Aug 8 2014

Nixonia

Larry Jones

Janey and I were traveling aimlessly through the beautiful state of Oregon, taking turns at the wheel of my 1964 VW bus.

It was August 8, 1974, and we were headed for Crater Lake when we heard the news on the radio — Nixon was set to deliver an important speech. The Watergate affair had been occupying the top spot on the evening news for months, but we had been out of the loop for a week or more, so we didn’t know for sure what almost everyone else in the country knew: that Nixon was being forced out of office.Nixon

It’s difficult to describe the impact Richard Nixon had on my generation. He was every bit as important as President Kennedy, the earnest, slightly creepy A/V Club guy to Kennedy’s dashing frat boy. And even though we know that politics ain’t beanbag, Nixon found ways to reduce it to its most brutal elements, and he was good at it. He lost some Big Ones, but he won more than he lost. Elected for the first time just a few months before I was born, and stretching all the way through to just before my 25th birthday, Nixon haunted the hallways of our lives, in his dark blue suit and his five o’clock shadow, never looking straight at us, always seeming to harbor some hidden motive.

He had gone from Congress to Eisenhower’s Vice President in 1952, but after his first term in the number two job, the Republican Party wanted him gone, and, under pressure to leave Ike’s ticket in 1956, he went on television and gave the famous Checker’s speech, saving his job and surprising the political old hands of the day. Again, I thought he was finished after he lost the 1960 presidential election to JFK, who apparently had learned from Nixon himself the power of TV. Silly me. Two years later Nixon was back making a credible run for Pat Brown’s job as governor of California. In his concession speech it seemed that even Nixon himself figured his career was over, telling the press that they “wouldn’t have Dick Nixon to kick around” anymore.

But then came Dallas, and LBJ, and later LBJ’s decision not to run for reelection in 1968. Rested and fit, Nixon was back, and this time he won all the marbles. He was like a zombie that we just couldn’t kill, no matter how many times we didn’t vote for him.

Up to this point he was only a political opponent with whom I strongly disagreed. And disagreeable it was to have him in the White House, even if he did open relations with China and authorize the creation of the EPA. But once he got the top job, something must have changed in Nixon. Maybe it was simply the feeling that he had nothing more to strive for, or maybe he really was crazy all along, but by the time of the 1972 election he had become delusional, paranoid and criminal. He won that election, but he had begun to disintegrate psychologically.

His presidency was unraveling. He was caught sending burglars to break into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, keeping an “enemies list” of journalists, and authorizing “hush money” to keep witnesses quiet. And he was tape recording the whole thing, keeping an audio record for future prosecutors. During the two years after his second inaugural he was revealed as the dirty Tricky Dick we all remember. Not some weasel-assed nobody like Grover Norquist, but the President of the United States! It was appalling.

Janey and I got to some lodge on Crater Lake that afternoon. The grounds appeared deserted, but when we went into the bar, there were hundreds of people crowded in, watching the television. I have never seen such rapt attention to any political speech before or since. It was as if we were holding our collective breath. Only a week before, under order from the Supreme Court, Nixon had been forced to release his secretly recorded tapes. Tip O’Neill had told reporters that the House Judiciary Committee was going to vote — Democrats and Republicans alike — to impeach the President. Nixon was cornered, and I’m not proud today to say that I enjoyed seeing the rat trapped as he was.

Nixon made a dignified speech, not exactly beating around the bush, but stalling and offering excuses for a while before he got to point, which of course was that he was “not a quitter,” but he was quitting. He took no responsibility for what was happening to him. There was no way he could have stayed in office, but sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if he had apologized, admitted his wrongdoing, and left the world stage quietly. Would Republicans still feel they had to find a way to impeach Clinton and Obama?

Either way, Janey and I shared a long kiss, and soon — very soon, actually — we forgot all about Richard Nixon. But he’s still with us, in ways few historical figures can ever be. Many of us who lived through the Nixon years, what Gerald Ford would call “our long national nightmare,” wake up occasionally in a cold sweat, as an imagined footfall sounds just outside a door, and it takes a moment to remember — he’s is not coming back.


Jun 21 2014

Life on the Street

Larry Jones

An old white compact car is parked, badly, on the street right in front of my house.

I noticed it earlier today, nosed in to the curb, the back end sticking out into the street a couple of feet. It doesn’t belong to me or any of my neighbors. It’s Saturday, so the first thing I thought is that some kids stole it last night for a joyride and abandoned it hastily when the fun was over.

But while I was pondering this, a woman showed up at the car with a set of jumper cables coiled in one hand. She had a black dog with her, and she opened the passenger door and the dog jumped in. As she was opening the hood a guy drove up next to her car and stopped there, engine running. They hooked up the cables and the woman tried several times to start her car. The first few times nothing happened at all, then the engine sputtered to life, coughed , and died. She tried again, got it running, revved it like crazy, and it died again. She and her friend in the other car got out and conferred in the street. My analysis was that the car was out of gas, or had a clogged fuel line. That’s what it sounded like, and that would kind of explain the bad parking job: engine dies, no power steering, only a small space to pull into, no chance to back up and park cleanly. Whatever the problem was, she and her friend and the dog took off, leaving the badly parked car right where it was. And that’s when things turned sucky.

Since she had returned with jumper cables and a friend, I figured she wanted her car back. She just had to take the rescue mission to the next level, whatever that was going to be. But while she was gone, a Parking Enforcement cop came by. The car was badly parked. No doubt it was bad enough to get a ticket. Still, while the street here is narrow, cars could still easily get past. I would have left it alone, but then I’m not a cop.

The officer had a handheld device and she spent ten minutes keying stuff into it. I already knew the little white car wasn’t stolen, and I hoped that as soon as the parking officer knew that, she’d plant a ticket on the windshield and go away. But she stayed for a long time, taking pictures of the bad parking job, returning to her own car, punching more and more data into her computer, walking around and around the offending car.

Then — of course –the tow truck arrived. In a few minutes the little white car was gone, hauled off to the city tow yard. The parking cop sat in her car for a few more minutes, maybe adding more data to her report of the incident, maybe just recovering from her strenuous half-hour of crime fighting.

Maybe I’ll talk to the woman when she comes for her car. I don’t know what I’ll say. It’s a five hundred dollar car. Not much, but until today it was getting her and the black dog around. It will cost her two hundred bucks to get it out of impound. I’m guessing she doesn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around, or she would have had a better car to begin with, or at least an Auto Club membership so she could get some assistance before The Law arrived. Of course, she’ll be without a car for a couple of days at least, because the tow yard will send a truck out and hijack your car on Saturday or Sunday, but they won’t allow you to reclaim your vehicle until Monday. If the woman has a job, she might not be able to get to work on time on Monday, because no car. So she might lose some money or maybe even her job while she’s out paying money to get her pathetic wreck of a car back. Then of course it still won’t run, because it’s not going to repair itself over the weekend sitting in the city tow yard. If all these things piss her off to the point that she gets a little rowdy protesting, she might even get to spend a few hours in jail, and then get to do 200 hours of community service.

So thanks, police. The whole episode has reminded me again that when you’re down, you just get shoved farther down. I could rail against the unfairness, or I could just be grateful that now there’s no car parked in front of my house, ruining my view of the other side of the street.


Mar 9 2014

Where Is Molly?

Larry Jones

I have a sad, nervous, sinking feeling in my stomach tonight.

Molly-EyesMolly the Cat left the back yard sometime before her dinner this evening, and she hasn’t come home yet. It’s eleven o’clock now, and I’ve walked around the neighborhood twice, calling her name and making kissy sounds, but no Molly. She’s old — almost fifteen years — and frail, but she is so fiercely independent that there has never been any question that she gets to go outside when she wants to. When she was a young cat she would often stay out until two or three in the morning, but in the past year or so, she has limited her ramblings to the immediate vicinity of the house, and she has rarely wanted to stay out more than a half hour after dark.

But today, the last day of Pacific Standard Time, 2014, she is out somewhere, by herself, late, with no food. I keep looking at the back screen door, expecting to see her skinny little self sitting there, looking in, eager to get a bite to eat and a warm place to sleep. But she’s never there.

I’m going to bed now. I put her bed on the back porch in case she comes back when I’m not there to open the door. I expect I’ll wake up and check for her at the door a few times. There’s no use looking for her any more. She has never come when I called her anyway. I hope she’s OK. I hope she comes back. I won’t be mad at her if she comes back.

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UPDATE, March 11: She did come back! She vanished just before her dinner late Saturday and I found her about the same time the next day, hiding in the bushes at the side of the house. By that time she had not eaten or had fresh water for 36 hours. She does not have any broken bones or visible wounds (like from a car accident or animal attack), but she was bleeding from the mouth and her breath is foul. My guess is she was in a fight (uncharacteristic for her) and bit somebody hard enough to lose a tooth, and now has a stinky infection in her mouth. She has done little but eat and sleep for the past day and a half, although she is not much interested in dry cat food, which supports the lost tooth theory. I’ll have a vet check her out, but she is my baby and I am so glad she’s back.


Feb 23 2014

Being Here, Now

Larry Jones

My unemployment has faded into retirement, which in turn is fading into a sense that I’ve got to do something with my time.

I’ve got to make something, be something, earn some money. My year-and-a-half job hunt didn’t go well, and I gave up after about 200 applications. I don’t blame anybody for firing me, or for not hiring me. I have a lot of skills, and one of them is annoying people.Buddy on the Couch

I’m sitting this quiet winter Sunday morning on my couch in the living room, my big cat Buddy — formerly Tigger —  by my side. My need to be doing something is on hold for now, which makes me a little crazy, because after having jobs for 50 years I feel kind of empty without one, and I have taken on some tasks that I should be doing right now, instead of sitting on the couch. Even on Sunday morning, my feeling of responsibility is taking away my ability to enjoy doing nothing. Nothing, which I always thought would be cool to do. Now that I have nothing to do, I want something to do.

I fix computers and troubleshoot small computer networks. I somehow talked myself into a part time gig writing a weekly newsletter for a local small business. I play in a rock’n'roll bar band. And I teamed up with an old friend and former business partner to start a web design company. I call this “scrambling.” I get a few bucks every now and then on an uncertain schedule, and I look around for the next little payday. I can’t just go to my mailbox at work and pick up my next paycheck on Friday. I have to scramble for the money. It’s working — sort of — but it’s not answering the big question, maybe because I haven’t figured out what the big question is.

I lived hard, and I took my retirement a little bit at a time, while I was young. I didn’t care about the future. I was sure I wouldn’t live to see it. Now I’m in it. A black man with an alien-sounding name is President. California — my lush Promised Land — is turning dry and desolate. Telephones have morphed — abruptly, it seems to me — into little talking computers you carry in your pocket, and they tell you where to get some pizza and who wants to be your “friend.” Like my many sore muscles and my grey hair, this future has crept up on me, and it feels like yesterday only in a parallel universe.


Jan 22 2013

Bad Hank

Larry Jones

I just found out my guiltiest of television pleasures, “Californication,” was picked up for a sixth season by Showtime.

This is a show with no redeeming social value, and I have watched every episode. David Duchovny plays burned-out, philandering fuckup Hank Moody, who also happens to be one of the great writers of the 21st century, a combination Beaudelaire, Bukowski and Oscar Wilde. Despite his gift, Hank is singularly unproductive, preferring drinking, smoking, fucking everything in skirts, getting in bar fights and mocking whomever he thinks might be trying to get him to write something, i.e., “sell out.”Californication

Luckily for Hank, he is a certifiable chick magnet, the perfect poster boy for the adage that women love bad boys. He is so bad he constantly hurts himself and everyone he comes in contact with. Unluckily for Hank (depending on how you look at it) he is also a husband and the father of a young daughter, Becca, the only female he treats with respect, although he torments and disappoints her all the time, simply by being Hank Moody.

The conceit is that Hank is truly a good guy, just misunderstood. In flashbacks we see that he dearly loves his wife Karen (the delicious Natascha McElhone) and daughter, that he is a genuinely talented artist with great insight into the human condition and a lot to offer the world. He just sees the ugly side of everything too clearly. Nothing in this world is good enough for him, and so he is on a more or less permanent binge of drinking, taking whatever drugs come his way, bedding all the women in Los Angeles, and poking sharp sticks into the eyes of everyone in the publishing and movie business who wants to help him.

Here is what the show is like: At a party at the home of a some big shot who might want to fund a movie based on one of Hank’s novels, Hank stumbles — drunk — into a darkened bedroom, where he performs cunnilingus on a woman he thinks is his wife, but who is actually his hosts wife. Then he gets sick, pulls a valuable painting off the wall and vomits on it just as his host and real wife walk in and turn the lights on. I’m paraphrasing, because that scene happened a few seasons back. In the season six opener, which I just watched today, Hank can’t find the bathroom, so he pees into his unfinished bottle of whiskey. Then, realizing there is no more whiskey in the house, he proceeds to drink what’s in the bottle. The whole thing is several notches below fart jokes.

The supporting cast is made up of perverts, predators, con men (and women), venal business associates, nymphomaniacs, addicts, narcissistic rappers and rock stars, in a Fellini-esque parade of weirdness that just keeps coming. Hank makes only bad decisions and gets beat up, arrested, drunk and cursed by all.

Each episode attempts to salvage a little sensitivity, usually at the end in a brief tender moment with Hank and Karen, or Hank and Becca, in which we see the “real” Hank, who only wants to get back with his wife (the only realistic thing in the series is that Karen has dumped him — although she does want him back) and be a good father to Becca. But we know even as we watch these endings, there will be no redemption for Hank.

So why do I watch? Hey, some guys like Batman, because he fights for justice and truth. I like Hank Moody, because he gets away with his bad, bad behavior, and the hottest babes in California keep coming on to him.


Jan 8 2013

Second-Worst Band

Larry Jones

For a year and a half in the 70′s I was in a band that played the same club every weekend.

They’d had the gig for a long time before I joined — who knows how long? — and they were the worst, or maybe the second-worst band I’ve ever been in. I didn’t know them or anything about them, but somehow I’d gotten wind that they needed a guitar player, so I called the number and offered to audition by sitting in with them on a Friday night. My friend drove me there in his VW bus, about a thousand miles up the 605 Freeway from Long Beach to the San Gabriel Valley, basically a foreign country to me. On the way there I had my first ever hits of cocaine, pharmaceutical grade stuff stolen by a nurse from a hospital and decanted into an innocuous looking sinus spray squeeze bottle. Say what you want about the evils of drugs. There was a loud happy party in my virgin brain by the time we arrived at the venue.

I blew them away, of course, partly because they were an awful band of not-quite musicians. But I surprised myself, too, with my playing, which I believe was better than ever on that occasion. I admit to this day that I am not a virtuoso player, but on that Friday night in that bar in Rosemead or wherever the hell I was, I was fast and tasteful with everything I tried. (The blow helped, I’m sure, although later I was to discover its true evils.) And when I jumped in uninvited on background vocals the deal was sealed, and I had one of the most lucrative and mind-numbing gigs of my life.

We had the regular gig at the bar, but there were also weddings, bar mitzvahs, reunions, office parties, quinceaneras, corporate events — endless performances, some booked years in advance. The keyboard player was the leader. He had a cheesy portable organ, and he would call us back from our breaks with a little ta-dah fanfare. We played wrong chords, bad arrangements and lame songs, and the work just kept coming. It was weird.

I never fit in with them. Except for the lead singer, a black guy with an absolutely majestic voice, I didn’t even like them. They had picked up their instruments and learned them specifically to be in that band. It seemed to me they were operating in a sort of musical vacuum. They didn’t know music structure or theory. They played by rote, sometimes from sheet music they bought, or, worse, Â sometimes they tried to figure out the song by listening to it on the radio.

I couldn’t stay with them, despite the money. Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t getting rich with them. It was enough money to live, that’s all. But for a freelance musician, that was a lot. Most of us have to have a day job. I moved on finally, another in a long string of questionable decisions I’ve made in my life. They’re probably still playing out there in the valley.

Sometimes I can still hear that little organ fanfare, and I wonder if it’s time to come back from this break.


Jan 1 2013

The Shadow Congress

Larry Jones

It’s hard to imagine there’s anyone in the United States who does not know that Congress has been screwing around with the nation’s finances.

Over and over for the past couple of years, legislation has been proposed, talked about in the press, debated in the Capitol, and then dropped, usually without a vote. The extreme right wing of the Republican party doesn’t want to do anything that looks like a tax increase. As a lifelong taxpayer myself, I applaud the sentiment, but I also live in the real world, and I know that when you are trying to run an operation the size of the United States, you have to fund it.

The right wingers in the House are the ones blamed for (or credited with) repeatedly blocking votes on compromise legislation. Many of them are beginners, having just been elected in 2010. They don’t know that you can’t have things 100% your way on every issue, so they “just say no” to any bill that doesn’t meet all of their ideological criteria. But they don’t vote “no.” They simply let the House leaders know that they will vote “no.” The leadership doesn’t want to risk defeat and public embarrassment, so the bill doesn’t come up for a vote, the pending compromise is scotched and everyone goes back to the drawing table, the problem still unsolved.

This process protects the naysayers, because they remain in the back of the room and never have to go on the record. They get to block whatever bill they don’t like while avoiding responsibility for doing so. They are a shadow Congress, setting the agenda and dictating to the real Congress which laws can pass and which ones can’t.

But who are they?

I’d like to know their names, their districts, their party affiliation, and when they are up for reelection. Most of all I’d like them to explain their reasons. If they don’t want to vote on certain legislation, I’d like to know why. I’d like them to stand up and explain how they think we can cut our way to prosperity, or why so-called investment returns should be taxed at less than half the rate most of us pay, or why people earning eight or nine thousand dollars a week should not step up and contribute a little more when our country is in trouble and millions of citizens are out of work, out of money, and nearly out of time.


Dec 14 2012

Grownups: Please Step Up

Larry Jones

28 people dead in Newtown today, including 20 little kids, shot in their classroom.

It’s such an outrage that there will certainly be calls to restrict gun ownership or ban them altogether. I’d happily go along with that, but thanks to the gun lobby we can’t even speak the word “ban.” We can’t even have a conversation about gun control. The debate is so warped in our country that — and I can guarantee this — there will be those who say that teachers should be armed, and that would prevent these types of murderous rampages. See the logic? More guns=less shooting. Me neither.Pistols

Few civilized societies in the world today tolerate the kind of firearm profusion that we do in the United States. As of 2009 there were 310 million non-military guns in the U.S., one for every man, woman and child, including newborns. That year there were 17,000 homicides in the U.S., 12,000 of them by firearm. In fact, with that many guns floating around, you could say that there is no solution to the problem of folks going crazy and shooting up their schools, their workplaces, theaters, malls and neighborhoods.

Maybe you’d be right.

I won’t try to fight the NRA, the gun manufacturers or the cranks who think they need guns to protect themselves against being herded by the federal government into concentration camps in the Mojave desert. Their twisted logic has so permeated the culture that there’s no percentage in debating it. But I’m ready for our government — city, state and federal — to take some action.

I propose a ban on assault weapons and big ammunition clips. Much heavier penalties for possession or modification of fully automatic rifles. Deep background checks (paid for by the prospective purchaser) on anyone who wants to buy a gun of any kind, and a good long waiting period. Licensing of gun owners. Serious penalties on gun owners whose negligence allows their weapons to fall into the hands of unauthorized or unlicensed others. And a high enough tax on gun purchases to create a fund to help rebuild the lives of the inevitable victims and their families, as we have done with cigarette taxes.

There are so many guns already out there, legal and unregistered, that anything we do to curb their proliferation will not begin to be effective for generations. But in 85 years it will be the turn of the century again, whether or not we start now trying to fix this problem. Most of us won’t be around by then. I wonder if those who are will thank us for our foresight, or curse us for our stupidity.


Dec 4 2012

Please Come Home For Christmas

Larry Jones

I’m a sap for all things Christmas.

The commercial trappings notwithstanding, I get all warm and affectionate toward my fellow man, and I suspect a lot of folks feel the same way. So Christmas is all right with me.

Here’s my Christmas song for this year. I spent about a week recording it, playing and singing all the parts, and I took the pictures myself, strolling around my neighborhood at Christmas time. The pix were taken last year, but all my neighbors are using pretty much the same decorations this year, so I think we’re cool.


Nov 6 2012

Four More Years

Larry Jones

So we have given the President a second term in office.

Serious political observers have known for some time that the election would turn out this way. For the past two weeks supporters of Mitt Romney have been talking optimistically about his chances. Dick Morris and Karl Rove, for example, were “predicting” a sizable Republican victory. But it felt hollow, as if they were only trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. By yesterday reality had set in and the happy talk (and the trash talk) had died.

I’m relieved that Obama won reelection, but I’m not elated. Generally, I believe the Democrats are on the side of regular folks like me, while the Republicans are on the side of transnational corporations, arms dealers and big-money donors. There are exceptions, of course, but in the big picture the two parties do break down like that.

In 2008 I thought that President-elect Obama might find a way to change the way things are done in this country. I thought he had enough support from a war-weary, skeptical nation battered by a brutal economic downturn. I thought he might parlay that support into a transformational administration. But he did not. He began dealing with our economic problems by appointing as his financial team the very same people who caused the meltdown. He addressed universal health care by handing 50 million new customers to insurance companies, who have long been the problem. WTF? He has become the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a kill list.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have liked a Romney/Tea Party presidency, but I am only cautiously optimistic about a second term for Barack Obama. Now that Mitch McConnell can’t make good on his threat to make him a one-term president, maybe they’ll find a way to compromise and get some work done, and move the country forward, not just economically and militarily, but morally.

Fingers crossed.