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April 2014
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“It is the cynics who seem out of touch, and the idealists have turned out to be the realists”The Economist

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Types of Grain

Yucca bells

Unknown Purple Flower

Yucca at Portola Hills

Unknown Tiny Flowers

Blue Dicks

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The Myth of Efficient Private Industry

square820I always get a kick when people tell me that private industry always does things better than government. Consider this true story: A couple of weeks ago, our microwave began acting funny. First, the clock slowed down. Then the timer began exhibiting one of three behaviors: Sometimes it would operate correctly. Sometimes it would turn on the timer, but not microwave. And sometimes it would start to microwave but then become stuck somewhere in the cycle — if you weren’t looking, it would burn the food. So we called our insurance company to see about fixing it. A repairman came, checked things out, and told me that he had to order an inexpensive part.

A week later, I get a call from Sears informing me that the part was no longer being made and therefore the microwave was unfixable. My insurance company was buying me a new one. OK, if you insist, we thought and agreed to their selection for the replacement. Now, I know what you are thinking: they came with the microwave one day, installed it and hauled the old one away. No, it doesn’t work like that. First, Sears delivered the microwave today. They put it under our dining room table and had me sign for it. The next step is for the installer to come in tomorrow — always “sometime” during a four hour long block of time. Once they have done their job, the old microwave goes into the box that the new microwave came in — to wait. Yes, wait until a third party comes to haul away the old microwave for a fee of $30.

The moral of the story is this: Any organization run by accountants and/or Republican politicians is going to take the least efficient route to getting the job done. Corporations want us to think that they will do it better, but examples like this and like the privatization of things like toll roads, prisons, and parking meters show that their rules can be even worse. You may not have much say over the quality of service in private industry but you can choose representatives who don’t pull tricks like Darrell Issa did on the post office so his pals in UPS and Fedex could seize some of its market. Insist that government is run right and run well. Don’t let things get managed in the public realm like they are in business today.

No Politics at Thanksgiving Please

square819It never fails at many homes across the nation. We are ostensibly brought together to experience gratitude as families. We sit down at the table, watch as the turkey is carved, pass the cranberry sauce and the stuffing, eat, and then listen to a harangue by one member of the family about the current state of politics in our country which, inevitably, is countered by another, driving many to the kitchen or the living room while the dinner table was dominated by the venomous talk. Some people stay away from their families at this holiday precisely because of it. It is even worse in households where one party is outnumbered. A pack mentality emerges and that one person is battered by words and quotes from Fox News into silence. When the person fails to come at future Thanksgivings, either nobody notices or they are excoriated for not wanting to be with the family. So much for this family holiday, when the ties that bind us are severed in the name of our own political egos.

While I still enjoyed thanksgiving at my mother’s house, we had a rule: no politics at Thanksgiving. This didn’t make certain people very happy because they seemed to live for strife or the sound of their own voices having little or no effect on the state of affairs in the country, but I enjoyed the feasting more. So did others.

This year try no politics at Thanksgiving and see how much better a time you can have.


square818The crowns in my mouth are falling off, leaving stubby posts where teeth once stood along the gum line.  (Which is what they actually look like underneath all that porcelain and gold.). Then top — just the top — of one of the molars comes off.  I pull it out of my mouth to find that it is silver that has been welded onto the tooth.  How are they going to fix this, I wonder.


square817The mind is not only its own place, but its own population. I dream of many faces. The breakup of sleep shatters them. They lose their bodies, but I am hectored by their voices at all hours. These are your failures, they say as if their task were to humiliate me so that I may not enjoy any of the peace of mind that comes with humility. I stumble as they scratch my eye with the light of their taunts. When they call out, I lose my focus on the landscape or the interior in which I am situated. An insult might crash into my brain as I am hiking a sinuous trail, tumbling my consciousness into a different dimension: I stop, stamp my feet, and try to feel the grit beneath my shoes that tells me where I am.


square816The other day a trail biker ran me down.  Not out of malice, but due to ragged chance.  I heard the brakes screaming and a voice shouting behind me, so Instinct had me step to the right onto the grassy siding.   Alas, he had the same idea. The handlebars caught me in the small of my back.  I gnashed my teeth because of the force rather than out of rancor and stumbled a couple of steps forward until I found my balance again.  He was lying under his bike on his side, so I gave him a hand and pulled him up.  His new brake pads had failed.  We both marveled at our lack of injury, so we shook hands and went on our ways.  Some hours later, I found I’d cracked a temporary.  Instinct told me nothing about how to handle this, so I spent the weekend eating soft foods and snaking my tongue around the pillar of tooth left naked by the absent crown.

Edison Trail

square815Death showed me one of its faces here, where the dust holds a track until the next strong wind. The sun did not warm me on that day. The cold chewed on my hands and dusk shoved the light aside to make way for the darkness. A clump of toyon bushes stood at the high point of the hike. I stopped at the sound of their branches cracking as a mountain lion hefted itself out of the shrubs and landed on the dirt road in front of me. We two stared at each other for an endless second before the cougar bounded away, his paws pounding the ground as he fled. I did not follow. Now when I go there, I look to the source of every rustle of the leaves, every shake of the branches, every whisper of the grass. This is uncertain country.

Note: Two months later, this same cougar slew one biker and mauled another. The incident made the national news.

Hot Day

square814When my footsteps came too fast I felt a burning in my lungs like I had swallowed a mouthful of chlorinated pool water. I stopped and let my body find the breath and heartbeat that restored its calm, then start more slowly, my eyes on the diminutive, grass-crowned peak that was my object. The sun warmed my torso and shoulders: a hat kept it off my head. Later I felt the reddened skin burnt by the penetrating afternoon light. It, too, burned, but only when I stroked it.


square813As I blundered down the Edison Trail — entering tags on an Instagram photo — I looked up.  Seven mule deer gathered near the dead end of the trail.  I crept toward them, cursing that I had left my DSLR at home.  A step then a check of my cell phone camera.  Another step and another check.  A final step — and I was too close.  The does ran off, surrounding a yearling while the antlerless bucks screened them.  Then all were gone as fleetingly as a good memory.

Typing Errors

square812I’ve noticed a certain style of error that gives away that I might well be thinking faster and more erratically than my fingers can keep up with. This might have nothing to do with my bipolar disorder despite the rapid thinking that causes me to err. But there is a resemblance that is hard to ignore. What happens is that when I get to typing things on a chat channel or in a blog, I change thoughts in mid-sentence. Then I abruptly drag them back.

I need to what for that kind of thing.


Mistakes like this cause me to enter a highly vigilant state of mind. Am I going manic? Is this due to my meds? Or maybe am I just tired?

That’s the price I pay for having this disease — the blobby uncertainty that flows over every moment; the concern that this kind of thing might be a prelude to the stupidity of mania. Life need not be a progression of symptoms.


square811I am sorting through some things when my bare calf is bitten — or rather mouthed — by a red, white and blue ball. The ball has no mouth of its own — rather there is a head wrapped up inside of it and it is the head that is trying to bite me through the thick, leather walls of the ball. Lynn tells me to give it to her and she will take care of it, so I do. I put up some latex gloves and pick up some stuff that is littered on the floor such as torn up shreds of paper and dog droppings.

Mustard Road: The Race

square810Whiting Ranch can be divided into two sections, the West and the East. The East is closest to my home and — except for trail bikers who whiz like locusts down the Cactus Trail and the Serrano Cow Trail — is mostly deserted. The real traffic bulges the trails of the west side, particularly the Borrego Trail which wends its way through a marsh and live oak groves and the Mustard Road. The West Mustard Road is deserted: on a given hike to the Vista Point overlooking Red Rock Canyon you might lucky to see three other travelers. The East Mustard Road rises from the end of the Borrego Trail and slithers through the chaparral until it collides with three other wilderness avenues at a spot called Four Corners.

Throngs of bikers and walkers choke the East Mustard Road on Wednesday afternoons. The bikes come singly or in pairs or triplets or, sometimes, squadrons. I listen for the whirr of spokes behind me and try to guess which way to jump when they get closer. Walkers give themselves away by the stomp of their feet. The other day I was grimly climbing the dirt track when I heard a woman’s voice behind me. The ascent squeezed the breath out of me, so I didn’t look back. In a few seconds, a blonde woman and her hyperventilating ginger daughter came briskly walking to my right. The woman — who I surmised to be the mother — was delivering a lecture on personal fitness.

The hammering in my temples from my heart surges prevented me by listening in. They pressed past me with no attempt on my part to equal or better their speed. A few minutes later a third, stouter member of the party pounded past in her black spandex. I kept plodding along, feeling a twinge of guilt about my slowness.

“Wait,” I thought. “You have a heart condition. A narrowing of the coronary artery. You are going as fast as you can without giving yourself a heart attack. You are doing fine.

“How well would they do if they were in your place? To them, walking this trail is a race to see how fast they can get to the top. For you, getting to the top at all is a triumph. What if there was no race for them, no number on a timer that they can strive to beat? Would they keep going?

“You do.”

I arrived at Four Corners maybe ten minutes after the last of the three. They stood around the bulletin board talking and drinking from their green and pink neoprene bottles. I sat down on the bench, drank some water, ate some glucose tablets and then I was good to go. I left them behind me, still sweating and recovering their strength.

On the way down, I waded through what must have been a youth group on bikes. Then I saw a man riding up the hill directly behind his 8 or 9 year old daughter. He kept telling her to keep her wheel straight and keep going going going.

Poor thing. He’s already pressing her to win the race.

An Unsung Side Effect

square809The doctor who was going to perform the colostomy spent several minutes of my preliminary appointment putting information from my new patient form into the computer. He asked me a question here and there about previous conditions: why, for example, my anemia was of concern? (My hemoglobin count had dropped from 13.7 to 12 in the course of six months.) How long had I experienced gastric reflux? (On and on for twenty years. For this I won the bonus prize of an endoscopy to be performed at the same time.) Then he reviewed my medications and saw that I was on psychotropics.

“We’re going to have to bring in an anesthesiologist,” he announced.

The reason for this is that my psychotropics tend to raise the level of sedation. The valium they use for most patients won’t put me out. I would find myself enjoying every moment of the procedures as they poked my orifices and sought answers in my intestines and my esophagus.

The extra attendant would cost me $260 which my insurance might or might not pay. I sighed and made a note of this, then followed him to have a clerk send my prescription for the laxative to the pharmacist and explain to me what I could and couldn’t have before the probe.