Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Merry Christmas, Dammit!

Sigh. It’s now defiant to offer good sentiments. After all someone might get offended. Ask me if I care.

Lyle and Eric Menendez blew their parents away, reloaded and fired again for extra measure. The first jury was hung. To quote Jackie Mason, “it’s a good thing they weren’t SMOKING when they did it.” They’d’ve been convicted, for sure. If this says something sad to you about the world we live in, you understand me. If you understand the first jury, you wouldn’t like me at all. (Get in line, it’s a long one.)

I’m merely trying to demonstrate that I’m shaking my head in disbelief at what many things have come to.

This will be short because I’m full of good, politically incorrect, cheer. So to all the women, “you look hot.” To the men, “be strong, confident, protect your women.” To the Christians, “Merry Christmas.” To the Jews, “Happy Hannukah.” To all, “Happy New Year.” That should pretty much have offended many.

If you can’t tell, I’m sending the warmest thoughts I have out to anyone reading this. If they don’t seem appropriate or warm, “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

So be safe, warm, enjoy good health and may this year be a great one for all. Dammit! I need a cigarette.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Have You Looked Behind the Couch?

When someone’s dumping you, or you’re dumping someone, have you ever heard or said, “I just need to find myself?” Come on, let’s see some hands. That’s better. Okay, now let’s just see the people who have actually said it. I notice there are a few. Good. Could one of you please, please, tell me what that means?

I have no head for science yet there are snippets of the Theory of Relativity that I understand better. Okay sure, until recently I was much heavier. A big guy. Maybe at that size “finding myself” didn’t present a problem. I was hard to miss. To steal a phrase, wherever I went, there I was. So, is this just something that petite, svelte people have an issue with?

Honestly, when someone looks at me and utters that phrase, I’m truly perplexed. I have to fight back the urge to reply, “but you’re right here.” Maybe I’m dense. I don’t understand. Even if I make the leap of faith that “something’s clearly wrong,” I struggle to try and picture the journey that lies ahead of the speaker of that phrase. Where do you start? We all have junk rooms where we live. Or a junk closet. In my case, it’s my garage. No room for cars in there; too much bric-a-brac. If I was lost somewhere in my garage, it could truly take years to find myself. And because it’s creepy and full of spiders, I might as well just give up the hunt before it begins.

I’m not generally the kind of person who rejects others’ experiences simply because I can’t relate. But I’ll confess (please keep this amongst yourselves) that I don’t believe that there’s ever been a human being on this planet who really had an urgent need to find themselves. When ending a relationship, I think it’s a simple translation to, “I don’t wanna hang out with your sorry butt anymore.” But, admittedly, that doesn’t have a lofty ring to it.

Oh sure, sometimes we all need periods of quiet where we can reflect. I’ve never found that too useful; I always end up thinking about food or the waitress that served it to me. Still, it might come in handy.

As I’ve aged, I’ve certainly learned more about myself and do what I can to apply the best of the lessons I’ve learned. I just don’t know how I could’ve gone out and done that on purpose. Who knows. Maybe there’s a club somewhere, where this magical experience can occur in a truncated period of time.

It also seems contradictory that one would better find themselves outside of a relationship. I always thought that a good relationship was central to finding ourselves. Isn’t it in our interactions with other people that we discover who we are?

I suppose I’m revealing myself as not the kind of person who would travel to sit on a mountaintop and meditate. After all, it’d just make me hungry and there’re no drive-thrus in Nepal.

I have a close friend who, years ago, was hooked, lock, stock and libido, on an attractive younger woman. It was torrid. As she struggled to get away from him, she assured him that she simply, desperately, needed to find herself. The sad part was that he related this to me as if it all made perfect sense. He got upset with me when I chortled. (Ah, he was hurting, I don’t blame him.) “Hey, not everyone is like us,” he said. “They haven’t spent as much time inside themselves.” (And here, all along, all I thought I wanted was to get inside someone else. Oh well.) He chided me and accepted her explanation as valid and significant. In the end, he accepted her exit. Ah, love! The things it can make us believe!

My friend is a passionate, talented artist. A hermit and an iconoclast. Years later he discovered that the object of his affection was unhappily married, with two children, living in suburban hell. I’ll tell you, she should’ve looked in my garage first. Far less daunting and she might’ve found a better self behind the discarded tire, near the box full of my old 8-track tapes.

So here I am, unsure whether or not I’m simply being unfair or truly seeing things for what they are. I suppose I won’t really have an answer until I find myself. Maybe I’ll start in the hall closet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I Guess You Had To Be There

People who know me know that I’m prone to fits of philosophical angst, most of which they write off to “looks as if the poor boy’s got a case of the ‘Mondays.’” Argh! I’m thinking back to some of my conversations with a young (at the time) female friend. A number of those talks involved me pontificating about motherhood, parenthood and parenting in general. She couldn’t have disagreed more. To her, my thinking was dinosaur-ish; the sooner extinct, the better.

It was many years later, after she married and had her first child, that she said to me, “Now I understand what you were talking about. I just never imagined I could feel this way.” I thought it remarkable that someone actually learned from experience.

When I told this story to another friend, he wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was about this woman’s newfound awareness. “What kind of world do we live in when people can’t make observations and learn from the world around them? If everyone has to actually have an experience before they learn, we’re all in trouble.” (We are all in trouble.)

Of course, when we’re very young, direct experience is a great teacher. It’s the old, “you only need to burn your hand on the stove once” thing. (For me, it might have been twice, but I’ve been known to test reality.) But my friend’s comment made an impression. I agreed with him. After all, I was a single man with no children and was able to perceive something that my female friend couldn’t – until she actually experienced it.

Perhaps this is why “history repeats itself.” (Hell, reruns of “Mr. Ed” would be far more entertaining.) Perhaps the experiences of generations of people who preceded us simply aren’t enough.

One woman I knew who hailed from Moscow told me a story about how her father followed Stalin’s coffin along “Main Street,” amazed and in awe that a man who was a “god” had passed away. I was stunned. “Stalin was a bad guy.” In response, I got the expected, “but the people only knew what they were told,” etc. I couldn’t accept that answer. Personally, I don’t know too many politicians (world leaders included) that I would turn my back on. (I wear my wallet in my back pocket.)

I have the same reaction to people who explain their xenophobia using the same reasoning. “You have to understand that we grew up in an environment where we were told…..” Really? You observe another human being, one who has ears, eyes, a nose, mouth, organs in basically the same places yet you accept the “teaching” that, because in some way they’re different, “they suck?” Really? Observation tells us nothing? Our own eyes and ears don’t suggest the possibility that what we’re being told (taught) might be fallacious?

In “Dances With Wolves” Costner had to hold a dying Indian in his arms to finally realize that the fallen man, too, was a human being. Sorry, folks, I don’t buy it. Oh, I accept that most of us simply absorb what’s around us, put on blinders and form few conclusions from observation. Looking at the history of the species, we’ve paid a price for that.

As we grow up, we’re continually being fed heaping spoonfuls of BS. I contend that it’s our choice (or intellectual limitation) as to whether or not we swallow it. Why on earth should anyone have to “be there” to perceive fundamental, obvious, reality?!!!

In the “Nowhere Man” pilot, Tom confronts Dr. Bellamy, wondering, “how did you get to my wife?” Bellamy is saddened by poor Tom’s inability to “get it.” “In the end,” the Dr. tells him, “most people choose to go along.” Still fighting the obvious, Tom replies, “under a great deal of threat and pressure.” Poor, naive Tom. He expects so much from people. Bellamy simply shakes his head. “You’d be surprised.”

I’m sad to say, the daring doc had a point.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Why I Like Girls

It was raining hard in New York. (Sorry, Harry, it wasn’t Frisco.) My Aunt clutched my seven-year old hand and led me to shelter in the lobby of an old, just-off-Broadway hotel. It was the Edison Hotel. It’s a place in time and space that I won’t soon forget. As we settled into some oversized, over-worn, leather chairs I couldn’t help but notice the woman sitting across from us. Well, at least I noticed her legs. And, from that moment on, I might very well have prayed that the rain outside would never stop.

I had no clue as to why those long, lovely limbs held such fascination for me. But there I was, experiencing what might have been my first sucker punch from the opposite sex. I remember experiencing all sorts of powerful feelings that can now only, regrettably, be distilled down to “the warmies.” Make no mistake about it. This was a sexual experience. I just didn’t know enough about what that meant to do much more than stare, mouth most-likely agape, and let the warmies flow.

That was almost five decades ago. And here I am, remembering the first woman of my dreams, with great fondness. I’ve often wondered if I could track her down and thank her for making my shelter-from-the-storm such a remarkable and memorable experience.

What no one told me (warned me) was that once you turn that blasted heterosexual corner, there’s no turning back. What lured me that afternoon, what continues to lure me what eludes all rational definition, would continue to haunt me every waking (and many sleeping) moment of my life.

But why bring up the obvious? I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only man who has come to find himself attracted to women. I bring it up because, despite the efforts of our “top scientists,” our endless fascination with “the other,” curves, femininity, continues to remain a mystery. It’s certainly not a mystery why it occurs or even that it occurs. We’d have hardly earned our place in the evolutionary parade without it. But given how much we’ve tried to quantify and understand everything around us, there will always be the “who knows;” those things that can be discussed but never fully explained. Some choose to fill in those blanks with religion, science or cheeseburgers. (I’m in the latter category.) In the end, though, that’s the best we can do – fill in the blanks.

I’m writing this because I want to say --- Dammit! I love the blanks! I love that I can pretend to be a fully rational human being, engage in what might pass itself off as “intelligent conversation” and yet still have my heart, my head and my warmies yanked hard to the left or right when an attractive girl or woman walks by. Sigh. Bless those curves, celebrate that “otherness.” The curve of a shoulder, the arch of a back, the turn of calves into ankles can keep me occupied for hours. (Okay, years.) My Yang-y life would be a dismal place without their ever-appealing Yin.

Perhaps it all comes down to my acceptance of the fact that there are things beyond our control. (Don’t get me wrong, TiVo is great, it just has its limitations.) Some are horrible, some are simply joyful. Accepting those things serves to heighten my sense of wonder. I know how to operate a motor vehicle, trouble-shoot computer problems – useful, but hardly inspiring. It’s the things that are too big for my wretched brain to comprehend that often excite me, making anything seem possible. I like that. I can’t say that I get to revel in these feelings on a daily basis. There’s garbage to take out and disappointment to be wrestled with. But alongside it all, there’s a woman I never met, who had terrific legs, who -- sometime in the late 1950’s -- sat across from me in the Edison Hotel.

As I get to the end of this, I realize that I never really explained “Why I Like Girls.” Or maybe I did. Either way, I’m delighted to be able to say, “I have absolutely no idea.”

Monday, December 12, 2005

Who Are We, Anyway?

Some years ago I had a friend named Marion. Marion was raised in a happy, mostly functional, Texas Christian household. Growing up, she did what most of her peers did. Learned, dated (guys named Billy Bob, most likely), cheerleaded – in short, grew up.

Her identity was, as expected, in large part the result of her upbringing. I’m sure at some point she expected to marry one of the Billy Bobs, raise a number of blond-haired children and hammer back her share of Lone Star beer. She was, in short, a terrific Texas gal with a solid basis in Americana.

That, however, was from Marion’s inside out. From the outside in, things were quite different. Marion is Asian; Chinese to be specific. I’m not sure that I ever heard all the details but Marion had been adopted by her Texas family at birth. I would sit, fascinated, and listen to Marion’s stories about how amused (and perplexed) she was when people considered her Asian. Inside, she was “Betty Jo” through and through. But very few who knew her could see or appreciate that “what you see ain’t what you get.”

I remember her telling me that, when she graduated high school and went to college, Asian students would approach her frequently, inviting her to join the Asian Studies League(s). They were astounded at her lack of interest. They simply just couldn’t understand why “Asian concerns” were of no – well – concern to her. Add to that the fact that Marion was hunting down collegiate Billy Bobs to date and you can imagine that she was considered, to one degree or another, a “traitor.”

I used to ponder this schizophrenic dichotomy from time to time until it occurred to me that, although Marion’s situation was very sharply defined, most of us deal with the same phenomenon on a daily basis. After all, how many of us are seeing the world with very different eyes than the world uses to see us? How many relationships get in trouble because someone is convinced that they are unlovable and therefore can’t experience the fact that the one they’re with actually loves them? How many attractive people mess things up with the opposite sex because they can’t imagine that they’re seen as attractive.

Love and sex aren’t the only arenas in which this drama plays out but they’re a simple way to illustrate the point. (What point? I’m not sure I have one.)

Within the last half year, I lost a great deal of weight. A medium-sized child’s worth at the latest count. The feeling of accomplishment was terrific. But I distinctly remember stepping outside a restaurant (one has to spare the health-fragile from certain death due to second-hand smoke) and watching a group of people walk past me. A thought ran through my head. (A frightening and rare experience.) “These people think I’m this svelte, “normal” guy. I’m not. I’m a fat guy. I’m just wearing a “svelte costume.” Imagine their surprise when I unzip the zipper and 80 pounds comes spilling out over my belt. I’m an imposter. The person they’re looking at simply isn’t me.

My weight and Marion’s roots open up all sorts of questions about identity. On the surface, it would seem simple to say, “you are what you think you are.” But most of us know that that simply isn’t true. I know a lot of people who think they’re terrific. Take my word for it, they’re wrong.

Then again, it would be equally fallacious to suggest that we are, “what we’re perceived to be.” I know a lot of people who think I’m not terrific. Trust me, they’re wrong.

I have no answers. This is all just food for thought. It would be very modern to suggest that there actually might be a place in time in which how we perceive ourselves and how the world perceives us would coincide. Once upon a time, the enlightened among us talked about “getting centered.” When I was rolling my own, many of my friends really needed to, “get their heads together.” Together with what? (Sorry, I can’t shake the images of an old Crazy Glue commercial where a guy glues his hardhat to a rafter, his feet suspended many stories above ground. Maybe he was trying to tell me something.)

I suppose that it’s fair to conclude that identity is a fragile beast. And, as with many things, “it depends on who you ask.” I’m not convinced that any of this is useful, however. I doubt I’d have much luck, when producing photo I.D. for a credit card purchase, if I said to the clerk, “this drivers’ license shows you that I am who I claim to be. In the end, however, I can’t tell you for sure that any claims I make are reliable.”

Even thinking about it is daunting. I need to stop writing now and get my head together.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Mind is a Terrible Waste

Not that it doesn't come in handy now and then. It helps when reading instructions or trying to assemble something complicated. Then again, most of us heard the frightening statistics on how many people owned VCRs and didn't know how to use them. Imagine, a world where it's always [blink]12:00[blink]. Perhaps that's reassuring. I don't know.

It seems, as technology frees us more and more from having to devote time to some of the more "human basics," that we've long been in the process of relocating ourselves. Nothing as simple as a move to a new apartment or house. This relocation occurs without having to invite friends over to help you carry boxes. It seems that we are in the arc of a long journey; that of having once been creatures of hearts, souls and flesh, climbing the evolutionary ladder to the [to me] far-less-desireable creatures of the mind.

It's nothing new. Simple evolution, or devolution depending on one's point of view. But here we are. So much of our behavior is now dictated (and justified) because "we thought of it." We certainly don't have to devote our time to feeding ourselves, raising livestock, raising barns -- we actually have time for things to "occur to us" while we're surfing eBay. And, if it occurs to us, if it seems intellectually fair, then it must be right. It just has to be.

To even suggest, in public, that there might be things that are "fair" in nature that might not be "fair" to the mind will get a lot of folks twisted into a serious knot. To further suggest that "fair" might have nothing to do with many, if not most, things might get that Cosmopolitan ripped from your thirsty metro clutches and your pitiful self ejected from whatever establishment you happened to be in at the time you made that frightening observation.

Right and wrong might have far less to do with "fair" than many of us imagine. Love (n the best sense of the word) certainly isn't fair. But, done well, it's hard to see how it would ever be wrong. It's just one of those things that one could think about endlessly, form all sorts of opinions about, and yet still fall for -- at the most inappropriate times.

I've often thought that we could benefit from a sort of global "consciousness lowering." Many would argue that it's plenty low enough. I'm not sure. Stupidity is another matter entirely. I'm just not persuaded that the mind always has our "entire person's" best interests at heart. Sure, don't use it and there's always the risk of ending up with a career in politics or education. Use it too much, however, while denying the body, soul and spirit --

-- Maybe we need a new instruction manual, something the mind might understand.

My name is Thomas Veil, or at least it was...

I'm a photographer, I had it all: a wife, Alyson, friends, a career. And in one moment it was all taken away, all because of a single photograph. I have it; They want it; and they will do anything to get the negative. I'm keeping this diary as proof that these events are real.

I know they are... They have to be.