator of a significant psychiatric hospital.
So she moved us from my grandmother’s flat in a Jewish ghetto on Kaighns Avenue to a flat in a brownstone on North 15th Street in Philadelphia. The three-story house was a long block north off Allegheny, on a corner of a cultural vortex at the intersecting boundaries of black, Irish Catholic, Protestant and Italian Catholic communities. No other Jews lived here. Kids played in their own communities and learned a xenophobic interest in those of other communities but there was no Jewish community in this intersection. I felt it was safer to be invisible. It was a strategy to disappear, like a chameleon, hiding in the background, as I passed from world to world to world walking to and from school.
With the experience of a chameleon not unlike Felix Krull, I commenced a life and even though it included assumptions of privilege of race and intellect and even though fortune presented opportunities and even though I can’t avoid accomplishing whatever is set before me to do, I have felt compelled to deprecate my natural talent and move forward as if methodically. In a high school, in Norwalk, California, I was identified by a perceptive teacher as a clever communicator and my mother began collecting trophies I’d win in forensic contests. It was thrilling to be emotionally committed and emotionally detached in the performance. At Long Beach State College, I continued to compete and discovered sculpture and radio theater. I directed two and wrote two for the college radio program. I was in love but introduced to sex by a sexually avid 19 year old theater student from Santa Ana. I was grateful also for the degree because I was starving at the time until a girlfriend arranged for me to get a job as a social worker, providing I got the diploma.
A couple years later, I met Anne Webster; shortly before I was fired from my job as a probation counselor by the new manager of an LA County probation camp for emotionally disturbed male juvenile delinquents. They brought in Ira from Israel where he’d worked in a military boot camp. He wore khaki and introduced the camp to the Israeli tough love approach to behavior modification. Since I had more in common with the juvenile charges we oversaw, I didn’t fit Ira’s pictures. I was in angst over a woman I adored, who didn’t want to know I existed, not that I could have changed that then.
Had I read Don Quixote then, as my girlfriend’s mother suggested, I wouldn’t have recognized myself anyway. I don’t remember what inspired it but I went to Puerto Vallarta by train and bus and when I returned, I moved into a house in Santa Monica with Anne. 1967 was not a bad year, give or take Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam war.
Anne introduced me to Buñuel, Bergman, Kurosawa, Fellini and so on. It occurred to me that, if a storteller can show photographic images in addition to the audio, making a narrative fiction in film is a piece of cake and the universe smiled and agreed. I began making films first for use in elementary school classrooms. Viewers followed my stories, young children and black people; especially. When I was 11 years old, I was the only white male at Gillespie Junior High School, which later led to a connection with John Birks (Dizzy) Gillespie and a tour to Upsala with him and Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Thelonius Monk, Ben Webster, Don Cherry, Sahib Shihab.
Several years later, after Anne and I had split up and I was in LA and she and my daughter lived in Oakland, I had an idea for a movie based on a magic building but, instead of producing the story, I got Xerox to help me make the building. My chameleon act: “Can you do that?” “Sure I can do that”” The media called the building the most intelligent building in the world, an oxymoron. McGraw Hill published my book about it, called, Architectonics. I discovered that I can write pretty good. I then led a new nonprofit corporation in San Diego and before I knew it, I’d developed hundreds of homes affordable to families of people with whom I have nothing in common but my human physical form, not unlike those around whom I grew up in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey.
In the morning of February 17, 1997, during my daily 7 A.M. run on the beach, I fell unconscious into the Pacific Ocean due to oxygen starvation in my brain when the aortic valve didn’t open sufficiently. I regained consciousness as the blood rushed to my head when I was floating face down in the water. For a few minutes, although I was, in a sense, awake, my eyes took in the view of sand settling below the surf, I had no memory.. “I” simply didn’t occur. Nothing occurred. I felt nothing but a sense of awe. No desire, no regret, no pain, no judgment, I felt lucid, satisfying sensation. As my eyes scanned trees and residences along the bluff above the beach, I felt vague familiarity and curiosity. My attention came to rest on a large, round window in the gable of a grey clapboard house. It’s peculiar shape connected with the name of the neighbor who designed that house. As her name occurred to me, my life came tumbling back to me through that round window like a tornado in reverse motion. I thought, in the words of Jackie Gleason, “Pow! Right in the kisser!”
Following a “pulmonary autograft procedure” (open heart surgery), my heart was successfully reconstructed. The medical profession is unable to acknowledge the post traumatic stress disorder created by terrifying medical procedures, leaving parents to their psychological fate, which varies depending on the patient’s immediate family and I had none. Systematically, I gave up everything, though I tried to keep my dignity. I gave up human relationship. I gave up my home and I drove off, heading north from Del Mar in an old pickup truck with a camper shell, with a dog and a cat. A year later, when I was camping alone, in a 1973 Southwind RV, in a redwood forest 13 miles from Ft. Bragg in Mendocino County, first the cat and then the dog died. I then truly had nothing and it wasn’t any better that I knew I had nothing, however, there was a stark authenticity about it that reminded me of my experience on the beach in Del Mar that day when I didn’t remember anything.
The road into the place, where I camped in Jackson State Forest was an ancient logging road that winds down the side of a canyon from Highway 22 to a tributary of the Noyo. The road is a litany of jarring potholes and bone rattling rocks constantly overturned by logging trucks. Twisting ruts deepened in frequent rains and then filled with dust again when it was dry. The occasional pile of bear shit and fallen branches added surprise and color each day but I grew to know that road “like the back of my hand”. I timed the four miles of ruts, rocks and hairpin turns above precipitous drops and tried to beat my time from camp to highway and highway to camp. At speed, sound and movement became rhythmic and, my brain, soaked in adrenalin, gave me a short-lived feeling of being alive. It was at the start of one of these trips, when I was taking Bear (the dog) to a vet, that I first heard the music.
At first I thought I only remembered the Can Can from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman. I was frightened, when I couldn’t make the music stop. Then the music stopped when I stopped the truck at the stop sign at 22, starting again when I turned onto the highway. I could stop listening to the music by putting my attention on something else, but the music continued. When I focused on the music, I could hear all the instruments and I found I could change the tempo and I began playing with the arrangement and orchestration.
By now, I’ve read Oliver Sacks studies of patients in his book, Musicophilia (Random House,2007) but when this happened, I had a thought that going mad is unfairly criticized that being nuts isn’t so bad. That I heard the Can Can seemed profoundly ironic. It started at the instant the truck started and it only stopped at the completion of a perfect cadential phrase and I would carefully stop the truck and modify the tempo towards this end. I experimented with turning the music on and off while imagining driving. Tales of Hoffman was the first piece of theatrical music I heard, when my mother left me in the care of my grandmother and I played with her Victrola records.
I’m astonished and a little bitter thinking about my long unacknowledged capacity for creation of music, like an unrequited love denied through a lifetime of emotional poverty, persisting through all my careers during my time as a chameleon. How remarkable that during all those years, I’d always owned and toyed with instruments. For several years, when I lived in Canada, there were five pianos in my home and a bass viol, vibraphone, several guitars, flutes and some drums. I played them for fun and relaxation. And I often chose the company of musicians, whom I envied for making a living doing what they loved to, but also, I envied them their musical ability. I felt intuitively that I could learn to play but I’d never learn to use an instrument like Casals, Miles or Ellington. I was resigned that I wouldn’t make music.
Offenbach’s Can Can is a musical rendering of Hieronymus Bosch’s vision of The Garden of Earthly Delights. When I moved out of the forest and into an RV Park in Ft. Bragg. I also began to suspect that my interest is music was a message. In light of my fascination with music since those early days with my Grandmother’s Victrola,, it seems strange that I avoided taking it up seriously. But it makes perfect sense that I should feel as I do for I knew no other way to develop knowledge and ability with music except by mastering an instrument because this is conventional knowledge. Ask any music teacher in any school anywhere. Nevertheless, my ambition has always been to conduct the philharmonic and while I’d avoided any serious study of music, my experience of the most complex harmony grew intuitively. To not study music now was no longer an option. Offenbach’s high kicking line of dancers launched me into my career.
It seems astounding that five years later, I’ve earned an MFA in composition. I’ve deconstructed and recreated works of Bartok, Bach, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Mahler, Brahms, Beethoven and I’ve learned enough about Arabic Maqam, Indian Carnatic and traditional Chinese music to understand and use their idiomatic forms. Most importantly, I feel satisfied when I’m writing music.
Much of what I’ve learned about music has been through reading, taking classes and learning how to listen acutely but my progress has been mostly empowered by new professional audio software for programming midi mainly using samples sold by Vienna Symphonic Instruments. Years of dedicated practice might allow a gifted musician to play in a symphony orchestra but you can learn more about a complex piece when you program the shape of each note by each instrument. This technology allows you to stand on the practice of all music ever by anyone anywhere and anytime.
The best part of this story is my journey in music has only just begun.