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Ramble On… To Sing My Song… I Guess I’ll Keep on Ramblin’… Ode To The Underdog

This blog post is dedicated to my buddy Nate, whose daughter Molly was smart enough and gracious enough (or perhaps too scared to incur future dad and his crazy friends’ wrath?) to wait to be born until AFTER the first two rounds of the 2018 NCAA Tournament… just 2 days ago.

Congratulations Nate & Mel… and thank you Molly!

This guy looks ready to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood. For sure.

THE LOYOLA PAPER TIGERS? …  Dec 6, 2017: LOY 65, FLA 59.

It was a love affair that started with a sprained ankle. 

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a big college basketball fan (Men’s far more than Women’s, though I do like the Women’s game too — UCONN is just so dominant though, I don’t really follow it until the Final Four.) I’ve always been a college hoops fan. My mom went into labor while my dad was coaching a basketball game.

I often tell people I was raised in the Church of Basketball. I love the game.

Every year, I have a routine when it comes to getting familiar with the teams that might eventually play in the NCAA Tourney. I pretty much avoid everything until league play is halfway over (around Feb 1 or so?) though I do try to check out:

1. the most intriguing early season tournament matchups of major programs on neutral courts (ie. Duke v Texas was a great one this year… normally those two teams would not face each other unless it was the NCAA Tourney.) Seeing this kind of matchup is like watching the preview of a Tourney game, and can provide insights into what might happen in March… 

AND

2. I try to see well regarded Mid-Major schools play road games against Major program schools. Not because I think they’ll win (extremely rare) but because I want to see whether or not they can hang with the talent of a Major.

This knowledge is important if you’re going to have a good March Madness bracket; it’s absolutely mandatory if you’re going to be placing wagers on the early rounds of March Madness, which, I had a feeling, I would be doing this year.

Yes, there are data, there are the analytics, there are the people who swear up and down that the numbers will give you the best predictive model – but if you haven’t applied the “eye test” to a team, you’re really flying blind with a bunch of numbers in your face. The eye test can often tell you more in given scenarios than data. It can tell you what a team is made of, and what their ceiling might be.

Such as when I saw that the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers were playing University of Florida (Ranked #5 in the country) on the road in December.

The irony is that it was the data that initially drew me to Loyola – I was looking at the early stats for teams on the NCAA website, and this one team, Loyola, was a very impressive team on the stat sheet. As a team, they shot 50% from the floor and 40% from 3 (that is Steph Curry-level proficiency) and all of their starters averaged over 10 PPG. Unusual balance. Surely the numbers were inflated due to weak competition though. That had to be the case. Still, I decided to watch them play Florida to see just how much of a paper tiger this 9-1 Loyola team was. (Their starting off-guard and best defender, Ben Richardson, was hurt, he’d broken his hand in the game previous…’too much to overcome,’ I thought, ‘if Loyola can lose by less than 10, I’ll check them out again later in the year.’)

I was so impressed and surprised by what I watched. 

Right from the get go, Loyola was not intimidated; not by the hostile crowd, or the “Florida” on the opposing jersey, or the apparent size / athleticism disadvantage, or even that outlandish cartoon alligator that Florida has at half-court. They jumped out and attacked Florida right away. Chris Chiozza, Florida’s point guard and one of the quickest players in all of college basketball was getting repeatedly burned on dribble penetration by Loyola’s point guard, a guy named Clayton Custer, who I’d never heard of. He looked a little bit like John Stockton and had handles like Stockton as well. Loyola’s big man, Cameron Krutwig, displayed perfect fundamental low post footwork, head fakes, pump fakes. He was reminiscent of Kevin McHale or former Gator David Lee. Loyola’s other big man, Aundre Jackson, a 6’5″ undersized big, kind of had a Corliss Williamson / Antawn Jamison thing about him: he played bigger than he was. And, just as this team seemed to be coasting into halftime with a double-digit lead against the #5 ranked team in the country, on the road, the unthinkable happened: Custer turned his ankle badly. It looked terrible, like he might’ve broken it. Custer was helped off the court. I thought: “Poor guys. Their starting backcourt is gone. They could’ve won this game. Their season is probably toast. And they’d have been fun to see in the Tourney. Oh well.”

From that point, Loyola put together the best defensive half of basketball I’ve seen this season. Defense is all about effort and communication, and no one out-hustles or communicates better than Loyola. Chiozza couldn’t break them down, the wings couldn’t get open jumpers or drive into the lane…I’d have to watch the game tape again, but I don’t think Florida got more than 2 uncontested shots the rest of the game. Loyola’s bigs consistently were hitting open shots… and down the stretch, the team made free throws and played to win. When the final buzzer sounded, I believed I’d seen the guttiest performance I’d seen in at least 10 years. I was a fan. I’d watch them as much as I could for the rest of the season. 

Aundre Jackson shot 10-12 from the field, 3-3 from three-point land, the Ramblers beat #5 Florida on the road, and made a fan out of me.

THE WINDY CITY TEAM FEELS THE CHILL OF WINTER…Dec 16, 2017 through Jan 3, 2017: L’S to WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE, MISSOURI ST. & INDIANA ST.

It was tough to watch. Not literally, thanks to ESPN 3, which apparently will broadcast even the most obscure of college basketball teams. It was painful because I knew this team could be more than it was showing. 

The effort was there, the defense was there, but the scoring was hard to come by. The starting 2 guard Ben Richardson returned during this stretch, but without Custer, their primary ball handler, distributor and possibly best shooter, the flow of the team’s offense seemed out of sorts.

Donte Ingram tried to pick up the slack but the shooting was cold as winter.

The encouraging sign was that the team’s effort didn’t suffer. I might have seen one player pout or sulk a little bit, but that player was a reserve who’d likely be banished to the bench once the team was healthy. Still I had to wonder, was this team’s unbelievable gift for selflessly sharing the ball and canning open 3’s and layups in that game against Florida just a mirage? Was there anything actually special about this team, or had my eyes deceived me?

Sustaining effort even when things aren’t going your way is a sign of character – but character, as important as it is, without talent, usually doesn’t go a long way. At least for a college basketball team. They’d sustained their level of effort. But it didn’t much matter.

Without Custer, this just wasn’t the same team. It seemed pointless to watch them again until winter let up, and so I waited for the general…

Without their floor general Custer, the Ramblers looked lost despite their best efforts.

RAMBA-LERRRRS… COME OUT TO PLAYEEYAYYY… RAMBA-LERRRS… COME OUT TO PLAYEEYAAAAAAYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Jan 28, 2018: LOY 70, UNI 47

Custer had already been back for a few games when I browsed the NCAA team and individual statistics: there they were again, sitting at 50% from the field, 40% from 3, and five guys in double figures.

They’d be playing University of Northern Iowa, a team with three starters leftover from a team with the dubious distinction of experiencing the most epic final minute meltdown…OF ALL TIME… in an NCAA tournament game two years previous, losing to Texas A&M in the 2nd round, when, with 35 seconds left and a 12 point lead…seriously, you read that right…UNI somehow found a way to let Texas A&M (the video is on YouTube: it is just brutal) tie them, then eventually beat them in double overtime. A&M’s chances to win that game were less than one-ten-thousandth of one percent. (A true one-in-a-million event.)

UNI had talent though, and seniors that, if they wanted to atone for that debacle, were going to need to start playing well to make a run at the Missouri Valley Conference title that Loyola looked to be ready to grab. UNI played very good defense and had a slowdown style that might give Loyola trouble.

The first half was kind of a rock fight, Loyola led 26-19, the defenses were stifling. And then, in the second half, I saw Loyola play like a BRILLIANT basketball team.

The announcers cooed that Custer and Richardson had played together since 3rd grade. They went on to say that 6 of these players had won state championships. And I was just in awe as they dissected a very good defensive team with a series of backdoor cuts, perfect spacing, and the weave offense, one of my dad’s favorites and one of mine as well, because that offense, when run correctly, is like the crane technique in Karate Kid… no can defense, Danielsan…  you have five guys that can equally hurt you in a variety of ways with the slightest defensive mistake (just ask Kansas State what they think of Loyola’s offense compared to, say, a team like Kentucky.) They scored 44 points in that second half and Custer was incredible. No look passes. Wide open threes. Uncontested layups. I said, holy shit, these guys are Golden State Warriors level of unselfish. They have 6 guys on the roster that can get hot. Their spacing was beautiful. That half was at least 3/4 of what led me to declare to Nate about a week or two after:

“Okay, I almost don’t even want to tell you this, but for our Vegas trip, I’ve got a team for us to bet on. It’s Loyola-Chicago. I’m hesitant to tell you because I’ve become a fan and I might be biased like a fan, and I’m probably jinxing it all because if they don’t win their post-season tourney they won’t even make the NCAA tourney. But dude these guys remind me of the Gonzaga teams of the late 90’s… they’re that good. They play great team basketball. No one…I mean NO ONE… sees this team coming. They’re good enough to make a deep run. They might even be good enough to win it all.”

YOU CAN’T WIN THEM ALL… THE GOOD LOSS… Jan 31, 2018: BRADLEY 69, LOY 67

The other 1/4 of what made me gush to Nate about Loyola was a loss. No matter what people say, there is, IS, such a thing as a good loss, provided that the loss serves as a learning experience that prevents future losses. So, just days after Loyola destroyed UNI and traveled to Bradley to play a tough conference road game and lost, you’d think my confidence in the team would’ve been shaken.

It wasn’t. This was a game where Bradley came out on fire and just couldn’t miss, they played inspired basketball and led all game — their crackerbox gym was going nuts, they were playing at their highest level. Meanwhile, Loyola was weak with the ball, Loyola struggled to make shots, and with six minutes left, Loyola was trailing by 11. Not much was going right. Then, the whole team seemed to go into another gear, and operated like a time-and-score behemoth. These guys want to win them all, I thought. They want to win every single possession. They outscored Bradley 18-9 the rest of the way (18 points in six minutes translates to a 120 point rate over a game) and having a shot to tie or win the game at the end. The look of “what could have been” was all over the player’s faces. There was momentum and ultimate exhaustion from the kind of game where you claw back, and just come up short. If they’d just had one more possession, they probably win this game. They really should’ve beaten this team. They knew this.

They didn’t. And they also knew this.

They won’t lose another game, I told myself.

Fourteen games later, I’m still right about that. They weren’t really challenged during another league game or in their conference tournament.

SOMETIMES THE UNDERDOG ISN’T AS MUCH OF AN UNDERDOG AS YOU MIGHT THINK:

Mar 15, 2018 … LOY 64, MIA 62 … March 17, 2018 … LOY 63, TENN 62 … Mar 23, 2018 … LOY 69, NEV 68 … Mar 25, 2018 … LOY 78, KSU 62

The Loyola tourney run has been awesome. I don’t have much to add to it. This group is going to the Final Four. It was awesome seeing the first two rounds in Las Vegas. My buddy Johnny texted me and said “Man, you must have won a lot of money on those guys.” And I did (which then went straight into the video poker machines.) But I told him that I wasn’t nearly as happy about winning the money as I was to watch this team play to the capability that I’d seen them display earlier. I even meant it. 

The Ramblers were underdogs in every one of the above games, and they won every one of the above games. Last second heroics, a 98 year old lady team chaplain who’s become a celebrity named Sister Jean, and more of the team first style of basketball that made me a fan of these guys made the team a national story. And the same criticisms that came up before – “they don’t have the athletes” “they don’t have the size” “they haven’t beaten a team this good yet” once again are thrown out there and even more prevalent. The ceiling. The basketball world is once again absolutely convinced that Michigan “just has too much” and “it’ll be close, but Loyola will lose.”

But I’m going to keep betting on these guys because this a group of winners.

If anything, Michigan better pray that the game ISN’T close, because these guys just might…

Sink a 30 foot bomb as time expires, like Donte Ingram did here to beat Miami… or…

hit a well guarded jumper with two seconds (and two bounces off the rim) like Clay Custer did to upend Tennessee… or…

drain a gorgeous side-step three-pointer with six seconds left to turn back a furious Nevada comeback… like Marques Townes did…

The reason people root for an underdog is because, except for about 1% of the population, we’re all underdogs to some extent. But the truth of the matter is, underdogs, favorites, these titles are irrelevant when the game starts.

And yes, the odds, the data, the analytics, the DNA, all of this matters to some extent. Most experts believe that Loyola won’t win the title. The data say Loyola won’t win the title. “Most experts” and “the data” would matter a lot more if my eyes didn’t tell me that Loyola is now in the Final Four. My ode to the underdog is that if you refuse to put a ceiling on anyone or anything, until after they’ve shown you who / what they are, you might find out that for them, there’s really no ceiling at all.

Ozark: A Study in Character and Social Darwinism

“Magnanimity is the proper estimation of one’s own worth in relation to the highest honors.” – Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

There is something special about the new Netflix show, OZARK. In this age of exponentially increasing demand for new, fresh stories, Ozark delivers in a great way. Without dropping spoilers on you, I’d like to describe why, at this time, Ozark is more than a television show: it is, at its root, a meditation and commentary on American Social Darwinism, and how once a person’s ethics are breached, the truest test of that person’s character begins. In the end, the existential question posed by the show (not too dissimilar from BREAKING BAD) is, once a person starts down an unethical path, can they ever get back to equilibrium?

Marty Byrde is a father, first; a financial planner, second; and, a husband, third. That, in and of itself, is all too common with upper middle-class white American males these days. What’s uncommon about Marty though is, mostly due to ennui, naivete, and a dash of hubris, he agrees to launder cash for some pretty unsavory people, with the idea in mind that his skill with money management is so superior that he’ll be able to insure his family will be “set for life, for generations.” And even in his illegal dealings, Marty displays a level-headed adherence to a code of ethics even when most everyone around him is making choices based solely on emotion. He remains magnanimous in the face of ever-increasing stakes — he’s truly a phenomenally intriguing American hero, on par with Walter White and Tony Soprano. Jason Bateman’s portrayal of this man is spot on and should land him many awards, not to mention way more artistic cred. Also, it should be noted that Bateman’s direction on the first few episodes is nothing short of masterful.

There are two types of smart people in this world – those who make the simple seem complex, and those who make the complex seem simple. Marty Byrde is that second type of smart person. This alone makes me root for him. Combine that with the fact that this man does not betray people, even his shady employers, while most everyone around Marty at some point or another betrays him, is commendable. That Marty does not act out against those who’d do him harm, he even empowers them, and that he even is willing to sacrifice himself for the seemingly innocent, makes him a surprisingly relatable American everyman. In the end, he’s not motivated by greed, he’s motivated by a desire to survive, which is accentuated by the idea that he truly believes he can make things right, for everybody involved.

If only the people in Marty’s life acted rationally! Instead, they act on instinct and emotion. How rational can human beings be, when we are, essentially, animals, whether we like to believe that or not? Our prime directive is self-preservation and survival, no matter how much we may try to divorce ourselves from that truth. A truly fascinating motif employed throughout Ozark has to do with the cold, brutal naturalism of our existence. There are constant allusions to this; from the mere fact that the family surname is Byrde, to Marty’s son’s constant fascination with the animal kingdom, to even the fact that Marty’s cell phone ring is the sound of crickets, the show makers have made the deliberate choice of making animals a part of the show, and laid the foundation that this show is allegory of Darwinism (ironically set in an area of the country where the majority of people shun evolutionary theory.) The visual and the sonic language of the show are just meticulous and brilliantly conceived.

Watch Ozark.

 

Dr. Gonzo (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Unplugged)

A principle familiar to propagandists is that the doctrines to be instilled in the target audience should NOT be articulated: that would only expose them to reflection, inquiry, and, very likely, ridicule. The proper procedure is to drill them home by constantly presupposing them, so that they become the very condition for discourse.” – Noam Chomsky, “Third World, First Threat” 1993.

I was hired by the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper to be a writer in 1993, and I worked in the sports section and also in the entertainment section. I saw a wave coming early on when our chief competition, the San Jose Mercury, launched the Mercury Center via AOL. It was the beginning of the end of the print news business, even if most of us, even the most forward thinking of us, didn’t really know it.

In those days, we got a lot of our stories off of the AP or UPI newswires, which were kind of like telegram cables. The quality of the content of the news had to be high. There were professional standards that must be adhered to. And, as my editors were quick to point out, the people who are in positions of power are our adversary, pure and simple. The media acted as a check in the grand scheme of governmental checks and balances: the executive and the legislative and the judicial branches ALL must be held to account by the media. My favorite practitioner of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, threw in his own style of literary flair to hit on truths bigger than What, Where, When, How and Why. For example, is it not right, or true, or in keeping with the duty of media, to call Ronald Reagan a stinking swine when he blabbed to People Magazine in 1986 that “This generation will likely have to face Armageddon,” or to say, quite simply, that Nixon was a bad drunk?

Yes, Hunter was a lot of things. But, I have to say, Hunter was authentic.

Few writers could boil down the essence of a campaign, a candidate, like Hunter S. Thompson

Few writers capture the essence of a campaign or candidate like Hunter S. Thompson

We were duty-bound and truths like the ones he’d write were important and informative.

Unfortunately, we were doomed. Time and technological advances made the public fall victim to rapidly accelerating media saturation…  and as such, the media’s relevance faded, and it’s duty was no longer to serve people with unbiased and direct information regarding our elected and unelected government officials.

Rather, media became propaganda for whoever paid the best. As such, media became a bad salesman, pitching a broken down lemon of a healthy, thriving, functioning society. And yet, the pitch is effective and accepted as truth.

Here's Donald being contrite for inferring this woman was on her period when she asked him a question he didn't like. Then she, like so many in the media, dutifully played her part in the fake ass show.

Here’s the Donald being contrite for inferring that this woman was on her period when she asked him a question he didn’t like. Then she, like so many in the media, dutifully played her part in the propagandist, fake ass show.

The media do not say things like: “The US always supports democracy, never aggresses against other nations, and always ALWAYS opposes terrorists.” Nor do advertisers explicitly say that the key to happiness and the good life is the unceasing and ever-expanding consumption of purchasable products.

But the message still comes through, loud and clear.

We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning. Contemporary society is dominated by computers and algorithms. There’s hardly a second that we’re not plugged in, in this “civilized” world. As mankind races toward achieving seamless virtual realities and artificial intelligence, it stands to make me wonder whether or not a simulation of reality is actually our new normal, now, and far beyond anyone’s control.

Most of us spend almost all of our time in highly artificial environments, far removed from nature. We move about, from one building to another. We travel in little bubbles: cars, trains, airplanes. Even while we’re in route we’re buried in our mobile, wireless phones, connecting to all of the information out there. Ours is a world of steel, brink, cement and glass, not that of mountain, meadow, tree, and stream.

The last Presidential primaries/general election have concluded, and what struck me most about that crazy show was that Dr. Gonzo is dead. So dead.

The evidence was in the unprecedented dominance of public relations and advertising in media, resulting in disinformation and propaganda, and, most importantly, increasingly brazen strong-arm tactics to make sure, absolutely sure, no matter what, that Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton would face Donald Jackass Trump. It didn’t matter who won. Not to the rich people who determine these things. Neither of them were a threat to current of the $currency$, the status quo would be preserved.

People scream that Russia “influenced” our election via hacks on the DNC (the contents from those hacks was never disputed, only who actually hacked & leaked that info.) People freak out because Russia propagandized and misinformed voters via trolls on Twitter? IS America truly any better?

What about America propagandizing via social, alternative AND mainstream media? Not only in MANY other countries, but even our own?

I could go through a million examples to show this was all pre-decided, pre-destined, but I refuse to list more than a few, because if you haven’t been paying attention, it’s your own damn fault. The most glaring example, to me, was the June 7, 2016, AP story and photo, written and photographed by, you guessed it, the Hillary Clinton campaign several days beforehand and then submitted to… the AP editorial team!… for publication.

Team Hillary, created the image and words that the AP dutifully reported / sold to the public on their behalf.

Team Hillary, created the image and wrote the story that the AP dutifully regurgitated / sold to the public on their behalf, 3 days prior to publication… and when did publication happen? One day before the California Primary.

Or how about this one, from the Hillary email vault:

“I just received confirmation from 60 Minutes that a piece on Julian Assange will air Sunday night,” Philip Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, wrote to Clinton in 2011. “He will be the only person featured. We had made a number of suggestions for outside experts and former diplomats to interview to ‘balance’ the piece. 60 Minutes assures me that they raised a number of questions and concerns we planted with them during the course of the interview. We will be prepared to respond to the narrative Assange presents during the program.” 

Her reply: “Too bad they’re showcasing him. See you tomorrow when we try making lemonade out of some pretty sour lemons!”

I’m left with three questions:

Do interviews even matter? Does the media matter? Is all the world but a stage?

Every time I unplug, I realize, more and more, that the entire world’s perception of what’s truly important and meaningful is getting more and more skewed by what all this media are selling.

I thank God for my nieces and nephew, for reminding me that the future is worth fighting for, as I don’t want them to inhabit a poisoned world with a shallow artifice. I’ll never give up on that.

My niece is at Camp Hammer in Big Basin Redwoods State Park right now, experiencing things that I hope are truly meaningful.

My niece is at Camp Hammer in Big Basin Redwoods State Park right now, experiencing things that I hope are truly meaningful.

Every time I unplug, I realize, more and more, that I’m a storyteller, and if I’m going to keep telling good stories, I have to be authentic. In order to be authentic, I have to detach, more and more, from the real truth (that people are the victims of deception and exploitation on a massive scale) AND the artificial reality construct of the media, used to control and enslave people.

I have to be free.

And how will I be that which I am?

I think I’ve got to leave the big city, walk amongst the free creatures and plants of this Earth, and remember to self-program, to decide for myself what sort of things I want, and what sort of person I will become.

 

 

Life is Serious. Life is Feast. And The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

When I was 19 years old my friend Matt Workman committed suicide.

We were best friends since the day we met in kindergarten.

Please keep reading. Because the reason that I wrote those last two sentences was not to bum you out. I wrote them to remind you, me, everyone, that, in a time of great fear and potential upheaval, this life – you know, the thing that ALL of us are doing? This life: that is ALL that it is – and it is only just that.

It’s only life.

This guy lived both seriously, fully and fearlessly

This guy lived seriously, fully & fearlessly

To err is human and MAN am I human! So I try my best not to render judgments, either on people I know, or on the homeless dude asking for change, or on people in positions of power, or celebrities, or people in completely different cultures, because I’ll never know why/how they’re in the position they are in. I’m a 42 year old man now. I know who I am and what I’ve done. One could make an argument that these are the only two things that I do KNOW.

I value my time, I do not suffer fools, I love my friends and family with all my heart, and I try to do the best I can with my art and my career.

Do I have opinions? Damn right. Do I make judgments? Of course. I already told you, I’m human as fuck. Do I sometimes indulge, either in myself, or in the illicit, or in the taboo? Yup – I’m not just human as fuck, I’m a writer! A writer with a chip on his shoulder and an almost animalistic type of determination to confront the reality of experience, to do things before the bell is rung, compelling the great scorekeeper in the sky to make a tally on the sum of the life of Jefferson Rich.

A German friend once told me: “Ernst ist das leben.” Translated: life is serious. Very German, yes? I misunderstood him at first, I’d thought he said, “Ernst ist das laben.” Translated: life is feast. Very American, yes? This launched us into a great philosophical debate on the banks of the Spree in Berlin.

It was at this exact place where I came to a profound realization: it's only life.

It was at this exact place where I came to a realization: it’s only life.

My friend made the case for “leben”, or serious. I think his argument was rooted in the newest German generation’s unbound feeling of remorse, guilt, anger, and sadness about the Holocaust. Life is all about what you are doing, he argued – you must see something for what it is, and if it is wrong, you must stand up against it. You must, because if you just passively observe, if you just live only for yourself, terrible, unthinkable things can happen.

I couldn’t dismiss what he’d just said. I thought on my friend Matt Workman, and how, he’d ascended from 15 year old high school partier in Santa Cruz to 19 year old major promoter in the rave/underground party scene with massive celebrity connections and making constant trips to LA, traveling all around the world. But he was only 19. And I saw my boy slipping. I’d ask, “are you okay?” He’d answer, “Yeah.” And then I’d let it go. I didn’t want to be his dad, or judge him, but inside, I knew he was dying and today, I do wish I’d just called him on out on his shit, and told him that he was lying to himself. But I knew it was his life to live… and, even though he never slept, he was seriously struggling with his drug use (back then, we called it X) and one day, he cracked, I knew deep inside, that there was nothing I could’ve done to prevent it.

So life is “laben”, or feast, I argued. And judgment is the enemy of enlightenment. Here I am, thousands of miles from my home, in a city that is an artist’s lucid dream, having a beer and a conversation that is incredible – a conversation that would not be happening if I didn’t believe life is feast, I said. It’s when people become purist, with their uninformed notions of good and evil, right and wrong, I continued, THIS is when life starts to become devalued. It is the puritanical, very serious people I said, that hold life in very low regard, unless it’s life that they can agree with. Look at our countries, I said.

But you just made my point for me! he countered, because people are so flighty with their sense of morality and are so passive, assholes like the Nazis could slaughter millions in the past. And, he said, ominously, something new will assuredly come in the future, most likely in America, because America’s sense of culture and morality was going into the toilet.

My friend warned me that if our moral center is destroyed, and the American public is passive about it, the vacuum could be filled by something unthinkably evil.

My friend warns that if our moral center is destroyed, and the American public is passive about it, the vacuum could be filled by something unthinkably evil.

WHOA! I said, that’s just plain looney, I countered. In a place where liberty reigns, where everyone’s ideas are considered, where self-determination and freedom of expression are held in high regard, yeah, you get your reality show garbage but you also get stuff like Space X, or Obama, and-

-Yeah that’s all naive bullshit, he interrupted. You really think you have liberty? You really think people in your country know how to think critically? Show self-determination? If you have no control over what you want – if you are unable or unwilling to discern what you value – you are a slave to someone else’s passions and you can’t act freely! You think you have any privacy at all? Even with what you think? (Important contextual note: this conversation took place pre-Snowden.) Wake up man. A war is being waged on the American people, and if you, a person who I consider to be one of the greatest, smartest artists in America, if you of all people can’t see it, then we’re ALL in real trouble. Seriously.

I held tight to the crux of my argument. Look, when people get so damn pure, so damn righteous, THAT is when people start rendering judgments about how other people live. And when that happens, what’s next? I mean, what’s so enlightened about that? For example, the white man came to America, used slaves to build up the country, slaughtered Native Americans, because of Manifest Destiny. America has never even started to deal with our addiction to our idea of our own purity, and you see it as we expand our empire. Hell, American soldiers have been in the Middle East for two decades (it was 2010 when we had our conversation) and will remain for God knows how long, all based on this myth of America knows best because America is right and you Muslims, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing and we can’t leave you to your own devices, because you’re just going to come kill us. So before talking to you, you ALL must submit, you must bow, and surrender everything you are to us. (Another important contextual note: Isis did not exist when this conversation took place.) America had turned the entire world into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict because of our pure, just, American way.

Why wouldn't the entire world want to be as American as a bikini clad babe at a bbq scarfing down a juicy, thick, long... hot dog?

Why wouldn’t the entire world want to be as American  as a bikini clad babe at a bbq opening wide…for that juicy… thick… long… American dream?

Fuck that, we need to live as if life is feast I said, because we never know when it’s going to end. We need to embrace each other, and each others ideas, and refrain from judgment, because as I said, judgment is the enemy of enlightenment. We need to love each other. We need to talk to each other and we need to listen to each other, no matter who you are and DO NOT JUDGE IT!!

My friend laughed at me. Discernment, judgment, THAT IS THE WAY to enlightenment my friend, he countered. If you don’t have discernment, you know what you get? Velveeta instead of Petit Basque, Night Train instead of Burgundy, Ghost Dad instead of Ghost, Real Housewives of Wherever instead of The Wire, ugly, stupid, brutal porn instead of stimulating, sexy eroticism.

Okay, that’s a provocative point, but the world goes round based on both sides of the coin. And you NEED both, otherwise, you get that damn purist thing I’m talking about.

Check this out – when we were boys, my friend Matt and I, we would steal copies of his dad’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues, his Playboy and Penthouse magazines, and we stashed them in the woods, where no one else was around. We would look at the pictures (and NEVER read the articles) and we would talk about how we’d make love to each of the women contained inside. What moves we’d do. Which women looked like they were great lovers, compared with which looked like they were just okay. We both knew that we wanted to be great lovers when we reached manhood, and we knew we’d need practice in order to become great. But we were young and didn’t have girlfriends yet, you know? So we would eventually go home, with the vision of whichever woman we’d either seen in the photographs, or girls at school, or teachers, or whoever, we’d use those old Casio digital wrist watches, and we’d use the timer to find out how long we could masterbate before we’d ejaculate, and how long it would take us (if at all) to regain our erections, and sometimes we’d make a competition of who could ejaculate the most times in a night. Then, the next time we’d meet up, we’d report back our results. We kept pushing each other to go longer, to go more times. I even made a game for myself, to see how close to a certain time I could get, like 20 minutes, because I wanted to have the ability to control EXACTLY when I would ejaculate. And our drive in doing this was all in the name of the dream that when the day came, and we were with a woman, she would remember regard us as the greatest lover she ever had, every time.

Without discernment, artistic eros becomes unsexy porn.

Sans discernment, artistic eros becomes unsexy porn.

So, I said to my friend, was what we did wrong? Was it perverted? Was it evil? Because there are a lot of people who would think that if I told them what we did. Should I have been feeling shame for what we were doing? I didn’t. Why didn’t other people do what we did? Because they judged. And if I’d judged it, I would not have done what I did. Would I have become a great lover? It’s the people who listen to those people who say masturbating is a sin, that say that homosexuality is an abomination, that marriage is only a man and a woman… they’re the ones who are all fucked up, make other people fucked up, and have depraved senses of what’s sexy and erotic… because… why?

Because my friend was right – the big, huge, serious, very serious crimes against humanity keep popping up here, in America, and our moral decay is for real.

AND because I was right – we are more and more convinced of our pure, American ideals.

And it’s this purism that is sweeping the American body politic, our policy decisions, and our voting public that has me so deeply concerned. Whether it’s supporters of Delusional Donald, or Crazy Bernie, or Crooked Hillary, America is forging it’s way into a more pure, extremist, shaky land, ruled by fear, of either the candyass narcissistic billionaire who’d rather live in a gold tower with a Napoleonic complex and authoritarian aspirations, or the well-meaning septuagenarian socialist or a duplicitous, dishonest, equivocating, smart, but entitled pragmatist who shuns accountability and rarely demonstrates empathy.

I am concerned because the noise around our country is sending off vibrations of tumultuous conflict…a great disturbance in The Force…so much fear… so many stories of Mexican people getting shipped away… so many stories of a harsher and harsher American dogma… so much fear… a fear that I’ve not felt….since…

Days after Matt had died. I had a lucid dream, and to this day I think he was responsible. I think he pulled me into Nirvana, or heaven, or whatever. I was Neo before The Matrix existed, flying over greenery as far as the eye could see, being told by angelic types that I would be okay, that the pain of living through the loss of my friend would eventually subside, and the dream ended with a reminder of those old digital Casio wristwatches, and how, when we were little kids, we’d used those watches for a far more innocent use – we’d compete as to who could press the stopwatch buttons the fastest – DEE-DEET… .11 of a second… DE-DEET… .08 of a second…

DE-DEET… That would be my lifetime on Earth compared to the age of my soul. And my fear, ever since, has been pretty easy to check.

Life is serious. But it’s only life. DE-DEET.

Life is feast. But it’s only life. DE-DEET.

And the only thing we have to fear…

is losing our connection to what it means to be alive.

We have one world, and if there is but one way, and one right...

We’ve one world & if there is but one way & one right…

...it is that we must all love each other, despite the spite, with all of our might.

…it is that we all have the right to love each other, despite the fights and the spite… with all of our might.