Thursday, July 31, 2008

A New Thing

On my way to work this morning, I saw something I'd never seen before: a yuppie woman in an expensive-looking business suit riding a bad-ass motorcycle to work.

I wonder if that has anything to do with the still-relatively-newly-high price of gasoline.

I know most people who read this are fellow New Yorkers, who don't generally drive cars and are only affected by high petroleum prices when paying for certain well-traveled food items at the grocery store, or when booking a flight to the west coast or overseas. (I myself am allowing the high price of jet fuel to deter me from going to Burning Man this year. Not that I needed a strong external deterrent. I'm now leaning most heavily toward using my vacation days for some kind of relaxing writing retreat.) But I do have plenty of friends out there in the hinterlands who've got to drive a car pretty much every day.

And it's not like this whole oil thing is a temporary condition. Exxon just posted the largest quarterly earnings of any company in US history, and the amount of oil in earth's crust is still finite. Even if Obama wins, and even if we stop fighting wasteful wars, and even if we implement a strong energy policy, and start demanding justice and fairness from the oil-industry, the high cost of petroleum-based transportation is never going to improve significantly. It only stands to worsen, really.

Which is obviously a huge pain in the ass for all the folks out there who rely on gas-guzzlers to make a living (or to get pussy, etc.). Yet, it is ultimately a good thing, as it will discourage us from emitting carbon, and encourage us to find creative solutions to this whole 'a to b' problem.

I've got one of them creative-type solutions bouncing around in the back of me noggin' and I'd like to share it with all y'all (though if anybody gets rich off this idea, it should be me!)...

Electric cars!

Okay, I know plenty of purely-electric cars already exist. And people don't like 'em because...

1. it takes too long to recharge their batteries (using today's common technologies)
2. their range is too limited (using today's technologies)
3. golf-cart aesthetics

Well, first of all, for 90% of the driving that 90% of Americans do, the short range and low speed of even the cheapest all-electric cars would be perfectly fine. You'd use your car the way you currently use your cell phone. Wake up in the morning, unplug your car from the wall outlet (in your garage, say), drive to work. Work. Drive to the supermarket. Drive home. Plug your car in. Eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep. Repeat ad infinitum.

Ah, but the reason why the market doesn't go for that, is because of the other 10% of the time, when it's the weekend, say, or other leisure time, and a longer trip up the California coast to Big Sur, say, is desired. From LA to Big Sur is about 300 miles. There ain't a single all-electric car ever made that could do that trip on a single charge. And look how great it is at Big Sur. Don't you just want to be there? There's really no way to get there except by car (unless you're an even more dedicated cyclist than I am, which most Americans definitely are not).

So, how can you get from LA to Big Sur in an all-electric vehicle, even a really good one like this?

Well, some companies suggest using a small internal combustion engine (ICE) to power an on-board generator, which will trickle-charge the car's batteries as you drive, thus extending the range by several hundred miles on not too much fuel. It's basically a form of hybrid, only a little different from the hybrid cars currently on the roads. But such range-extended electric vehicles (REEVs) still need fossil fuels and still emit carbon.

Some people suggest creating recharge stations all over the highways. Which is fine, except people still don't like the thought of having to stop for a long time to recharge before heading back out on the road.

SO, the Jon Levin solution is as follows: tow a flatbed trailer of solar panels with your electric car. A flexible power cable runs from the flatbed to the power-socket on the car. The flatbed would only add a small amount of weight and could be designed to induce as little aerodynamic drag as possible. It might have to be really long in order to have enough surface area for photo-voltaic panels sufficient to generate the electricity needed to continually trickle-charge the batteries in your electric car, but so what? Once you're out on the highway, who cares how long the thing you're towing is? Maybe once you get to your destination, the thing collapses, accordion-style, to take up less room. Or maybe it can be reconfigured to fold up over the car, while parked in the lot of the local Wal*Mart, say. Keeps your car shaded, keeps your batteries full, doesn't take up extra room in the parking lot, especially if the car you're starting with is a Smart Car.

But what if it rains?

Come on, don't be stupid -- who wants to drive up the California coast to Big Sur in the rain?

You heard it here first!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Glory of Health Benefits

Personally, I think it's wrong that in order to afford even minimal health care in this country, most of us have to play drooling lackey to the corporate ogre. More even than that, we have to be among the lucky lackeys -- on the ogre's good side, at least enough to be invited to join the ogre's health club. The health benefits club. Membership has its privileges.

Of course, the fact that I find our "system" a shameful and disheartening mess in no way stops me from finally going to see what that horrible pain in my neck has been about all these years, now that the ogre has embraced me to his sweaty bosom for a time.

So, with health club membership card in hand, I went on over to West Side Chiropractic on 43rd st. (right near my apartment) and the good doctor Mark checked me out, asked me a bunch of questions, etc. etc. Then he sent me across town to get a set of spinal X-rays.

X-rays kind of creep me out. Radiation in general. Ever since I saw that old (1957) B-movie, "The Incredible Shrinking Man" on TV when I was a kid. The guy gradually and embarrassingly shrinks down to the size of an insect, is attacked by a spider that's much bigger than him, and has to stab it in the thorax with a sewing needle. And then he just keeps right on shrinking! The movie ends with some vaguely overblown claptrap about him inhabiting the sub-atomic realm. (Thanks to Michaelson for rekindling my enjoyment of the word 'claptrap' by the way.)

But I got the X-rays taken, and brought the prints home with me. I don't feel any worse for wear, and am seriously looking forward to bringing the spinal snapshots to the Chiro-dude and having him snap and twist and crunch me back into proper alignment, which I probably haven't been in for over 10 years -- ever since I foolishly tried to do a headstand while riding the Cyclone. That first drop man...

I wonder what it'll be like, to wake up in the morning without pain... will I see rainbows and fairies and unicorns shooting out of that eye on top of the pyramid? I bet I will.

To look at me, you probably wouldn't know that I've been in more-or-less constant pain for years. I'm one of those guys who just sort of ignores pain. Until it kills me dead. Then I say, "Oh... should I maybe have DONE something about that horrible pain I was in all those years? Huh..."

I'm just so used to feeling a constant dull ache and sharp stabbing pains in my neck/shoulder/back area whenever I try to do anything crazy, like turn my head to either side, or look up, or, you know, down, etc., that I sort of just forgot that I wasn't supposed to be in pain. Apparently, normal people don't feel this way, and don't tolerate such a thing for years on end if they can help it. Of course, I was never on the Ogre's good side long enough to make it into the club before. So, there's that.

Supposedly, being out of alignment, with bits of your central nervous system all constricted, hampers all sorts of routine, um, stuff. I mean, for all I know, I'm supposed to be a dynamic motivated individual, instead of a lazy sack o' crap. Maybe, when the electrical impulses traveling along my spinal cord get going properly again, I'll be able to finally, finally, begin realizing my lifelong dream of becoming a fashionably tormented vigilante superhero, and really start kicking some ass! Or begin realizing my other lifelong dream of sitting around in no pain (ass kicking optional).


I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

New York's Finest

My co-worker, Tamara told me about this Youtube video that's also up on You know... I want to be okay with cops. I've known a few personally, and they were perfectly decent human beings. They've clearly got a difficult job and I certainly wouldn't want to be in their shoes, so I try to cut them some slack, even when they over-react to trivial things.

But then you see something like this...

What the fuck? Am I missing something? On some level, I probably shouldn't be surprised by this, yet I am. And I find myself taking it personally.

I've never participated in a critical mass ride, but looks like I'm gonna have to start. Should probably get some body armor first though.

So Much More Existential... and Funnier!

Nothing to report.

Go check out this extremely funny thing which my friend Mikael just hipped all his facebook friends to.

That is all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Power of Suggestion

A friend of mine (and a very wise man) once said, "The power of suggestion is very fuckin' powerful!"

I get two "daily horoscope" emails sent to me every day, one western, one Chinese. Now, it's not like I'm Ronald Reagan, making all my decisions based on Astrology, but I do get a kick out of reading horoscopes and seeing if they happen to match up with my life, etc. And I happen to know some very intuitive (even psychic) astrologers who definitely have uncanny insights to share. But the daily email ones are purely for a fun little diversion. Of the two, the western one is usually fairly vague, as you might expect, while the Chinese one is usually very specific, and weirdly so, like telling me what color shirt to wear or whether or not I should seek financial advice from a professional. (I think the Chinese mystical realm assumes I've got some serious money to invest. Which, if I lived in China, perhaps I would.) For the most part, the two are always in reasonably close agreement about the general tone of the kind of day they predict I'm gonna have. But not today...

The first one to arrive in my inbox was the western one. It said:

You're in a very good place right now, emotionally speaking, and ought to be able to share your affection with those who are closest to you. It's a good time for intimacy and quiet fun.
I was like, "All right, I'm awesome!" and it immediately put me in a good mood to start off my lovely sunny Friday. A minute or two later, the Chinese one arrived. It said:

Today will be an unfavorable day for you. When faced with situations that require action, remain a spectator as much as possible. It's in your best interest to not get caught up in the action. Your lethargic and possibly depressed mental state may cause you to react inappropriately.
I was like, "Aw crap, I suck! This day is gonna blow chunks!"

Then I caught myself and was like, "Heeeeeyyyyy... a minute ago I was on top of the world. Granted, this was only due to a silly little gimmicky email thing, but now, due to an equally silly email thing, I feel lower than a wad of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the shoe of a hobo whose shoes were stolen by another hobo (a clear violation of the hobo code) who upon noticing the gum, used a sharp stick to scrape it into a dumpster, whereupon it landed inside a container of spoiled cottage cheese.

So I said to myself, I said "AH!"

Because I had realized something.

I had realized that in my early morning checkin'-my-email-fog, I was still half asleep which is probably a highly suggestible state. So the suggestion-power of the little horoscope emails was magnified and clearly having too great an effect. Look at me! I'm king of the universe! No, I'm rancid shit in a dumpster!

I am neither. (And BOTH!) (No... I prefer neither.)

But seeing how correct my wise friend was when he pointed out how powerful the power of suggestion is, I now suggest making my own suggestions to myself to tap into their especially powerful power. New-agey people call these "daily affirmations" and I can't help but mock the crap out of them, even as I attempt to embrace them. This ain't gonna be easy. OH! And there I go, already undermining my ability to embrace them by suggesting that this ain't gonna be easy! Well, clearly, I'm right! I mean, look how bad I am at this whole affirmation thing! Aargh! There I go doing it again!

Okay, so clearly, the first affirmation for me needs to be: "I acknowledge the fact that affirmations aren't total bullshit, because the power of suggestion is very fuckin' powerful."

Second affirmation: "I'm fine, thanks."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Speech to the Graduates

In "Side Effects" one of his books of short funny pieces, Woody Allen wrote a short funny piece called, "My Speech to the Graduates." Not a speech he ever actually delivered (?!) but quite entertaining. Made me wonder what I'd say to a graduating class of high school or college kids should I ever be called upon to do so -- me, a guy who dropped out of every school he was ever enrolled in.

I'm tired today, and I don't have much to talk about, so I'm going to turn this space over to special guest blogger, Patton Oswalt, an extremely talented comedian, completely without his knowledge or permission. If you're not already a fan of his, I humbly submit that you damn well should be.

What follows, is the text of the actual speech (copied from his website) which he gave to the most recent crop of graduates of the northern Virginia high school from which he himself graduated back in '87 (making him only a year younger than me, which probably contributes to how strongly I relate to his take on things)...

First off, I want to thank the teachers and faculty of Broad Run High School for first considering and then inviting me to speak here. It was flattering, I am touched and humbled, and you have made a grave mistake.

I’m being paid for this, right? Oh, wait, there’s some advice, right off the bat – always get paid. If you make enough money in this world you can smoke pot all day and have people killed.

I’m sorry, that was irresponsible.

You shouldn’t have people killed.

Boom! Marijuana endorsement eleven seconds into my speech! Too late to cancel me now!

It’s dumb-ass remarks like that which kept me out of the National Honor Society and also made me insanely wealthy. If I move to Brazil.

I graduated from Broad Run High School 21 years ago. That means, theoretically, I could be – each and every one of you – your father. And I’m speaking especially to the black and Asian students.

So now I’m going to try to give all of you some advice as if I contained fatherly wisdom, which I do not. I contain mostly caffeine, Cheet-o dust, fear and scotch.

I know most of you worked very hard to get here today but guess what? The Universe sent you a pasty goblin to welcome you into the world. Were The Greaseman and Arch Campbell not available?

So, 1987. That’s when I got my diploma. But I want to tell you something that happened the week before I graduated. It was life-changing, it was profound, and it was deeper than I realized at the time.

The week before graduation I strangled a hobo. Oh wait, that’s a different story. That was college. I’m speaking at my college later this month. I’ve got both speeches here. Let me sum up the college speech – always have a gallon of bleach in your trunk.

High school. A week before I graduated high school I had dinner, in Leesburg, with a local banker who was giving me a partial scholarship. I still don’t understand why. Maybe he had me confused with another student, someone who hadn’t written his AP English paper on comparisons between Jay Gatsby and Spider-Man. But, I was getting away with it, and I love money and food, so double win.

And I remember, I’m sitting at this dinner, with a bunch of other kids from the other local high schools. And I’m trying my pathetic best to look cool and mysterious, because I was 17 and so into the myth of myself. Remember, this dinner and this scholarship was happening to me.

And I figured this banker guy was a nice guy but hey, I’m the special one at the table. I had a view of the world, where I was eternally Bill Murray in Stripes. I’d be the one with the quips and insights at this dinner. This old man in a suit doesn’t have anything to teach me beyond signing that check. I’ve got a cool mullet and a skinny leather tie from Chess King. And check out my crazy suspenders with the piano keys on them. Have you ever seen Blackadder? ‘Cuz I’ll recite it.

And then this banker – clean-shaven, grey suit and vest – you’d never look twice at him on the street – he told me about The Five Environments.

He leans forward, near the end of the dinner, and he says to me, “There are Five Environments you can live in on this planet. There’s The City. The Desert. The Mountains. The Plains. And The Beach.

You can live in combinations of them. Maybe a city in the desert, or in the mountains by the ocean. Or you could choose just one. Out in the plains somewhere, perhaps.

“But you need to get out there and travel, and figure out where you thrive.

“Some places you’ll go to and you’ll feel yourself wither. Your brain will fog up, your body won’t respond to your thoughts and desires, and you’ll feel sad and angry.

“You need to find out which of the Five Environments are yours. If you belong by the ocean, then the mountains will ruin you. If you’re suited for the blue solitude of the plains, then the city will be a tight, roaring prison cell that’ll eat you alive.

He was right. I’ve traveled and tested his theory and he was absolutely right. There are Five Environments. If you find the right combination, or the perfect singularity, your life will click…into…place. You will click into place.

And I remember, so clearly, driving home from that dinner, how lucky I felt to have met someone who affirmed what I was already planning to do after high school. I was going to roam and blitz and blaze my way all over the planet.

Anywhere but here. Anywhere but Northern Virginia. NoVa. You know what a “nova” is? It’s when a white dwarf star gobbles up so much hydrogen from a neighboring star it causes a cataclysmic nuclear explosion. A cosmic event.

Well, I was a white dwarf and I was definitely doing my share of gobbling up material. But I didn’t feel like any events in my life were cosmic. The “nova” I lived in was a rural coma sprinkled with chunks of strip mall numbness. I had two stable, loving parents, a sane and wise little brother and I was living in Sugarland Run, whose motto is, “Ooooh! A bee! Shut the door!”

I wanted to explode. I devoured books and movies and music and anything that would kick open windows to other worlds real or imagined. Sugarland Run, and Sterling and Ashburn and Northern Virginia were, for me, a sprawling batter’s box before real experience began.

And I followed that banker’s advice. I had to get college out of the way but once I got my paper I lit out hard.

Oh this world. Ladies and gentlemen, this world rocks and it never lets up.

I’ve seen endless daylight and darkness in Alaska. I’ve swum in volcanic craters in Hawaii and saw the mystical green flash when the sun sinks behind the Pacific. I got ripped on absinthe in Prague and watched the sun rise over the synagogue where the Golem is supposedly locked in the attic. I stood under the creepy shadow of Christchurch Spitafields, in London’s East End, and sank a pint next door at The Ten Bells, where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims were last seen drinking. I’ve fed gulls at the harbor in Galway, Ireland. I’ve done impromptu Bloomsday tours of Dublin.

I cried my eyes out on the third floor of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, all those paintings that Vincent and his circle gave to each other as gifts because they were all broke some cold Christmas long ago. I’ve eaten crocodile in the Laneways of Melbourne Australia and ortolans on the Left Bank of Paris, France.

I’ve been to Canada.

I’ve been to every state in this country. I’ve been to hidden, subterranean restaurants in New York with the guys from Anthrax and eaten at L.A. taquieras with “Weird” Al Yankovic. I held the guitar that Hendrix torched at Monterey Pop and watched Woodstock ’99 burn to the ground. I’ve lingered at the corner of Bush and Stockton in San Francisco where Miles Archer took a bullet in The Maltese Falcon, and brooded over the grave of H.P. Lovecraft in Providence, R.I. I’ve hung out with Donny Osmond and Jim Goad, Suge Knight and Aimee Mann, Bill Hicks and Don Rickles.

I’ve done stand-up comedy in laundromats, soup kitchens and frat houses, and onstage at Lollapalooza and Coachella. I’ve toured with bands, been to the Oscars and the Superbowl, and been killed in movies by vampires, forest fires and air-to-air missiles.

And I missed the banker’s lesson. 100%, I completely missed it.

In my defense, he didn’t even know he was teaching it.

Telling me about the 5 Environments and urging me to travel? That was advice. It wasn’t a lesson. Advice is everywhere in this world. Your friends, family, teachers and strangers are all happy to give it.

A lesson is yours and yours alone. Some of them take years to recognize and utilize.

My lesson was this – experience, and reward and glory are meaningless unless you’re open and present with the people you share them with in the moment.

Let me go back to that dinner, 21 years ago. There I was, shut off from this wise, amazing old man. Then he zaps me with one of the top 5 pieces of information I’ve ever received in this life, and all I was thankful for was how it benefited me.

I completely ignored the deeper lesson which is do not judge, and get outside yourself, and realize that everyone and everything has its own story, and something to teach you, and that they’re also trying – consciously or unconsciously – to learn and grow from you and everything else around them. And they’re trying with the same passion and hunger and confusion that I was feeling – no matter where they were in their lives, no matter how old or how young.

I’m not saying that you guys shouldn’t go out there and see and do everything there is to see and do. Go. As fast as you can. I don’t know how much longer this world has got, to be honest.

All of you have been given a harsh gift. It’s the same gift the graduating class of 1917, and 1938, and 1968 and now you guys got – the chance to enter adulthood when the world teeters on the rim of the sphincter of oblivion. You’re jumping into the deep end. You have no choice but to be exceptional.

But please don’t mistake miles traveled, and money earned, and fame accumulated for who you are.

Because now I understand how the miraculous, horrifying and memorable lurk everywhere. But they’re hidden to the kind of person I was when I graduated high school. And now – and it’s because of my traveling and living and some pretty profound mistakes along the way – they’re all laid open to me. They’re mine for the feasting. In the Sistine Chapel and in a Taco Bell. In Bach’s Goldberg Variations and in the half-heard brain dead chatter of a woman on her cell phone behind me on an airplane. In Baghdad, Berlin and Sterling, Virginia.

I think now about the amazing thunderstorms in the summer evenings. And how – late at night, during a blizzard, you can stand outside and hear the collective, thumping murmur of a million snowflakes hitting the earth, like you’re inside a sleeping god’s thoughts.

I think of the zombie movies I shot back in the gnarled, grey woods and the sad, suburban punks I waited on at Waxie Maxie’s. I think of the disastrous redneck weddings I deejay’d for when I was working for Sounds Unlimited and the Lego spaceships my friends and I would build after seeing Star Wars.

I think about my dad, and how he consoled me when I’d first moved to L.A. and called him, saying I was going into therapy for depression, and how ashamed I was. And he laughed and said, “What the hell’s to be ashamed of?” And I said, “Man, you got your leg machine-gunned in Vietnam. You never went to therapy. Humphrey Bogart never went to therapy.” And my dad said, “Yeah, but Bogie smoked three cartons of cigarettes a day.” And how my mom came down to the kitchen when I was studying for my trig final, at 2 o’clock in the morning, and said, “Haven’t you already been accepted to college?” And I said, “Yeah, but this test is really going to be hard.” And she asked, “What’s the test for again?” And I said, “Calculus” and she closed my notebook and said, “You’ll never use this. Ever. Go to bed or watch a movie.” And how when I got my first ever acting gig, on Seinfeld, my brother sent me a postcard of Minnie Pearl, and he wrote on it, “Never forget, you and her are in the same profession.”

I didn’t realize how all of these places and people and events were just as crucial in shaping me as anything I roamed to the corners of the Earth to see. And they’ve shaped you, and will shape you, whether you realize it now or later. All of you are richer and wiser than you know.

So I will leave you with some final advice. You’ll decide later if this was a lesson. And if you realize there was no lesson in any of this, then that was a lesson.

But I’d like all of you to enter this world, and your exploration of the Five Environments, better armed then I was. And without a mullet. Which I see you’re all way ahead of me on.

First off: Reputation, Posterity and Cool are traps. They’ll drain the life from your life. Reputation, Posterity and Cool = Fear.

Let me put that another way. Bob Hope once said, “When I was twenty, I worried what everyone thought of me. When I turned forty, I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. And then I made it to sixty, and I realized no one was ever thinking of me.” And then he pooed his pants, but that didn’t make what he said any less profound.

Secondly: The path is made by walking. And when you’re walking that path, you choose how things affect you. You always have that freedom, no matter how much your liberty is curtailed. You…get to choose…how things affect you.

And lastly, and I guarantee this. It’s the one thing I know ‘cause I’ve experienced it:

There Is No Them.

I’m going to get out of your way now. Get out there. Let’s see which one of you is up here in twenty years. If you’re lacking confidence, remember – I wouldn’t have picked me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Don't Be Scared

This past Saturday night, while semi-drunkenly riding our bikes back into Manhattan from Williamsburg, I semi-jokingly asked my buddy Nat if he wanted to join the "team" I'm assembling to ride out the apocalypse. After all, a man of his talents (just got his PhD in ethnobotany / can identify edible, poisonous and psychoactive plants in the wild / makes his own chocolate bars) would be highly useful to have around should shit strike fan.

He seemed a bit freaked out by my asking him, even if only in jest, because apparently several other unconnected people had also just recently asked him the same thing. Pretty creepy. Except for the fact that I am Mr. Zeitgeist, so it's okay.

Then I wrote up my previous blog post, about Burners surviving the end of the world as we know it, due largely to Black Rock City's remoteness, the timing of the annual pilgrimage and the unique resourcefulness of that particular community.

And here's my horoscope for today (honest to God): "You're focused on the future right now and ought to be able to plan things out much farther ahead than usual. It's a good time for you to recruit assistance that will come in handy later on."

Is it just me, or does that sound an awful lot like me putting together my team to ride out the apocalypse?

Now, I don't mean to alarm anyone. After all, the word "apocalypse" simply means "revelation." Of course, I understand that lots of people associate the word "revelation" with the Book of Revelations, famously known as the scariest shit in the Bible, but actual revelation of the truth is a good thing. A healthy thing. Depending on what truth is being revealed, it might be psychologically painful at first, but ultimately good for us. Better to know than not know, right? Obviously, the sort of revelation germane to this discussion is that of the true spiritual nature of things. Kind of like when Neo sees the artificiality of the Matrix at the end of the first movie and so realizes he can do whatever the fuck he wants within it. He, as an individual, comes to that knowledge only after suffering through some harrowing crap. And I think a common assumption is that for all of humanity to arrive at a similarly liberating enlightenment in this real world of our actual shared experience, we'd all first have to go through some pretty crazy fire-in-the-sky shit too.

But that need not be the case at all. Maybe it'll be as simple as the revelation -- on a mass scale -- of the truth behind what the greedy political elite have been doing all these years, which finally motivates the common people to put aside their superficial differences and come together in peaceful unity (instead of continuing to allow the greed-elite to convince us to keep killing each other). That would touch off a huge shift in consciousness. The heads (and talking-heads) of Fox News Channel might lose their lives, but their sacrifice would serve the greater good. A gigantic, paralyzing illusion would be dissolved and a new social harmony could be reached. Not that I advocate killing (ahem) Rupert Murdoch and Bill O'Reilly. And Sean Hannity. And Ann Coulter.

Of course, it is easy to imagine that if certain wings of the greed-elite maintain any sort of hold on popular opinion, we could end up with world-wide Biblical craziness. Fortunately, 80% of Americans already think we're going in the wrong direction. Which is only fitting after the last 8 years. Though, that last 20% does represent tens of millions of individuals who somehow still think things are on track. That's a lot of sick sick people who desperately need help (a small percentage may be beyond help). Not sure what will have to happen to reach them. Can you imagine what it's like inside their heads?! Good God!

Personally, on some level, I've been contemplating the end of the world since I was a small child. I don't think I was particularly morbid or anything, but I did used to have dreams about the end of civilization. Note I didn't say 'nightmares' -- except I do remember a particularly vivid and exciting one wherein I was being chased by mutants for much of it (apparently, they blamed me for the world-wide collapse -- and they were pissed). I woke up out of breath with my heart racing. Was probably 10 or 11 years old at the time.

I had other dreams about surviving alone in the woods or on a desert island, etc. And then I started enjoying many similar idle daydreams. At the time, I figured it was just my way of escaping the soul-alienating boredom of, say, junior high.

And I've always been especially drawn to / fascinated by people who strive to live as self-sufficiently as possible. My Side of the Mountain. Into the Wild. Etc. Any off-grid types. There was an old PBS documentary showing a lone guy building an entire house in the wilderness with nothing but simple hand tools and materials culled from the immediate landscape. And it wasn't some tiny run-down shack. It was a large comfortable house with a stone hearth/chimney. Serious shit.

And then there's my own uncle. During the 70's, he escaped from NYC's rat race and now lives in a super-insulated house he built himself up in the Catskills, growing all his own produce in two giant vegetable gardens. The land he lives on was purchased by his parents, my maternal grandparents, during the days of the "Borscht Belt" culture. They originally built summer-only cottages for Lower East Side tenement-dwellers who wanted to beat the city heat for a few weeks at a time. When gambling was outlawed up there and air-conditioners became more common and that culture died out, the entire resort-based economy of the region dried up. A great many bungalow colonies and almost all the large hotels were abandoned. Driving up with my folks to visit my uncle when I was a kid, we'd pass plenty of buildings that had quite literally collapsed due to sheer neglect. It wasn't unusual at all to see structures being sucked back into the earth by gravity, growing over with weeds -- former hotels, now compost heaps. Nature. I loved it.

My uncle spent years fixing up the abandoned bungalows on his family's property, making them suitable for year-round occupancy ("winterizing" them) which wasn't easy since the area experiences pretty harsh winters (though, as Nat jokingly pointed out, if climate trends persist, it'll all be balmy ocean-front property someday). Eventually, my uncle even managed to find a few tenants, as a huge yoga/meditation ashram opened up 5-minutes down the road, and some of the devotees wanted more affordable places to live. So, he's been able to really make a go of it.

When my grandparents passed away, the entire property (only a small portion of which was ever built on) passed down to their children -- my uncle, my aunt and my mother. My mother's portion consists of a few acres of nothing but trees right now. Barring the unforeseen, those woods will pass down to my brother and me. I don't think my brother gives a crap (he'd be psyched if gambling were re-legalized and the large casino-hotels all came back, possibly to have property near them, but possibly just because it could conceivably increase the value of our undeveloped land, which he might simply want to sell under such circumstances). I, on the other hand, consider the land the basis of my apocalypse contingency plan.

The Plan:

1. Make a ton of money somehow.
2. Spend some of the money on several modest pre-fab off-grid homes perhaps like these, and stick 'em in the forest upstate.
3. Install some wind turbines to generate additional electricity for things like: all-electric car, all-electric tractor, you-get-the-idea.
4. Build a greenhouse to grow vegetables year-round.
5. Invite people with right attitude and valuable post-apocalypse skills to come up and enjoy surviving in relative ease and comfort. Short list would clearly have to include folks like...
  • gardener/horticulturalist
  • multi-talented fix-it people/mechanics
  • engineer types
  • chef
  • brewmaster/distiller
  • musicians / DJ's
  • yoga instructor
  • healers of various modalities
  • surgeon
  • dentist
  • psycho-pharmaceutical chemist
  • writer/historian/archivist
  • artists of all kinds
  • dancers
and obviously
  • healthy women of child-bearing ability
  • zombie-fighters
But mostly, we're gonna need people who can simply live in the now and not be crushingly attached to all that will obviously be lost. (Materialists, shop-a-holics, etc. need not apply.)

Now, don't get me wrong... I'm no prophet of doom. If society keeps chugging along, perhaps making small incremental strides towards peace, nobody would be happier than me, after all, I'm Mr. Happy Fun Guy now. Of course, should my contingency plan be required, I am planning for my post-apocalyptic utopia to be an extremely fucking fun place. After all, we probably won't have any assholes breathing down our necks, and there's something undeniably sexy about surviving the end of the world.

So... who wants in?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Burning Fiction

"Paradigm Shift"

An elderly man and a 6-year-old boy walk side by side. They are dressed in matching garb: lightweight breathable silver jumpsuits and silver goggles. The old man's outfit also has a cape. This makes the pair look like an intergenerational (intergalactic!) superhero duo. They both have long-ish hair, the real color of which is hard to determine due to the fine dust that coats it. As they walk, the boy looks up at the man and says: "Grampa? Would you tell me about when you were a kid, back when they used to burn the man?"

"Well... okay," Grampa clears his throat, "When I was a young man, Black Rock City was only here for one week out of the year."

"That's all?" asks the boy.

"Yep. It was a very special week, full of celebration and meditation, art and humor and all kinds of fun. The climax of the week came on the second to last night, when the giant man would be burned down, and we'd all dance in the light of the fire. A day or two later, we'd pack up all our stuff and split, taking care to leave no trace that we'd ever even been here."

"Where did everybody go?"

"Well, back then there were lots of other places where we all lived. We had a much larger society, which we called 'Default World' and we Burners came from our various homes in all different corners of Default World to be here. But that larger society had many problems. Many problems which we don't have now."

"What kinds of problems?"

"Oh... all kinds. People didn't know how to share--"

"WHAT?! But HOW--"

"I know, I know it sounds crazy. And in many ways it was. Default World was marked by insanity in almost every aspect of daily life. Since people didn't know how to share, there was great competition for resources, everything from food and shelter to land and energy."

"Energy? But that's the easiest thing in the world for everyone to get! Why would anyone compete for something that's free and unlimited?"

"That's a little complicated, but back then, most people didn't bother to harness the wind and the sun the way we do now. We can generate much more electricity than we'll ever need just from those two sources, but we happen to be living in a very sunny, very windy place!"

"That's for sure!" says the boy.

"Without generating energy from the wind and the sun, most people got their energy from what we called 'fossil fuels.' There used to be this black oil that came out of the ground which could be burned to generate heat, electricity and to make fuel for all sorts of vehicles. It was also used to make plastic."

"Hahah... nobody MAKES plastic! We just harvest and recycle it!"

"Yes, but where do you think it all came from originally? Someone had to make it."


"So with oil from the ground being used for so many things that people depended on so much, it became the most valued resource in the world. But it wasn't like the sun and the wind. It wasn't unlimited. And by the time I was your age, we were already running out of it."

"What happened?"

"As supplies got smaller and smaller, and demand for oil got bigger and bigger, people started fighting over what was still left in the ground. Actual wars were fought over it!"

"What are... worz?"

"Oh, right... you wouldn't know about them, would you. Well, a war was a terrible thing in which large numbers of people would try to kill large numbers of other people."

"People tried to kill each other?!"

"Sad but true. It was not a very good time for humanity."

"I'll say!"

"The oil war era was a painful and difficult time for many, but we Burners kept right on doing our thing, coming out here to the desert to celebrate and remind ourselves that nothing lasts forever. I think our attitude and yearly pilgrimages helped prepare us for the big changes that were to come."

"What sorts of changes grampa?"

"Well, things went roughly like this... after 8 years of the worst leadership the modern default world had ever known, the people elected a new leader, a very nice man who was very smart and who promised positive change. And things did start to change for the better, surprisingly quickly. It was remarkable to see the entire mindset of the United States of America shift."

"United States of America?"

"That was the name of the country that used to span the continent we're standing on."


"The whole thing."


"Yeah, it was pretty impressive for a while there. And even though the new leadership accomplished a great deal during its first four-year term in office, and even though the overwhelming majority of people around the entire planet were happy with the changes that were taking place, there still were a few people who wanted things to continue the way they had been going under the bad leadership."

"Really? Why?!"

"Because they were bad, greedy people. We used to call them 'motherfuckers' or 'assholes.'"

"Haha! Assholes! That's funny. I have an asshole."

"Yes you do. And what comes out of it every day?"


"And what is poop like?"

"It smells BAD!"

"Which is exactly like everything that came out of the people we used to call assholes."

"Haha! Yucky."

"You said it. Well, when the next election rolled around, the bad people decided to try a very mean thing to gain support for the leader they wanted to install in power."

"What did they do?!"

"Well, they wanted to make it seem like the other leader, the nice smart one, wasn't any good at protecting the country from enemies, so they waited until his political party was having a big convention, and they unleashed a terrorist attack on the city that was hosting the convention."

"What's a terrorist attack?"

"Well, it was a kind of fighting that was meant to scare people, so that you could get them to do what you wanted. Most people thought terrorists were a real threat who came from far away places, but it turns out the worst terrorists were just sneaky bad people in our own country who only made it SEEM like their attacks were done by the far away people. Then after the attacks, they said 'You see! We told you there were still great dangers! You need to put OUR guy in power or else there will surely be more terrorist attacks!'"

"But THEY were the ones doing the attacks!"

"Of course. But not that many people could tell. Most people thought it was the far away people doing them. Unfortunately, the bad people chose a form of attack that hadn't been tried before, because they figured it would be extra scary, and things kinda got out of hand."

"What did they do?!"

"They released a highly contagious disease into a city. This was where the good man's convention was taking place, remember?"

"I remember."

"A few people in that city died right away. It was terrible."

"Whoa. Were people scared?"

"Yes. Very. The disease was supposed to kill people very quickly, and run its course. But the bad men who created it made some mistakes, and most people carried the disease for a couple days without knowing they had it before dying of it themselves. Since people had come from all over the country for the good man's convention, when the convention was over, they brought it back with them to every part of this land. People started dying everywhere. It was so terrible that eventually, one of the bad men responsible for the original plan revealed the truth about what was going on, in the hopes that it might make it possible for people to figure out how to stop the disease. But by then it was too late. Many people had already carried the disease to other countries. It spread quickly all over default world. Whole populations were wiped out as the disease quickly ran through its life-cycle."

"How did we survive?"

"It all came down to good timing, really."

"What do you mean?"

"The Democratic National Convention of 2012, took place at the same time as the first few days of the Burning Man festival that year. When the news broke that people were dying in every single state of what had been the United States of America, it was Saturday morning. That night, when everybody gathered at the giant man, which was the only time when everyone at the festival would all be in one place, instead of burning the man down, an announcement was made. The news about the disease affecting the rest of the country was revealed. The organizers of the festival then suggested that people stay in the desert for a few more days, to wait and see what would happen. We never did burn the man that year, or any time after that, to this day."

"Did people stay here?"

"Most of us did. A few felt they had to go, to return to loved ones, or try to help out at hospitals. But a strong feeling passed through the entire community that we were supposed to stay right here and wait. It was very difficult at first."

"Because you were scared?"

"Well, yes. Nobody knew if the disease would be able to reach us out here. But also difficult because in those days, Black Rock City was only meant to be temporary. Fortunately, by then, we had developed some centralized solar and wind power for the city, and many Burners either hooked into it or had their own solar and wind generators. Biodiesel was also big at the time. Water was scarce, of course, but a miraculous thing happened."


"It rained."

"And you collected the rainwater?"

"Smart boy. We sure did. We collected it in every kind of container you can imagine. The rainwater kept us going long enough to get word from the outside world that the disease had run its course. There were small pockets of survivors, mostly in remote places. All major cities had been decimated, and most suburban areas too. The plague had spread like wildfire, but once it ran out of fuel, or victims, or hosts, it just sort of burned itself out. That was the first major change."

"There were more changes?"

"Well sure. With so many people killed off so quickly, those of us who survived couldn't go back to the lives we were used to. There was no economy, there was no industry. Even though it soon became safe to go back to the cities and towns of default world from a disease standpoint, in many many places the survivors of the plague turned to violence, and lots more deaths occurred. So we stayed put out here in the desert for a little longer, monitoring the situation via radio and internet. Eventually those sources of information fell silent. Gradually, we sent expeditions out into the surrounding areas to find out what was left of the world we had once known and hopefully bring back news and supplies. When they returned, they came back with food, water, some medical supplies, some good drugs and even some composting toilets."

"Like the ones we use today?"

"Almost the same! Whenever there was news of interest to every Burner, we'd all gather around the man, to hear the announcements--"

"That's what we do!"

"That was when the tradition started. So we gathered to hear what the expeditions that returned had to tell us, and we learned all about the devastation of default world. But they also said it was relatively safe to move freely about, as long as we had vehicles that could run off of either electricity, or vegetable oil. For most of us, this meant our range of travel was fairly limited, so we knew it would be difficult to return to where we'd come from even if we had wanted to, even if there had been anyone left in those places. So we organized many supply runs, and prioritized the things we knew we'd need most. After food and water, more composting toilets was first on the list! Then came the materials we needed to start building the greenhouses. It was the beginning of our long-term settlement here and the whole society you know. Some people did decide to try their luck back out in default world. We never heard from any of them again. Interestingly, the theme of that year's Burning Man festival was 'Paradigm Shift.'"

"What does that mean?"

"A big change in the way things are."


[to be continued]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rhyme Beyond Reason

Mark Twain once said, "History doesn't repeat itself... it rhymes."

That dude was so fucking cool.

Thought for the day. Enjoy.

Oh, okay, I'll riff a bit on the topic...

In my own life, I've noticed certain rhymes. I'll have an experience, and then shortly afterward I'll have an extremely similar, but much higher-stakes version of the experience. This type of thing was happening over and over again, in all sorts of striking and obvious ways, and I came to call the phenomenon the "rehearsal - performance effect." For example...

One time, shortly after I moved into the city, I signed up to take bass-guitar lessons from the Sam Ash music school. You signed up and paid for a block of four lessons at a time which were $35 each, so I had to shell out a total of $140. A little sad to say, but that was actually a heckuva lot of money to me at the time. So after the first lesson, when I realized that I probably wasn't going to get much out of the lessons because the bass teacher kinda just wanted to hang out and be my pal, I figured I'd better cut my losses, cancel the rest of the lessons and get my money back for the unused remainder. I'd still be out the $35, but at least I'd recover $105.

That Saturday, I went on over to Sam Ash to the office where I paid for the lessons originally, but they were only open for a few hours during the afternoon. I was there about 45 minutes too early. To kill the time, I walked a couple blocks over to Burger Heaven and sat down at the counter for lunch. I figured, I was about to get $105 dollars back, so I could splurge on a very delicious burger and especially good fries. (Oh such good fries -- lord how I miss french fries.)

I ate my food, looked at the time, and sure enough, I'd killed the requisite amount. I left a tip on the counter, grabbed the check and went to the register by the door to pay. When the lovely young woman behind the cash register gave me my change, she accidentally gave me an extra 75 cents. For a tiny fraction of a second, I considered just pocketing it, because I could always use extra money even if only 75 cents, some more quarters for the laundromat were always convenient to have on hand, and who would notice? But I decided to do the right thing, saying, "Um, you gave me too much change. Here--" as I handed her back the three quarters.

At first she was a little stunned, and then she was so incredibly grateful that you'd have thought I'd just saved her child from a burning building. I thought she was going to hug me. I walked out of there 75 cents "poorer," but feeling like a million bucks. Off I went to the Sam and the Ash.

A few minutes later, I got to their office and it was open. I went in, explained my situation and the lovely young woman behind the desk figured out what to do. I guess they didn't get many requests for money back on the lessons, or canceling the lessons, or probably even taking lessons in the first place. It all seemed a bit makeshift up in there. Still, after a few moments, she handed me a check for the full amount. For the full $140. I was only supposed to get $105 back.

An extra 75 cents was easy to return (and I'd even contemplated keeping that), but I really really could've used an extra 35 bucks! It was like the universe was watching me... I mean, I really felt as if I was in the presence of some kind of guiding intelligence. It was saying: Okay man... you did well on the little pop-quiz, but now let's see how you do on an exam when it really counts.

I looked down at the check in my hands, and just smiled. I knew I was going to give her the money back, and I knew she'd be shocked by my doing so. It was already starting to feel good, so I took my time and savored the moment. And when I handed the check back to her, explaining that she'd over-paid me by $35, the look of astonishment on her face was worth so much more than the money. She tore up that check, wrote me a new one for the proper, lesser amount, and as she handed that one to me I thought she was going to not only hug but kiss me as well -- which would've been totally great as I remember her being a super-cute redhead (I kinda have a thing for redheads). I probably should've asked her out right then, and if I'd only had a little extra cash, say $35 bucks for a few beers, I totally would've. Just kidding. I didn't really think to ask her out until I was half-way home because I was too busy being all awed by the universe and pleased with myself for having actually done something right.

Here's another, much much weirder example of an experience rhyme (a morally neutral one this time)...

A few years ago, a friend of mine named Mike was in possession of an old, beat up 1973 Dodge Dart "Swinger" which was a sporty muscle car of the era, prized for its legendarily indestructible "slant-6" engine. And yes, the engine of this car was still in great working condition, even though the rest of the car was rusting through and beat half-way to hell. The few times I ever took it out, the thing was actually really fun to drive, especially around town, and I must say... I looked (and felt) great in it. And despite how beat up it was (or maybe because of how beat up it was) I got great approving looks from girls as I drove past.

Mike got a job out in LA, and left the car in my charge. As cool as it was, I almost never even touched it, much less actually used it. Once in an extremely rare while I'd drive it a short distance. Whatever.

At some point, another friend, Daniel, was shooting an indie-film and needed a beat up antique car. He asked if he could borrow the Dart for a day. I said yes.

He and his crew came and got the keys, took the car, did their thing, returned it, everything was fine.

Two days later, I find myself heading upstate with Jay and Robert to do acid (my first acid trip, actually). Jay was driving us in his car, and he knew a lovely little spot out in the middle of the woods by a completely remote secluded pond. A perfect setting on a perfect day for a very pleasant psychedelic experience.

To get to the actual spot, we pull off the highway, onto a local road for a bit. Pull off the local road onto a smaller country road. Pull off that onto a dirt road, and eventually park in a clearing. Then we walk a fair distance on a little dirt footpath down to this pond. We're really in the middle of nowhere. No other people for miles around.

The acid trip is going great, but eventually we get thirsty and realize we left the bottles of water back in the trunk of the car. I volunteer to go get them.

I walk back up the dirt path, and as I get closer to the clearing where Jay's car is, I see other people, doing some sort of something in an organized-looking manner. I don't pay much attention to them, since I'm thirsty and I'm on mission of grave importance (what with my cohorts relying on me for a basic survival need) and since I'm tripping my face off and all. I just keep walking and soon enough, I get to the car, get the water, drink some and start back down the path to the pond.

As I pass back by the group of people, I can see that it's a film shoot or a photo shoot or something. There are a couple guys with camera gear, some assistant-looking types holding things, and in the center of the activity is a gorgeous willowy blond model wearing a wispy floral-ish dress, draping herself on the hood of an incredible mint-condition classic ice-blue convertible from the late 50's early 60's from the looks/styling of it. I wish I knew exactly what the car was, because it may have been more beautiful than the girl. It was really just fucking perfect.

Why these people had come up to the middle of these particular woods to get this shot I couldn't say.

Off to the other side of the dirt path from where the work was happening, were the crew's support vehicles: a Jeep Cherokee and Lexus SUV. There was a young woman sitting in the passenger seat of the Lexus, reading a book or a magazine, with the windows rolled down. Since she clearly wasn't busy, I asked her what was going on. She said this was a fashion shoot, that they'd driven up from Manhattan. I asked her what her part was in the proceedings and she said that she was the one who had supplied the antique car.

I said,"Oh, nice car. Well, take care." If I hadn't been tripping, I might've lingered and asked a few more questions. But instead, I just continued down the path, back to my friends, Gunga Din bearing water. Then it hit me...

Two days earlier, I'd supplied an antique car to a film shoot. Now, here, in this extremely remote and unlikely place, I encounter a bunch of people and the only one I talk to is the one who supplied an antique car to a photo shoot. And just like other rhyming experiences, the second one was taking place on a much "higher level" than the first one. Nothing against Daniel or the indie film he made, and nothing against the old Dodge Dart, but every aspect of this professional fashion thing was obviously on a whole 'nother plane.

So, that was weird.

The rehearsal/performance rhyming experiences with a moral component are kind of easy to see meaning in. But that antique car coincidence was just fucking freaky. Of all the places they could've gone, to find a bunch of trees to shoot in, they chose this particular crazy out-of-the-way place, where we just happened to be tripping balls, and of the three of us, I was the one who went for the water and thus was the only one who encountered them, and of all their people, the only one I interacted with was the rhyme.

How does that happen? Why does that happen? What does it mean?

Maybe it's just the Universe's way of reminding us to be impressed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Saw a movie last night which I wasn't actually interested in seeing at all, and it turned out to be surprisingly good. I kinda want to go right back and see it again.

Like Zombie Strippers, the movie Wanted is a shining example of what may be my favorite type of movie these days: smart, masquerading as stoopid. Movies in this category are better than plain stoopid movies that are popular because they are truly just stoopid and have almost nothing worthwhile to say but do have lots of Lowest Common Denominator appeal. They are also better than those smart movies which might say a great deal, but will only ever reach a small audience of people who already understand and agree with what is being said--preaching to the choir doesn't help any of us. (Not that those are the only other film options, of course.)

I will say, it is unfortunate that in order to accomplish this, Wanted does have to resort to glorifying (even beautifying) hyper-violent gun-play, which, in my opinion, is the last thing the American mass-mind needs more of these days. But it pushes it so far into the realm of impossibility that it's hard to imagine anyone taking it seriously, and the pure spectacle is just fucking fun to watch. And once you get past that, the movie is genuinely inspired. It also makes no bones about the fact that it is trying to inspire, speaking directly to those of us who find ourselves working in, say, boring cubicle jobs, while secretly (or openly) feeling like we're meant for something greater and perhaps more beneficial, both to ourselves and to society. (Or at least, something more interesting.)

Okay, I admit it. It speaks to me. Maybe there are other people who it speaks to, I don't know, but there are a few little moments during the film that made me feel like a child being lectured by a stern but well-meaning parent. And not in a subtle way either. Utterly, intentionally, obvious. It made me feel kinda paranoid (totally paranoid), like, "Do the film-makers know me?! Have they been spying on me? Damn! I'm kinda creeped out right now, though maybe I should be grateful for all the effort they made on my behalf, I mean, a feature length action movie is a serious undertaking just to try to motivate me or get a few positive messages into my thick skull. Think of the man-hours!"

And I wasn't even stoned when I saw it!

If I had been stoned, I might still be too creeped out to write this.

But for those of you who do get stoned, and do work in a boring cubicle job and do feel like you're meant for something bigger and better, I whole-heartedly recommend smoking a big fat bowl, and seeing this movie on a big fat screen. But don't see it at the Loews on 34th st., because the sound kept going in and out which was really annoying and a couple of ladies in the row ahead of me kept talking back to the screen, especially when they were surprised by the things that weren't surprising, like: "Oh my god! He killed him!"

(Yeah. He's gonna kill lots of people. It's that kind of movie. Oh... maybe -- I'm sorry -- have you not... um... is this your first movie? Ah. That explains it. Yes, in American movies, people kill lots of other people. Lots and lots of them. Lots of killing. Oh, and the people running around on the big rectangle can't actually hear anything you tell them about what to look out for, or who might have a knife, because, you see... they aren't really there.)

Now, I know intellectually that there are plenty of other, well, guys mostly, who probably need an entertaining ass-kicking even more than I do. But that doesn't make it feel like this movie was any less specifically aimed at me. Personally.

Back when I still smoked pot, I had that feeling, much more strongly, about many things. Several tracks off a Bjork record. Almost all of OK Computer by Radiohead. The South Park movie. Hate comics. Hey Jude. The lyrics to just about every song in the entire set of a friend's brother's band performing at sidewalk cafe back in '97. The graffiti on the wall of the men's room at the Lakeside Lounge. The conversations of total strangers passing me on the street/in the park/anywhere. WBAI. Newspaper headlines.

Holy ill-communication Batman!

Though, I gotta say, the messages from all these sources weren't negative or menacing or hurtful in any way. In fact, most of them were either trying to help or just playfully mock me. I really shouldn't complain. I just didn't like the fact that I was receiving "messages" at all. Leave me alone! I just wanna get high! I don't want to be part of some creepy borg/hive mind, even if it does want to help me! It's amazing I kept smoking pot as long as I did. (I attribute that to the memory-erasing aspect of heavy pot-use. I kept forgetting that pot would make me feel like everything around me was communicating with me in metaphorical double-speak underneath the obvious surface meanings, and only I would even notice the deeper-level communiques because they only applied to me.)

Interestingly, most of said communiques seemed to be telling me I needed to do more fucking.

Some said I needed to express my creativity more.

Some of them were pleading with me to slow-down my pot smoking. And when I ignored those particular warnings, they gradually became sterner and more blunt, instead demanding that I stop or else suffer severe loss of various faculties, mental, physical and spiritual, which I both needed and enjoyed.


(I'm not even kidding.)

Of course, those messages are all things that my own subconscious would want me to become consciously aware of (and to heed). But on the deepest level, the subconscious mind of the individual is a part of/one with the collective consciousness of everyone/everything. And pot is a mind-expanding drug. A mild psychedelic. The word "psychedelic" literally means "mind-manifesting" as in: it can help you witness the contents of your own mind. The higher the dose, the deeper into "mind" it reaches, until it hits the place where your mind and the mind of, you know, the cosmos or some shit, are one and the same. In order to provide a nifty external sensory showcase of your own mind to symbolically or poetically or literally reflect it back to you, the Universal Mind could certainly employ the aid of something like the dinner conversation of the party at the next table, or a radio show, or Radiohead. You think there's anything beyond the reach of The Universe?

But I had trouble taking advice from, like, my own mom. And, lo! I found myself attempting to ignore, or even rebel against, The Universe!

This, of course, makes me a colossal idiot.

It also makes me just like countless other humans. Wheeee!

Whoa. I wasn't expecting to go off on that tangent when I sat down to write this.

In conclusion, Wanted is a fun movie, especially if you like looking at Angelina Jolie's perfect face. The end.

The Cover

Am I the only one who thinks Michelle Obama looks totally hot as depicted on the controversial cover of the New Yorker magazine?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Know Your Enemy

As a New York City bicycle-rider, I find I have a few natural enemies. Many bike riders feel that taxicabs are their most dangerous adversaries. In my area (Times Sq.) I find that slow-moving hordes of over-stuffed mid-western tourists are far more annoying, if not actually more dangerous. I've tried to develop an understanding with the cabs. Though, occasionally I do see one execute a maneuver so recklessly insane I find myself goggle-eyed cartoon double-taking at it. Like... wait--was that REAL? Did that guy really just thread the needle between those two baby-carriage pushing pregnant women at 50 mph?!? Holy shit! (I mean, it's okay for me to do that, but I'm only going 20 mph, am much narrower and I don't weigh two tons.)

I know it probably gets tiresome reading the posts wherein I relentlessly advocate for bike-riding. As my man Jon in Dallas pointed out, I'm lucky, living in NYC, because I CAN get from place to place on a bike. Almost any other city, that just ain't possible. He also mentioned that most other places, a guy simply can't get laid unless he can pick the girl up for their date in a car with at least one passenger seat. Right. He concluded artfully, saying that if it were a choice between driving and getting a hummer, or having neither...

So, right... I should probably cut our less-fortunate neighbors a little slack. But this is clearly a case where a trait that favors individual reproductive success, kills off the species as a whole. Like the northern big-horned elk...

Apparently, there was this particular species of elk, northern elk, that grew great racks of antlers, and the males who enjoyed the greatest reproductive attentions of the females were the ones who grew the BIGGEST antlers. So every generation, the offspring were likely to grow ever larger racks of antlers, until eventually, the antlers were so big that the elk couldn't lift their heads. Within a little more than one generation, they were gone. Completely extinct.

Our SUV's are the antlers of our demise.

Still, I'm a realist. I know that even here in Manhattan, where it is more than possible to get everywhere I ever need to go on a bicycle, it is still occasionally preferable to do the unspeakable... to bow to the enemy and {gasp} take a cab. You're going out for a night on the town, perhaps a certain amount of swank will be involved, you have to dress well, she especially, and hers is an expensive killer outfit, and maybe it's hot and humid out, or maybe it starts to rain. You ain't riding a bike under those circumstances. No way, no how.

But thanks to a surprisingly simple idea, it is now possible to significantly reduce the badness of taking a cab! You just have to plan ahead a little bit.


Plan ahead?

Well... that opts me out.

Thank goodness I don't ever do anything swanky (and that I've attached fenders to my bike to keep the rain-puddles from making a silly-looking line of grimy wetness up my back).

Monday, July 14, 2008


Okay... now there's a new vacation possibility front-runner. A 10-day silent meditation retreat. Not exactly the best place to get laid, but I think it'll do me a world of good. Maybe two worlds.

I'm just gonna go up to a lovely idyllic setting, and stop thinking about anything for 10 whole days. I feel more relaxed already just imagining it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

all things in moderation

Partied all night last night.

Body not super thrilled about it today. Gonna be a short post.

Tried to go out NOT drinking. Only had club soda at Margulies' place. Only had club soda at the bar. Only had a half a cup of coffee at the first loft. Found second loft overrun with very gorgeous women from all over the world. Started immediately drinking gin. But no cups or glasses so I ended up drinking out of the glass cover of a light-fixture. Yeah... I'm really good at the whole "not drinking" thing.

Only slept about two hours.

I know I neglected this blog yesterday, and to my legions of loyal fans out there I apologize with every grandiose fiber of my being, but I'm in no position to really make it up to you today either, what with my brain not all um... working good. Um... yeah. Not brain's fault.

I think my fridge doesn't keep things cold enough. What are the odds that my landlord will replace/fix it?


Brain hurting. I'm going to forage for food now.

Sorry for the lameness.

hope you had fun this weekend too.

bye for now

Friday, July 11, 2008

Gonna Be Harder Than I Thought

Remember how I said I wanted to give up the alcohol completely?

Well thanks to those lousy stinking Puritans who infected this continent with their idiotically lame morals, it is just stupidly difficult to get laid without one or more of the relevant parties being drunk. I knew there was a reason to loathe those accursed Puritans.

I've never traveled much. I've never been outside of NAFTA's jurisdiction. Never really had the urge. But now I'm seriously curious about what it would be like to try getting laid in a country that wasn't founded by completely uptight assholes. And with the vacation time I've accrued...

So, of the foreign places I'd like to go get laid in, several come immediately to mind... India, Israel, France, Black Rock City, Holland, Denmark, Romania and maybe Australia.

Partly due to this really wacky article, and partly due to the fact that all my friends who have been there wax poetic about the hotness of Israeli girls, I'm actually leaning toward Israel. I can hardly believe it myself.

But thanks to assholes again, the price of oil is so high that a flight to Israel costs more than the gross national product of Israel.

Is there a way I could ride my bike to Israel?

Thursday, July 10, 2008


A little while ago, I wrote about seeing Bill Clinton speak at Radio City.

About a week prior to that, there was a Moth Slam with the theme "Respect" which inspired a story that I would've told a very short version of had my name been picked...

Little kids are generally pretty open and trusting. I was especially so. I always just assumed the best of people. I mean, the adults in my life were always loving, caring, good and true, protectors, providers and educators. I never encountered physical violence. My needs were always met. I had it pretty darn good, so I just took it for granted that people were honest and nice and the world was "the right way." Obviously, that innocence couldn't last forever, and I think I actually recall the exact moment when it suffered its first blow. It was a minor one in the grand scheme of things, but it was the seed...

My third grade teacher was a kindly woman about 60 years old, who had a reputation among the school kids for being "the best teacher in the school!" This had little to do with her ability to teach math and more to do with the sorts of things that mattered to 8-year-olds: she was fun. She turned almost all her lessons into games, or art-projects, or just wacky special "activities." She really was creative and she clearly loved us. And you couldn't help but love her back. After all, being in her class was like constant play-time! When the weather was nice, we'd go outside and she'd teach us these crazy games she'd invented, most of which made use of that school-yard staple big red rubber ball. The only one I remember was "Kickball-basketball" which actually was a bizarre mash-up of the two normally separate games. And somehow, in the midst of all the goofiness, I'm sure she did manage to expose us to the required 3rd-grade curriculum, as boring as that must've been for her.

One day, a few months into the school year, she was writing something on the chalkboard, and I thought I noticed a misspelled word. The word "challenge." Now, given the fact that she was the teacher and teachers know how to spell words, plus the fact that she was always turning everything into little games, I figured her misspelling of the word 'challenge' was intentional and must have been a challenge to see if we would notice. So I raised my hand and pointed it out.

She played along, pretending not to know what I was talking about. "Oh really? A word is spelled wrong you say? Which one?" She was obviously setting me up for the win, and I was actually kind of excited as I told her which word it was, pleased and proud that I was the one who figured out this latest little puzzle of hers. I expected her to respond with something like "Very good! You figured it out!" But instead, she said that no, the word was correct, and that I was making a mistake.


I really thought I was right and I persisted, but she still said I was wrong. Baffling! It seemed a teacher was intentionally trying to convince us of something incorrect. How can that be? Doesn't that go against the laws of physics or something? Maybe I was wrong after all. But I really could've sworn... Still, she was the teacher, and I was just a little kid. What did I know?

I knew how to spell the freakin' word "challenge" is what I knew, so I started reaching for my dictionary, just to make sure. Seeing this, she said "Yes, everybody, why don't we take this opportunity to look it up in our dictionaries..."

And when everyone's dictionary ended up siding with me on the matter, she reached for the eraser, and fixed the word on the blackboard. And then never called on or spoke to me again for the rest of the school year.

She only gave me the cold shoulder, the occasional frown and some active hostility a few times (after which she always made a point of being extra sickly sweet to the very next student she had to interact with). I guess spending her entire adult life with 3rd-graders, she'd never felt the need to be subtle. She'd obviously been embarrassed by what had happened, but it's not like I'd set out to embarrass her intentionally. I mean, come on... really? An experienced professional school teacher is gonna hold a grudge against a freakin' 8-year-old? For a whole school-year? For not even doing anything! For being a good proofreader! What? The? Fuck?

I gotta say, it did become a pretty miserable year for me, having to sit in that formerly fun classroom, now unable to interact with my teacher in any remotely normal way.

(Pick the one best answer...)

What was 8-year-old Jon supposed to learn from the experience described above?
A) To respect one's elders
B) Not to correct the mistakes of an elder
C) Despite being in positions of authority, adults are only human, have feelings and sometimes make mistakes. Don't take it personally if they disappoint you.
D) Adults cannot be trusted and might not deserve respect.
E) Kill, kill, kill!

Now, it's not like slogging through that year just flipped a switch inside my brain and I instantly lost all respect for authority. But it subconsciously got the ball rolling.

After that, I started noticing more ways in which I felt I couldn't trust "the man." The ball kept picking up steam. I remember consciously deciding that the institution of public school itself was completely suspect -- not really geared toward enriching the lives of students, but merely conditioning them to become docile consumer-worker-drones later in life. I was maybe 12 years old by then.

Puberty hit and I found I could believe less and less of what the adults around me were saying. My disrespect snowballed. I also couldn't believe Americans were stupid enough to vote for the skin-puppet Ronald Reagan. I couldn't believe the shit I was being taught in the religious education (Hebrew School) classes I was forced to take, leading up to my Bar Mitzvah. I lost respect for my country and my family and my religion and whatever else you got.

My personal avalanche continued to slide. I was a stubborn unreachable kid. I couldn't take anybody's word for anything and thus had to learn everything for myself... always the hard way. The conclusions I came to were usually pretty hasty (surly arrogant teenagers aren't exactly known for their foresight and I had less than most). Case in point: I decided dropping out of High School was the way to go. (Though, I'd probably do that again, actually.)

As I grew angrier and more disaffected, I took ever greater pleasure in openly mocking and defying all authority figures whenever the opportunity arose, arrogantly wearing my disrespect like a badge of honor. I never took a steaming dump on the hood of a cop-car, or punched a cop in the face or took a steaming dump on a cop's face or anything, but I certainly wasn't acting with any regard for my long-term future. One might say there was an element of self-sabotage to my behavior in general. In fact, many people did say that. Repeatedly. Of course, I didn't trust anyone but myself because everybody else was so stoopid. I'd like to say that this self-sabotage reached maximum when I dropped out of school (the first time), but that was nowhere near the level of the things that were to come. Regardless, at any given moment, I had nothing but scorn and derision for everyone from my own parents, on up to the leading politicians of the day and every authority figure in between.

So imagine my surprise when many years later I found myself covering politics for an extremely prominent TV channel's online division, being flown out to Los Angeles for the year 2000 Democratic National Convention. Just fuckin' crazy.

The second to last night of the convention, President Clinton was delivering the keynote speech, and afterward there was going to be a huge lavish party thrown in his honor -- a fund-raiser for the Democrats hosted jointly by Daimler-Chrysler Corporation and the UAW. My supervisor at work (a great guy named Ethan) had friends in Clinton's White House, and he scored us access to the event.

Now, I knew I'd probably "stick out" a bit at an event like that. I mean, I look like... well... me. Goateee, neck tattoo, t-shirt 'n' jeans, sneakers. I think I looked even more severe that night wearing all black, and extra scruffy. But I pride myself on being able to get along with absolutely anybody, from Kings and Queens to the scum of the earth (to quote an old SNL sketch). Though, given the choice, I might prefer hangin' with the scum than with the Royalty. (Ahh, same thing.) Anyway, upon entering the venue, I turned to Ethan and joked, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm the only High School dropout here, aren't I." He said, "Haha... yep, probably."

So we mingled, and ate the little crab-puffs, and after a while Ethan found me again in the crowd. Ethan was a bit of a photographer. He'd gotten his camera out and explained that the president was about to arrive. When that happened, a receiving line would spontaneously form by the door, made up of people who all wanted to shake his hand and say hello, just so that they could say they shook the president's hand.

ME: Really? Seems pretty silly. (then under my breath) Ego bullshit.
ETHAN: It is. Do me a favor and get on the line too.
ME: I thought you agreed it was silly.
ETHAN: I did. But I wanna get a picture of you shaking his hand. It'll make a great [and by that I'm sure he meant "hilarious"] snapshot.
ME: Ah! I can get with that. Okay then, here I go!

So I joined the line, already pretty long.

Well, soon enough, in walked the President of the United States. He was just coming off his speech, which I'd watched of course, and was looking pretty haggard, sorta deer-in-the-headlights staring, a bit shell-shocked. I'm sure he'd been working and partying his ass off all week long. Still more to go. And the eager throng of sycophants, you know, thronged at him. Everybody was all: "Mr. President! Mr. President! So nice to see you Mr. President! I don't know if you remember me, Mr. President, I'm sure you don't remember me, of course--"

BILL: No, no... you look kinda familiar--
THRONG: Well, it was a few months ago in Michigan and we talked briefly about blah blah blah!
BILL: Oh, uh huh. Great.
THRONG: Mr. President! Mr. President!
BILL: That's my name, don't wear it out.
THRONG: It's such a pleasure to meet you Mr. President!
BILL: Well, it's a pleasure to meet you too.
THRONG: Mr. President... Just reminding you that I need to tell you about that thing...
BILL: What thing?
THRONG: You know... that thing you wanted me to get from--
BILL: Oh right... the thing. Yes... I'll find you later.
THRONG: Very good Mr. President.
Etc. etc.

So Bill just keeps shell-shocking his way slowly down the line, clasping hands with everyone, sometimes two people at a time, making eye contact, not making eye contact, too many people, can't pay attention to all of them equally, some are louder and more insistent than others, but he's trying to be there for everybody, and he's slowly approaching my position in line. It occurs to me that I'm probably gonna have to speak to him as I shake his hand, the hand of the President of the United States of bloody America, the ultimate authority figure.

Ooohhhh... oooohhhhh... I could feel the urge to do something totally inappropriate, or at least to speak truth to power, welling up inside me. Oh my god... what was I going to do? In the past, I sometimes had no idea what I was gonna do until I felt myself jump onto the conveyor belt and ride it through the baggage claim area of Logan Airport (yes, I actually did that, including where it went into the wall). So now, faced with such a gigantic opportunity to both make an anti-establishment statement and simultaneously destroy my life, how could I possibly resist!?! It was gonna take all the strength I could muster just to remain even remotely... you know... normal! But normal in this case means addressing him using the proper protocol: "Mr. President." I could keep myself from making a scene, but I didn't think I could bring myself to show him the full and proper respect due his position. I mean, I was fine with Bill Clinton the person, but I didn't particularly respect the office of President (which I imagine was the inverse of the feelings of many people in the country post-Lewinsky).

I decided to be as nice as I could. I had seen his keynote speech. I had liked it. I could compliment him on that and be done with this ridiculous situation that was suddenly stressing me out so much over simply having to behave... properly... erk! Must... not... try... anything... stupid! Secret... service... agents... will... shoot me! Here... comes... Bill...

As he shuffled past me, his hand sort of automatically reached out and shook mine. He didn't even get a chance to look at me. I only said two words: "Nice speech." But I was being sincere. I accompanied the two words with that little tight-lipped almost-smile and slight head nod that generally indicate in the least sentimental fashion possible: "I acknowledge your existence in this moment of our mutual spacetime proximity." It wasn't a fawningly "appropriate" and "respectful" greeting for the President of the United States. Instead, it was exactly the level of genuine respect for our shared humanity that I would show a brother on the street.

Bill didn't respond. I couldn't be sure he'd even heard me, what with so many other people clamoring for a moment of his attention. He continued down the line. But then, several handshakes later, he paused, and to my utter surprise he turned back, looked me right in the eye and answered my two words with two of his own. He said, "Thanks man," (the casual vernacular I prefer) completely sincerely. He accompanied those two words with the same little tight-lipped almost-smile and slight head nod.

Then he turned back forward and continued the greeting and the shuffling and the shaking and the shmoozing.

I couldn't bring myself to address him on his level. But he was perfectly willing to address me on mine. He even went a little out of his way to do so. I was impressed. It was humbling. Much respect.

Much respect, y'all.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


These days, I find myself attempting a general transition from the fun but unhealthy behaviors of my foolish youth, toward whatever healthy behaviors will enable me to keep feeling like a foolish youth. I've given up the drugs. I ride the bicycle. I'm going to start doing the Bikram Yoga (the one in the heated room). And now I'm seriously contemplating giving up all alcoholic beverages (if anybody knows a way to accomplish this without severely cutting into my drunkenness, please let me know).

In addition to the changes I'm making to my personal health, I'm trying to make changes that minimize the destruction I do to the environment. I'm one of those guys who's willing to pay a tiny bit extra each month to have the electricity in his apartment come solely from wind power. Oh sure... right now, some might call me a "hippie" or a fringe sort of "eco-fanatic," but someday people like me will simply be called "people" or possibly "the ones who survived." Seriously though, I swear to [popular deity], making the wind-power switch (super easy to do) was the best thing I've done in years. It's like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. As a result, I'm standing up straighter (another healthy and long-overdue change and I'm not even kidding).

(Really, who knew I was supposed to be this tall? The world just looks and feels... wrong... from up here. I've had to lower my office chair so that my eyes will be at the height of my computer monitors. And walking down the street is so awkward now. Eh, I'll get used to it eventually.)

I'm also spilling my guts into this internet word-bucket every day, and all the ranting and the raving turns out to be nicely cathartic! My own much quieter version of primal scream therapy. Instead of all these words bunching up in my brain, keeping me awake at night, I let 'em loose onto the information superhighway and they make their way onto your computer screen where they can do no harm. I'm sleeping much better, and hopefully you're no worse for wear. If you are worse for wear, I hear the internets have lots of other things you can "click" [?] onto, and then different stuff shows up on your screen. Al Gore: awesome!

Another healthy change I plan to make: more plants. I'm gonna turn both my apartment and my office cubicle into miniature jungles. Only without the giant spiders and poisonous apes. Or is it giant apes and poisonous spiders? Eh, either way. Actually, I wouldn't mind if there were giant apes in my office cubicle. I think it would make for some witty conversation with my co-workers...

LAUREN: Nice giant ape, Jon. Sheesh.
ME: Thanks!
LAUREN: I was being sarcastic.

Then the giant ape, feeling insulted, reaches over the cubicle wall and knocks over Lauren's pen-holder. Pens scatter. Some even fall on the floor.

LAUREN: Dammit Jon! Can you please keep your giant ape on your side of the cubicle wall!? God!
ME: Sorry.

Okay, so maybe I'm better off not having a giant ape at the office.

Oh, hey... has anybody seen the Hunter S. Thompson documentary, "Gonzo"? If so, how was it? If not, wanna go? (Yet another healthy change I'd like to make: I wanna go from not having seen "Gonzo" to having seen it.)

All right.

Enuffa my yakkin'.

Let's boogie.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


The theme of the most recent Moth Slam was "desire." I considered entering my name to tell a story, but ended up not doing so, because the only story I could think of on the subject was inappropriately philosophical. Not that you can't be philosophical at a Moth Slam, but more that just like everyone else (with the one exception of Elna Baker) I'd rather tell a story that stands a chance of getting me laid. Ah... desire.

The Buddha said that desire causes suffering. Buddhists sometimes expand upon that simple statement, saying that suffering is caused by the desire for external things which are always fleeting and, in fact, illusory, so even after possibly attaining such things, in the long run they cannot help but fail to truly satisfy, which inevitably leads to more desire... and more suffering.

But desire is the motive force of all human activity! So like, everything we do ultimately causes us to suffer?!

Of course! Haha! Just look at us!

I mean, I am living in what is probably the single most non-Buddhist place in the world. New York City is constantly inflaming every kind of lust imaginable, in everybody here. Sexual lust, consumer-product lust, food cravings, ego-boost-bullshit, competitive victory lust, you name it. A gigantic swirling vortex of arousal and desire, never ever truly satisfied, because it is, by its nature, unsatisfiable.

And look at New Yorkers. So many of us are so neurotic and anxious and depressed and stressed out and so we drink and drink and do this drug and that drug and fuck this one and fuck that one and just fuck whoever comes along, and the healthy ones among us are all in this kind of therapy, or that kind of therapy or some new kind of therapy, or maybe we just go shopping, because it feels so good to throw our money away on really awesome crap we don't need, until after we get home and have to find a place to put the crap in our already over-filled closets (we call them "apartments") and we notice all the unused crap we bought the last time we felt this empty, and then we really feel like shit because we totally coulda used that money...

(Even as I write this, I'm trying to remember when the new iPhones come out. It's soon, right?)

Yep. Pretty non-Buddhist.

I never thought of myself as all that caught up in the consumer culture, I mean, I like my Chuck Taylor sneakers just fine, but I wear them until they completely disintegrate. Like, down to individual sneaker atoms (Sneakronium). I was, however, most definitely a prisoner of lust when I first moved into town. But then that head-explosion thing (I've mentioned) happened to me, and that changed everything. Too complex an experience to describe in any great detail right now (and it kinda defies description anyway) so let me just say that in the wake of having been to "the other side" and back, I was left with absolutely no desire for any transitory product of spacetime.

All the things that I used to strive for, all the things that everybody else strives for, suddenly struck me as utterly worthless -- ludicrous to even bother paying attention to them, much less to want them, much less to actually make an effort to obtain them. I mean, I still needed to pay rent, and eat the occasional meal and all, but as long as I had the bare minimum to survive, I didn't give a crap about anything else.

I didn't even care about sex anymore. Like, not at all. Oh, I could still appreciate the hotness of a hottie when she'd strut past, but then I'd just laugh my ass off... "Oh my god... I used to be such a slave to pussy! Hahah!" And it's not like I stopped having or enjoying sex, but it became completely unnecessary. Even after having great sex with an amazing girl, if she wanted to do it again sometime, I could totally take it or leave it. No cravings whatsoever. Like, think of a really delicious food, but one which you just don't happen to feel like eating at the moment. You could eat it, but you could also pass. It was just like that. In my case, I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so a good comparison would be to, say, an extra-large double fudge chocolate brownie sundae. Nobody NEEDS an extra-large double fudge chocolate brownie sundae. It will never be necessary to eat one. I will never particularly crave one. But if somebody offered me a spoonful, I'd probably take it and enjoy it just fine. (Though not these days because I can't have any of the ingredients.)

Another food analogy: let's say, you like McDonald's hamburgers. You think they are just sooo delicious. You try to eat them whenever possible. Then, one day, someone feeds you the finest filet mignon in existence. After that, McDonald's doesn't seem so great any more. You walk by a McDonald's restaurant and say to yourself, "Wow... I can't believe I used to get so worked up over those hamburgers."

So, I found myself devoid of all cravings. No wants. At least, not for anything in the normal day-to-day realm. I did want to repeat the transcendent experience though. So I took up meditation. I was pretty disciplined about it too... for a while. Within a short time, I could put myself into a pretty deep state almost immediately, and I could sit still like that for long stretches at a time, just watching the pretty light-show on the inside of my skull, and that was way more fascinating to me than anything else I used to be into. Spiritual pursuits were all so new. Everything else was a been-there-done-that yawn by comparison.

And it turned out the Buddha was exactly right. Without all the constant desires and cravings for fleeting external enticements, I no longer had any problems. It was so weird. All the mental effort I'd devoted to obsessing over my so-called "problems" was now freed up for other uses. I had so much more time! So much more energy! I didn't know what to do with myself! And that energy would come bubbling up out of me in quirky little expressions of joy that I could barely contain, at totally inappropriate moments. Imagine how weird it would be to see a total stranger spontaneously burst into a fit of the giggles when he's by himself on the corner waiting for the light to change. I was that guy. I didn't particularly want to be a lunatic, but I was so happy that I didn't care.

I would float through my day in this craziest, edgiest of cities, in a bubble of simple contentment, watching as all around me everybody clawed all over each other to get:

- a phone number
- a bargain
- a taxi
- ahead
- some head
- a spot at the bar
- noticed
- the latest craze object (supplies are running low! hurry!)
- a girlfriend
- a boyfriend
- signed
- etc.

And I would just glide past all of it, like "no thanks, I'm good."

And people would be all, "You sure? It's mighty tasty!"

And I would say, "I'm sure it is, but it's not for me. You enjoy it though."

And people would frown, and look at me like I was nuts, or just plain stupid for turning down the opportunity to snort some coke with some fine bitches in the back of Puffy's limo, possibly even getting sort of pissed off at me as in "How DARE you turn us down?!" and I'd be all, "Thanks anyway, but I've got something way better to do!" and they'd be like, "What could you possibly have to do that's better than this?" and I'd be all, "I'm gonna go home, turn off the lights, and sit quietly on the floor with my eyes closed for as long as I can! Haha! Isn't that great?!"

I suppose I'm lucky nobody called the men in white coats to come haul me away.

Now, I'm not sure how long this most amazing period lasted. Maybe a year. Maybe two. Hard to say really, because in some ways, it never ended, and in some ways it definitely did. I couldn't sustain it. I didn't particularly even try. I didn't have a reliable wisdom tradition (can't bring myself to use the word "religion") to draw on, or any real knowledge, simply relying on my intuition to guide me. Sometimes this was just fine. A lot of the time, I felt like I was flying blind, even when I was just fine. And sometimes I did totally fuck things up.

First of all, on some level, I just didn't know how to live as this happy problem-free person I'd become. I mean, I'm a mellow version of an edgy weird neurotic urban Jewboy. I can't function without problems! My entire sense of humor was based on being perpetually infuriated! It was a defense mechanism against how badly everything sucked. If everything is suddenly fine, then I have no use for such a mechanism. How can I be fun at parties if I can't make people laugh due to the most unfortunate fact that I actually like life?!? Oh My God... I've been turned into one of those wide-eyed earnest no-sarcasm dullard people that I always used to mock so incessantly because they used to creep me out so hard!! Poetic Justice! Nooooooo!

And it's not like I could even get upset about it, because the "problem" was that I had no problems! I was too fucking happy! I mean, I LIKED it, even as I watched people squirm and try to get away from me at cocktail parties. I knew I was boring them and creeping them out by being all "genuine" at them and shit, but seeing them run away in fear and disgust only amused me more! And of course, I couldn't even mention this to anybody, much less "complain."

FRIEND: So, what's the matter?
ME: I'm too happy.
ME: Yeah, my life's too good. I can't stand it.
FRIEND: Should I kick you in the balls or something?
ME: Well, no, I don't think that's the answer, really.
FRIEND: Because I kinda want to.
ME: No, really. That's okay.
FRIEND: I so want to kick you in the balls right now. Are you sure you won't let me?
ME: Should I not have said anything? I shouldn't have said anything.
FRIEND: You definitely should not have said anything. I'm gonna have to kick you now.
ME: Okay fine. Kick away.
FRIEND: Oh no, not if you're just gonna lie down and take it. What kind of friend would I be then?
ME: What kind of friend are you now?!
FRIEND: You're the one complaining about how your life's "too good." I should totally kick you!
ME: You're right. You should. Totally. Go ahead.
FRIEND: Oh My God You Are Such An Asshole!
ME: What? What do you want me to do?
FRIEND: I want you to suffer. Like the rest of us. Is that so wrong?
ME: I don't think I can! I don't remember how!
FRIEND: I don't want to kick you in the balls anymore. Now I just want to kill you.
ME: You shouldn't do that.
ME: Because you might feel bad about it later, or get sent to jail or something.
FRIEND: But not because YOU'D have a problem with me killing you.
ME: Better than living with crushed testicles, I imagine.
FRIEND: Erk-- arg-- mmp--
ME: Yeah, no. Death ain't no big deal. It's just a transition from this kind of life to a different kind of life. And I mean, I've had a good run here as this weird jon-levinish meat-thing. Especially these last couple of years! Hoo doggie!
ME: Oh right! Thanks! You've been a big help!

Then, something else started happening that was pretty negative. I found I was kinda getting off on turning things down. Like, instead of merely not being interested, I started perversely enjoying people's stunned reactions when I'd opt out of things other people would kill for. And that's no longer authentic. That's no longer a healthy detachment. It was a weird reverse attachment. I became attached to detachment. (Who knew that could even happen?!)

And of course, the more I opted out of things, the more cut-off from humanity I became. Remember those years you never (or rarely ever) saw or heard from me? Well...

I made a half-assed attempt to find other people who were going through what I was, or who had already been through such a thing, both to learn from them, and just to be able to talk to somebody about it who wouldn't think I was nuts (or want to kick me in the nuts). And as it turns out there are fucking huge numbers of such people all over the place! But I hate them all.

Just kidding.

There are tons and tons of people, obviously, who had been through similar things. Ridiculous to think I was breaking new ground on any of this shit. I mean, really. What the fuck. So, right... I went to Burning Man (too loud). And I visited a yoga/meditation ashram upstate (too rainbow-y). And I attended a lecture at the Theosophical Society (too dry and humorless). And I attended a lecture sponsored by the Multi-disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) (too spaced out). And of course, I met lots of other people who knew the score. But I never really let myself become part of a community. I've mentioned in the past how I tend not to join things, even when they're amazing.

And while it was definitely comforting to know I was not alone, I guess I still preferred to go it alone. I'm sure I was some kind of renunciate hermit monk in a past life. Really hard to manage that in Midtown fucking Manhattan. Especially due to the fact that radiating a fairly purely happy vibe, as I was, made other people respond to me totally differently. Before, when I was a miserable bastard, I could skulk around more-or-less invisible. If I wanted some attention, I'd have to go out of my way and do something funny to get it. For a while after I got all happy, people paid attention to me. A lot. Way more than ever before. Way more than I was used to. More than I could handle. At first, I was sort of flattered of course, and if I'd been less of a renunciate by nature and more of an opportunist, I could've gotten very very laid during that time. But I knew that it wasn't "me" or anything I'd done to particularly deserve the attention. And after a while, I found it hard to simply go about my regular routine (New Yorkers can be very persistent). I even left the city for 4 months one winter, to escape to the woods and not be around anybody. If I'd known about silent meditation retreats, I would've done the longest one available, and then done it again. Several times. A psychic lady I saw a while back, told me that I was caught between two polar opposite life-paths, neither of which was really "right" unto itself. She called them the Priest and the Rock Star. Eeewww. I don't want to be either of those! And right... I'm not supposed to be one or the other. I'm supposed to integrate them into one middle-way healthy person. (Buddha was right again!) Well, if anybody knows how to do that, I'm all freakin' ears.

(Actually, I think I have the answer. I think I've had the answer for a while. I've got to take up a regular Yoga practice. The whole mind/body/spirit integration thing.)

Anyway, due mostly to my own stupidity, I ended up almost squandering my calm, happy centeredness, because I started wanting something I had never thought I'd want again. I started wanting to WANT things. In other words, on some level, I wanted things to go back to the way they were before, when life was crappy. Well... be careful what you wish for ladies and gentlemen! (Just kidding.) (Though, yes, in general, it is a good idea to be careful what you wish for, because we have more power than we think we have.)

Nowadays, I am back to wrestling with lusts and desires, but not like I used to. I don't think I'll ever go back to being the way I was... before. One of my problems (I have problems, woo hoo!) is in recognizing when I do legitimately want something, versus when I only think I ought to want it. My desire mechanism is a little rusty and it slips a bit. But one of the things about being me is that something like a busted desire mechanism doesn't bother me.

Maybe I'd be better off if it did.

Should I want it to bother me more?

I wish I knew! (Too much?)

(Now you can see why I didn't try to tell that at the Moth Slam. God. Can you imagine! The whole audience would still be vomitting now, a week later!)