Wednesday, October 27, 2004

New Dylan autobiography

When I was in college back in the mid-1960s, I remember a piece in the student newspaper that sought to explain the new folk music phenomenon Bob Dylan. I wish I had a copy of that story today, just to see how it matches up with the man revealed in Dylan's new autobiography, Chronicles Volume One, which I just finished reading this afternoon.
My dim recollection is that the sophomoric student article painted Dylan as an inscrutable eccentric trickster, deep yet elusive.
That's pretty much the general impression I've had of Dylan since I first heard him around 1964 or '65. And, of course, I thought of him as the conscience and voice of my generation.
Well, it turns out that he's neither, as least not in the way most of us thought.
Dylan, in his own words, comes across as a regular guy who just wanted to do his job and go home to his family without being hassled by every freak and geek who imagined him to be the new Messiah.
In a recent radio interview on NPR - the first he's given in my memory - he's asked if he ever thinks about walking away from music.
"Every day," is his comeback.
The book reveals a devoted family man who has spent much of his life plugging away at his craft and trying to shield himself and his loved ones from the glare of offstage attention.
The further I went in the book, the most shared impressions and cultural perceptions I discovered. I became a grandfather earlier this year and have been wrestling with the idea and its implications of advancing age and life changes. I feel a whole lot better about it now that I know Dylan owns a "World's Greatest Grandpa" bumper sticker.
Oddly enough, many of us thought of him as the voice of our generation while at the same time seeing him as detached and set apart from the rest of us.
It turns out that he's much more one of us than we realized and it's probably more accurate to think of him as the voice of every generation, whether they know it or not.
This is an invaluable book because it demystifies Dylan and blows away all of that "mad genius" stuff that has swirled around him for 40 years.
I find maybe two books a year that I just can't put down. This is one of those books.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Lisa, shortly after her surgery yesterday. Her doctor is truly an artist and I am blown away by what a great job he's done. Thanks to everyone who expressed support for her and her parents. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

And the snit goes on...

Can you tell I'm feeling cranky today?
My mood wasn't helped by the arrival in today's mail of the current issue of The New Yorker.
There is much about The New Yorker that I enjoy and admire. Their cartoons are the best around. They publish some splendid fiction. They capture much of the excitement and vitality of New York City.
But they've become such rabid Bush-haters that I believe it's time for us to part company when my subscription runs out at the end of the year.
I found this week's cover art particularly egregious - the American flag over the faint shadow of the hooded Iraqi prisoner from Abu Ghraib, arms outstretched and trailing electric wires. As if harassment milder than what I bore as a fraternity pledge could somehow overshadow what happened to those twits' own hometown on 9/11. How soon the memory of the fireballs and the rain of doomed WTC victims fades from the memory of people who reflexively loath their own country.
Truth be told, The New Yorker's parochial self-absorbtion was wearing a bit thin with me. For the most part, they're pseudo-intellectual jerk-offs who are desperately out of touch with what the rest of the country thinks. While NYC is a city of immigrants - people with the courage to strike out and leave home for something better - I think the editors and writers of The New Yorker are descended from people who were too comfortable or too timid to expand the frontier as most of our ancestors did.
They can teach us nothing, but have much to learn from us. So why pay $40 a year to be annoyed every week or so by their pointless jabbering?
I'm confident that they would receive a cancellation notice from me with supreme indifference, so I'll be content to let it go with this.

How convenient

Anyone notice how the Clintons have been conspicuously absent from the Kerry campaign?
Of course, Bill has the excuse of timely heart surgery, but what of Madame Hillary? Must be hoping a Kerry loss will set her up for '08.

From the best film of the year. Posted by Hello

Iraq: Just the beginning?

Just in case you missed it, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani announced today that Iran has successfully test-fired the latest prototype of Shahab-3 missile.
"Iran has upgraded the former version of Shahab-3 guided missiles and successfully test-fired it in a military defense shield exercise," Shamkhani was quoted as saying.
"The missile has proved stronger in terms of destruction and precision at guided targets," the minister added.
On Aug. 11, Tehran announced a successful test-firing of an upgraded version of the Shahab-3 missile, which, military experts estimated, had a range of 1,300 km and was capable of striking targets in Israel and Europe.
Remember George W.’s post 9/11 “enemies list” that included Iraq, Iran and North Korea?
How short-sighted does the Iraq invasion seem now in light of a looming nuclear threat from Iran?
I, for one, am pleased that we have more than 100,000 of the best-trained, best-equipped troops the world has ever seen positioned just minutes from Iran.
Has it occurred to anyone else that an unstated objective of the Iraq campaign was the acquisition of bases from which we could better deal with the rogue states of the region?
Naturally, it would have been foolish to state this up front as a reason to remove Saddam and conquer Iraq, but it’s looking more like a brilliant move with every passing day.
Yes, the insurgency in Iraq has made things a little messy and a short-sighted media has fixated on it at the expense of seeing the big picture.
Kudos to the Bush administration for thinking more than one move ahead in this chess game we dare not lose.
Another astute blogger pointed out this week that we have a 25-year-old score to settle with the mullahs of Iran - a little matter of Americans held hostage because a Democrat president couldn't command their respect. Or fear.
As I've said earlier, those who seek to destroy us should understand that - with our use of precision munitions and our concern for civilian casualties - what the world has seen so far is "us being nice." They don't ever want to see "us not being nice."

Saturday, October 16, 2004


It's cold and rainy and I haven't seen the sun in a couple of days and besides that:
1. The contractor who promised to keep the front porch from rotting off of my house has disappeared and winter is coming on. That leaves me with mixed feelings - he agreed to do the job for $4,000. If we let it slide, I don't have to cough up 4 grand, but that means it will probably cost more next year after another winter's ravages.
2. The former tenant who skipped and stuck me with three months' rent - the one I sued and won garnishment of her pay to recoup part of my $3,000 loss - has apparently quit her job and become a fugitive rather than make good on her debt.
3. Town officials who voted June 21 to cut the three dying maple trees that are menacing my house have done nothing and now I have another yard full of leaves from said town-owned trees.
4. My insurance company has done nothing to recover my $500 deductible from the insurer of the cretin who rear-ended me in California in July and the bike repair bill is due next week.
5. My wife's ex is late again on his child-support payment.
6. All of my present tenant's November rent will go to make a property tax payment on the rental property that has become a huge albatross around my neck.
7. My Honda del Sol needs new CV boots ($350) by winter.
8. We've had a negative cash flow ever since we got married three years ago.
And on, and on and on.
You know what would cheer me up?
Money in the mail usually works.
If you want to see me smile, go to and send a buck or two to me at
And, if you will permit me to do so, I'll name my benefactors and express my personal gratitude in this blog.
Or not. I'll still like you either way.

Shades indoors and a cigarette. What a poser! (My wife loves this photo, but then she hadn't been born yet when it was taken in the summer of '62.) Posted by Hello

Friday, October 15, 2004

Cigarette in hand at my desk in the Indiana State University student newspaper (The Statesman) office, circa 1966. That spot on my shirt is an Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity badge. Posted by Hello

I thought I was soooo cool with a Viceroy dangling from my lips. I'm at the wheel of my parents' '57 Ford Fairlaine 500 and the year is 1964. Posted by Hello


One of my favorite bloggers mentioned today that she and her husband are smokers and it got me thinking about my former tobacco addiction.
Both of my parents were smokers. My earliest recollection about my father smoking was that his brand was Phillip Morris. The company had a signature ad campaign on radio and magazines and on early TV that featured a hotel bellboy with the characteristic chin-strapped pillbox hat worn at a jaunty angle. His name was Johnny and he could be heard across America shouting out, "Caaaaalllll for Philllipppp Morrrrrrrissss!" Besides offering a glimpse of big city hotel amenities, it was a catchy campaign. Years later, when my dad's older brother Joe retired to a mobile home park (don't dare call them trailers) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., we were all amazed to discover the original "Johnny" was one of his neighbors. Apparently the gig didn't pay very well.
I think my mother smoked the occasional Phillip Morris too, but mostly I remember my dad as a smoker.
I remember him sitting at the kitchen table after meals and lighting up. There was no ashtray on the table, so he used his plate for an ashtray, stubbing out the butt among the egg yolk or mashed potatoes or whatever was left on the plate. Just to complete the image, I remember it being Fiestaware. That all seems desperately uncouth today, but my dad was raised on a farm and so was mom, so she never got on his case about it.
Given today's sensibilities, especially about smoking, most people would find such behavior horrifying.
Anyhow, by the time I was 8 or 9, my friends Jack and Bill would occasionally involve me in their clandestine forays into cigarette smoking with cigarettes they had filched from their parents. (This was in the 1950s and just about everybody smoked.)
But I didn't pick up the habit until around my sophomore year of high school when I took it up during a road trip to Terre Haute with friends to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet in concert at what was then Indiana State Teachers College. I started with Salem, which was convenient because that's what my mother was smoking by then. Dad had long since transitioned to Winston.
By the time I got to college, I was smoking a pack of mainly Salem or Winston every couple of days. Sometime during my freshman year, Jim West - my neighbor in the dorm - got me converted to Viceroy. He wasn't really trying to change my brand allegiance - he just always seemed to have plenty when I ran out of my brand.
When I got into the newspaper business I found myself among hardcore smokers. A blue haze of cigarette smoke hung in the air of the City Room and almost everyone had a cigarette in his mouth or burning in an ashtray all the time. I remember the custodial staff changing acoustic ceiling tiles occasionally and being shocked at how the new, white tiles stood out in sharp relief against the yellow, tar and nicotine-coated tiles.
By this time, I was up to three packs a day. My first conscious act every morning was to reach for cigarettes and lighter on the bedside table and fire one up on the way to the bathroom. Likewise, the last thing I did every night was stub out that last smoke in the bedside table ashtray.
Sometime around 1969 or so, I got the psychological leverage on myself to actually quit and I stayed quit until an emotional crisis about three years later.
I quit for keeps around 1979. Naturally, my metabolism changed and I gained 40-50 pounds, some of which I manage to lose and gain from year to year.
I had a relatively easy time quitting the last time because I did it in the context of a Transcendental Meditation Sidhi course at Maharishi International University (now the Maharishi School of Management) in Fairfield, Ia. I was in an environment where nobody smoked, I had no access to cigarettes and I was spending several hours a day in meditation. I took about 40 rolls of Certs breath mints with me and, by the time the two-week course was over, all desire for a smoke was gone.
Even so, for several years afterward I had occasional dreams in which I went back to smoking. I'd invariably awake with a start and the horrible fear that I had actually started smoking again. It's a very powerful addiction and I believe the researchers when they say it gets a stronger grip on you than does cocaine.
As a footnote, my dad was about my age when he lost his voice to cancer of the larnyx that his oncologist said was almost certainly a consequence of smoking.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Why Osama is irrelevant

I just finished today’s post to the Blonde Sagacity ( blog, which is the text of an open letter Osama Bin Laden wrote to America in November 2002.
You can go to Blonde Sagacity to read the text. Bin Laden explains why he hates us and wants to kill all of us unless we shape up, forget the Enlightenment ever happened and become his brand of medieval Muslim.
At the root of his complaint against us - not counting our support of Israel – is what he sees as the immoral corrupting influence of American culture.
Well, Osama, that’s precisely why you can’t win.
I call it my Doctrine of Stuff and I cognized this cosmic truth more than 40 years ago during the Vietnam war.
A basic fact of human nature is that people want Stuff.
We like our possessions and we always want more.
It occurred to me during Vietnam that we would be more successful against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnam Army if, instead of dropping expensive high explosives on them, we dropped planeloads of sneakers, transistor radios, bluejeans, and other consumer items.
At the very least it would confuse them. At best it would undercut their ability to stay pissed off at us. How can you be seriously angry with someone who flies over every day and drops a couple of tons of cool stuff on you?
And it would probably cost a lot less than the tons and tons of ordinance we expended in our unsuccessful effort to subdue them.
It was that realization that led me to predict the fall of Communism, something that caught the CIA completely by surprise.
Not me. I saw it coming 20 years earlier.
The seeds were sprouting in the ‘60s when Soviet youth got infected with rock and roll and other American cultural influences.
It was just a matter of time until the people of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe – bombarded for decades with images of western affluence and consumer-driven economies – decided they’d had enough of cardboard shoes and crappy cars and shoddy merchandise.
In the space of a few months, people all over the Soviet sphere of influence decided individually and collectively, “We’re done. We’re not doing this anymore. Fuck you and fuck your system. We want the same stuff people in the U.S. and Canada and West Germany and the rest of the civilized world have and anybody who tries to stop us does so at his own peril.”
The plain truth, which scares the bejeezus out of Osama and his crowd of stone-age control freaks, is that there is not a single religion, ideology or belief system known to man that cannot be co-opted, corrupted and rendered harmless by American consumer culture.
The culture is relentless in its ability to absorb and trivialize any threat. Remember how scared the Establishment was when the hippies showed up with their long hair and paisley? Within five years, Republican bankers were wearing bellbottom pants, hair over their collars and using words like “groovy” and “hip.”
The people’s desire for Stuff is morphing China into a consumer-driven state that none of the old Communist cadre can thwart.
At this moment, the mullahs in Iran have their hands full suppressing a youth movement driven by American music and style that will surely overwhelm them before the decade is out.
Cuba, the last Communist holdout, will be owned by Wall Street within five years of Castro’s death.
The best Osama and his band of psychotic idiots can hope for is to go down fighting.
He demands we renounce materialism and convert to Islam.
I demand he lose the Halloween costume, have a couple of beers and shut the fuck up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

In case you ever plan to visit Kansas City, let me recommend this guidebook by my friend Katie Van Luchene. Katie, who also edits Kansas City Home Design magazine, is one of the best writers I've ever had the pleasure to know and her clever style puts the Insider's Guide to Kansas City head and shoulders above any other guidebook I've seen. Hell, buy a copy even if you don't plan to go to KC. It'll make you want to plan a trip. Posted by Hello

Thursday, October 07, 2004


I just got what must be the 50th e-mail from identity thieves posing as Ebay administrators.
It directs me to what purports to be an ebay secure web page where I can re-enter all of my personal/financial data. But if you put your cursor over the hypertext and glance down to the bottom of the screen to see where it really goes, you'll note that it's actually a server in Romania.
And, as I typed the previous paragraph, I got an e-mail from "Dr. Richard Smith" who says he's "a 65 years old man and a British living in zimbabwe."
Oh, really.
His scam is that he's dying of esophageal cancer and wants to give me $10 million to distribute to fire victims in Australia. Of course, I may keep 5% for myself.
I'm asked to respond and, of course, he'll need my bank account number and transfer information so he can send me the money.
This must be my lucky day.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Just for the record...

Things I’ve Never Done:

Traveled outside North America.
Done cocaine, heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, or methamphetamine.
Killed another human being.
Knowingly committed a felony.
Used a parachute.
Gambled on a riverboat casino.
Been to a NASCAR race.
Watched a NASCAR race.
Cared about a NASCAR race.
Bungie jumped.
Tasted caviar (it was offered).
Been to a Wagnerian opera.
Missed voting in a presidential election.
Run out of gas in a car.
Been the victim of a violent crime.
Ridden in a tank.
Owned a chimpanzee.
Been to Burning Man.
Lost a home to fire, flood or wind.
Made money on the stock market.
Learned to SCUBA dive.
Graduated from college.
Leased an automobile.
Been fired from a job.
Ridden a motorcycle in New England.
Been to the Smithsonian.

Things I have done:

Been to the end of a rainbow.
Flown in a hot air balloon, glider, DC3, Ford Tri-Motor, Twin Beechcraft, Piper Cherokee and various commercial jetliners.
Had a Kundalini experience, with a bolt of light/energy shooting up from the first chakra to the crown chakra.
Ridden a motorcycle to all three coasts (Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf) in one season.
Sat in a motel room with Willie G. Davidson and watched Easy Rider on TV.
Experienced earthquakes.
Passed Donald Trump on the escalator at Trump Tower.
Held Eva Braun’s pink silk slip in my hands.
Built a geodesic dome.
Water skied.
Counted one of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers as a personal friend.
Seen two people die – one of natural causes, the other a police officer shot by a felon.
Been a motorcycle instructor for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and a motorcycle examiner for my state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Been published in a national magazine.
Had my photos used on MSNBC.
Been to Mount St. Helens (three times).
Had an affair.
Worked in a factory.
Been a garbage collector.
Owned the 45 rpm picture sleeve of Street Fighting Man – the rarest picture sleeve in the record-collecting world. (I sold it in 1992 for $4,300.)

My mother applauding grandson Steve's piano playing.  Posted by Hello

Four years an orphan

Today is the fourth anniversary of my mother's death.
Here's what I wrote for her funeral:

Saturday evening, two nights after my mother died, I got around to going through her purse.
My initial thought was to make sure there wasn’t anything important or valuable there, but I think I was really looking for my mother – for some trace of her and her personality.
I found it.
Tucked into various pockets and pouches were the little notes that had become her memory in recent years, notepad lists of information she wanted to be able to recall as Alzheimer’s cruelly robbed her of her ability to retrieve all but the most basic information.

There was a yellow Post-It note to remind her of a beauty shop appointment she won’t be keeping at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
There was the list of meal times at the retirement center nursing home: 7 a.m. breakfast, noon lunch and 5:15 p.m. dinner.
And there were several little slips that listed my name, my address and my phone number, some with talking points she wanted to bring up when she next spoke with me:
• “Blank checks” – She wanted me to bring her some checks because she felt powerless without a way to pay for things she was sure she needed.
• “My car, where is it?” – She had places to go.
• “Ready to go home.” – She desperately wanted to get back to the house that had been her home for 46 years.
Going home was the dominant theme of all of our conversations and visits from the time we moved her to the retirement center last April. After asking if I had a by-line today and telling me I needed a haircut, she always reminded me she had work to do and the house on Columbia Street needed her. I would assure her that I’d checked on the house and everything was just fine, but she never really believed me.
My mother was a woman who needed to be busy, going places and doing things.
For a lot of years, that meant being a Registered Nurse and helping people. I remember when I was a kid and she was a nurse in Dr. George Wagoner’s office how patients would call our house on weekends and late at night with questions they didn’t want to bother the doctor with.
She was proud of being a nurse and she made sure everyone knew it, especially the staff at the retirement center. The director of nursing once told me how my mother would listen to the health complaints of the other residents there and how, more than once, they noticed her sitting wheelchair-to-wheelchair, checking the pulse of one of her neighbors.
I never expected this moment to come so soon. When I described her to friends, I usually compared her with the Energizer bunny who keeps going and going and going.
That’s why I couldn’t believe what I was hearing Thursday night when the nurse called to tell me my mother had just died.
How unlike mom.
I learned she died in her sleep and then it made sense. Her 85-year-old body betrayed her and death took her unaware.
I was sad until I had a vision of her emerging from the fog of Alzheimer’s and being welcomed into Heaven by Dad, her brothers and sisters and her parents.
Maybe, without knowing it at the time, that’s what she really meant when she scribbled those memos about “ready to go home.”
I’ll miss her, but there’s not the slightest doubt in my mind that this separation is only temporary. In the meantime, I have her notes to remind me of a mother who was proud of me and loved me unconditionally.

Monday, October 04, 2004

I helped my younger son, Steve, with the driving chores on his weekly 660-mile round-trip drive to take his daughter, Lisa, to see specialists in Chicago. Here they are in the doctor's examining room waiting to be seen. She has her first surgery Oct. 20. Posted by Hello

Friday, October 01, 2004

Sean and Ruth dancing at their post-wedding reception. Posted by Hello

Home again, home again

My son and his bride were wed Monday evening in a Jewish ceremony in Portland, Ore.
My new daughter-in-law, Ruth, has a Danish mother and a South African Jewish father who are divorced.
It was my first encounter with my new extended family and I found them bright, witty and delightful.
My son, for the record, was baptized Presbyterian, grew up in a Catholic/hippie Hindu atmosphere and isn’t much for organized religion. Nonetheless, he donned a yarmulke and stomped the traditional wine glass into a bazillion pieces in keeping with Jewish tradition.
The rabbi who conducted the ceremony offered that Sean and Ruth are among the five most seriously committed couples he’s counseled/wed in his 40 years in the clergy.
My younger son and his wife flew out from Cincinnati and my ex and her two sisters converged on the occasion from Illinois, Indiana and California.
We stayed at the Doubletree Hotel at Lloyd Center, which is a splendid base from which to explore and enjoy Portland. There is a light rail system that runs from the airport to downtown and to the zoo and other attractions beyond and it runs right past the hotel. If I’d done my homework and discovered the light rail option, I might have passed on a rental car, since the ride from the hotel to downtown where the wedding festivities were held is free. But then we wouldn’t have been able to drive up the Columbia River gorge on Saturday to photograph Multnomah Falls and the windsurfers at Hood River.
The flights out and back were uneventful. The Hurricane Ivan redux we’d expected in Dallas on Friday never appeared. It was my first encounter with the Dallas airport. Maria has been through there several times and warned me about it.
Our outbound connection involved widely separated arrival and departure gates and we had to run to make the boarding of our DFW-PDX flight. Happily, we had a leisurely hour-long layover on the return trip.
Maria’s son, who had the house to himself from Friday through Tuesday evening, seems to have managed well and has had no incidents with his new car (at least not that he’s told us about).