Who The Hell Are You Anyway?

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All I remember were the wires – the strange form of apparatus attached to her head.

Designed to send an electrical current through her sick brain to cure it.

Or make it worse.

An AC/DC frontal lobotomy for the pre-disco era.

A temporary grasp on unreality. A last hope. When all else fails – hey, consider electricity?

Hey Carol Ann, don’t go into the light. I need you to stick your finger in it.

 

Lightbulb

I longed to push the button, pull the switch, thank the warden, increase the voltage, add water – whatever it would take for her to improve or just short-circuit the mortal coil. I was good with either direction this went.

Where’s the bathtub and the plugged-in curling iron therapy?

“Hey doctor or whoever you are. What is this supposed to do?”

“It will ease her severe depression. But she may forget a few things.”

“Like what?”

“Who you are, where she is, who she is.”

“Oh, is that all?!”

I was wondering if this brutal treatment was going to fry the brain inside her skull. Fry it even more than it was fried, already. I never remember anything positive coming out of electricity going through a head. Now I realize, at ten years-old, I was absolutely correct.

My sordid frames of reference then:

Conquest

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – Electrical current “encouraging” Caesar the talking ape to utter a human word.

Electrodes = bad

And what the hell was an electrode anyway? Who cares, actually. Sounded intimidating.

the-brain-that-wouldnt-die2

“The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.” Another freak of nature kept alive by electricity (and maple syrup I think).

And of course, we remember Frankenstein and his bride. Overall, this electricity meeting up with lobes didn’t appear to conclude on a good note.

Naturally, electroconvulsive therapy (fancy name for electroshock treatment) was first introduced by Italians – Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini in 1938. Almost anything that my ethnic brethren delivers outside of pizza and art fails miserably. Oh well. Another good point for things not looking so hot post shock treatment.

In the 70’s electro-shock was employed for severe depression, mania, nymphomania (kidding), and it appears women felt more comfortable than men undergoing this form of torture. From what I recall it was common in my neighborhood. Maybe it was fluoride in the water; perhaps it was me chasing girls with used Kotex pads on a stick that caused young moms in the area to be depressed. Not sure. I’d do it all over again. No regrets.

All I knew then. All I know now – electrical current and a brain are not a match made in heaven.

shock man

 

How far will you go to forget?

The bad stuff. Those who wronged you. Those who fooled you, those who caused distress, the failures, the words you can’t take back, the actions that hurt others, the actions that hurt you, the deaths, the illnesses, the bad attitudes, your weariness, the negative thoughts, the self-sabotage, the wine you spill, tears, milk, guts. Never forget the bad. The bad adds perspective, wisdom. The mental path you’ve followed, the pain, the failures are a form of beauty. The setbacks blossom empathy, forgiveness, strength. Flaws make you beautiful. Human. The bad stuff is the blood which bonds us.

Who the hell are you? You’re bad. You make mistakes. Love yourself for your faults.

What do you do to remember?

The good junk. When your world is in sync. The break in the clouds, the deep breaths, the relief that comes from tiny blessings, the friendships, the beauty around you. How do you share that good? How do you reach out to those who need a positive word? The human voice, encouragement, devotion, laughter, listening. The good stuff is the heartbeat that keeps us going.

Who the hell are you?

You’re good. You make others feel worthy. Share your strength with others. 

Who the hell are you?

You’re human. You make strange purchase decisions, your brain is not wired to invest. Ask for help. Seek opinions that disagree with your own. Live with money mistakes. Revisit them often. You’ll avoid them in the future.

What doesn’t mix, doesn’t mix.

Electricity & brains, you & her, you & chocolate, you & alcohol, you & fried foods. Don’t force it. Learn to make peace with doesn’t mix in your life. What doesn’t mix causes friction (also not good for the frontal lobe).

Work to accept what doesn’t mix. Move on.

Who the hell are you? You understand what doesn’t mix is not your fault, it’s just the way it is. Learn to cherish the inner peace of acceptance.

“Who are you?”

“It’s your son, mom – Rich.”

“I have a son? I always wanted a son. I always wanted someone to love.”

“Me too, mom, me too.”

And for a brief moment.

There was electricity between us.

The Great Crabapple War of 1974

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“You’ll be dead soon.”

crab apple

Crabapple – a hard, bitter monstrosity. 

Not quite red, not quite green. Not quite sure where it fits within the grand scheme of all elements nature.

God had to be pissed off at the planet one day and said – “Look what I can do!”

Crabapples are a permanent fixture on the island of misfit fruits.

Wait: I’m not even sure it’s a fruit.

If you’re the unfortunate target of nature’s musket balls especially when hurled by 10-15 year old boys with arms fueled by mischief and sticky thoughts of 16 year old summer blondes in tube tops and denim cutoffs – then start counting the seconds from the sting until a perfect-round red welt appears somewhere on your exposed body: 1.2.3.

Worse than a swarm of yellow jackets turning a bare ankle into a hive.

A crabapple tree is nature’s ugly stepsister. Branches hang low enough to tear open the face of anybody adventurous enough to venture near its trunk.

At the ends of imperfect extensions hang clusters of green-reddish spheres. Oh, beautiful species of crabapple trees do exist. I hear they produce magnificently colorful flowers.

The abomination on the corner of Whitney Place & McDonald Avenue in Brooklyn was an exception. Oh, it tried to bloom. As kids, we messed with that poor tree so much, I believe it never had the chance to be left alone long enough to flourish.

Clearly, the tree wasn’t right.  Why was it allowed to live in misery? It managed to survive in the middle of a squared patch of dirt among a jagged brown and green glass compost blend of discarded beer and Coke bottles. Amazing.

Imprisoned by the apartments’ tenant garages on one side and an F train subway artery on the other, the only natural sunlight available to SadCrab  was high-noon sun filtered through elevated rail slats of the subway line anchored by massive steel beams that were driven deep into McDonald Avenue.

Unfortunately, the tree appeared to be half in this world, one root in hell. The blooms were sparse. Short-lived for a couple of weeks in early spring. The fruit appeared ‘halfway’ developed as if it were reluctant to make an appearance.

I’d walk by the thing every day and grimace.

One day I stopped. Stared with disdain. Shouted in its branches  – “You’ll be dead soon.”

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that ugly tree deserved respect. Just the fact that I remember it so well and how it contributed to the great CA wars is surely credit to its existence. I can’t be the only one who remembers the depressed crabapple tree.

The Great CA Wars switched on and off for a couple of years. I have no idea what triggered it. I was just recruited. Sloan and Whitney Place kids pitted against each other through the greatest (probably the only), crab-apple skirmishes in Brooklyn.

You see, Sloan kids were perceived as rich. Ironically, we were all part of the same alphabet swirling around in the same socio-economic soup bowl. Yet, Sloans were deemed the high brows. Lower-middle class “1 percenters.”

Although the apartment complex on Whitney was a mirror image of the red-bricked three-story structure on Sloan, the exterior was the envy of Whitney folks. Freshly painted exterior bordered by robust bushes and flowers. Sloan was the king, baby. Parents and grandparents sat outside on actual folding chairs. Whitney? The stoops.  Poor Whitney. The interminable ugly step building. Dead grass, chipped lead paint (great for snacking).

See, you existed on Whitney, you LIVED on Sloan. There was a difference. Even the spring air on Sloan carried with it a spiced aroma. Joyous floral scents that sliced through an otherwise musty urban atmosphere.

So, what do boys do to vent frustrations? Establish borders, place the crabapple tree in the neutral zone, collect massive quantities of bitter musket balls and get ready for ALL OUT WAR! What else?

And war it was. Hundreds of nature’s pellets scatter shot through the air like an unripened mob of bloated bees.  Sloan on one side. Whitney on the other of a street selected as official battlefield.

Street-parked Chevys, Fords, Buicks served as Detroit’s finest foxholes. Elongated hoods and doors – trademarks of 70’s autos, remained under assault for a solid 30 minutes. Metal was no match for the onslaught. Several car surfaces were reduced to pimply apple-hailstorm fodder.

Hundreds of crabapples suffocated the street. Injuries took kids out who ran crying and fleeing from the scene. After a couple of hits in the back of the head and the bitch of  a sting from a smash to the cheek, I’d was out of Dodge, too. The wars weren’t long but they were painful. Eventually, we lost interest. Even angry ones. The Generals. They bailed on the troops. Or if I recall correctly, somebody’s mom screamed for Paulie to get the hell home for dinner ( remember – moms’ voices carried for 20 city streets).

No winners. No resolution. Yet of course, Sloan army always believed THEY WON. And that is indeed a win, isn’t it? Even when you lose, you win? Unfortunately, the only medals we had to show for the effort was a stripped bare tree, welts and boys who were about to catch hell for damaging property.

That darn tree lasted longer than any silly war and every next generation of kids who were raised, grew up, moved away.

I figured the tree took my words to root. Died years ago.

At the least, I assumed the owners of the buildings cut it down. Why would they allow it to live?

Life is funny – Little did I realize…

8 Random Thoughts (from a crabapple tree):

Every day decide the “how” to survive.

Life is hard. Learn to live with what you got. Work to thrive in the perfection of your imperfection. I have. Even when brats picked me clean. You can too. No excuses.

Used or ignored – a bit of both? You’re gonna be there.

There will be a time when people will want what you produce for their own selfish purposes. Then you’ll go ignored. Stand strong. Brace for any condition. Bloom when the weather feels right to do so again. Understand that most who cross your path are temporary.

A life can grow from anything. Even broken glass.

Growth emerges from beauty or ugliness. Born wedged between an F train and a concrete wall  – or in a soil rich patch of zip code, all of us seek the basics to stay alive. Appreciate our common ground: Love, food, water, maybe happiness (if you’re lucky).

Don’t assume I’m miserable being what I am.

There’s a reason I exist. Even if it’s for boys who write of me 40 years later. I’ll stand with dignity and serve my mission. I don’t owe you an explanation for my mission. I’ll win my battles quietly – behind the scenes. Under your radar, I will prosper – despite what you believe.

You have the right to produce bitter fruit.

You don’t need to be joyful all the damn time. It’s not human. It’s not for trees either. Happiness ebbs and flows. Life happens. Bad situations arise. In turn, you will bear cynical fruit. Revel in sorrow a bit. Not too long, though. Eventually you’ll find a way to bud flowers. If I can, you can.

Mock me, mock yourself.

Mock the ugly in me? You’re not in acceptance of the ugly in yourself. Swallow that bitter crabapple.

Who’s got it worse?

You assume I’m sad. That’s because you cannot relate to me. Just like I can’t relate to how you pack into that F train subway car like a human sardine the same times twice every day until you die.

I’m alive. Are you? 

Four decades ago you said I’d be dead soon.  Let me ask – Who’s closer to death? Me or you? How do the odds appear now?

Thanks to Google Maps I know that crabapple teacher is indeed, still alive. Despite my nasty words, it didn’t die. It wasn’t cut down, either.

Today, that tree has a high chain-linked fence around it to protect it. Not sure why.

Maybe to prevent another crabapple war. Highly unlikely. Kids don’t play outside anymore.

Maybe it’s to protect branches from boys who at one time, liked to climb that gnarly trunk. Nah. Boys don’t play outside anymore. Frankly, I’m not sure boys are allowed to be boys anymore.

Perhaps this tree got the best of me. Perhaps it’s more protected than I’ll ever be. Maybe today, based on how the world has changed, it stays safe and thrives behind a barrier. Guarded from jerks.

There’s a great chance that tree I mocked so long ago, outlives me.

My daughter wants to visit my old neighborhood when we visit New York in December.

I may just show her that tree. Tell her the story.

Ask her to visit that tree once I’m gone.

Just maybe the greatest lessons that tree taught me were empathy and irony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Things I Know. The Rest Is Bullshit.

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Sometimes everything at once. Sometimes just the sky.

Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I fuck up a lot.

I try. I fail. I try again. I stop trying. I regroup. I attract some of the worst people on the planet and work to process how they don’t represent the masses.

On occasion, I win, I learn, I grow. My biggest issue is I’m not grateful enough for the flowers, the victories, the end products. I’m loving the seeds but minimizing the impact of the blooms. There’s something noble about toil and decadent about the results. I am no longer impressed by decadence. The effort turns me on.

Jordan B. Peterson in 12 Rules For Life – An Antidote To Chaos, wrote – “Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.”

The dirty stuff learned through toil and experience means everything.  Happiness is in the ‘grit’ as my friend Byron Kidder calls it: At the crunch beneath a footfall an idea forms, a road is begun. One word leads to six, then ten. Then a page. As my friend Randy Lemmon garden-expert extraordinaire says:

“It’s all about the soil.”

Life is a robust mixture of experiences –  sorrow shadows, bullshit rules that society deems honorable but as we age make no sense, boundaries crossed, beautiful offerings, misfit gifts if unwrapped reveal lessons when needed the most.

Let’s face it –  life is finite flesh & blood dichotomy – what you put into it can grow beautiful. However, you best know the weeds and kill them quick.

Otherwise, they take over.

As I focus on lessons learned, lived, loved, (hated at times), I realize how these tenets align, allow me to re-focus on what’s important.

That damn flower. I’ve finally found comfort in inevitability; that flower is gonna die. Can’t do a thing about it. I’ll enjoy everything about it while it’s here. I take notice how light accentuates grooves in the pedals at low sun; I can observe, sort out without mental drift, how and why it has a reason to exist (so I can enjoy it, others can, too!).

In the quiet times, when it’s just me and the sky, I document observations, write script dialogue, have colorful conversations between my ears. I ask questions to the 25 trees at the homestead. Depending the direction they sway, answers are revealed. And yes, they sway when queried. I also know whether it’s a no-stop-go. Or just a stop. Trees are nature’s Magic 8 Ball. I’m convinced.

Here are the 11 things I know. You have your personal doctrine. I have mine. They’re not up for disagreement or discussion. Doctrines serve best those who create not criticize them. Share yours.  Write. Follow.

Writing is inky-swear oath to yourself.

Random Thoughts:

Not everyone deserves forgiveness. You however, must forgive yourself.

Listen it’s rare, but some people do not deserve a free pass. Their intentions are untrue. They seek to use, inflict damage upon others. They follow a script that serves only them.  It’s fine if duped. You’re human. I say let the universe deal with these types. They’ll never be happy, never learn. Until karma finds a way to strike them, they’ll live their lives and not give a second shit to setting yours back.

Life is a 50/50. 50% shock, 50% awe.

If you don’t have chaos, you don’t have change. If you don’t change, you die. Or worse. Get stuck in a life you hate. Learn to weather the shocks, enjoy the awe. What’s the alternative?

If you’re gonna a hater, be a good one. If you’re a lover, be a great one. If you’re hated, make sure you’re really, really reviled. If loved, make sure it’s the best love ever.

Love and hate is fire and ice. Both burn. Both can motivate. Both can kill. Be the best at both. Leave your mark on others. Burn them or freeze them. Nothing in between.

Love is infinite. Humans and technology block the flow of it.

Adults manifest mind-garbage. Over time, a multiplying, rotting dump of negative experiences must be bulldozed aside with each new person met. Ultimately, the debris is piled so high and deep, you can no longer bulldoze it. Instead, you’re consumed by it.

What I’ve noticed is that garbage people always leave a little bit of debris with you after they’re gone. The flow of love, the give-and-take of understanding, empathy, suffocates and dies among the rubble. Technology, especially social media has the ability to accelerate the build-up of garbage in the dump.

Be comfortable sitting in the back.

All throughout elementary school, high school and college I had to sit in the front row. I have no idea why. I believed my focus on the lessons would be better. I considered all who sat in the back as slackers and losers. Nobody taught me that. It was just my perception. Boy, was I wrong.

Sit in the front, die from myopia. Sit in the back, see the big picture. Feel less pressure. Yea, I sit close to or in the back. Sitting up front is too narrow a perspective for me now.

Consider the lack of magnificence a mark of virtue.

Want to feel small? Focus on the sky.  Twice a day, 25 seconds. Just when you think you’re the shit or “all that,”  vastness of the never-ending injects poison into an ego. It’s a freeing “I can die in my driveway and the waste management dude can cart me a way,” kind of feeling. Don’t perceive this as negative. Far from it. Humility realigns focus on how to be a better iteration of a human. It allows you to give yourself a free pass, shake who you were at another time. Any other time. Who you were doesn’t matter. Who you are now means everything.

As Rick Warren said:

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” 

At all costs, avoid the “Dust People.”

Dust People. My term for the darkest breed of narcissists. Those who use others for career advancement, sex and social status. They do nothing but lie and blame to divert from their true motivations. All the while, they create the ultimate relationship escape plan. They always have prospective new lovers (suckers), waiting in the shadows.

Once Dusters have fed off their victims, once their fake game is up, they shake ’em off (like dust from old jeans),  move on to the next and newest conquest. Ostensibly. the lethal pattern continues. They morph into the lives of new love/lust connections until their true self is revealed, thus leaving another victim shattered emotionally and/or financially.

I’ve been immersed in the trials of the Old West -New Mexico Territory specifically, as preparation for a screenplay – “The Rifleman – Origins.” The back story of how an ordinary farmer and rancher named Lucas McCain became a legend. The Rifleman was a hit television series from the late 1950s through the early 1960s. The saga of a proud father who alone raises his only son Mark McCain.

In the brown-dirt land of New Mexico Territory the parameters of law are newly forged. Boundaries between life and death are easily blurred and crossed with devastating consequences. Lucas’ noble intentions to begin a new life, revitalize an abandoned ranch and keep his son safe in the middle of this tumultuous period, are frequently tested.

Lucas’ stalwart friend, father figure and new lawman in the town of Northfork is a creased and lean former gunslinger with his own healthy share of sleeping demons.

Micah Torrance, known equally for his sordid past and change of heart due to personal tragedy, had friends in high places like Granville Henderson Oury, a well-known American politician, lawyer, judge for the New Mexico Territory and fierce soldier who managed to survive the Crabb Massacre of 1857 where 100 Americans were killed after an eight-day battle with Mexican forces.

Micah and Granville fought side-by-side through several bloody skirmishes. Granville personally handpicked and deputized a reluctant and skeptical Micah to protect the recently-organized town of Northfork which in Granville’s view, was to become the West’s shining example (experiment), of how the law can protect and help citizens thrive. And as Micah would lament – “Big Ol’ Granville usually gets what he wants.”

It’s amazing how much I learned about dust, yes dust, writing this monster. Dust could be feared as it was associated with drought and drought portends ruin. The abrasive nature of dirt and dust had the ability to rot clothes, rip bare skin, which made it important for cowboys to dress and protect accordingly. Scarves, heavy canvas, denim and tartan long-sleeved shirts.

The irony is Micah is a reluctant lawman; he possesses little faith in humanity and grapples with why he should bother to protect it. “Just let people do what they do, it’s no concern of mine. If they do or don’t figure it out, they’ll die, just the same.”

It’s feigned optimism and protective care for Lucas and Mark that motivates Micah to take Granville up on his offer to galvanize and protect Northfork. Perhaps they remind Micah of his own son and grandson slain by vengeful Apaches.

I’ll share some dialogue between Lucas and Micah when it comes to dirt and dust:

After a six-month drought, the abandoned Emerson Ranch, three miles north of Northfork, appears dead and hopeless to Lucas McCain. He bends his lanky frame at the knees to observe a single flower that grows from the dust. The dry powder he picks up to rub between his fingers disappears easily into the heat. Lucas looks up and across what’s left of worn fences, dirt-blasted barns and a wood and stone structure that would be home for him and Mark. Micah is behind him. Purposely silent until the quiet was 10 minutes too long.

MICAH

Well, the price is right.

LUCAS

I should be paid to take it.

Micah

Yea, if life worked that way it wouldn’t be called life or whatever this shit is we go through.

Lucas

The dust. It’s in my nose. My clothes feel like they’re rotting from the inside out because of it.

Micah

The dust is in your head, Lucas. Turn this into something. Get out of your head and into the toil. Nothing stays the same. The rain will come. Your head will clear. Your thoughts will clear, Lucas Boy. The earth will show you what it can do. You’ll build something here. For you and Mark.

Lucas (finally stands from his crouched position)

It’s tough for a man to think clear in the dark, Micah.

Micah

The dark is no bother to me. I ain’t afraid of it. Can’t get to the light if there isn’t dark first. I bet when the sun comes up over that ridge, it’s a sight to see.

Lucas (looks over at Micah and smiles lightly)

You trying to sell me something that isn’t for sale, Micah? (Silence). Alright. I’ll give it a thought.

Micah (gestures over to barn entrance where Mark is smiling and waving to catch the adults’ attention).

Looks like Mark already has.

Lucas

Yea. I was afraid of that.

****************************************************************

There’s a point we all must make a choice to cultivate dirt and make it something better. Dust people you cannot change. You must detect and walk.

Or you’re going to lose so, so much.

Recognize every person you meet is not the best or the worst. Just something in-between.

We are marginal at best, mired in the comfort of status quo. The best and the worst of people have lots of energy to share. It’s fine to spend time with those in the middle. They’re on a path to best or worst and exciting to listen to, understand what drives them to move from the middle to the outliers. I also find it fascinating what keeps them mired in middle. Is it security, fear, complacency, low T?

There’s a point you’ll be afraid of the dark and joyfully anticipate the light which follows.

You’ll appreciate the light all the more when the dark is behind you. Enough said. You can figure this one out on your own.

Life is 110% conflict – 109% with yourself.

Our minds and egos create alternative lives of “what would happen if,” that have nothing to do with the present state. Whatever we fight internal or external, we are drawn to or own a piece of it.

Until you find out and destroy what you’re contributing to the battles, they’ll never cease. One party needs to drop the weapons. If smart, it’ll be you. If not, you’ll continue to fight imaginary wars and lose all who are close to you.

Bad experiences are unwrapped gifts that provide lessons only when opened.

I’m not a big fan of the “everything is a lesson,” mantra. A lesson should mean I don’t repeat the same mistake or if placed in a similar negative situation, I respond differently. I’ve had many bad experiences but few lessons. It’s fine as the opened gifts are exponentially greater than the ones I continue to leave unwrapped.

We all have rules, subconsciously or on our sleeves for others to see, we follow every day.

In this society, at this time, your spirit is in constant jeopardy. Make sure your ingrained tenets aren’t major catalysts for the death of it.

 

Dedicated to “The Rifleman” co-writer and “Mister LA,” Kelly Raymer.