Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Another Republican debate

My hitchhiking tour to the Bay Area started with a bang, one adventure after another, but real life doesn't keep such a pace.  After hitchhiking from Los Gatos to Berkeley a few days ago, I honestly had nothing to write about that could compete with the futuristic drugs of Silicone Valley mogul Tom Kettleman or my enhanced understanding of old age (thanks largely to my other new friend Jim at Lakeview Senior Care).  Politics, in comparison to considering a collapsed culture that needs synthetic drugs to stay coherent seemed superficial, manipulative and largely useless.

In a state of growing lassitude I arrived in Berkeley around 7:00pm and went, unannounced, to visit my old friend Beverly on Dwight Way.  She lives in a cozy two-bedroom house, which is remarkable for the immense redwood tree that thrusts up from her tiny front yard, very Berkeley.  The visit started on a sour note, because Beverly had read my piece on Lakeview Senior Care (see essay below) and didn't like it.

She lashed out almost immediately upon answering the door and seeing my tentative expression.

"What is wrong with you?," she demanded, looking seriously pissed.

I tried to scan her mind, but she had unnerved me, and my powers temporarily failed.  After days of companionable chat with Jim, I had forgotten what hostility felt like.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"That piece of shit essay of yours, about masturbating old men."

"It wasn't about masturbating old men, with an intransitive verb," I replied, trying, unwisely, to be clever, "It was about the need for social services to alleviate the pain of sexuality in the elderly by masturbating them."

She looked at me, trying to gauge my depravity.  "It was disgusting!  Do you seriously think you will grow a readership by writing about old men needing to be jerked off?  At your age people expect you to be serious."

I got a bit irritated and realized I could just as easily stay at the Hotel Durant.  "No I do not.  I don't care about growing a readership.  I write what I think needs to be written.  And how do you know what people want to read?"

She must have realized that I was not able to endure her harshness, and she relented, inviting me to sleep on her couch.  Once, years ago, we had a fling, but it didn't last long.   I think neither of us knows why our friendship endured.  Sometimes people stay friends just for the continuity.

The nights on Beverly's couch and the days roaming around Berkeley were peaceful but isolated.  Moe's bookstore absorbed much of my unassigned time, as in past years, but I was restless.

So yesterday I took the BART into San Francisco, for a change and also to find a fresh venue to watch the latest Republican debate, since I had promised my friend Cheryl that I would be back in L.A. on Tuesday for an interview on her radio show, In Our Times, to discuss politics, among other things (

I used to know lots of people in San Francisco, but I lost track of most of them over the years of my peregrinations.  My Chinese friends taught me a lot about food.  I became addicted to Now Nom Fun, a Cantonese beef-noodle soup which I could only find at a dilapidated, narrow two-story restaurant on Washington Street called Sam Wo.  The beef is fatty, and somehow its flavor, mixed with certain herbs, creates a near ecstasy of taste.  I used to go there twice or more a week for my fix of Now Nom Fun.  I also found it relaxing how rude the Chinese waiters were.  The Chinese have discovered that people become fatigued by endless friendliness and just want to be served.

Disembarking from the BART on Market Street I had in mind lunch at the Sam Wo and headed up Grant Avenue.  Chinatown still has its faux opulent tchotchkes stacked up in the store windows, and of course those myriad nightmarish waving cats.  I love the way Chinatown ends at North Beach- how its impact melts away as you sit in the City Lights Bookstore reading about the many revolutions our species contemplates.  After a few hours in City Lights, I returned to the Sam Wo for my Now Nom Fun, where I indulged in a questionable experiment with the cashier, a joylessly efficient woman in her sixties.  As I paid, I sent a feeler into her mind to see if I could find the joy in her.  As luck would have it, she was a telepath!  The second I had met in my life, after Jim last week.  Maybe something has changed in me so that I can connect now with other telepaths.

Unfortunately my telepathic experience with the cashier was not the happy homecoming it was with Jim.  She lashed out at me like an unlucky dragon, piercing my thoughts with a shrill message: "Pay for your food and get out!"

I lurched from the restaurant feeling almost mortally wounded.    Needing badly to refocus, I headed down Grant for a long walk to the Mission District, where I planned to be in Best Buy's TV section in time for the Republican debate.

After about forty minutes I made it to Best Buy.  Stopping in the computer section to browse online, I watched President Obama's Facebook message decrying excessive standardized testing in American schools.  His face and voice betrayed more stress and anxiety than I've ever seen in him.  I can't read minds from recordings, but the "tells" were there.  It wasn't just that excessive standardized testing derives from his own policies; the apex of his career had become its nadir, the end-point of a cascade of abuse and self-doubt, unlike the dreams he had about the presidency when he was younger.  Just one damn thing after another.  He dreams now of his post-presidential career, where, he anticipates, no one will expect him to do anything.

At 3:00 I meandered into the TV department, where not one set was tuned to CNBC for the debate.  I switched a few channels, as if I were a prospective customer, though there were no salespeople in TV to disturb me.

The CNBC moderators were excited to host what they felt would be a blockbuster program, with everyone on the edge of their seats waiting to see who might upset whom.  The commercials were specially produced for the show, as if it were the Super Bowl.  But as I looked around the TV department, there was no one watching the debate.  I scanned the shoppers in other departments: no one was thinking about the debate; no one cared which candidate edged which other.  Perhaps this indifference is more pronounced on the West Coast, which none of the candidates comes from, where Washington is starting to feel far away and theoretical.

The candidates were impressive masters of retention, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the percentages of things.  No matter what the topic, they knew related percentages. Someone asked Senator Lindsey Graham about protecting the brewery business, and he recited several percentages of brewery related matters.  I pictured the candidates pouring over long lists of percentages concerning every subject in the world- or maybe they just make them up, as my friend Doug tells me is a time-honored tradition in high school debate.  At any rate, no matter what you ask the presidential candidates they know lots of percentages about it.  Not that I'm entirely against percentages.  I'm 45% in favor of them.  Percentages denote the sizes of things, which is helpful, but 55% of knowledge should be wisdom, to inform the percentages.  I didn't see that happen much.  The focus of the debate was money ("Your money; your vote!," was the cynical sounding refrain).  Money is fertile ground for percentages, but I would rather have heard a discussion of Yuval Noah Harari's "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind," in which Harari posits that money is a fiction, along with other fictions- religion, individual rights, empires, nation states-that helped us survive when the verities of tribal life vanished.  No such luck.  

I was getting bored and irritated, so to pass the time I tried messing around with the remote, recording segments and playing them back at fast forward, and I found a spooky illusion.  You can try this at home.  If you fast forward the presidential debates, so that the candidates arms appear to be flapping in the air with their faces turning this way and that with smiles like grimaces,  it looks like they are desperately trying to save themselves from something terrible, as if they were drowning or surrounded by monsters.

Maybe that's why they run for office- they're beset with terrors.  That would explain why, even though the candidates know that presidents are not happy people for more than their first few days in office, they still long to be the top person, at the summit of success.  That's the only escape from the monsters.  Some escape.

In summary, the pundits concluded that Marco Rubio had edged Jeb Bush, and Rubio's attack on the media was engaging in comparison to Bush's strategic reasonableness.  Still, the sensation was that of watching a sit-com that had little to do with our immediate lives.

I spent the rest of the evening roaming around San Francisco, one of the world's most beautiful cities.  The fog came in while I climbed Nob Hill and it was wonderful.  I finally ended up back at the BART station for the ride to Berkeley and one more night on Beverly's couch.  Tomorrow: the trek back to L.A.  This has been a memorable trip!

All the best, Harry the Human

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Lakeview Senior Care

I extended my stay in Los Gatos a couple of days for a new project that turned up.  After my bacchanal at Whole Foods the other night I took a long walk along the Vasona Reservoir to the south end where I sat on a bench in Oak Meadow Park and heard, over the din from Highway 17, a new voice in this usually private ether of mine, a special voice among other voices who were struggling, angry and fearful.  I traced the source to a plaster, off-white two-story building on Industrial Way across from where I sat.  In the dark I was just able to make out the painted and peeling sign: Lakeview Senior Care.

Oy Gevalt
!  as my grandmother would say.  I was set for a front row seat to the final throes that await us all.  Believe it or not the prospect rather cheered me, not, I hope, from schadenfreude (a moot victory in the long run) but from real curiosity.  Were there, as I suspected, sentient beings trapped in that hideous, loveless white box, so close, tauntingly, to the magnificent sea and mountains, love and beauty so near but worlds away?

I crept into the noisy mix and found, since it happened the women were sleeping, only thoughts from the men of Lakeview, who are tormented night and day by a hormonal imbalance that forces them to feel like randy fifteen year olds.

A startled voice said, "Who are you?"

"Are you reading my mind?"  I was stunned.  The voice was in my head.

"Yes.  Are you reading mine?"

This was the start of my collaboration with Jim, a 94-year-old retired OSHA inspector and resident of Lakeview who, like me, was a telepath who had never met another telepath. You can imagine the interest we've had in each other over the last few days, like two happy dogs sniffing each other's assholes.   I haven't met him in person yet.  It's strictly brain to brain.

Jim has all sorts of ailments: walking is painful and slow, his vision is poor, his hearing is poor.  Everything about Jim is poor except his brain, which, as far as Jim and I can tell, is working fine.  And even though the combined functioning of his prostate, testicles and penis does not produce the same daily charge of lust and semen he recalls from youth, the one or two orgasms he manages per week can be surprisingly intense, and unrelenting desire presses upon him even when the ejaculatory charge is low.  Jim tells me that the sex urge never ends for men.  He says it never ends for women either but their hunger is a more subtle disturbance, easier to disguise than the 24-hour male disruption.  

Jim's view is that when, in modern consumer culture, sexuality starts to appear unseemly in middle age (at least to the young, who buy most of the products), it is driven underground, stoking its flame.  Over the years as one demographic of potential lovers after another becomes unavailable forever (by law, custom or physiology), men and women are driven into a private existence of near total deprivation- evolution taking its sweet time in ridding us of vestigial passions.  Jim says that even though his member doesn't work like it used to, his inner soul is beset with desire as much as ever.  Of course the consumer culture looks to make a buck here.  Often the guys in the lobby watch a Cialis commercial together (usually on the evening network news, the source for oldies), and even the non-telepaths feel a communal despair.  One evening an 85 year old woman named Margaret, one of the more cogent residents, told the grumbling men, after a particularly grotesque Cialis ad featuring a woman looking into a man's eyes, pouring an ocean of love into this man, flooding him with love, real love...anyway, listening to some of the men (including Jim) gag and complain, Margaret observed that these commercials are written for women.  Men don't like being described in pathological terms like "dysfunction," and they are skeptical that real love can come from a drug.  Women however are receptive to another message in the ad: By using a drug to get an erection, men are not being vain, futile, pathetic or any of the other negative things that male focus groups associate with the product.  On the contrary, buying and using the drug is itself an act of love, a tribute to the woman's beauty and the man's need for her.  Margaret asserted that once the women are on board, the men follow.

Jim says he sees the same suffering in every kind of man- janitors, school superintendents, doctors, businessmen,  scientists- you name it, in their dotage they sizzle and burn within.   Some of the still gregarious guys share their pain as a social experience when they watch local ABC7's weather girl, Sandhya Patel, night after night in the lobby.  The bravado is usually profane:

"I wouldn't kick that number out of bed!"

"You'd never have the chance- a girl like that wouldn't give you the time 'a day!"

"How would you know?  You ever get laid?"

But most of the men keep their suffering to themselves.  Eldon, for instance, who used to work as a dry cleaner, is troubled when Sandhya wears a blue knee-length dress, especially if it has a narrow belt of blue fabric cinched around her slim waist, the ends hanging down from the knot.  That triggers something in Eldon, who sometimes grabs the arms of his walker to steady the memory surge: the soft blue fabric over her lap, his hand sliding up the thigh, under the soft blue fabric.  Then Eldon departs into a chemical dream of laps and love.  The overriding emotion is love- albeit associated with the lap/thigh- rather than lust, although Eldon has an erection during the experience that he will need to deal with sooner or later.

Mentally strolling through the lobby I surveyed each man's sexual sentence, how each man counted the years of that sentence against the parade of new and beautiful humans swarming around his prison.

Think of it, all across America, all across the world, ugly, loveless holding facilities for relentlessly horny but disabled obsolete males of our species, choking in their death throes at the sight of Taylor Swift on TV and longing for oblivion, at least before the morning meds kick in.  Lakeview Senior Care has taught me to be impatient with our limited paradigm for geriatric care.  Yes, elderly men have their bedpans emptied and their asses wiped, but who empties and wipes their dicks?

The elderly women too feel residues of intense emotions, often about families and homes, long-gone or imaginary.  I did find women who masturbate and think about sex, but it's an occasional need, not a constant eating of their livers as with men- this is why women live longer.  The women remain the more practical of the genders.  When they have dementia, it often concerns cleaning things.  One woman wipes her desk top with an imaginary rag all day.  In her mind the filth on the desk is all the filth of her life: bad food, bad people, bad men, bad sex, accumulating forever and wiped away forever.

The men and women of Lakeview Senior Care have in common that they are cut off from humanity. Each life is isolated, as much as people in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison up the coast.  The isolation started many years ago, before they were elderly, as they approached retirement age and were still ambulatory and lucid, so that by the time they are placed in storage at Lakeview they are well acquainted with their fate.

I've checked out Lakeview's staff.  Some are people with feelings who care for the patients, some are just doing a job they hate.  All the staff receives euphemistic training about creating a productive life for seniors, and all have received practical on-the-job training for running a facility charged with keeping people calm as they wait to die.  The veteran staff have developed considerable skills in this area and are prized both for their acceptance of distracting drugs as a basic right and for a bedside manner that, from the best practitioners, can suggest love.  Even the most skilled care, however, does not include masturbatory services.  Some day the medical industry will look upon us as we do upon the Dark Ages.

Jim takes things in stride. He enjoys the visits of a young Pilipino social worker named Karen.  She sits across from him looking pretty and competent, and asks him questions.  Once she asked:

"You wrote that you don't like growing older.  Why is that?"

Jim is used to Karen's scripted comebacks to his expressions of discontent, e.g., "It's important to keep busy.  We've found that seniors can find significant meaning in their lives through expanding their interests," etc, so this time, when Karen asked why he doesn't like growing older, Jim replied, "Because when you grow older you get ugly, stupid and then you die."

Karen turned her cute smile on Jim and chuckled.  Jim read in her thoughts that the comment amused her and she planned to share it later with colleagues.  He cracked a small smile indicating he would not fight her on this.  What could she say, after all- that aging doesn't make you ugly, stupid, and finally dead?

I asked Jim if he had any suggestions to make end-of-life care more supportive.  Jim said that special care workers should come by a few days a week to masturbate the patients, both men and women.  He said he felt strongly that this would go a long way towards alleviating the plight of the elderly, adding that he once invaded Karen's mind to see what it would take to get her to masturbate him.  He found that if there were a course, a certificate and extra pay, she'd have no more problem with it than sticking a catheter in his dick.  

This morning I said goodbye to Jim from my park bench.  I told him I enjoyed his company and would stay in touch, telepathically if not in person.

I had arrived in Los Gatos needing to force myself to care about politics, and I ended up with a new perspective on why politics is irrelevant: It's not about anything.  For instance, no candidate talks about the sexual desert that awaits us all.  Understandable, perhaps, given that no one talks about it.  If we don't talk about it we don't have to do anything about it, but how much could masturbatory services, to take one example, cost Medicare?  Nationwide it would probably cost less than our recent bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan.  Of course cost is not the only, or even primary concern.  We are hamstrung by archaic beliefs, the chief of which is that God loves our suffering, that we deserve it because we are rebellious creatures who have defied Him, thus to alleviate our punishments would be to fight God.

Such religious views offer far from a reasonable default position on sexuality in the elderly.  The disappeared cultures of prior humanity had gifts for old age that we can barely imagine.  The "primitive" elderly had life and community.  We have Ambien and Atarax.  Note to the future: If you figure out the plight of the elderly, it stands to reason you will also help the young.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hillary plays Los Gatos Electronics

Let me get my review of the Democratic debate over with.  I watched it in the showroom of an electronics store on Los Gatos Blvd. in the eponymous city, where Hillary's face was duplicated fifteen times around the room which, though slightly disorienting in terms of telepathic reception, did allow me to collect the basics.  When Clinton argued that even though she was a first lady, a senator and a secretary of state, she is a Washington outsider because she's a woman, I focused all my energies on her inner thoughts.  There were none.  She was just throwing out a well-rehearsed line.  She already knew who would buy it and who would not- everything was anticipated.  Sanders displayed a similar well-rehearsed delivery accompanied by a similar non-reflective interior.  One note of interest: Buried deep in his left hemisphere, Sanders carries the moment years ago when he figured out that if he did a few mildly radical things in his youth, he could carry the term "progressive" with him the rest of his life.  He foresaw that his colleagues in Congress would tolerate him for opposing the Iraq War and the Patriot Act because he had no expectation of prevailing on these issues. Prevailing would have ruined his career plans.  I located an archive in Sanders' brain recording a memory in which he figures out how he will use the terms "socialist" and "progressive" for an appreciative electorate in Vermont, then downplay those terms for a national audience. His big anxiety is his cave to gun manufacturers and his opposition to the Brady Bill, which Sanders deemed necessary so that Vermont hunters would not trash his career hopes.  When the NRA gave him a D- because of his lip service to other gun control ideas, he was relieved and uses this D- in all responses to gun control questions.  

I must apologize to readers who were expecting more on the debate.  I found this one really boring and depressing.  What did it have to do with the crises of our species: the disappearance of settled culture, the inability of the state or the global consumer machine to substitute for the missing culture?  Not to mention war and genetic engineering, the unholy twins of our apocalypse.  Last night's debate was as far removed from reality as if it had been scripted fiction spoken by actors.  The places to go for serious discussion of the human condition are science journals and science fiction.  Writers like Arthur C. Clark, Greg Bear and many others describe the reaction of a shocked human race to news that everyone's way of life will be over in a few years, the same news humankind has received in real life.  In the stories, people react by rioting or getting down to survival mode and/or space flight, but they usually don't continue business as usual like we do.  What kind of story would that be?  Imagine this for a story: We have to read fiction to find reality.  

Sorry if I'm irritable.  I'm not myself after what Tom, my billionaire friend in Big Sur did to me. To resume the odyssey of my hitchhiking tour north, in the back of the Uber cab Tom paid for I remembered the small gift-wrapped package he had left under the note apologizing for giving me Test 1124.  I dug into my pocket and pulled out the package, tore off the paper, and there was a cunning wooden box suitable for carrying a ring.  Inside was a tiny pink pill with the instructions, "Eat me," written on a card.  Under the instructions, in Tom's wild cursive, was this: "Ever had Cialis?  Forget it, it's history!  Make sure there is someone around who can help you enjoy this!"

I got the picture and was humiliated that a billionaire huckster could understand me so well.  What aging guy could resist such a promo?  But after my experience with Test 1124 I was hesitant.  As Tom had explained, he had contacts for the newest drugs, many of which were so powerful that care had to be taken in introducing them into society.  My pink pill, I suspected, was one of these.

Nevertheless, as we whizzed north I wondered what upcoming venue might best suit the pill's purpose.  Los Gatos approached, surrounded by the sea and beautiful mountains, though a bit crowded after Cambria and Big Sur.  Maybe crowded was what I wanted.

I asked the driver to drop me at the Motel 6 on Bascom Avenue, off the 17.  Following a nap and a shower, I walked down to Los Gatos Electronics nearby in time for the debate, after which, in dire need of new input, I ended up in front of The Happy Hound Cafe on Los Gatos Blvd.  There was still plenty of sunlight.  The cafe looked cozy.  I went in and sat at a window table, where I ordered coffee.  The place was doing good business.  There were regular people and irregular people.  I stared into my coffee and wondered which one I was.  Then I took out the little box, removed the pink pill, put it in my mouth and swallowed it with coffee.  I don't mean to be dramatic with this detail.  I'm just impressed at how stupid I can be.  Men all over the world, hark!  What if women know when we know we're stupid?  Then what?

Anyway, it turns out that one of the great leaps of covert science is super-fast assimilation of pill-vectored chemicals.  No sooner had I popped the pink pill than- well, I had expected arousal, perhaps an erection.  What actually happened is hard to describe, and I either hate Tom Kettleman or I'm grateful.  I think what happened is that Tom, on his Test 1124 trip, intuited that this new erotogenic drug would combine with my telepathy to produce...something new.

Like sex at a distance?  Would that be new?  It started with the waitress.  I became aware of her body and she became aware that I was aware, and then she became aware of my body and I was aware of that.  It was intense but it only lasted when she was standing near me.  When she went to the kitchen or waited on other people the effect was gone.  This frustrated me and I felt I should have taken Tom's advice to pick someone special to share the drug with.

The trouble was that I didn't have anyone special at that particular point in time, way back yesterday; I was kind of on my own, kind of adrift.  I paid and left the restaurant, looking for some place where I might establish a connection.  A few blocks down I found a Whole Foods Market and went in.  Lots of healthy, attractive people, and a salad bar!  I got a salad and perched on my stool, surveying the couples at tables and beyond them shoppers going to and fro.

If only Tom had known that Test 1124 stays in the bloodstream a long time- maybe forever- because his experiment on me involved a triple whammy.  I now saw a schematic in my head showing how to have sex with every person in the Whole Foods.  I can't recall much detail, but it gave directions to secret gateways found in everyone's psyche through which all manner of communication and contraband can pass.  Through these portals I connected to my fellow humans and felt a sensual bonding which involved an erection on my part and a pronounced though invisible effect on everyone's parts around me and an erotic glow developed and it felt like everyone's skin touched everyone else's.  As middle-aged mothers swiped their credit cards facing teenage cashiers, their eyes met in fire, and I was in that fire too.  As thrifty shoppers stared at the mayonnaise prices to compare with Trader Joe's, the grip of their hands on the cold glass became a connection with the throbbing and sensual heart of the cosmos.   And then, as all particles must on that day foretold by faith-based empiricism, we ignited and burned together, our souls exploding in orgasmic entanglement.  I found that I had ejaculated, and I felt a deep serenity.  Looking around I picked up the same contentment from everyone.  Whole Foods, I will never complain about your prices again!

Sorry for the dissipation.  I'm sure it's not seemly in a man my age.  I'll get back into politics as soon as I can stand it.  Not that I'm judgmental.