Friday, June 22, 2018

Zero-Sum Life

It's a Zero-Sum Life, there's no two ways about it, Bub. You come in with nothing and you leave with nothing. And that's fine. Every minute is zero sum - it's here, it's gone. We sell our time, most of it, anyway. We work for someone else (whether you're punching a clock or running your own business, you're working in service of someone else), we absorb content that's riddle with advertising messages (selling our eyeballs to marketers, who are selling their time to sell our time to others who are selling their time to make something to sell to us for the money we made selling our time to someone else), and of course we sell our time to our kids, our friends, our family, our community, etc...

Sure, there's learning, selling our time essentially back to ourselves to become better and more effective at selling pieces of our lives to others. We learn about the wonderful discoveries of others who were learning things in their great endeavor of selling themselves to others, and we become more productive salesmen of our own time. And we think there may be a few of the super-wealthy who can opt out, but are they not constantly selling their time to promote benefits of their gilded-cage lifestyle? Hell, right now I'm selling my time to you - the time it takes to write this, I sell that to you - you might enjoy how great a writer I am or endure how terrible, I'm selling you this content in exchange for your attention and the time it takes you to read it, or maybe you give up and just stop here -

"Ok, so if it's all zero-sum," you ask, "what's the point." Excellent question. Is ours the task of furthering the Human Endeavor? Maybe. Sounds nice, has an egalitarian optimism to it. But what's that for? The end game is, it seems, that we as humans reach that pivotal point of Utopia. That moment where humanity is free from the chains of fate, chance, the gruel of life, pain, suffering... the stuff of being human. In such a world, the underpinnings of what we all live by just fall away - capitalism and wealth, time, health, politics and class, lifestyle, and conflict all become obsolete. Happiness becomes the final capital.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Year of the Ostrich

"Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." 
- Friedrich Nietzsche

The acrid tinfoil taste in our mouths from these ugly times, I imagine, is the same taste that inspired legions of young folks and open minds to take to the road in the late 60's to experience what Kerouac and Ginsberg and Cassady were on about - the hallmark of the culture that bore the hippies and All of That. And rightly so, we are in an Era of Change. These are tipsy times, and it stands to reason that no teetotaller should remain standing. One cannot see with one's eyes closed... I'm looking at you, ostrich.

So the mighty ostrich is our current culture's spirit animal. A beast, a fowl, pretending to be a bush with it's head in the ground. I beam with pride. In the same way that in the 60's, The Man was so dismissive of the beats and that entire un-understandable youth culture, now we see the same dismissive attitude toward Millennials. Their ways confuse us, their motives are subversive, their insatiable appetite for sriracha & avocado flavored Tide Pods is alarming. They stand to destroy everything we stand for, after we finally destroyed everything the previous generation stood for. We can't catch a goddamn break.

Maybe they're onto something. Maybe Facebook should just be a scrapbook between consenting adults, maybe Tide Pods are delicious. They might rise to the occasion, and I hope they do. Because if not, I'm going to wake up one day in something resembling a cold war era Soviet nursing home for criminals and ex-pats eating table-cheese and longing for the days when I could casually unplug my inter-cranial datajack and enjoy the solitude of a quiet, warm, sunlit deck on June morning, without having to report back to our cybernetic AI overlords.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mouthwork

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."
- Ernest Hemingway

It takes a special type of person to go into the Mouth Business. Mouth is not for the faint of heart - most of the horrible things we do daily involve the mouth: eating yogurt, eating liverwurst, swears, lies, politics, spitting, smoking, chewing tobacco, oral, rimming, all the liguses, flossing, singing Journey, opinions, etc., the list goes on. So to get into the filthy business of other peoples dirty, spaghetti crusted cakeholes takes certain qualities: grit certainly, morbid curiosity and a sturdy gag reflex. I'm not sure the desire to help people weighs in there, though I'm sure they'll tell you that.

I've seen the gamut of Mouth People. As such, some were more sympathetic than others. As a youngster I had my teeth filed by a sadistic orthodontist who I must have offended in some way, so much so that he needed to grind my glorious fangs down to negligible stumps. And I'll never forgive that son of a bitch. I once had a cleaning in a questionable back-alley dental dungeon. The tile floor was grimy and cracked, the receptionist was also the hygienist, which is fine, the dentist resembled Newman from Seinfeld, but somehow I knew in my heart that he was a dirty old man who was heavily into upskirt photography.

But some how, I still have all my teeth, and these fuckers are shiny! Sure, I chipped a tooth in a fight back in high school (against a guy whose real name was actually Rocky, which, in retrospect, could have been a red flag), and chipped another ungracefully dismounting a stage at a gig somewhere in the armpit of Massachusetts, but they're at least 98% accounted for. After all my trials and tribulations I finally landed a reasonable professional to do my Mouthwork. No wrenching, no torque, no anestheticly enabled shenanigans. I travel for good Mouthwork. After all, the mouth is the window to the soul.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Crypto Thousandaire

"They were drunk on youth, fueled by greed, and higher than kites."
- Jordon Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street

My curiosity in cryptocurrency started back in 2014, I think, when I had heard, for some time, whispers in the darker corners of the internet starting to bubble up about a rarefied fake money called The Bitcoin was starting to make waves and people were starting to make money from it. After a bit of research I learned that it was something you could apply the right kind of technology to and pull this fake money right out of thin air. I was intrigued. As a youngish dad of twins I had been on the prowl for some easy money and this seemed like just the scam.

After further reading, I accepted that I was already too late - oh, what a fool I was. An article at the time wove the tale of an Australian Bitcoin miner who was facing the ever increasing challenge - the most basic tenet of Bitcoin - it gets harder to mine as time goes on by requiring more juice, better computers to do the work and get paid. Here, the work is verifying transactions, which of course is now relegated to finest back-alley server farms in China, all crunching away to dig up digital pirate treasure.

In a lot of ways I was right to give up, assuming that I was too late to the game and not able to mine this fake money out of the ether. Now just few years later, I see my error. I've never milked my own cows, so why would I think I needed to milk the damn internet? There's the rub - I slept on it, perchance. The opportunity, it seems, would have been to sink the cash I thought I'd sink into a mining rig right into the few cryptos that existed at the time. Hindsight is a bitch.

At the time, a single Bitcoin went from hundreds, to about a thousand dollars, then back down to hundreds. If I had the wherewithal to figure out how to buy it at the time, and was somehow able to hang onto it, I would've done ok. And yet, here I am - a Crypto Thousandaire, in spite of myself. I bought my first ticket to the rollercoaster last spring, added a little cash through the summer and into the fall, cashed out enough Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, and Ethereum to cover my initial investment, and reinvested much of the rest into a handful of other coins of varying returns.

Having hedged my original investment, now I'm just playing with house money and waiting for the whole damn thing to crash to burn. But until then, it's all Champale wishes and Cavalier dreams.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Garbage People Have Arrived

Newport, RI, once home to the summering elite from the mid-nineteenth century to about the 1930s, has again been found by the Garbage People. Don't get me wrong - I don't have any room in my heart for mansion dwellers or real estate magnates, but at least when the move around in their weekend-khakis and tucked seersuckers, they do so with some semblance of grace and dignity. But not the Garbage People.

The Garbage People move from bar to bar in a jerky fashion like the dice in a Pop-O-Matic bubble. If seen from above they would come off as frenzied ants under a cruel child's magnifying glass, scrambling away from something unseen, probably their past, but who knows. These are Jimmy Buffett's people whether they like it or not, lost in the world and invasive, like some choking vine. But here they are ignorant of the aloha shirts and kitschy pseudo island music that allows the general population - good, wholesome folks such as myself - to identify them at a distance. No, for the Garbage People, the music is a more personal decision. Perhaps it's the Eagles, Hall and Oats, or maybe the Rolling Stones.

These are not people of conventional trappings. They might own a boat. They may, at times, drive around in a forest green Jeep Wrangler with deployed airbags draping lifelessly into their laps as they avoid pedestrians. Perhaps they buzz around on a rattly old scooter (for legal or other reasons). But when the sun goes down and they head out on the town, they will get stinking drunk on a mix of cleverly named cocktails, and proceed to crash about in restaurant bathrooms and dance haphazardly in the delightful breeze of the electric hand-dryer, squealing in delight. The are, after all, Garbage People. They have to ruin everything.

A dramatization of a Garbage Person in real life, as portrayed
here by this particularly haggard looking lost doll.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Don't Trust the Lies of the Gluten-Industrial Complex

It's been brought to my attention that in my efforts to avoid wheat, I may have been inadvertently ruining spaghetti time for all. I get it. It's no fun to not eat pasta and bread and, seemingly, everything else. It's a very sad existence foraging, nachos all the time, grudges, and heavy judgment. No one understands this more than me. And I do understand.

But it is important to point out that while the initial gold rush of the gluten-free fad has hopefully peaked - a peak covered with dustcakes and slime pasta and foambread - and has left many a forsaken avoider hung out to be dry-mouthed by the false promises of all the faked breads and noodles. In light of all the fad driven shenanigans, it's important to remember that there are a bunch of people still avoiding and it's only getting worse. There are nearly as many articles that might as well be titled If You Have Ever Had Gluten Even Once You're Already Dead as there are 10 Reasons You're Going to Die Tomorrow if You Don't Eat More Gluten Right Now God Damnit! It's all lies - be it from the granola-eaters or the Gluten-Industrial Complex.

But still, even as a skeptic, I felt I had a build-up of some unidentifiable compound in my body, so I experimented. I had no idea what brain fog was until I started avoiding at first gluten, then, more specifically wheat. Now I know - it's that pervasive lack of critical thinking capability that I thought was just the result of being a tired parent in my thirties, but now I believe there were other sinister forces at work. As I continue to avoid wheat and my body flushes something out, I live with much less brain fog, I don't eat antacid every night, my afternoons aren't a struggle to stay awake, and I'm starting to become more smarter-er again, albeit slowly. So there is a thing here, but what?

After spending what must have been tens of minutes looking into it (thanks internet), here's what I've learned. Here, National Geographic talks about the herbicide Round Up, made by Monsanto (GMO people), and how it may have carcinogenic effects (and how the active ingredient, glyphosate, is not included in the US government's testing for toxic residues in food). Here, on the Round Up website, are instructions for pre-harvest application of Round Up (skip to page 36 for the Harvest Management benefits). And here, Reuters talks about how the EU almost banned (but eventually didn't) the stuff, while Malta, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands and Argentina have. The state of California even says it can cause cancer (just like everything else). Ok, so what?

Here's the deal: there has been a gradual increased use of Round Up not only to help squash weeds that could take over crop lands just after harvest of wheat, barley, soy, corn, etc..., but also to help control the harvest. Once the good stuff, the kernels, are just about ready to go, a farmer could just dowse the crop with Round Up, which, in turn speeds that crop to a more uniform maturity (ripening as it chokes), enabling it to be straight cut instead of swathed (easier, more productive harvest). Sure, it makes it easier for the farmer... but what about the brain fog?

Friday, March 31, 2017

This Is Bullshit - Jack Ziegler, 7/13/42 - 3/29/17

He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.
- Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Standing in my father's kitchen eating fistfuls of black forest deli ham and swiss cheese from the Hy-Vee (which I assumed is a pharmacy but now hope it's not), I look out the window at the blooming dogwood and get what he saw in this place. It's great. The neighbors and friends who brought the food over, all great. Those of us here in the aftermath, I like to think he thought we were pretty great, too. I worry very little about what he would have wanted now because I know he already carved out of life what he would have wanted.

Earlier in the week as I made my way from airport security down to the concourse the text from my sister came in: "Holy shit, its over." He stood so goddamn tall, and he cut a hell of a swath. Over the following days, bits from here or there would come in, outward condolences and praise for what he did, who he was, the greatness that he represented to so many. The gravity of this, measured against the approval I had always sought, the respect I had gained as a young man, growing, starting a family, all the warmth that I never really noticed as a child (he used to call me Gnat Boy because I was constantly assaulting him with jokes), my transformation into someone whose opinion had value, who could make a great martini and could entertain in a way that he loved.

I'm really not disappointed that I didn't get to say goodbye. Although I was on my way, I know he didn't want to be seen in a hospital bed as his last impression. The final conversation we had was cut short by some sort of phone issue, but things had been looking up that day, and the nurse had come in to wash his hair. He was practically giggling because it was so wonderful. "This is great," I'm sure he said. Although we were cut off, never said goodbye, never said I love you, I am okay with all of it because it's such a wonderful, absurd memory.

While on the phone in the confusing hours shortly after the 9/11 attacks, my dad, wit so sharp even when noticeably shaken by the chaos and bereft at the thought of lost friends, said the final thing that ever needed to be said about it; "It's like everyone you've ever known has just died." And it's true; one of those multi-layered truths that speak more as years go on. Now, as I sit at his desk in the basement studio of his home in Lawrence, Kansas, grappling with this, I can only muster the reflection I had on that Southwest flight out of Hartford shortly after his passing: It's like every hero has died - every great artist, every great writer, every great musician, and every great philosopher. Bob Mankoff said it best, I think, in his own memoriam: "Fuck! Jack Ziegler Is Dead!"

Goddamn it's beautiful down here, looking out the sliders onto the greens, peppered with strong trees. It's great.