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This is basically a writing diary where I write all kinds of stuff that will be immensely boring to anyone who stumbles across it.

Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

Dimes & Pennies Hiding in Sofa Cushions

Here I am, all suited up for my SF Bay Area vacation.

I am told—only half jokingly—that if I brought along an entire suitcase stuffed with N-95 masks and sold them when I got there, I could subsidize my final years in a very upscale Alzheimer’s home: The air quality is that bad, and the stores have all run out of masks.


I can tell I’m nervous about the trip because I haven’t been sleeping well.

One of the odd legacies of my disastrous childhood is that I rarely if every know what I am feeling at any particular time. I’m completely dissociated. My two ground states are Antic, Mischievous Jokester and Melancholic. I engage in the former when I’m around other people and the latter when I’m alone. The usual gambit of human emotions does take place, but it takes place somewhere deep inside. My body is aware of them, but my mind is not.

It’s never particularly been a problem for me, but it does make me different from most of the people I know.


Max didn’t pass his Bar exam. Which is not as big of a deal as it might have been were he not in graduate school pursuing his public policy master’s.

I think this was hubris: He didn’t take a prep class. He’s super-smart, and he’s never taken prep classes for any of those standardized tests.

But he was really beaten down after three years of law school. I edited a slough of final papers for him, and I could tell he wasn’t thinking clearly.

When he told me he was gonna take the Bar right away, I told him I thought that was a big mistake. I knew he needed time to decompress. I know law schools themselves push new graduates to take the Bar right away so that they can beef up their stats, but fuck law schools, right?

But he’s an adult. He makes his own decisions.

As his mother, I suppose I could have been pushier. But being pushy goes against my grain.

So he spent a few weeks after graduation learning how to be a real human boy again and then another two weeks getting used to studying. Two weeks before the exam, I think he finally got into the groove, but he would have needed another month at that intense level of studying to pull the exam off, I suspect.

Anyway, this time, I think he needs to take a prep class, and I will make it my mission while I’m in California to pressure him into taking a prep class. I will pull out all the stops!

And I will pay for it! And then he’ll absolutely pass because not only will he be prepared in terms of the subject matter, but he’ll also be racked with guilt over the image of his ancient, decrepid mother starving her cats, living on ramen noodles, pawing through the sofa cushions with palsied hands to unearth the few dimes and pennies hiding there so that she could pay for the prep course.

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Chekhov's Gun

I continue in a relatively jolly ground state, but there’s no denying that the world around me is in a really sucky state.

The official Paradise death toll is now 71; more than 1,000 people are missing and unaccounted for.

Unsecured U.S. household debt is higher than it was before the 2008 recession.

The Saudi prince tortured the journalist to death but we’re not gonna do anything about it because while other countries are dumping U.S. Treasury debt, the Saudis are actively buying.

I pop my Vitamin D and huddle under my full-spectrum light.

I think my karmic assignment is to bear witness.

I mean, yes—I have a tiny bit of influence on the world around me.

But mostly, I was chosen to sit in a corner and scribble notes.

I have no idea what happens to those notes.

But that, obviously, is my job.


So, yesterday, I cleaned desultorily. I wrote about robo-advisory financial services, which are more interesting than you might think. I shoveled hideous white stuff from the sky!

And in the evening, I ventured forth to buy my N-95 mask.

Of course, this was the high point of my day because I got to take pix of America’s great retail wasteland, the Big Box Stores, and I also got to spy on the people who work there who are some of the most desperate, hopeless, dying-on-the-inside group of individuals I have ever laid eyes on. I think you’d see more happy faces on San Quentin’s death row.

And, of course, all around them were those ghastly Xmas decoration plus the mounting sound of those drumbeats announcing the imminent arrival of Black Friday, really the holiest of all holy days on the American calendar.

Outside the Big Box stores, the scene was suitably apocalyptic:


Also yesterday, I ran across this photograph:

I gasped: Who are you? Why aren’t we married?

We aren’t married because that’s Anton Chekhov who died in 1904.

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Hideous White Stuff From the Sky!

Unusual travel suggestions, Kurt Vonnegut tells us, are dancing lessons from God.

[personal profile] sulphuroxide had an extra ticket for the marketing cruise he’s going on in January. His gf didn’t want to go; his bff didn’t want to go. So, somehow I am going.

This is an amazing opportunity for me professionally since I will be able to hawk my services to people who can really use them and who are in a position to remunerate me handsomely.

Plus the Caribbean in January! When it will be blizzarding here!

Have I mentioned recently how much I hate snow? No?

Well, here it is: I FUCKIN’ HATE SNOW!


And speaking of which… First snow event of the season yesterday. It confounded meteorologists who were predicting a mere two to three inches. We got eight. Then there was a flash freeze, just to glaze the snow with a slippery bone-breaking surface, and now it is snowing more.

Temps are going back up into the 40s later this afternoon, which means some of it may melt. So it can form even more Say!-Ya-want-a-bargain-on-this-artificial-hip?-type ice on top of the remaining snow.


Just ugh.


And I’ve entered into that phase that I always enter into before I do a trip, during which I can’t believe I was so stoooopid as to have decided to do a trip because basically, I never want to leave my house again.

This is not a function of the snow since I feel this way before every trip, no matter what the season.

And I always have a good time on trips! I love to travel!

So, I don’t know what’s up with this peculiar psychological blip.

But today, I must start serious Trip Prep.

Which means I must score n N-95 facemask.

Because apparently the air in the SF Bay Area is lethal.

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With my new phone in hand, everything I do is fun, fun, fun because everything I do is a photo opportunity!

Even though I haven’t really learned the ins-and-outs of the camera yet, and even though the new phone is just enough bigger than the old phone that I’m really clumsy with its controls.

Manual dexterity has never been one of my talents.


Yesterday, I worked with the lamas on past/present/future. Also on Thanksgiving.

My goal with the lamas has never been to teach them grammar but to make a kind of safe space where they wouldn’t feel embarrassed babbling in English.

It’s working with Norbu! But, of course, Norbu has more incentive to learn English: He’s the administrator in charge of running the place.

Norbu was born in the Dharamashala. He’s much better adapted to life in the secular world.

Tsering was born in Tibet—in fact, in the same province outside Lhasa that Lobsang was born in, though I can’t for the life of me remember the actual name of that province. It’s the province from which all those women warriors clad in lapis lazuli and medieval armor rode out to confront the Chinese when the Chinese first invaded.

They lost.

Tsering is having a rather tough time of it. Diaspora is all he’s ever known.

A lot of my nonstop buffoonery and goofing during my English lessons is expressly designed to get Tsering to crack a smile.

They asked me to stay for lunch, so I did. I was curious about daily life in the monastery. And I’m here to report monks are just as annoying as people in “real” life. In fact, I wondered whether that might be one of the factors behind Tsering’s obvious reluctance to learn English. I mean, granted: American English is a very hard language to learn being a kind of linguistic jambalaya, balancing the tongues of every invader who ever set foot in the British Isles with a frothy white meringue topping of purely American slang and usage.

But I dunno.

Tsering speaks Tibetan, Hindi, and Nepali fluently, plus a couple of dialects from places in the Himalayans that used to be countries but aren’t anymore. (Mustang!) So, he obviously has an aptitude for language.

And he seems really blocked on English.

Maybe that block serves a functional purpose. ‘Cause I gotta say, if I had to interact with those American- and Brit-born monks on a regular basis, I’d take a vow of silence.


After lunch at the monastery, I went to the mall.

With my new camera and a couple of photo filters, the mall was creepier and more soul sucking than ever!

And practically empty, which does not speak well for the future of bricks-and-mortar retail in America, although granted: This was two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, and Wednesday is traditionally the worst retail day.

I was particularly captivated by the candy display at the Tar-Jay checkout stand. Another one of those situations where all the color in a grey universe seemed to be pooled into one small space:

Plus I kept wondering why it’s commodifiable art when Wayne Thiebaud does it but fungible kitsch when I do it.


In the evening, I went to the seasonal wrap-up meeting for the garden. We have $3,000 in our kitty.

There was a heated argument about homeless people who steal our tomatoes!!!!! Should we install a high-tech security system? Maybe we should electrify the fence!

I think the total number of tomatoes that disappeared from the garden throughout the summer was maybe 20.

And I’m not sure they weren’t stolen by other gardeners whose tomatoes hadn’t come in yet.

The garden is rather remote, and there were one or two times, working into the late afternoon, where I did feel a little… vulnerable.

Like if the ghost of one of those ruthless Livingston robber barons suddenly materialized besides me, there would be absolutely no way I could fight it off.

I’m sensitive to safety issues. If the Garden Council wants to put in a lock because people feel nervous about being alone there, that’s okay with me.

But to ward off imaginary homeless people? Because I can assure you, there are no vast hoards of shopping-cart-pushing homeless people in the quaint and scenic town of Hyde Park.

“Maybe we could install a simple lock on the gate and then plant a few tomato plants and a couple of rows of lettuce out front where some of the ornamental flowers are now," I said. "So people can forage.”

“Absolutely not!” said the woman who was leading the charge against the imaginary homeless people. “If they want food, they can go to the food pantry like everyone else.”

“But the thing is that a lot of homeless people prefer to stay outside the institutional safety nets,” I said. “And maybe they’re hungry today, and the food pantry doesn’t open till tomorrow.”

“That is not my problem,” the woman snapped. “If you give in to them, you’re just encouraging them.”

“You know, in pre-industrial England, there was this custom known as gleaning,” I said pleasantly. “The poor would take the leftover crops after farmers had harvested. Eventually, the farmers actually started planting small bits of land with crops expressly for the poor. It’s a practice with roots in the Old Testament. Pre-dates capitalism!”

But the woman’s mouth was set in this sour sneer, and the expression on the face of the husband sitting meekly beside her left me in no doubt that this was a woman who was prepared to draw blood to get her own way.

I'd never once seen this woman in the garden, by the way. Though I saw her husband there all the time. And his plot was probably the nicest one there.

I pick my battles strategically.

So, no gleaning in next year's garden.


And now back to the fabulous and fascinating world of robo-financial advisors!

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First World Problems

UPS showed up with the new toy around 10pm.

Honestly, I’d given up on them, was preparing for sleep. In the morning, I was gonna get up and scream at UPS customer service staff on the phone.

One of the least attractive parts of my personality is that I kinda like screaming at people. When they don’t have any connection whatsoever with my real life.

I have this really strong bellicose streak. It’s why I was so good at martial arts.

Of course I’d spent the day obsessively checking the UPS tracker every 10 minutes. The truck with my new phone had left Kingston at 8:45 in the morning. It’s exactly 38.62 miles between Kingston and Hyde Park. Less if you swim across the river! So why wasn’t the new phone here yet?

First world problems!

Otherwise, it was just a hideous grey day. It rained and rained and rained. I told myself I was lucky it was raining— because (a) look what happens when it doesn’t rain (California firestorms!) and (b) three degrees colder, and it would have been snowing.

First snowstorm of the season is supposed to take place tomorrow.


Phone is living up to my expectations. I really like it. Though the cats won’t sit still long enough to pose for dramatic photo portraits.

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New Toy Plus RIP Toby

Went out running very late in the day.

Preceded by the usual internal remonstrances:

Go Thou! (Biblical peal of thunder.)

But I don’t wanna go—

But Thou musteth go!


When I got to the park, it was very dark. Partly because it was so late in the afternoon, but partly because there was this very high fog, most unusual in these parts, like a ceiling of smoke. (Sympathy for our stricken California sistren and bretheren!)

The day before when I went out running, America’s Oldest Ginko Tree looked like this:

But yesterday, it looked like this:

As though all the color in the grey universe had pooled into those fallen leaves.

And I thought: I want to be able to take pictures that show the world the way I see it! because clearly these photographs don't.

And I finished my run, and I came home, and I bought the muy expensive iPhone.

Because hey! I love to take pictures, and I’m never gonna buy another standalone camera again, and this iPhone has a very, very good camera.

And I don’t give a shit what my car looks like, or how old it is, or what people think when I park it next to their 2018 Prius so long as it gets good gas mileage (it does!) and it’s in good enough mechanical shape to transport me to the places I want to go. Whereas I do give a shit how the pictures I take turn out.

Of course, I was kind of paralyzed for several hours after I completed the transaction.

Though I think it was the right thing to do.

I have been obsessing about that iPhone for months.


Also, Lorraine—girlfriend of hunky Ken who lives across the street—had her dog Toby put to sleep.

Toby never failed to bark at me whenever I would encounter him on his walks, but I knew he was only doing his job—Protect Lorraine!—so that was okay.

Toby was a big burly guy. A black lab but built more like a Rottweiller. Kind of a doofus. Lorraine had raised him from a pup so it was very hard on her. I’d noticed he wasn’t himself this last few months. Lorraine filled me in on all the medical details as I stood chatting with her by the mailboxes, but I fear they went in one ear and out the other because the only pertinent info was: Toby! Once Not Dead. Now Dead!

Rest in peace, Tobes! Say “hi” to Milo when you see him. You were a good dog.

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California Schadenfreude

My guess is that California doesn’t survive this one.

That this is the beginning of the Big Change for California.

Oh, I don’t mean that California vaporizes and disappears off the face of planet! But who will be willing to live there as firestorms become more frequent?

Which is inevitable.

Air from high-pressure areas flows into air in low-pressure areas. The Diablo winds in the north, the Santa Ana winds in the south, are both caused by high-pressure air currents in the Great Basin that are sucked into the lower pressure gradient along the Pacific Coast. Fluctuating CO2 levels (but remember! there's no such thing as climate change!) keep the winds from settling into predictable patterns.

The natural forest ecologies are adapted to periodic fires, but the population buildup is such that that the natural ecology has been tampered with.

There is a huge political battle over the efficacy of controlled burns for managing forest growth.

Personally, I am all on the side of controlled burns.

But how do you do controlled burns on 33 million acres of forest?

It’s impossible.

No, it’s perfectly clear that California cannot possibly sustain the population levels it’s reached.

That the bubble has to pop.


Twenty thousand people lost their homes when Paradise burned to the ground.

That’s a huge number of displaced persons.

They’re essentially refugees.

Not unlike the refugees displaced by various political upheavals throughout the Middle East; political upheavals, which—if you scratch down deep enough—were also precipitated by natural disasters.

The big difference, of course, being that 150 miles away from Paradise, these displaced persons are still in the U.S. where they have full rights of citizenship while 150 miles away from Aleppo, displaced persons are in Turkey where they have no rights at all.

If anything, scenarios like the California fires should make Americans more sympathetic to the plight of international refugees.

Except it won’t.


It’s amazing how little attention the California fires are getting here in the Northeast.

Oh, I mean, there’s news coverage.

But very little in the way of sympathy for those on the front lines.

Hurricane victims get so much more sympathy.

The truth is that the rest of the country doesn’t like California very much.

Your standard of living is too high! You’re too entitled. Your weather is too fucking good.

We glory in your misfortune! California Dreaming replaced by California Schadenfreude.

I don’t glory in California’s misfortune, I must hasten to add. But then I spent most of my adult life there. My heart is filled with big LUV for California.

But I think most people outside the state's borders really dislike the place. And that includes progressives who are aligned with the Golden State’s left-leaning political strategies.

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Paradise Lost


The images coming out of Paradise are absolutely horrendous. Beyond words. Beyond imagining.

My friend who lost his house to the flames notes that the death toll is likely to be much, much higher than the 23 documented so far. “So many people here live off the grid,” he said. “Down dirt roads. They’re retired, or they’re housebound, or they’re very poor with few avenues of communication.”

An entire town destroyed.

I cannot even…

When it happens, it happens very, very quickly.

And it can happen any time.

For any reason.

This is the same friend who stood on the Brooklyn Heights promenade 18 years ago and watched the Twin Towers collapse.

At first, it was a slow-motion movie. The unbelievable taking place. But, of course, the unbelievable takes place 10,000 times a day on your television screen. Its visuals are familiar.

But then the ashes began to fall.

The ashes weren’t grey. They were bits of particulate matter—plaster dust and pulverized rubble, jagged concrete pebbles and charred bits of parchment that looked like ancient prophecies but were really inventory lists or incident reports from businesses that had had offices in the Towers. And mixed in with the hard particulates were pellets of this yellow slime that Gerard realized with mounting horror were actually all that remains when human flesh is incinerated at high temperatures.

Then came the smell. Fuel with an undercurrent of something sweet and savory—burning meat.

Before 9/11, Gerard was a libertine. Too cynical to be political. A profiteer, one might say, off the ideological battles we fought in the late 60s and early 70s.

But he did a complete 180 after 9/11.

Became this ultra-rightwing, AmeriKa-uber-alles booster.

I understood the motivation, but it still made me sad because I remembered the night we got drunk at the Claremont Hotel, watched the sunset sky over faraway San Francisco fade to purple and thence to night, and I listened to him riff—he was like Robin Williams in his ability to riff hilariously and profoundly on any topic under the sun.

One of those nights when anytime you mentioned a song, the lounge guy on the piano 50 yards away would immediately start playing it.

Oh, sure, I had a crush on him.

But I was also smart enough to see the red lights flashing.

As an ultra-rightwing conservative, Gerard was a lot more political than he had been as a libertine, and insofar as we interacted at all, we clashed.

But, you know. The connection I felt never went away.

Call it karma.

Vonnegut would say we're members of the same karass.

I sent him money.

What else could I do?

He actually doesn’t need my money: Remember The Penthouse Advisor?

Dear Penthouse: One of my balls always seems to be slightly smaller than the other every time I slam the redhead who lives down the street. I never notice a testicular disparity when I fuck other ladies—

Gerard wrote and edited those letters! He did many other things in the publishing industry, too. He was remunerated well, and he had a particularly sharp accountant.

So he is positioned to survive the loss of everything, everything, everything better than most.

Still. I wanted to do something.

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Dream of the Black Dog

Dreamed that a big black dog followed me into a tony restaurant.

There was a lot of narrative to the dream before I entered the restaurant, but all I can remember of that narrative now is that the dog belonged to a dour white-haired guy who looked a bit like Bill Murray and who was very smart.

The restaurant was bizarrely designed: The dining areas were on tiers, and the tiers were connected by waterslides. You literally had to get in the water and slide down to the level that your table was on. The waterslides were decorated with lush tropical flowers—enormous hibiscus and the like.

I liked the dog a lot. He reminded me of Milo although he looked more like a Rottweiler, very sleek black hair He was very jolly. He was romping around the restaurant unleashed, causing havoc and consternation. He had two smaller companions—one a little black dog that looked just like him in miniature, the other a kind of generic dawg.

This rather straight man was pushing a baby carriage up one of the slides. (I use “straight” here in the context that I originally learned the term, which had nothing to do with hetero-normality, but rather was the opposite of “hippie”—or in other words, me!)

The dog dashed past the baby carriage and in the process, scratched the baby’s cheek.

“I know, I know, I’m the responsible party,” I told the man. “And I’m so sorry that my dog scratched your baby’s cheek. That’s reprehensible.”

But privately, I was thinking, Jesus Christ, man! It’s only a scratch. Your precious brat will survive.

“You’re going to have to give me your name and insurance information,” the man said.

“Well, of course!” I said. I was playing for time. Hoping somehow that the dog would find his way out of the restaurant while I was nattering at the man.

“And the dog will probably have to be put down—“

“Of course!

Somehow I ended up talking about retirement accounts with the man who, it turned out, was a banker. He wanted me to transfer my retirement account to his bank, and I was thinking, Not on your fucking life, asswipe, but, of course, I was humoring him, playing for time, so the dog could escape.

I kept looking around and looking around.

Had the dog gotten out yet? I didn’t want them to capture the dog and put him down.

But finally the conversation with the man got to the point where I was going to have to tell him my identity.

And I knew I was going to have to make a break for it.

I was running when I woke up.

I had the vague impression throughout the dream that I was in the same universe that I’d been in several weeks ago when I dreamed about that house with the huge domed ceiling and that strange Italian coffee house crammed inside it.

A kind of weird mystical Berkeley.

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