Common Knowledge

mars“This past summer Mars was the nearest it’s been to Earth since 2003, when it was the nearest it had been in 60,000 years!” Exclaiming makes me sound like a juvenile. My enthusiasm for the night sky doesn’t care.

“It’s amazing. Ancient astronomers could calculate all that. They knew thousands of years ago when Mars would be so tantalizingly near and magnificently bright.” And then I sighed. The night sky can make me do that sometimes.

“Wizards could too, ya know,” my acquaintance, Vladly, said.

“What’s that?”

wizard “Wizards. They could calculate that kinda stuff too. They were big on astrological calculations. They knew when Mars was doing stuff before Mars did.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Vlad?”

“Wizards. The stars were their thing. And they could calculate the shit outta stuff.

“Witches, not so much. They’re more herbs and elixirs. Good stuff too, some of them elixirs. Really belly-warming stuff. Mind-altering.

“Don’t get me wrong. Witches could do planets too, but it was more of an affectation. Showmanship really.

“No. Witches, they were all about herbs. Mushrooms too.”

“Where do you get this stuff, Vlad?”

“It’s common knowledge, dude, common knowledge.”

ancient astronomy

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A Brief Outburst of Reality

Norm, who owns the Magic Bent Corvair dealership, was telling his friends – Amber, Ylang, the usual gang – that he couldn’t do it anymore.

“What? Sell Corvairs?” Pted Ptolemy asked him.

“No, not Corvairs. Christ, ‘em babies made me what I am today. No, I mean this New Age crap…” Norm’s voice trailed off.

corvair

“What?”

“You know. The Tarot cards and the Ouija board and Harmonic Convenience … all of it. It’s crap. It’s all crap.

Norm and his friends had gathered for the latest Semi-Occasional Pagan Potluck. Everybody brought a desert. He and Pted had been talking Mystical Sojourner Oracular Cards while Norm had pumpkin pie and Pted the rhubarb cobbler.

“They don’t work,” Pted said. “I mean, they’re all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, aren’t they?”

Norm nodded.

bob marley “It’s that Bob Marley song…”

“‘I Shot the Sheriff?’” Norm tried.

“No, not that one. The other one. About everything’s gonna be alright.

“The cards are all that shit. Ooo…” Pted began to impersonate … well, it’s hard to say who or what he was trying to impersonate. It was affected and sugary. “‘You’ll find cheap gas prices on your journey.’ And ‘You may drive in excess of the posted speed limit for you are loved.” That kinda shit. All pimply-faced optimism.

“There’s no reality to it at all.”

The fork froze on its way up to Norm’s agape mouth. “There’s no reality to it at all,” he repeated under his breath.

“You’re absolutely right, Pted. There is no reality to it. At all!

“I just can’t do it anymore.”

You could have heard a pin drop. The Oracle of Sciatica dropped one as a kind of empirical thing. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said after. “You know, to see if it was actually true.”

It was.

After the reverberations faded, Amber Kush said, “Thank god somebody finally said it. It is all crap!Crazy new age woman in a yellow robe concentrating

“I feel like I’ve just taken off my girdle,” she concluded with a large sigh of relief. It needed to be said.

Nervous chuckling gave way to hearty laughter.

“Amen, sister,” Herbal Annie said, “It is all crap.”

The relief in the room was palpable. Evidently everyone agreed with what everyone was afraid to say. It was all crap.

Old Neb Rubbish chimed in. “We’re grown men and women, for crissakes. What’s wrong with us?”

Everyone nodded in agreement; everyone fell silent.

“Soooo … Mercury’s in retrograde again,” Norm ventured before another pin got dropped.

“Yeah, and this tort. Who made this tort?” Pted asked.

Soon all was back to normal. Ravi Shankar played softly in the background; Nag Champa smoldered; palms got read; aliens were debated; a game of Five-card Tarot broke out. It was as if that brief outburst of reality never happened.
five of pentacles

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The Ticket Line for Harry Pottercon

flying elephants“It all fell apart when the animals all left. Completely disintegrated. And I’m not just talking about the obvious stuff – dogs, cats, giraffes – I’m talking everything, down to the teeniest, tiniest, minutest little bit of non-botanical life. Even cockroaches are no more.

            “And when I say “left,” I mean “left.” They didn’t all suddenly go extinct. They weren’t all taken away in space ships. They didn’t go Poof! and disappear. They left. Departed. And not a single, solitary person on the entire planet saw it, but they left just the same. Of their own volition. It was a choice.

            “And everyone knows it.

            “And the entire world came completely unhinged.

armageddon            “I’m not sure if it was a Biblical Armageddon, or a consequence of global warming … I expect we’ll never know. Doesn’t much matter though. When every single animal that wasn’t us left, we were truly and soundly fucked.

            “And it wasn’t just a matter of becoming a vegetarian or a cannibal…”

            “Um … yeah … that’s great. Really, I was just wondering, is this the ticket line for Harry Pottercon?”

harry pottercon

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The Next Armin Mueller-Stahl

armion meuller-stahlAgnes said to me recently, “I’ve never seen you as happy as you were when you were acting.”

While my outbursts of misery tend to be more memorable than my occasional excursions into happiness, my wife was right. I was happy. Ecstatic.

We spent two winters in L.A. so that I could work as a background actor. An extra. I nurtured no illusions of being discovered, of being the next Armin Mueller-Stahl. I just wanted to participate, be in a movie or on T.V. Anything. I just wanted to be a part of it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA And I was. And it was pretty damn wonderful. Had L.A. not been so expensive and so … well … L.A., we might have hung around longer. Who knows, maybe I would’ve gotten pretty good at it. Perhaps it would have led to something bigger. Hell, I could’ve been the next Armin Mueller-Stahl.

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Me

“Ummagumma.” Pink Floyd. Sunset. Pot.

            I’m such a cliché.

ummagumma

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Sexiest Man Alive

idris eba

Well, I’ve been passed over yet again for “Sexiest Man Alive.” This guy won. Sure, he’s a handsome fellow, but he’s not … well … me. I’m a silver fox, for crissakes.

I’m very disappointed.

me and jennifer

 

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In-Store Return

death-tarot-card

 

            “Yes sir, what can I do for ya?”

            “I’d like to return these Tarot cards. They don’t work.”

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His First Mission

He had dreamed of being a deep space voyager most of his life and now, here he was, on his first mission. Granted, it was grunt work on a company vessel, but it was in space. Deep space. On an alien world. Inside an actual alien craft.

            He had goosebumps.

            “Here I am, on an alien planet, inside an alien space ship, looking down on what appears to be large, leathery eggs,” he said to himself quietly as he leaned nearer the eggs, “what could possibly go wrong?”

astronaut

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The Tale of How Magic Bent Came to Be

ancient scribesA group of men were gathered ‘round a table – cartographers, men of the cloth, philosophers, the entire Department of Tourism, a reporter from Ye Happening Times, and a few others, but mostly cartographers – their attention was focused on a piece of wood, a straight piece of wood, with a series of hash marks, glyphs, and sigils along one side. The hash marks were close together, very close together, closer together than any hash marks had ever been on a straight piece of wood. The glyphs and sigils explained them in no uncertain terms. A disheveled little man who smelled of poor hygiene hung back in a corner, smoking an herbal blend of suspicious ingredients. He was given wide berth.

He had designed this revolutionary new piece of wood with the very close together hash marks. It was possibly his best work, which meant there had been no explosions or unusually high number of trips to the emergency room in its creation. He watched as the wonder and furor slowly began to well up among the men gathered ‘round the piece of wood.

Words like “revolutionary” and “blasphemous” and “contemptible moron” were being tossed around, volleys of insults and wonder bouncing back and forth like a game of high society lawn tennis.

Quentin Feldspar was now holding the length of wood nearer his bespectacled eyes, studying it intently. Several other faces hovered just over his shoulders, watching Feldspar as he studied the object. “It … could … work,” he decided.

preacherOne of the faces, it was Praline Judachai, pulled away from Feldspar’s left shoulder grumbling, “It’s blasphemy.” He was a man of the cloth. Pretty much everything was blasphemy to him.

“’s not! ‘s revolutionary, you contemptible moron,” Silas Mwllr shot back. He had little use for cloth when it hung on a man and it described who he was. Anyone known for his attire was a moron in the first place; men of the cloth got ‘contemptible’ added on for good measure. And he was keen on new stuff. New stuff meant change, and change was always good, in Mwllr’s mind. Change kept the world vital and alive and moving forward. “A shit ain’t nothin’,” he was annoyingly fond of saying, “it’s when ya wipe yer ass that yer getting’ somewhere.”

Obviously, Silas Mwllr was a philosopher because that’s the kind of thought no one but a philosopher would think. His was the kind of philosophy construction workers could get a wrench around.

Sedge Rand!;; began to pace. He was new in town, a hired hand brought in by the Department of Tourism to dress things up and turn Bent Magic into the kind of place where people would come and spend money. He was so new in town, he hadn’t unpacked his bags yet, and was still getting introduced around: “Vern, Wylie, I’d like y’all to meet our new P/R man, Sedge Randa!;;.”

“Vern. Wylie. Good to meet ya.”

“Um, likewise. Say, what was that again?”

“Hmmm?”

“Um, yer name. How’s that pronounced?”

“What? Oh. Sedge?”

“Well, um, no. The other.”

“The other?”

“Yer last name. How do ya pronounce that?”

“Oh. That. Right. Randa!;;, it’s pronounced just the way it’s spelled.”

“Oh…”

Turning his attention back to the length of wood, Sedge observed, “This does up the ante,” rubbing his chin in a fashion which he hoped would be regarded as ‘significantly.’ (Sedge was just out of university. This was his first job. He feared he would not be taken seriously. He felt that rubbing his chin ‘significantly’ would be a step in the right direction. He spent an hour every evening practicing.)

Some of the others who heard Sedge’s comment weren’t sure what gambling had to do with anything, but they nodded in agreement just the same. “Right,” “The ante,” and “Upped it good,” were some of their mumbled comments. “If it’ll work,” Tawdry Pliers added. He was the skeptic of the group; everything had to be proved to him.

getting highAll eyes turned toward the aromatic little man in the corner expectantly. “Oh, it’ll work jus’ fine,” he said over top of the unusual cigarette. “Now, instead of one inch bein’ one mile, one inch is ten miles. Or fifty miles.” And he winked and spat. Everybody took a step back. “It’s blasphemy,” Judachai added. “Contemptible moron,” Mwllr replied.

Quentin Feldspar laid the length of wood down on a clean sheet of cartographer’s vellum. The crowd backed away as one in case something should explode or spontaneously combust. Even Silas Mwllr, who regarded explosions and spontaneous combustion as sure signs of change, would take two steps back. Feldspar drew his fine point Rapidograph pen from his pocket protector. The crowd, in keeping with the ‘as one’ motif, gasped in unison. Quentin bent down, the tip of his tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth; he took his pen and drew a line along the hash-marked wood; it was exactly one inch in length. There was some ducking and making for the door. The disheveled little man sidled up to Feldspar’s side. “You see? Nothin’ to it.”

Feldspar stared at the line. The others crept in slowly; sometimes explosions are delayed reactions. “The smaller the scale, the larger the distance,” the little man pointed out, anticipating the next question.

“So…” Feldspar began slowly, “this line,” he paused to point at it, “which typically equals … say … fifty miles…” He paused again, weighing his words. “It can equal…”

“The sky’s the limit!” the little man said, barely containing his joy.

“The sky…” someone gasped, “why that’s off the vellum altogether!”

“Contemptible moron,” a familiar voice said in anticipation of Judachai’s, “Blasphemy.”

“But we’re not talkin’ about the sky,” someone, possibly Randa!;; said, “we’re talkin’ about side to side.”

“Side to side?”

“Blasphemy.”

Feldspar’s lips moved as he worked up the numbers in his head. Several others fell silent, evidently pondering the possibilities he was trying to pin a number to. Eventually, he said, “That would change … everything!” Silas Mwllr’s heart leapt up into his throat at the mention of change.

Praline Judachai moaned. His heart sank at the mention of change.

“Magic Bent … it would … grow.” The room nearly got emptied of oxygen for all the gasping.

“What does that mean?” someone dared ask amidst all that breathless gasping and consequent light-headedness.

“It means Magic Bent would stretch far up beyond the Northern Mountains, into the Nether-Regions…”

“Where it’s always dark?” Randa!;; asked.

“Only part of the year,” Thwok Johannsen said; his forebears were fur-clad, poetry reciting bohemians from the Nether-Regions. He still occasionally got postcards from distant cousins: Way, baby. Zooming stardust, whoosh all the Way, baby. To you, baby, cat and daddy-o. Way. No Way.

“And the Bottom Sea … why, the Four Corners would include all of the Bottom Sea Islands, the Toucan Archipelago, and Hawai’i.”

“You mean where the natives wear a smile and a loin cloth, and that’s it?” timid Wax Burnish, apprentice cartographer asked.

“Yep.”

“Even the women?”

“Especially the women.”

Wax nearly fainted. If he didn’t unleash his virginity on the world soon, there would be consequences.

“The Far East wouldn’t be so far, and the Great Western Deserts would fall within the boundaries of … gulp … Magic Bent!”

“Blasphemy!”

“It can’t be done!!”

“Contemptible moron!!!”

“It’ll jack up property taxes!!!!”

“What about school districts?”

“Especially the women?”

The din of arguments continued to escalate. Quentin Feldspar, though, was silent as he stood and stared at that one-inch line drawn in this new scale that allowed Magic Bent to more than double in size, just like that.

He wasn’t a philosopher. He wasn’t a religious man. But this was big. Really big. Maybe, he considered, this was blasphemy…

Toward the back of the room, where it was marginally less riotous, one observer could be heard musing about the impossible possibilities of mapping the sky above, and perhaps the depths of the Bottom Sea on cartographer’s vellum. “That’s the ups and the downs, yer talkin’ about,” a nearby voice said. “That’s top-o-graphy. We do the side to sides.” After a moment’s pause, the anonymous voice added, “Would be interestin’ though, huh? Somethin’ off the page. Somethin’ somewheres else, off the page, but just as real as Magic Bent.”

“Or more,” the aromatic little fellow said.

parallel universes

 

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An Evening Walk

“I’m higher than Dorothy Gale, and selectively moist.”

“That’s … uh … nice. Thanks for sharin’.” And I walked on.

A little later I ran into god. After meeting him, things began to make sense.

“I’ll tell you who I am!” he boasted out of the blue. I didn’t even notice him until he had spoken up.

“Huh? What?” He had startled me.

“I am the great crater!!”

“Great what?”

“Crater. I am the great crater.

“Yeah, yeah, the great crater. What the hell’s a ‘crater’? Like on the moon?”

“Huh?”

“Crater. What the hell’s a ‘crater’?”

“A crater. You know. A crater!!!” He was up to three exclamation points and getting pissed.

“I don’t know.” I felt the proximity of a fourth exclamation point.

“A crater! A crater!! I god damn crate things!!!!!” There it was.

“You crate things? You box ‘em up?”

“No. Crate! Crate!!! Crate!!!!!” He was getting mathematical with his string of prime numbered exclamations.

“I got nothin’, pal.” Truly, I was clueless. In my defense, I wasn’t really trying.

“I crate things. From nothing!” His dearth of exclamation points was more than adequately filled with pride.

“Oh. Like a magician?”

“No, no, no. Crate. I crate. I am a crater. I am the crater. All of this is my cration…” And he spread out his arms, indicating our surroundings, including his propensity for exclamation.

I paused to consider this. My cannabis fugue lifted momentarily, and a light went on. “Oooooooohh.”

And I continued on my way.

hillbilly

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She was Even Unwelcome in Space

You’d think someone named ‘Lucy’ would be, well, Lucy is a happy name. A carefree name. You wouldn’t expect someone named ‘Lucy’ to be such an incredible pain in the ass.

            Such a pain in the ass was Lucy she was escorted out of town. “And don’t come back!” Ned Rubbish had yelled at her.

            No one knew where she came from, this sudden and mysterious stranger, but that’s where the resemblance to Clint Eastwood ended, unless he, too, was an incredible pain in the ass.

            She was so full of herself she carried the extra in her handbag. And she was completely useless in real life situations. Profoundly useless. An absolute puddle.

            She talked about vessels, re: “This should be served in an entirely different vessel. I mean, what’s the point?”

            She got all James Bond with her martinis, martinis she was having with her morning cornflakes, except she never bothered with the cornflakes.

            She stuck her nose where noses do not go.

            Her sobriety was a vestigial organ.

            Breakfast was beneath her. “Only hillbillies and heathens eat breakfast.” Nothing less than brunch would satisfy her, and the nearest brunch menu was hundreds of miles away.

            Some said her parents skipped out in the middle of the night, changed their names, and left no forwarding address.

            Some believed her to be a disgraced circus performer, what with all the make-up and ruffled collars.

            A few were convinced she was an uncaring A.I. with an agenda; an advance scout for the approaching robot army.

            Most found her to be an opinionated ice cube and not welcome in Magic Bent at all. Nobody’s ever not welcome in Magic Bent.

            It’s possible she was abducted by aliens a short time after leaving town and was promptly unabducted. She was even unwelcome in space.

unwelcome in space

 

 

 

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One of Them Freudian Slips

We haven’t always been these fetish, self-involved creatures. Was a time all we cared about was not getting eaten by a predator, which was pretty much everything else, and where our next root was coming from.

Rejoice, humankind, in the arrogant – wait a minute. I wrote “fetish” rather “selfish.” What the hell’s that all about?

Maybe I don’t want to know.

freud

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Forays into the Introspection Woodlands

Alistair Leon Roy was some kind of savant with a leaf blower. He made art with that thing. He moved around piles of this and piles of that, always with subtle flair and great precision, until he had crop circles.

            It was a thing of wonder and awe.

            I haven’t been able to savant my way into anything. I am as tediously ordinary as the next person. Getting older only seems to feed it. As things are going, I won’t even be able to pull off “eccentric old man number three” in a low budget Indie film.

            It’s pretty humbling for someone who believed himself to be enlightened. Turns out I’ve been a self-involved twit, oogied into a puddle of self-delusion and holier-than-thou.

            It’s embarrassing.

            Getting older seems to encourage these forays into the introspection woodlands armed only with brutal objectivity.

            I think I’ll have an evening stroll and get high.

ohio_winter01

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Meat Ubers

Her name was Myshkin, as was his, but she was Myshkin.

They ran through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, not even stopping at the gift shop or the juice bar. Just on to the next wrong turn.

They rode motorcycles. They thought it gave them street cred. Sonny Barger panache.

astrologer They charted the stars and planets, casting their own horoscopes, making one ludicrous decision after another based upon the knowledge gleaned. Neil deGrasse Tyson was a heretic. Carl Sagan was Satan.

They withered at Burning Man.

And they never knew what hit them. They didn’t see it coming. It evidently wasn’t written in the stars.

It saw them. It hit them hard, Myshkin and Myshkin. And it hit them a second time because it could.

Time passed. They still didn’t know what hit them. They weren’t even certain they were hit in the first place, but whatever it was, that nagging sense of something in their past, they didn’t let it stop them from pursuing life like a pair of drunken morons, carelessly, with no regard for consequences or where they took a piss. Or upon whom they pissed.

Eventually they died, as we all do, and there, their story ends. They were not missed. They were not mourned. They left nothing behind. Not even a memory of them.

It was as if they never existed and let’s face it, is that not the fate that awaits us all? We’ll have been born, lived, died, and ultimately never existed. Any mark we might have actually left on this place will be devoured over time by time. Time has an insatiable appetite for such things. It gobbles down everything in its path, and everything is in its path.

It really makes you want to believe there is an afterlife, otherwise, what’s the point, which leads to this notion that there is a point, which is a fine example of mental masturbation. Why must there be a point? Why must absolutely everything fit into a tidy pile and if it doesn’t, it’s horseshit, which typically comes in piles of its own?

It’s a big universe. We are grains of sand on its beach, and it’s a really big beach.

The nearest thing to a point is that we are vessels for our DNA. It’s the DNA that’s in charge. We are but its mode of transport. We’re meat Ubers.

dna It’s doubtful that DNA believes in an afterlife. It only cares about this one, and procreating gives it a kind of immortality. But it does depend upon us, its meat Ubers. Perhaps that’s the lone point to all this otherwise entirely meaningless existence.

Maybe our DNA knows something we don’t, or everything we don’t. Maybe the two Myshkins knew something we didn’t. Except what hit them.

They never knew that.

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A Baby Jane Thing

She had a real Baby Jane thing going on, that woman with whom I worked back in Twentynine Palms, clinging to her youth with a committed desperation. It was nauseating.

            Someone should sit that woman down and have a talk with her, but all that ‘tee hee’-ing and flirtatious eyelid fluttering makes it impossible. It’s almost hypnotic, and before you know it you’re acting like a twelve-year-old as well. It has the reek of ulterior motives, or hidden agenda. Add Bible-thumping to the mix and it veers off into something deeply weird.

baby jane            I hope the consequences of my battles with life haven’t left me so transparently fucked up.

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Cosmic Soundscapes of My Very Own

Back in the ’70s I called it “space music,” stuff to listen to while star gazing (or getting abducted by aliens). Even when sitting around with friends late at night, candles blazing and incense burning. But mostly for star gazing.

printjoshuatree417There wasn’t a genre as such so there was a lot of sifting through piles of albums and 8-track tapes. Holst’s The Planets, while bombastic, was an early and obvious choice. And of course Dark Side of the Moon. And much of David Crosby’s first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, and early Tangerine Dream. And the title track of John Abercrombie’s 1975 album Timeless, still one of my favorites more than forty years later.

The 1980s gave us the New Age and Enya and Windham Hills Records and the Harmonic Convergence. And somewhere in there I got turned onto Stephen Hill’s weekly Music From the Hearts of Space, “An hour of contemporary space music,” which began in 1973 in San Francisco before going national on NPR stations. And that was all she wrote; I had at long last found my beloved “space music.”

As a guitar-strummer from just as far back I’ve tried to create my own space music, with spectacularly woeful results. And then last summer, in Costa Rica, I had access to a keyboard which permitted me to explore cosmic soundscapes of my very own.

I think I did okay.

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You’d Think I Wouldn’t be Surprised

You’d think, by now, I wouldn’t be surprised.

            You’d think, by now, I would know better.

            You’d think, by now, I wouldn’t even bother, but the wide-eyed kid in me clouds the thinking part of my brain and I say things like “Ya wanna see some wildflowers?” or “Look at this mushroom.” or “Look! A Pileated woodpecker!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

            More often than not my words are greeted with glassy-eyed stares, indifference, or disinterest. There have even been heat-seeking missiles of haughty contempt suggesting “nature” is something completely beneath them, and I, by association, am something they quite possibly stepped in, which never happens when they’re texting while driving, or texting while dining at a nice restaurant, or texting.

            Nobody gives a damn about wildflowers or woodpeckers. And that includes people I thought did give a damn.

            This attitude predates the 21st Century and all this hi-tech Soylent Green horseshit. It likely predates me. Hell, Grog the Neanderthal probably got pissed at those uppity Cro-Magnon suburbanites looking down on him and his kind for wasting all their time dancing around a monolith left behind by an alien race rather than evolving and putting all this nature nonsense behind them once and for all. The bastards.

the monolith            People just aren’t interested. People are androids. I give up.

            This attitude does predate the 21st Century, but all this hi-tech Soylent Green horseshit has only made it worse. Much worse. We might as well have all perished in a Y2K apocalypse. Maybe we did. I wouldn’t be surprised.

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Catalina Hempheiser

I recently learned that the Statue of Liberty sits atop the last piece of Atlantis still above water. I’m 63-years-old; you’d think I would have heard about that by now. And the Atlanteans, how do they feel about that, their last piece of real estate occupied by a giant statue?

Had I heard about this in the Hi-Desert, or Magic Bent, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. This kind of thing gets a lot of traction in those places. But I’m in neither of those places, or any place similar. This kind of information isn’t a part of the upstate New York landscape.

Taken aback by this unexpected revelation I could only smile and nod politely, words failing me.

catalina hempheiserThe woman who felt compelled to share this arcane knowledge with me, I later spotted her on a local middle-of-the-night television talk show promoting a book she had co-authored with Erich von Danskins, Hand Job of the Gods. Her name was Catalina Hempheiser.

She is evidently a mover and shaker in the world of ectoplasm and empty calories.

The stars and planets guide her every move, but she can’t identify a single star, planet, or constellation.

ouija boardHer Ouija board is as worn as Willie Nelson’s guitar.

Her crystal ball has been worn down to a glass marble.

She plays solitaire with a deck of dog-eared tarot cards.

She is in frequent communication with Nancy Reagan.

And, of course, she is descended from those Atlanteans who, I later learned, escaped their watery fate in spaceships kindly provided by our neighbors, the Venusians. That Venus is utterly inhospitable doesn’t seem to matter, but why would it, that’s science.

(Note: If her name is familiar, that’s because she is a member of the Hempheiser alcoholic beverage empire. “Hempheiser Beer because it’s everyone’s Constitutional right to drunkenness and a beer belly. Hempheiser Beer, affordably priced for the teenagers in the family.”)

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The Thrill of Columbine

Over the years I think I’ve made it perfectly clear – yikes, did I just sound like Richard Nixon? – one of the things that makes wildflowers so glorious is their diversity, not just in color and size and habitat, but also in abundance or rarity. A hard-to-find Calypso orchid deep in the primal forest is no more or less a grand sight than a gently sloping hillside covered with blue lupine and rosy Owl’s clover drenched in the golden syrup of late afternoon sunshine. A woodland floor carpeted with sweet-smelling Carolina Spring Beauties is as breathtaking as a handful of less common Pink Lady’s-slippers. And a roadside lined with sky-blue Chicory (I know, it’s an unwelcome invader, but it is beautiful and has its uses) is just as amazing as a patch of Large-flowered Trillium. But somehow, Wild Columbine seems to transcend all this, the broad sweeping glory of wildflowers.

Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine

            Unlike its pumped up, steroid-engorged, centerfold-beautiful cultivated cousins, Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a delicate fey flower of exquisite beauty, preferring the quiet woodland life in cliffs and rocky outcroppings to large colonies or barren roadsides. Coming upon them in the woods is as magical a surprise as finding the fairies these lovely blossoms suggest. Even the roar and thrill of a waterfall in Minnesota fell away when I found a half-dozen of these ineffable flowers blooming in a handful of rich humus filling a depression in the rocks. (Life finds a way.) 

            A member of the Buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family, Wild Columbine, when in bloom, cannot be mistaken for any other flower. (The stems and leaves bring to mind meadow rues, but when the flower unfolds it petals, well, that’s another story.) The nodding flowers have five upward-spurred yellow and red petals, which alternate with the five red sepals. Numerous yellow stamens dangle from each flower like a cluster of bell-clappers. The flowers grow up to two inches long, and bloom from mid-spring until mid-summer.

Crimson Columbine

Crimson Columbine

            The late-summer fruit is a beaked, dry pod that splits open along the inner side. It is full of small, hard seeds. The entire plant grows up to two feet tall. It is an eastern species, and can be found from Wisconsin eastward, as far south as Georgia, and as far north as Quebec. The most similar species, Crimson Columbine (A. formosa), grows in the Pacific States. Its flowers are not quite as long and are shameless, displaying their bell-clappers promiscuously.

            The distinctive long spurs of Wild Columbine, and many of its cousins, are full of nectar, the prize for the long-tongued insects and hummingbirds which are the flowers’ pollinators. (Some defiant bumblebees chew through the spur, robbing the flower of its nectar without pollinating it.) These spurs are markedly longer in our native species of columbine than in European species, where there are no hummingbirds. (Ah, the wonders of evolution.)

            Many western species of Columbine are white, yellow, or blue, colors less attractive to hummingbirds. These species, which are oriented horizontally and have a more open display of inviting petals, depend upon insects for pollination. Wild Columbine is the lone eastern species, while there are nearly 20 western species. These species include Blue Columbine (A. coerulea), which is Colorado’s state wildflower, Colville’s Columbine (A. pubescens), Golden Columbine (A. flavescens), and Crimson Columbine. 

 

Blue Columbine

Blue Columbine

Golden Columbine

 

               

 

 

 

 

There are about 50 species worldwide, all in the northern temperate zone.

            The generic Aquilegia may come from the Latin for “eagle,” because of the “resemblance” of the flower’s spurs to the talons of an eagle. Or the name may be a combination of aqua (“water”) and lego, which means “to collect,” a reference to the nectar-filled spurs.

            Historically, some Native Americans mixed ripe Wild Columbine seeds with smoking tobacco to improve the aroma. It was also believed the seeds, either smoked or added to a potion, yielded a perfume useful when courting. (“What’s that bewitchin’ fragrance, darlin’?”

     “Columbine, lover, columbine.”)

     Some tribes used the seeds in a tea for treating headaches and fever.

            Seeds of the common European variety were once taken with wine to speed childbirth, as well as for a variety of ailments. Physicians eventually concluded that this “medicine” was doing little more than poisoning children.

            The best thing to do with the seeds is let them fall where they may. In this way this glorious and uncommon wildflower has a chance to thrive in its out-of-the-way places, thrilling those fortunate wanderers whom are lucky enough to happen upon it.

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Dead Strings on a Dry Guitar

dead strings on a dry guitarMy travels through life, across the years and the miles, have inflicted considerable pain and inspired outbursts of creativity. Sometimes they exist in single Jekyll and Hyde package. Sometimes that disturbed creature behaves as though he was a singer-songwriter. Not particularly successfully, but he can’t stop himself.

This, my latest collection of not particularly successful music, arose from my time in Los Angeles, Alaska, Oregon, North Carolina, central Ohio, Montana, and the Hi-Desert. I like to call it Dead Strings on a Dry Guitar

peace sign

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Spring Climbs the Mts.

Sweet Violet

 

Sweet Violets, Round-lobed Hepatica, Trillium erectum, a fairy land of mushrooms, and Coltsfoot: Spring meanders up into the Adirondack Mts.

 

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Even the Food isn’t Quite Right

So this is what it’s like returning from a mission in space only to find you’ve crash-landed on a planet ruled by Simians though you’ve not seen the first ape and eventually you do run into other people but they’re not like the people back at Mission Control and you immediately experience that sinking feeling that this is your planet and something has gone terribly wrong because these people have all the personality of a desiccated earthworm and all you want to do is lay your head in your mommy’s lap and suck your thumb.

Somehow even the food isn’t quite right.

rotten food

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I’d Rather be Abducted by Aliens

I’m dead on the inside.

            Where once there was a land of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows there is naught but a wind-scoured wasteland upon which even cockroaches and Styrofoam fear to tread.

            I gave everything I had to the Cause. The Cause got drunk, blacked out, and couldn’t find its car for a week and a half, and that was a happy accident. It was spotted on the back of a tow truck, the sign on the truck’s door reading “Thank you for your business. Get drunk again soon. You’re putting my kids through college.”

            That would kill the sturdiest of Cause-supporting insides.

            I’d rather be abducted by aliens and subjected to a variety of unspeakable procedures than put myself through that again. It simply isn’t worth it. No cause is.

alien abduction 02

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An Impressive Dearth of Corners

closing the circleI tried telling myself we’re closing a circle. Perhaps the circle. But what the hell do I know of circles other than they display an impressive dearth of corners? Stuff hides in corners. Nowhere to hide in a circle. But that’s not the kind if circle I mean. This one is a euphemism, which is a fancy word with which to impress your friends. I don’t have any of those, so I’m not trying to impress anyone.

This circle is not the circle of life. The circle of life is a lie. Life is a straight line. Birth. Death. A bunch of stuff strung out along the way in between. But there is absolutely nothing circular about it.

far side of the moon The circle I thought we might be closing is a path – our path – which we set out on back in 2000 when we left central Ohio for greener pastures (and mountain tops and the Gulf of Mexico and desert valleys and the far side of the moon. And don’t give me that crap about the dark side of the moon. There’s nothing special about that; it’s just the side of the moon unilluminated by the Sun. Pink Floyd would have achieved a greater depth of cosmic had they sung about the far side of the moon. We never see that, which is why aliens have built secret bases there, and a poorly kept secret at that.)

This circle we’re closing, this life path we’ve followed, has taken us from the green familiarity of Ohio to the distant lands of the Left Coast and Alaska, with side excursions to Africa and Costa Rica, not unlike Dorothy and her companions on the road to Oz (the Wicked Witch was their side excursion). But there is no Oz for us, not even a witch, just the immediate awareness of how unnecessary this was.

baxter01

After the lush green of Costa Rica, I thought it might be time to see how this end of the continent felt. It’s no Central American rainforest, but it is a lush paradise compared to the desert. With so much dust and pavement in our wake, and the near impossibility of living on Social Security, a seasonal job “back east” seemed an intriguing idea. Returning to the general neighborhood from whence we came, it certainly had all the makings of closing the circle. In that case, it was also significant.

But there’s nothing significant about it except that we’ve managed  to stir up clichés and book titles (been there; done that, You Can’t Go Home Again, etc.).

parabolaWe don’t need to be here. Our path through this life is a parabola.

(Note: Upon further thought, we have encountered witches, beginning with the witch of the Carolinas, Karen Anne Vapid, owner of the Hellhole Dreadful Overnighter, where room rates were determined by the poundage of froufrou in the room, so much froufrou you needed a map to find your way to your bed.

If you’re reading this Karen Anne … you can read, can’t you? … we have unfinished business which I intend upon finishing to my satisfaction. You might want to consider upping your dosages. Didn’t know I knew about that, huh?)

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The Fair Folk

I feel like Rip Van Winkle who, after spending the night in the company of the Fair Folk, awoke the next morning eighteen years later. And I remember why I went off with the little bastards in the first place: I do not approve of winter. Or the general ennui of conservatism (it’s like the Force, it oozes from pores, surrounding and binding and connecting all living things. Fortunately, it’s no match for the Dark Side of the Left Coast.).

            I wonder what the little fellows are doing tonight?

dancingwith fairies

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Barney Fife wouldn’t have stood a chance

There’s something very Grimm’s Fairy Tales about this neighborhood. Or Terry Pratchett.

witch herb            It looks like Mayberry during the JFK years, very Middle-America safe and sedate, but there are definitely witches about.

            Front yard gardening appears colorfully innocuous enough, but if you look closer you notice a preponderance of the Darke Herbes, with an ‘e.’ And Darke Herbes can mean but one thing: witch.

            Shadows flicker in late-night windows, shadows obviously cast by candles which reek of the Darke Arts (with an ‘e’) and Spell Casting.

            The Darke Arts and Spell Casting can mean but one thing: witch.

 cat on porch           Cats frown balefully from front porches. Sure sign of a witch.

            Aunt Bea and Clara Edwards? Had they lived here they would have most certainly been witches. Hell, they would have been in a coven. Thelma Lou and Helen too.

            Barney Fife wouldn’t have stood a chance.

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Aunt May

There was a Third Grade Friday afternoon I dreamed away one fine spring day in 1964. My daydreams involved how many times 12 cents went into a dollar.

It was allowance day and this week I expected a big payday: an entire dollar! I had obviously exceeded expectations as a nine-year-old that week and was being recompensed accordingly.

My obsession with long division was due to my decision to start buying comic books. I think I was compelled. And 12 cents was the price of a comic book at the time, when dinosaurs had only been extinct for a few years.

dinosaur extinction

Part of the decision; part of the compulsion; part of the juju was the absolute light-from-on-high awareness that I would be purchasing Marvel Comics rather than that inferior brand, D.C.

It think it was all written in the stars (which, one day, would also be felt).

How many times 12 cents went into a dollar was actually a very small dwelling in the neighborhood of my daydreams. Mostly I was deciding ‘who’ I would buy. Thor? The Fantastic Four? The Avengers?

avengers      fantastic four 02

drug tore After school I made straight for the corner drugstore – Saunder’s – where I was soon to become a regular customer for more than a chocolate milkshake or hot fudge sundae, only to realize I hadn’t stopped at home first for my buck. I think this was the day I said “fuck” for the first time.

It was clearly a significant day in my life.

Not long after I was walking home with a bag full of brand new comic books, among them, The Amazing Spider-Man.

We all know the story. Peter Parker. Uncle Ben. Aunt May. Spider bite. Misunderstood superhero.

Because of Peter Parker’s selfish indifference his Uncle Ben is murdered, leaving Aunt May all alone, except for her nephew, who probably isn’t going to want to spoon.

Aunt May’s old and frail. I’m talking ancient. Sixty-years-old if she’s a day.

With that I mind, I’m watching the latest incarnation of Spidey; Aunt May is not only younger than me, she’s Marisa Tomei.  aunt may Marisa Tomei melts buildings!

And the answer’s ‘eight.’

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420: a scrapbook

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Hippie Hill, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Planet Earth, a place I like to call ‘Home.’

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420

There was a small section cordoned off for those who actually remembered the ’60’s. There were seven of us

420.png.

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Happy Holidays!

It’s 420 Eve! We’ve put up our 420 tree and hung our 420 stockings, and tonight we’ll leave out a glass of unsweetened almond milk and an edible for you-know-who. Isn’t it exciting?

We’ll sing 420 carols and tell 420 stories. I know I’ll be too excited to sleep tonight.

And tomorrow?

Let me tell you about tomorrow.hippie hill

My wife and I, we’ll be taking the ferry across the bay, hopping on and off a number of busses in San Francisco, eventually debussing at Golden Gate Park, wherein lies Hippie Hill, above which drift untold memories and spirits of memories. This is where we’ll be celebrating 420. I’ll be pretending it’s the ‘60s.

Tune In. Turn On. Drop Out.

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The Mysteries of the Universe

Paul McCartney was my favorite Beatle. Probably because he was left-handed, as am I.

            John Lennon was my favorite post-Beatles Beatle. I guess my tastes had changed.

within you without you            Lately I’ve been really enjoying George’s music. His Beatles music. None of their solo stuff, as great as some of it was, was the Beatles. Not even close, in my opinion. But George’s Beatles music is really hitting the spot right now. Particularly “Within You Without You.”

            Back in Seventh grade – 1967/68 – I would often light a cone of blueberry incense, turn on my black light, put on “Within You Without You,” and attempt to meditate my way to enlightenment which, in turn, led to the Mysteries of the Universe.

            I haven’t grown up much, have I?

 

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Some Planetary Moments

I take the Moon for granted, or become annoyed with it for its voracious appetite for starlight. And I never want it around for a meteor shower.

            I looked at the Moon recently through binoculars. In its waning gibbous phase its limb was marvelously cratered. An honest to god spectacle.

            I then turned the binoculars on nearby Jupiter. I spotted three of its Galilean moons, one to the west, the others east. They are a small cosmic ballet.

jupiters moons            Back in the mid-‘70s, I frequently observed Jupiter through my small telescope. I would observe several times during the night, sketching the planet and its moons each time, thus illustrating their movement around the gas giant.

galileo            Galileo was the first human to see the moons of Jupiter, immediately removing the Earth and Sun from the center of the universe. The Pope was severely pissed. It was a bit like having another bite of the fruit from the Forbidden Tree of Knowledge. The one Adam and Eve got into so much trouble over. And how smart is god anyway, for crissakes? You tell someone not to do something, that it is forbidden, and they’re going to sprain something in their rush to do it.

            I just noticed Mars. Or is that Antares?

 

peace sign

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A Raw Deal

Back on the road, leaving uninspiring Twentynine Palms behind. Eventually we’ll be turning right onto Old Woman Springs Rd. toward Landers and places beyond.

            We’ll be staying in Tehachapi tonight.

            If you’re old enough to remember the great film, The Right Stuff, based upon Tom Wolfe’s even greater book, The Right Stuff, which is about the beginning of our space program back in the 1950s and ‘60s (you have to be even older to remember that) … and I’ve forgotten what the point was.

            I think it has something to do with Tehachapi, where we’ll be staying tonight, and Chuck Yeager mentioned it (not us staying there, but flying over it) in the film, and that may be the connection.

            Chuck Yeager got a raw deal.

the right stuff

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Weeks-Old Indica Shake

Lady Smoking PotI’ve had this Indica shake for weeks and weeks. It’s as dry as roadkill in the desert. And yet it has a deliciously earthy botanical fragrance.

            Who doesn’t enjoy a deliciously earthy botanical fragrance?

“Weeks-Old Indica Shake”                                                                                                                    © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick                                                                                                                 All Rights Reserved

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“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”

sitting bull

Sitting Bull

I’m finishing up Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a book I read 45 years ago as a college freshman. I don’t recall what I got from it then, but now two things immediately leap to mind: fake news and god (an interesting duo plying their trades today more than ever).  And such unbridled prejudice and hatred, even Frankenstein’s monster’s balls would have retracted into his body cavity. So that’s three things.

“The only good Indian’s a dead Indian.” That was a not uncommon slogan during the 1800s. But what can you expect of a nation that fought a war with itself over the ownership of another human being? While treating Indians like cattle?

Those who didn’t necessarily subscribe to the ‘dead Indian’ solution did want them the hell and gone to the reservation. The red-skinned heathen savages needed to be reminded just who was in charge here. Fake news went a long way in accomplishing that goal. (If you want examples, read the book. You should read the book anyway.)

kicking bear

Kicking Bear

And then there were the missionaries and preachers – god’s spin doctors – forcing their damn religion on those people, a recurring theme throughout history. And it has never made the world a better place.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee reminds me not only how shitty we can be to each other – to entire races and their cultures – but also that I continue to see absolutely no evidence of any kind of god anywhere, at any time. If any of this is evidence of a god, that son of a bitch is a bastard.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee should be required reading.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”                                      © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick                                               All Rights Reserved

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What’s Wrong With People?

Car-Cemetery-01drug house.jpgA decrepit pick-up truck has pulled into the driveway of the drug house across the street. A creepy old guy gets out and waddles toward the front door.

            He is as bow-legged as a parentheses, and he appears to be missing five fingers and the hand that goes along with them. The imbalance caused by his asymmetrical hand situation and parentheses legs causes his wobble to morph into a perpetual motion machine of flailing arms and nears misses with toppling over. I suspect, if he did fall over, he’d be no better off than a capsized beetle, flailing his arms and legs about until he finally surrenders to his fate, making peace with a god that turned its back on his ignominious demise after a lifetime of imbalance and physical challenges.

            That’s god for you. And people, too. God gives you a shitty little life and you still insist upon praying to him/her/it.

            What’s wrong with people?

“What’s Wrong With People?”                                                                                                            © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick                                                                                                                    All Rights Reserved

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Donuts

There are tribes in the rainforests of South America that sing to their excrement. They say it is to honor the life force which surrendered itself to nourish us. They say it honors their elders and their ancients. All the way back to the beginning of time, which they have decided to call “The Big Crap.”

            The ways of these wise shit-worshippers have found its way into modern Shamanic training, or so we were taught in “Ethnobotany for Initiates: An History and Grimoire” at the academy we, for a brief time, attended.

            This was during one of our layovers in Magic Bent. The next time we were in town, I found that the academy we attended was now a donut shop with a drive-thru.

            They were, of course, healthy, gluten-free, naturally sweetened, high fiber donuts. So healthy and so incredibly boring, calling them donuts was a rather unfortunate use of the word, implying something altogether enjoyable, which these were not.

donuts

“Donuts”                                                                                                                                                             © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick                                                                                                                    All Rights Reserved

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Horcruxes

Every step of the way has been a bit of a horcrux for us for we have left bits of our souls, our anima, our inner essences everywhere, strewn about by the hurricane that is our lives. No wonder I feel so empty sometimes; what’s left of my soul has a lot of empty space to occupy. It rattles around a bit. The echo’s annoying.

a Montana horcrux

Our West Yellowstone, MT horcrux

            And this anemic soul has weakened both of us, left us vulnerable. There has been the occasional infestation. Infection. Possession. All manner of status quo and supernatural forces have tortured us.

            Somehow, we always manage to survive, though not unscathed. We are definitely scathed.

            Everyone’s scathed.

            And everyone has done their share of scathing, but not me. I have scathed others above and beyond what any normal person is capable of. Any five persons.

a Mississippi horcrux

Our Mississippi horcrux (Hurricane Katrina wiped it from the face of the Earth three years later)

            I have been evil. My heart aches for those whom I have scathed. I should never be forgiven.

            I could blame my diminished soul and perhaps it would be legitimate, but then I would have to blame the horcruxes and that doesn’t seem right.

            Neither of us expected or intended to leave bits of our souls lying around, completely strewn about the many places we’ve been, the many places we’ve inhabited. We have invested ourselves in these places which have been home. It’s only natural that a bit of ourselves gets left behind to linger like an ethereal shroud of Turin, or haunt the place like a ghost.

            If it is natural, it’s mean.

“Horcruxes”                                                                                                                                          © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick                                                                                                                   All Rights Reserved

 

 

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Raw Hamburger

It is completely still. Heavy clouds hang over the desert in a way that suggests they take pride in their work. A neighbor rides in on his motorcycle. He never looks comfortable on that thing. More like he’s scared shitless.

            I’ve driven a motorcycle a couple of times. I’m no Hell’s Angel. I was scared shitless.

            There’s such an abundance of opportunity for things to go wrong, and when things go wrong on a motorcycle a lot of raw hamburger gets left behind.

            Rather than gamble with my life on a two-wheeled joy-ride, I gamble with my life every single day.

            No? You think not?

            I dare you to spend eighteen years as a Hospitality Beatnik. It can more frightening than any motorcycle ride, and there has rarely been raw hamburger anywhere.

charlies angles

“Raw Hamburger”                                                                                                                                  © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick                                                                                                                All Rights Reserved

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When the Applause Stops

We’re selling off a bunch of our stuff before launching ourselves back into space for the summer.

Among the impulse items at checkout will be a couple pairs of my shoes, each from my wardrobe as a Background Actor. One pair can be seen in the AFI student film, What the Monkey Saw. The other pair can be seen in the Indie film, Steampunk Samurai Biker Chick. (I was killed in that one. Had my neck snapped by one of the bad guy’s henchmen. I deserved it. Earlier in the film I cut off a different henchman’s toes.)

It feels like I’m selling off the Oscars.

“When the Applause Stops”                                                                                                                            © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick                                                                                                                             All Rights Reserved

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In Memoriam: The Queen of Saturn

queen of saturnThe Queen of Saturn died in a horrible accident involving a fly swatter and a linen closet. (It was not her linen closet.)

We met up with her often; we traveled in those types of circles. (We’ve traveled in a couple of ellipses as well, and life itself is an hypotenuse, but that’s math.)

She was always where you expected you might run into her. In Sedona. In Roswell. She turned up during a couple of meteor showers. At the Integratron, in Landers, CA. In Hooper, CO. And, of course, Magic Bent, N.M.

Most of us know her from her ads for Lunar Reincarnation in which she proclaimed, with admirable enthusiasm: “It could happen to you!” and “Some said it was lunacy!!”

She released a colossally ignored (with good reason) album: Tania Needs Corners and Tumbleweed are Mean.

saturnAnd of course, she wasn’t actually Queen of Saturn. Saturn, as well know, is ruled by committee.

She was a troubled little person, blessed with great beauty and an eagerness to get herself addicted to whatever was available.

She was needy and she was a lot of work, which was why marriage was one of the few things in which she was unable to get a good, committed addiction going.

And she was lonely.

Alcohol was her escape of choice (she couldn’t outrun her miseries; her legs were too short). Whenever the topic of life-threatening over-indulgence was brought up, she would launch into what sounded like an oft-recited litany of rationalization and excuses, bringing the discussion to an abrupt halt because she was so long-winded, with a side of brow-beating.

She was a delicate, troubled flower, and not one part of her botany was going to change. Not as long as she was unwilling to look at herself honestly. In that, she was no different than the rest of us.

But she was Queen of Saturn (wink, wink).

“In Memoriam: The Queen of Saturn”                                                                                                        © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick                                                                                                                               All Rights Reserved

Posted in A Verbal Scrapbook, fantasy, fiction, humor | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

God Doesn’t Hurt People? Bullshit

A few months back a woman with whom I am acquainted replied to something I wrote with: “God doesn’t hurt people.”

            I didn’t give it much thought at the time. Hell, I didn’t give it any thought, but scrolling through some stuff recently, I happened to notice it go by. And it occurred to me: Bullshit!

            God doesn’t hurt people? Tell that to the rain-soaked horde watching Noah put the finishing touches on his new ark. Hell, they tried to burn the thing down but couldn’t keep the matches lit in all that rain.

            God doesn’t hurt people?  Tell that to the hearty and lustful folks of Sodom and Gomorrah. 

            God doesn’t hurt people? Tell that to Lot’s wife, whose last words were, as she turned around though she was warned to not: “Shit. I think I left the gas on.”

            God hurts people with obvious enthusiasm and glee. God hurts people through inaction and indifference. God is a story stitched together from earlier excursions into explaining things supernaturally. Why is everyone so afraid of life that they are willing to believe in a really shitty god, any god, all gods? Throughout history people have killed, tortured, and enslaved other people in the name of god.

            God doesn’t hurt  people?

            Bullshit!

god doesn't hurt people 03

“God Doesn’t Hurt People? Bullshit”                                                                                                     © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick                                                                                                                   All Rights Reserved

Posted in A Verbal Scrapbook, atheisim, non-fiction, religion, travels through life | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

August 1973 an excerpt

They careened all over the race track of sex, from tender love making to down and dirty fucking. They exploded in super novae and fell into deep, dark, wet caves. Their lust was a thing to behold and surely the dozens of meteors that flashed across the sky were a direct consequence of their passion. Sexual physicists, to this day, cannot explain their failure to leave a smoking crater in the wake of their sex for there certainly should have been one. They. Were. The. Big. Bang.

Even far across the field, Telly and Phil could detect their sexual energy; the air felt greasy and tasted salty. It made it difficult to concentrate on the meteors.

“No doubt about it,” Syd began once he had caught his post-coital breath, “I love you.”

“And I love you, gypsy star gazer.”

“That’s just hippie, free love talk, isn’t it?”

“Does it matter?”

“Maybe.”

She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “So tell me, my little gypsy lover, where are you from? You said you were goin’ to California, but ya never said from whence you came.”

“Huh? Oh. Ohio. Cincinnati.”

“Ohio, Cincinnati. Of course. You’re too sweet to be from anywhere else.”

“Huh?”

“It’s a compliment, baby. You’re a nice boy. Nice boys come from Ohio, Cincinnati.”

A burst of light in Pleiades caught their attention. “Wow. Didja see that?” Zoë squealed.

Syd hesitated and then said, “It’s perfect.”

“What is? The meteor shower?”

“Everything.”

“Everything?”

“Everything.”

She leaned over and kissed him again. “Well then, you can’t ask for anything more than that, can you?” And she climbed up on top of him. He rose to the occasion. Again, at 18 it’s easy to do. Sometimes it happens just because. Sometimes there’s levitation involved. Occasionally, visions.

August 1973                                                                                                                                     © 2018 Gregg M. Pasterick.

auguat 1973 front cover

More? You want more? Try here:  August 1973, the novella

Posted in 1960s, fiction, humor, meteor showers, road trip, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: I Chicken Out

Our great mid-life crisis adventure began in Indiana, at the Duneland Beach Inn on Lake Michigan, east of Michigan City. It doesn’t sound like much of a life-changing risk, does it, going from central Ohio to northern Indiana? Well, it wasn’t, and that was by design. My design. My wife, of course, had other designs. Hers were swirly paisleys and Salvador Dali gobs of sagging colors; mine were paint by numbers in shades of gray.

Sheri wanted to go to Alaska. As did I, at first, but as winter settled in, and the holidays got thrown in our faces, which we just weren’t in the mood for, I began to have second thoughts. Actually, I skipped second thoughts altogether and started in at about fifth thoughts, and went from there. It was higher math. Stephen Hawking math.

ohio_winter01You would think, being on the verge of this great mid-life adventure, I would be giddy with anticipation. You would think I would be delirious with the wealth of possibilities. You would think I would be thrilled by the great and inviting road stretching out before me. I wasn’t. I was sick to my stomach and more depressed than ever. I was faced with the unknown, and not your typical, run-of-the-mill unknown, but gigantic, unimaginable unknown; an unknown where the daily average temperature during the winter is 50 degrees below zero and the sun is a vague memory for six months out of the year. I was leaving behind absolutely everything familiar, facing this gigantic, unimaginable, dark, cold unknown in a way alarmingly similar to birth.

I was terror-stricken.

I wanted my mommy.

I chickened out.

I pointed out to Sheri, since the plan was to head west, why not start out, say, in Indiana. That’s west. She found the Duneland Beach Inn on the Internet the very next day.

It would be the first of many such synchronicities to stick its toe in our waters over the next several years.

“I Chicken Out”
Copyright 2007, 2017 Gregg M. Pasterick
All Rights Reserved.

Posted in A Verbal Scrapbook, autobiography, humor, indiana, lake michigan, mid-life crisis, Searching for Answers, Travel, travels through life | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: A Last-Ditch Effort

It isn’t very often that the course of a person’s life is sent careening off into a whole new direction by a single moment, or a single event, never mind that it’s usually something completely out of the blue and unexpected. It’s happened to me at least twice. I was eight-years old the first time; my parents called me into the living room on a cold February evening in 1964 to show me the Beatles. I have been trying to be one ever since.

It happened again in 1983 when I finally got around to reading Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

douglas adams hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.jpgWhile the book itself was a bit of a revelation, it was one specific sentence that sent my life tumbling off into some new and unknown place. That specific sentence described how a Vogon spaceship hung in the air “much the way a brick doesn’t.” It still gives me chills.

That single sentence, that single description of a flying saucer effortlessly defying gravity, shined bright lights in my eyes and filled my balloons with helium. I knew at that moment I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to write like Douglas Adams. I spent the next ten years trying.

I first got published in 1993, in the now defunct Columbus Guardian, one of several alternative weeklies available in central Ohio at the time. My first published piece of work was an article about the upcoming Perseid meteor shower.

Over the next several years my articles about astronomy and bird watching and the environment appeared in a handful of publications around Ohio. In the summer of 1999 I managed to turn that into a weekly nature column in the central Ohio Suburban News. It was this, my six years as a freelance writer, that I desperately wrapped my arms and legs around in a last-ditch effort to get me rescued from the icy roads of my midlife crisis. It was this, these six years of freelance writing, that I hoped would land me a job as a reporter for the newspaper in Yellow Springs. Sheri was wrapping a few of her own hopes and dreams around this as well.

Yellow Springs, like, perhaps, Berkley, California or Asheville, North Carolina or parts of the Pacific Northwest, was a 1960s anachronism that had survived the Bee Gees and Donna Summer and Ronald Reagan and Hands Across America and all the rest to remain resolutely and self-consciously counterculture, tie-dyes and all. It didn’t thrive so much as depend upon the constant turnover of cast-aways, drop-outs, and kids going through a phase to keep the community viable regardless of any economical weather.

The psychedelic flashbacks and persistent miasma of patchouli notwithstanding, Yellow Springs offered us a small community in the middle of an awful lot of nature, and it had long been one of our favorite places to get away to for weekend escapes.

We had set up our Nature in Small Doses (TM) booth-space at several street fairs in Yellow Springs. In fact, the first arts and crafts festival we did was in Yellow Springs. It was always a good time there, meeting kindred spirits and selling a few herbal soaps, or hiking in the woods and camping out under the stars.

Yellow Springs seemed the perfect tonic to soothe the symptoms of our midlife suffering.
Sheri and I looked into several rental properties, she picked up a few job applications, and I interviewed for the job at the newspaper. It wasn’t bad, as far as job interviews go; I only felt the urge to vomit once or twice. Actually, I thought it went pretty well. So well in fact, we consequently zeroed in on one specific rental property, meeting with the landlord and discussing particulars over dinner. We began to envision ourselves as members of the Yellow Springs community.

I, of course, didn’t get the job; things have rarely been that tidy in my life. And now, in addition to this grotesque midlife crisis, we were gasping for air in a tidal surge of depression over this lost opportunity.

All that was left was innkeeping.

(Another author’s note: Flying saucers. Flying saucers also sent my life careening off into an unexpected place. I was eleven-years-old.)

“A Last-Ditch Effort
Copyright 2007, 2017 Gregg M. Pasterick
All Rights Reserved.

Posted in A Verbal Scrapbook, autobiography, freelance writing, hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, humor, mid-life crisis, travels through life, Yellow Springs, Ohio | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: Bad at Magic

It was a relief, watching Nature in Small Doses (TM) draw its last breath, but it was also a bit like stumbling backwards where all this midlife crisis stuff was concerned. What might have been the beginning of an alternative lifestyle was just more work, and I was pretty sure more work wasn’t one of our objectives. And though the arts and crafts gig fell through the cracks, we still had a few more tricks stuck up our tattered, threadbare sleeves. Granted, they were little more than sophomoric sleight of hand, misdirection, quarter-behind-the-ear tricks, but they were tricks just the same and maybe, just maybe, there’d be a silver dollar, or a fiver back there.

The first rabbit we pulled out of our hat was Cheryl’s Kitchen, a well-known, laid-back, counter-culture organic restaurant in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The owners, laid-back and counter-culture though they might be, were apparently going through their own midlife crisis, and, mathematically speaking, the ratio of amount of work invested in the restaurant to the pleasure gleaned from it was top heavy in favor of well that’s enough of that. Id est.: they wanted out. But they couldn’t just put the restaurant up for sale: they were counter-culture and laid-back. They had to do something creative; something worthy of the 1960s ethos so pervasive in Yellow Springs. They didn’t want to come off as just another example of the materialistic status quo. And what they came up with was a contest … with an entrance fee, of course. (They might be counter-culture and laid-back, but incense and Birkenstocks weren’t free, you know.) The Grand Prize was ownership of Cheryl’s Kitchen.

ohio_yellow_springs03.jpgLiving in Yellow Springs and running a little restaurant seemed like, if not a solution to all our problems, then certainly an improvement on our condition.

The contest, aside from the entrance fee, was right up my alley. It was a 500-word essay; the topic was: World Peace as a Menu Choice, with a Side Order of Jorma Kaukonen. Contestants were to explain and describe and intimate just how they would go about carrying on the counter-culture and laid-back tradition of Cheryl’s Kitchen, should it be theirs to carry on.

Sheri and I banged our heads together like the augmented breasts of a porn star getting humped from behind, crafting an essay worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, never mind winning us the restaurant. It was a good essay, full of our love of nature (true), our experiences with organic gardening (true), our love of cooking (a little white lie), our love of Yellow Springs (true), and how much we really, really, really wanted to own Cheryl’s Kitchen (so far away from the truth it nearly snuck up on it from behind). How could we possibly lose?

Well, one way was for there to be no winner at all, which was precisely what happened. According to the owners, whose pockets were now stuffed with untold hundreds of dollars in entrance fees, response to the contest was so small it was hardly worth the effort. It smacked of scam. Phone calls to Cheryl’s Kitchen went unreturned; letters to the owners came back in an Elvis Presley song. Cheryl’s Kitchen shut down and we were left holding the rabbit (see the beginning of the chapter).

The next trick up our sleeve – sawing the girl in half – resulted in a girl in desperate need of stitches. We attempted to buy a bed and breakfast in Adams County.

ohio_autumn01Adams County was one of those subtle serendipities that salted our crackers during Nature in Small Doses (TM) . We set up our booth for an early-May Redbud Festival and were almost immediately submerged in a tidal wave of neighborly people and unpaved nature. Glenn and Donna, our hosts at the Old Country Bed and Breakfast (and our very first B and B experience) were charming and quaint and down to earth. All the folks who passed through our booth were likewise charming and quaint and down to earth and most shared a similar enthusiasm for nature. We talked with gardeners and herbalists and bird watchers and star gazers and ‘shroomers and wildflower chasers. We learned that area woodlands were a carnival of spring ephemerals and migrating song birds and tasty morel mushrooms. We were told that there were several prairie remnants in the county, and during the summer they were carpeted with colorful wildflowers which were, in turn, infested with equally colorful butterflies. We were promised night skies full of more stars than we could ever possibly imagine. Owls hoo-hooed; coyotes howled; turkeys gobbled, and whippoorwills wept like ghosts in the night. It all sounded too good to be true, and all from the mouths of the friendliest people we’d ever met, usually while they bought some of my photographs or t-shirts, or some of Sheri’s herbal soaps and vinegars.

We wondered if maybe we hadn’t fallen into some kid of Salem’s lot or worse, Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood gone terribly, terribly wrong. And we were smitten.

Adams County became our home away from home; we returned for more Redbud Festivals, as well as a couple of Mountain Thyme Herb Festivals in the fall; we returned to the B and B a few more times and we began renting a cabin; we hunted morels and chased butterflies and bathed in meteor showers; and we suddenly had lots of new friends. It was alarming.

With this midlife crisis proctologist sticking its finger up our bums, and the notion that life as innkeepers might be a bit of Vaseline, all the while bathed in the rich, syrupy sunlight of Adams County, we took matters into our own hands. We tried to buy Old Granny Shirley’s Bed and Breakfast.

By this time, we had been on the Ohio arts and crafts circuit for the better part of two years, and we had stayed in several bed and breakfasts along the way. We had mingled with guests and owners; we ate a variety of breakfasts; we sat back and observed. It appeared enticingly simple. And now there was one for sale in Adams County. It continued to be too good to be true.

We toured the inn. We sat with a realtor. We filled out paperwork, peed in a cup, and left stool samples.

And then we were told how much of a security deposit old Granny Shirley needed to make this work.

“Christ, Granny Shirley, that’s a lotta money. And this is Adams County we’re talkin’ about here. The average annual income’s like $6,000.”

“But I thought ya loved it here.”

“We do. We do.”

“An’ I thought ya wanted to move here.

“We do. We do.”

“Well there ya have it then.”

“But we don’t have that kinda money.”

“Ya don’t?”

“No … we spent it all on Cheryl’s Kitchen.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind…”

And that was that. It wasn’t all too good to be true. It was simply too expensive.
We might have felt as if the universe was conspiring against us, but we already knew that. That was our status quo, and like most people of our generation, the status quo was something we wanted no part of. (True, most people of our generation had at it with the status quo about 30 years earlier, and with minimal success, I might add. But wasn’t that the point of all this, our midlife crises? Shaking loose the bonds of the status quo and living life on our own terms? And wasn’t that some of why we were having a midlife crisis in the first place; we didn’t wrestle with the status quo 30 years earlier and wasn’t it time we did so now?) And with all of that in mind (which really was overkill, huh?), we eagerly stuck our hands back up our magic-infested sleeves and pulled out … voila! … the Lianhan Sidhe Herb Farm, Trillium d’Flora, Proprietress.

washington07The Lianhan Sidhe Herb Farm, Trillium d’Flora, Proprietress, was way out west, on Vashon Island, in the Pacific Northwest. Vashon Island was notorious for old hippie back-to-nature types, and the Pacific Northwest, that was practically Alaska, wasn’t it? Throw an herb farm into the mix and you just might as well forget it. It’ll never happen.

And it didn’t.

We tried in any case.

Trillium d’Flora, Proprietress was, by her own admission, the most renowned herbalist in the world, not to mention the diva of the Wicca crowd. She came from what she called, “esoteric stock.”

“…Merlin’s bloodline, ya know.”

“Really?”

“Definitely.

“I see…”

“And my daddy was the love child of Delores d’Flora and Jack Parsons.”

“Yeah?”

“Indeed.” She inflated with obvious pride. “And Granddaddy Jack, as we all know, was the father of so much more.”

“He was?”

“You don’t know Jack Parsons?”

“Um … no?”

According to Trillium d’Flora, Proprietress, Jack Parsons was a rocket scientist, a poet, a beatnik, and Aleistair Crowley’s right-hand man, the High Priest of the Ordo Templi Orientis.

“What the hell are you talkin’ about?”

“He was a rocket scientist. The first. The progenitor of our space program.”

“Really?”

She nodded enthusiastically. “His close-knit cadre’ of visionaries became JPL.”

“Really?”

“Yes. He, of course, moved on to more important things by that time.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. The Ordo Templi Orientis.”

“And … uh … Delores d’Flora?”

“Huh?

“Delores d’Flora. Yer grandmother? What about her?”

“Oh. Her. Well, she was an aspiring film star when she found her way to the group…”

“The group? JPL?”

“No, no, no. The Ordo Templi Orientis.

“I see…”

“And granddaddy Jack blessed her with his magical seed.”

“Yeah, he did.”

“And daddy was baptized in Delores d’Flora’s name in order to protect the issue of Jack Parson’s loins.”

“Izzat so…”

“Of course. There were others, nefarious henchmen of darkness, who would stop at nothing to bring an end to the miraculous and magical legacy of the High Priest.” And with that, Trillium d’Flora, Proprietress, the latest in the legacy of Jack Parsons, swelled once again with renewed pride.

“And the, um, herb farm?”

“Huh?”

“The herb farm?”

“Oh. Right. The herb farm…”

As the latest in the magical bloodline of Merlin and Jack Parsons and possibly Mr. Wizard, Trillium d’Flora, Proprietress felt there were more pressing matters to be attended to than running the Lianhan Sidhe Herb Farm. And evidently the future of the Earth was at stake, but we didn’t get into it. As it turned out, she wasn’t really interested in selling the herb farm, but instead leasing it, with the option of selling it to us later should the future of the Earth be more work than she realized.

To be certain we weren’t nefarious henchman of darkness ourselves, she asked for a deposit that no amount of quarters behind the ear could cover.

“Give old Granny Shirley a call. She’ll give ya our answer.”

And that was that. We went to the magic well three times and brought up a bucket of empty each time. We evidently couldn’t do magic if our lives depended on it, which they quite nearly did. We were bad at magic. Going off and being innkeepers was pretty much all that was left.

Or was it?

(Author’s note: Okay, so there is some exaggeration and tall-tale-telling in there, but the Jack Parsons stuff is partly true, and all three possibilities were real and obviously none of them panned out or this story wouldn’t exist to tell. Maybe it doesn’t.)

“Bad at Magic”
Copyright 2007, 2017 Gregg M. Pasterick
All Rights Reserved.

Posted in A Verbal Scrapbook, Adams County, Ohio, autobiography, humor, mid-life crisis, nature, Searching for Answers, Travel, travels through life, Vashon Island, WA, Yellow Springs, Ohio | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: Dabbling with Arts and Crafts

We didn’t just lie around and wallow in our miseries during those couple of years before we finally quit our jobs, sold our house, and left town. I mean we did lie around and wallow, sometimes quite a bit. Let’s face it, there are times when there is nothing you can do but lie around and have a good, long wallow. It doesn’t usually solve any of your problems, but it clears the arteries a little, and when that sudden burst of blood hits your brain, you get to feel better for a little while. It was during some of those light-headed blood-rushes that we got the idea that we could run off and join the Ohio arts and crafts circuit. We could get out of town every weekend, set up a booth space and sell some stuff, meet new people, and make a little extra money. It would be the kind of medicine that would treat a host of ailments and not just our light-headed blood-rush headaches.

So, you may ask, what the hell did we have that other people would be willing to give us money for? We asked ourselves the same question. What we came up with was what we came to be known as: Nature in Small Doses (TM).

ohio_praying_mantis02While most of our time seemed to be spent wallowing in our miseries and our home renovations and our failing and dissatisfying jobs, our lives actual did revolve around nature. We were hikers and campers. We were bird watchers and butterfly chasers, wildflower lovers and stargazers. We hunted morel mushrooms in the spring, danced in fairy circles throughout the summer, and gardened our brains out, growing vegetables, herbs, wildflowers, apples, strawberries, grapes, and anything else that struck our fancy, which meant just about everything got stuck in our ground at one time or another. And through it all I took pictures; pictures of birds, pictures of frogs, pictures of mushrooms and wildflowers, pictures of butterflies and other insects, pictures of the changing seasons, even a few pictures of the heavens. It was these pictures … my, ahem, photographs … which would be the focal point of our Nature in Small Doses (TM).

ohio_black_throated_green_warbler01We put my pictures … my photographs … on t-shirts and sweatshirts with a bit of folklore and natural history. We matted and framed a variety of my photographs in a variety of sizes and hung them about. And we made note cards and postcards of many of my photographs. It was all very colorful; a room full of mirrors and all the reflections were bits of the natural world around us, a world I was hoping to nudge more people into noticing.

kilbourne_garden11But that was just the high-end stuff. The showroom display stuff. We also had checkout line, impulse-buy stuff. Folks lured into the Nature in Small Doses (TM) booth space by my nature photography could also purchase herbal vinegars and herbal soaps, which Sheri made with stuff from our garden. Or they could choose from our selection of bath salts and candles and lotions and tinctures, also made with what we grew in our backyard. We had dried flower arrangements, wreaths, and bunches of dried herbs for sale. And occasionally we had violet syrup, herbal tea blends, jams, jellies, and apple butter, all made with our homegrown produce, harvested in the backyard and cooked up in our kitchen. We even sold a few tapes of my music now and then.

We had a product to sell, and it was nature. Our enthusiasm was free of charge. For a while we seemed to have successfully improved the waning quality of our lives, but even the biggest lollipop doesn’t last forever; eventually all you’ve got stuck in your mouth is a stick made of paper.

From March to December, Nature in Small Doses (TM) was on the road two or three weekends a month. We set up our booth in familiar locations as well as parts of Ohio we had never seen before. We met people from all walks of life, shared tales of bird watching and morel hunting and stargazing with nature-lovers, and watched high-end, upscale socialites literally turn up their noses at what we had to offer and sort of “harrumph” at us for being there, causing them to waste their time looking at something which was clearly beneath them. We felt as if we were something they had stepped in.

Nature in Small Doses (TM) never did well in the affluent neighborhoods of northeastern and northwestern Ohio; we were the Belle of the Ball in less hoity-toity Adams County, middle-America Gahanna, and counter-culture Yellow Springs. It was all very educational and proved to be somewhat of a prescient experience given that one day we would be innkeepers and boy, people weren’t created equally at all and Christ, some of them are a tremendous pain in the ass.

A string of less-than-successful arts and crafts festivals during the spring and summer of our third year of Nature in Small Doses (TM) had us down to that chewed-up paper lollipop stick. We pulled the plug. It died a peaceful death.

While the whole experience ultimately proved to be a failure, there were some pockets of memories made here and there, and some new friendships forged. It also planted a seed. We often stayed at bed and breakfasts while traveling the state as Nature in Small Doses (TM) and, witnessing the nature of that job over breakfast, seated ‘round a table with a bunch of strangers while the hosts brought us our food, a warmly lit and softly-focused notion of innkeeping began to flutter about our back porch light.

In the meantime, we were back in the clutches of our midlife crises, and it seemed to be squeezing at us like we were a tube of toothpaste.

“Dabbling in Arts and Crafts”
Copyright 2007, 2017 Gregg M. Pasterick
All Rights Reserved.

Posted in A Verbal Scrapbook, Arts and Crafts, autobiography, humor, mid-life crisis, nature, Searching for Answers, Travel, travels through life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: The Patience of Geology, or the Unlikely and Apparently Unrelated Events Which Eventually Led to My Life in the Suburbs

It’s not difficult to imagine the universe is conspiring against you. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine it’s not. And sometimes it seems as if the whole shebang is out to get you. But occasionally … rarely … it feels like all the pieces are falling into place; unlikely, staggeringly unrelated pieces, taking years and years, sliding into place with the nearly comatose patience of geology. And, though usually ephemeral, all is right with the universe.

That’s how I’ve regarded my life in the suburbs, the paradise of my youth which took place against a backdrop of the Beatles, Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, the space race, and flower power. What a perfect time to be adolescent and impressionable; what a perfect place to call home. And it was all the culmination of millennia of metaphoric geology.

* * * * *

Those pieces, those unlikely, slowly moving land masses, began sliding into place, I guess, about a century ago, when my mother’s family – Pagans fleeing religious persecution at the hands of bloodthirsty Christian kooks – emigrated from the British Isles, while my father’s family escaped Vlad, the Impaler – a bloodthirsty kook of another kind. Eventually they all made their way into Pennsylvania, where my mother’s parents, who ironically became the very Christian kooks their forebears were fleeing (if you can’t beat ‘em; join ‘em?), and my father’s parents, whose progenitors’ mighty faith in the Pope and Mother Mary never flagged in spite of living in the shadow of Castle Dracula and possibly losing a few cousins to the immortal bloodsucker, moved across the street from each other, on Bessemer Avenue, in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The neighborhood, through which street cars rumbled by on the quarter hour, and smoke and ash from the steel mills fell like a Christmas morning snow, was strictly Old World, where strange, Eastern European dialects were spoken with manic unintelligible fervor, gypsies abounded, and villagers fled rampaging monsters. Men gathered at the Slovak Social Club while their women stayed at home and raised children, cooked and cleaned, and stoked their coal furnaces until they, these Eastern European women hoping for some thin slice of the American Dream, were covered with coal dust and were black as minstrels. Their lungs didn’t fare much better.

Babushkas were a fashion statement and there were crystal balls about. On Saturday night the Slovak Social Club opened its doors to the general public … which were mostly gypsies from the old country anyway … and polkas were danced until dawn. (Anybody who wandered away any time during the night risked vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monster.)

My mother’s family, devoutly Christian, God-fearing, and self-righteously judgmental, were a minority among the superstitious, horror-film Hungarians and Czechoslovakians. They sought God’s guidance in every aspect of their lives; they thanked Him profusely for every little joy they experienced; they deferred to His infinite wisdom (or perverse sense of humor) whenever a tragedy befell a family member. “God works in mysterious ways,” got said a lot, eventually by rote (“Howdy, Mr. Clugston, and how are you today?” “Oh, you know, God works in mysterious ways.”).

And while my parents’ families settled into early 20th Century East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, blight was ravaging the cabbage and cucumber crops of Island Trees, New York. Undaunted and undeterred, farmers shifted gears and began growing potatoes. They wouldn’t fare any better with the Golden Nematode.

Meanwhile, in Europe, that damn Schicklegruber kid was blaming the Jews for everything from Germany’s defeat in World War I to a bad haircut and his Charlie Chaplain moustache. His bitterness and acrimony eventually got fashionable and soon we were in a Second World War. Millions of innocent people were slaughtered, but that’s war for ya.

The world was a different place after Schicklegruber’s war. We had atom bombs and a baby boom. Jack Parsons and his band of merry bohemian occultists, whose love of science fiction and blowing things up led to jet propulsion, begat JPL, the space race, and General Electric. And in America, we rewarded our brave veterans with the suburbs.

Abraham Levitt, a lawyer who dabbled in real estate during those golden years leading up to the depression, was there to pick up the pieces when, in the early 1930s, a developer bellied up on a project. Levitt and his sons wasted no time learning all there was to know about construction, finished the project, and were off and running, building new homes during, and in spite of, the Great Depression.

In 1941 Abe and the boys, now known as Levitt & Sons, landed a contract in Norfolk, Virginia, building homes for shipyard workers. Selling their souls to Satan, they perfected the mass-production technique which would serve them so well at the end of the war. By that time, the Golden Nematode would wipe out the potato crop in Island Trees once and for all (possibly more of Satan’s handiwork and part of the package in exchange for the Levitts’ souls); Levitt & Sons would buy up the formerly fertile farmland and divide it up into small, equal-sized parcels; and in 1947 they would announce the construction of 2,000 mass-produced rental homes. GIs lined up around the corner and viola! Levittown, America’s first suburb, was born.

my dad as a young man.jpgWhile all these apparently unrelated pieces were shuffling around in the cosmos, my parents ran off to Maryland to elope at the alarmingly immature age of 18. Neither of their parents were happy about it: my dad had married a self-conscious, born again Christian hooey who wouldn’t know a good time if it bit her on the ass, but my dad’s parents could have gotten on board with their new daughter-in-law had her clan not abandoned the Old Ways and the Fairy Faith and made straight for the Blood of the Lamb; my mother, in her parents’ eyes, was going straight to Hell for marrying a Greek Orthodox, Mother Mary worshipping Catholic who still played solitaire with a deck of Tarot cards and recited the werewolf prayer before bed each night (Even a man who is pure of heart, and says his prayers each night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the moon is full and bright).

It was Peyton Place, Old World Gypsy and Fire and Brimstone Southern Baptist style. There was collateral damage well into my own life.

1956_first_birthday.jpgSoon it was the middle 1950s; a Cold War was going on, and I was born. America was thriving, the newfangled suburbs were the place to be, Post-War youth were becoming restless, which led to Beatniks and Hell’s Angels, television had invaded our homes, and Johnny Lennon and Paul McCartney had met at a Sunday afternoon fete, where Johnny’s band was playing. My parents, still living with my mother’s parents, finally got a peek behind the curtain when my dad was offered a job at General Electric, in Cincinnati, Ohio, working on jet engines for the defense of our country against the Godless Communist horde. Heeding Horace Greeley’s advice – in a limited fashion – we were all on a train heading west by the end of the week.

* * * * *

Tectonic plates shifted, glaciers retreated, civilizations rose and fell, and the mind-numbingly dull 1950s gave way to the 1960s, and even then, they hung on until late 1963 or early 1964. The suburbs, filling up with that baby boom, continued to spread throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s with the relentless enthusiasm of mold in a damp basement. Beatniks, one of those after-effects of the Second World War, set in motion a sense of counter-culture and alternative lifestyle that was slowly gaining momentum. Rosa Parks sat in the front of a bus. Martin Luther King had a dream. Wally and the Beave gave way to Opie Taylor and Rob and Laurie Petrie. The Beatles, becoming something of a leather-clad bunch of punk rockers, were honing their chops in Hamburg, Germany. And through it all my parents slowly climbed the socio-economic ladder, moving from a small second-floor apartment in an urban neighborhood to duplexes in Arlington Heights and later Lockland, two older, suburb-wanna-be neighborhoods of Cincinnati.

In 1960 eminent domain, the steroid that really inflated the muscles of suburban sprawl over the next 40 years, sent our family packing like the gypsies my father’s ancestors were, but it sent us packing up another hard-won rung of that ladder: My parents were finally able to rent a house. A whole, entire house. It was something of a coup.
We now lived across the tracks from Lockland, in Wyoming. It was an improvement in life, metaphorically and otherwise, and I was deliriously adolescent.

I caught fireflies during warm June evenings. 1962_wyoming_ohio.jpgI trick-or-treated my brains out each Halloween, all the while vigilant for any supernatural hijinks. I watched John Glenn drift across the sky, a dim star flying against the tide of the constellations. The Amazing Spiderman, The Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk were the foundation of my literature; Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man were my idea of a Saturday matinee. I had a cadre of best friends: we celebrated each other’s birthdays; we had sleepovers at each other’s houses; we were cub scouts together.

And then there were the Beatles.

They appeared suddenly, magically, casting a spell over absolutely everyone. Even our elderly neighbors liked them. “That Ringo, he’s cute,” white-haired neighbor Aunt May revealed to me. And just like that, the 1950s were gone.

By the summer of 1964 my adolescent paradise showed no signs of cloudy weather or the least bit of precipitation. I wanted for nothing, for there was nothing more to want. But what did I know? I was a kid.

While the sedate, black and white 1950s were finally going away, and I was adrift on the gently rolling seas of my sun-drenched childhood, all of those remarkably unrelated pieces, from the emigration of my parents’ families from wildly different European backgrounds to the horrors of that Schicklegruber kid and the subsequent (and consequent?) assembly line suburbs of Abraham Levitt, they were all settling into place. My life might have been perfect, but my parents yet aspired for more, and in the summer of 1964, after nearly twenty years together, they achieved their dream: They bought their first house.

In the suburbs.

I felt betrayed.

“The Patience of Geology, or the Unlikely and Apparently Unrelated Events Which Eventually Led to My Life in the Suburbs”
Copyright 2009, 2017 Gregg M. Pasterick
All Rights Reserved.

Posted in 1950s, A Verbal Scrapbook, autobiography, East Pittsburgh, PA, humor, Levittown, Nostalgia, Searching for Answers, Slovak Social Club, the Suburbs, travels through life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: A Death in the Family

Our mid-life crisis didn’t sneak up on us, or leap out from behind a big bush. No, it was more like a tropical depression meandering listlessly around the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually it got upgraded to a hurricane and made landfall in the form of a death in the family, and nothing makes you sit up and take notice like a death in the family.

By this time Sheri and I were a couple fish foundering on the beach, and we had been for some time. My job – I was still working for my first wife’s father – was losing altitude at an alarming rate. His health was bad, paychecks appeared at irregular intervals, and there seemed to be less and less work. It began to depress me.

Sheri, on the other hand, had what most people would consider the perfect job; great pay, great benefits, perks, tolerable work – the whole package. But it was in a neon-illuminated cubicle, face-to-face with a computer, Muzak dripping from ventilation shafts and bubbling up from the floor. She suspected subliminal messages were being piped in beneath the syrupy tunes: “…you are good workers … you love your job … your job loves you … pet it … see how fuzzy and cuddly … it fills you with joy … you will invest in your company … you are good workers…” It began to depress her.

Things weren’t much better at home. We gutted and drywalled, scraped and stained, and spackled and painted that 100-year-old farmhouse I had gotten myself into with my first wife. It wasn’t a money pit so much as a black hole with an insatiable appetite for our income. Once it drained us of our meager savings, it licked its lips and turned its appetite on our souls. It began to depress us.

And all of this was on top of a subtle wash of dissatisfaction with life. We were both in the throes of mid-life crisis, but didn’t know it. Not until that death in the family. When someone who isn’t much older than you is diagnosed with cancer, and doesn’t last out the month, it gets your attention.

“That could be me…” Sheri began to mutter mindlessly; it became her mantra, “That could be me…” I was too busy wallowing in my own vague miseries between episodes of Northern Exposure to really give a damn. “That could be me…”

ohio_window_reflections01.jpgSheri was suddenly aware she had, all those years ago, plunged into adulthood like a Brown Pelican dropping into the sea. She realized, just three months out of high school, she got married. She didn’t go to college. There were no Jack Kerouac road trips across the country. She missed Woodstock, never burned a single bra, and didn’t dare protest a war her brother was gleefully participating in. More than twenty-five years of life had gone by and all she had to show for it was a divorce and a daughter. Not that her daughter didn’t matter; she did. But she wasn’t a cuddly child old anymore.

Our daughter was, by this time, on her own, going to college and living with her boyfriend; we called him “the creature,” which was being generous. She no longer depended upon us; she had “the creature” for that.

Together, Sheri and I nearly depressed ourselves inside-out. I think there was mention of tummy tucks and a cheerleader or two. And along came that damn death in the family.
“That could be me…”

It only took two years to finally quit our jobs and sell our house and leave town.

“A Death in the Family”
Copyright 2007, 2017 Gregg M. Pasterick
All Rights Reserved.

Posted in A Verbal Scrapbook, autobiography, death in the family, humor, mid-life crisis, Searching for Answers, travels through life | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: I Was Never Very Good At Being an Adult

Frankly, I’m surprised I suffered a mid-life crisis at all. I’ve never been very good at being an adult, avoiding responsibility like Dracula ducking indoors at dawn. I’ve never had a savings account, or gone to a neighborhood pot luck dinner armed with a tuna casserole, or had a career. I’ve especially not had a career. I’ve not had a career with a vengeance.

It’s not that I didn’t want a career, which I didn’t. It’s just that I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, which hasn’t really mattered since I’ve never really grown up anyway. More to the point, the notion of a career, of having the dreamed-of, sought-after, this-is-what-I-really-wanna-be-doing job has always been profoundly alien to me. A job that I want? A job that I want to spend the next two or three decades doing, day after day? Nope. Alien. Totally foreign. I don’t speak the language. And all those people who not only seem to find a career, but actually thrive in it, well they’re just downright scary in my book. These are the people you want to keep an eye on.

But there’s more to my not being an adult than not having a career. Ultimately it has been a lifestyle. Not necessarily a choice, but definitely a lifestyle.

I began not being very good at being an adult while I was still in high school. I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention, was absent that day, or just too damn immature to notice, but all around me my friends and fellow classmates were filling out college applications and taking SAT and ACT Tests. What the hell was going on here, I wondered? I never really found out, but if everyone else was doing it, it must be the thing to do. So I jumped on the bandwagon.

Actually, going to college seemed the logical thing to do. After all, I’d been doing it most of my life, going to school, that is. Why not go with what I know? So I went to college … for ten years.

I handled those ten years of college with the nimble dexterity of one who doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, which doesn’t matter because he clearly isn’t in any hurry growing up anyway. I majored in Liberal Arts, which was pretty much just two more years of high school. I switched to Industrial Design with the intention of getting into Graphic Design when there was an opening. When that didn’t pan out … there are a couple of Graphic Design instructors who are probably still having a laugh over my portfolio … I dropped out of Industrial Design and just took a bunch of courses that interested me. By this time six years had gone by. Friends were in graduate school, or off beginning careers. Old girlfriends were married and starting families, or off beginning careers. Guys from high school who didn’t make it to college were married, starting families and beginning careers. I was beginning to feel strangely inadequate. It was very unsettling.

Having a go at being an adult, if only briefly, I decided to study astronomy. I was a stargazer from way back, thanks to a youthful obsession with flying saucers and alien abductions, and I knew there was a future out there, on the other side of college, manicuring its nails as it awaited my arrival. I had to have something to offer it once I got there. So, I transferred to a school with an astronomy program and spent the next four years discovering that I was definitely no scientist and that flying saucers and alien abductions had little to do with calculus and physics.

At 28, a game show’s variety and wealth of learning rattling around in my head like seeds in a dried gourd, I simply stopped enrolling in classes. Just like that, my college days were over. No career. No wife. No children. Just a lot of Tolkien, Kerouac, and Castaneda on the book shelf, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix in the album rack, and a job at a campus pizza joint.

1984_at_papa_joesThe one positive thing I can say about being someone who is not good at being an adult and has a job working in a pizza joint on a college campus, I was rarely lonely for companionship. I dated girls who, over the years, got younger and younger. That is to say, they were always between eighteen and twenty. I got older. It proved to be an effective unguent for one so inept at being an adult. Of course, like gonorrhea developing a resistance to penicillin, that unguent – the twenty-year olds – lost its potency. (Isn’t that ironic? Twenty-year olds are often one of the first pills mid-life crisis sufferers reach for.)

I was not very good at being an adult, and I knew it, and I began to wonder if there was something inherently wrong with me. I mean, everyone else seemed to be doing it, being an adult. Clearly, there was a deficit in my character.

But I never gave up. I fell off a bicycle and got back up on a Harley, taking my attempts at being an adult to the next level. One of those twenty-somethings, who came on the heels of yet another broken heart, moved in with me. After a few months with her, I quit my job at the pizza joint and began working for her father, who was an engineer in construction claims. Once she graduated from college, we moved off campus to a trendy inner-city neighborhood. Soon after that we were driving a shiny new car. An alarming trend was rampaging through my life like Godzilla destroying Tokyo.

Tying a colorful ribbon around all this, my first real handful of adulthood, we soon bought a 100-year-old farmhouse in rural Ohio, north of Columbus, a city bursting at the seams with urban sprawl. Less than a month after we moved into our “dream home,” my wife left me.

As it turned out, while I was dabbling in adulthood and feeling pretty good about the results, my wife was dabbling in other men, a couple women and possibly a few barnyard animals, and feeling even better. Now this, damn it, was just the sort of thing that made dabbling in adulthood so damn unappealing in the first place.

I quickly learned that once you are tainted with the stink of being an adult, it doesn’t wash off. I had a mortgage, car payments, taxes, credit cards, and legal fees. The broken heart was free of charge. I had dabbled in adulthood, and this was what I had to show for it. My ship was listing and taking on water.

“Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: I Was Never Very Good at Being an Adult” Copyright 2007, 2017 Gregg M. Pasterick All Rights Reserved.

Posted in A Verbal Scrapbook, autobiography, humor, mid-life crisis, Searching for Answers, travels through life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment