Category Archives: General

A Novel Complaint

“Table one wants to see a manager.”

As a restaurant manager, my lap is a proverbial dumping ground where servers regularly invite grumpy and entitled customers to sit. In the prevailing I don’t get paid enough to deal with this shit culture which permeates the service staffs in most eateries, the feces usually rises to the top – and most days I just happen to find myself occupying the highest rung on the crapometer ladder.

“What am I walking into,” I ask so I know which one of my standard I really don’t care about your petty bullshit but I’m getting paid to fake it so let’s get this over with responses I need to dust off.

“Something about not being happy with the Salmon Oscar.” And with that he scurried off to prevent the world from entering cataclysmic chaos by refilling countless half-full iced teas while simultaneously making sure there was enough artery-clogging butter to slather every bread morsel in sight.

Now before any panties inevitably get bundled, let me explain. Complaints are as unavoidable in the service industry as homophobia is at a Southern Baptist convention, and every restaurant manager understands and accepts this – at least the complaint part. But just as there are different degrees of socially-sanctioned discrimination based on religion, so too are there acceptable degrees of bitching when it comes to your food. If, as a restauranteur, we screw up for whatever reason and it’s entirely our fault that your expectations weren’t met then I will be the first person in line with puckered lips ready to kiss your ass and make things right regardless of how chapped your butt cheeks have to be to get there. That’s how good businesses operate, and any successful manager knows that. If, however, you’re a charter member of the 95 percent of unreasonable and entitled individuals who complain in restaurants whose primary goal in life is to be entitled and unreasonable – then I’ll sniff you out and escort your gift-card-seeking ass on its merry way, because you are more of an opportunist than a customer. Businesses don’t remain open very long by catering to opportunists, and it’s my job as a manager to be both a caretaker for the company that employs me as well as to the employees whose livelihoods I’m responsible for.

I approached table one with all the enthusiasm of a South Carolinian being forced to watch the dismantling of a Civil War statue. And there I found them: A woman sporting what I assumed was her normal upside down smile accompanied by her two teenage fuck trophies. I could immediately sense that the cloud of disappointment that hung over them was about as welcome as raindrops falling on the Daytona 500.

“I understand you requested to see a manager?”

She sighed as if she were exhaling her very soul while pointing at the empty plate that sat in front of her. “I eat here all the time, and I have to tell you this is the most disappointing experience I’ve ever had.”

I stood there anxiously counting the seconds until her next iambic pentameter, but was instead greeted with the sort of deafening silence that would make most monks envious. So I was forced to coax the next sonnet from her.

“Do tell.”

“Well, I always order the Salmon Oscar,” she confessed in her best Shakespearean impersonation. “But today it came out cold the first time.”

I again eagerly awaited her sequel with the kind of fervor usually reserved for a Star Wars enthusiast clamoring for the next overdue installment. But being the sort of reclusive storyteller that would make even J.D. Salinger seem like an over-exposed socialite, she forced me to prod her even further for the much anticipated follow-up edition.

“And did you inform your server about this?”

“I sure did,” she proudly announced. “He took it back to the kitchen and had the chef heat it up.”

Not unlike a well-crafted novel that just can’t be put down until every word has been voraciously consumed, I stood there anticipating the next episode in her saga the same way a pre-pubescent clings to every syllable regurgitated by J.K. Rowling.

“And…”

“Well, he brought it back,” she confessed. “The plate was hot, but the salmon was still cold.”

Like a Michael Crichton thriller adventure leading its reader down unexpected twists and turns, I hung on for dear life as she continued to tease me with her rollercoaster of a yarn that had me buckled in for the long haul, not entirely sure what unexpected sensation awaited me around the next corner.

“And it appears that you ate the entire entrée.”

“Well, yes I did,” she divulged. “By then I was hungry and didn’t want to cause a scene by sending it back a third time. But I didn’t enjoy it at all.”

And it was then that I arrived at the final page of her script, only to find our heroine comfortably nestled in a pile of hubris while impatiently awaiting the offer of the complimentary meal which would assuredly right all the unjustified wrongs she had experienced in her life up to that point.

But I wasn’t buying – either her fairy tale or dinner.

You see, our chef doesn’t send out cold food. Ever. And every refire is required to be delivered by either a Sous Chef, a Manager, or the Chef himself – whoever is most available when the food is ready. And upon delivery of the entrée, we require the guest to sample the food in front of us and concur that it is indeed acceptable and up to his or her standards before we walk away – thus eliminating the possibility of the scenario I currently found myself in.

Game. Set. And match.

“Since you ate your entire meal there really isn’t much I can do for you about that,” I told her while acknowledging her empty plate for added emphasis. “However, as a consolation I’ll be happy to buy you a couple of desserts which all of you can enjoy after your children have finished their meals.”

After digesting my compromise, her frown grew a frown it could call its very own. To make matters worse for her, her loin fruit lit up at the thought of getting the dessert which apparently hadn’t been part of their mother’s original extortion game plan.

‘Well, I don’t think that will actually work for us,” she craftily countered with the sort of whine that makes fingernails on a chalkboard sound like an afternoon of Mozart in comparison. “You see, we’re in a hurry and don’t really have time to stay for dessert.”

“Oh, that won’t be a problem. I’ll tell your server to package them up so you can take them with you. Have a nice day now and we’ll look forward to seeing you again next time.”

The End.

Crapped out on the Delayed Postage Front

Barney came walking back into the living room from his kitchen holding a sandwich baggie and a bottle of cheap scotch. “I’m gonna teach that fuckin’ post office a thing or two about losin’ peoples unemployment checks,” he announced.

He took a pull off the bottle and his entire body trembled as he swallowed. I don’t think he’d been entirely sober since he’d been fired from the restaurant eight weeks ago. He handed the bottle to me and I had a tug off it as well. Nasty shit, but effective. Sometimes being a cheap drunk is the best you can do.

The whole thing started with a psycho on table 23. It was girl’s night out, and she and her friend had come in for dinner smelling of designer perfume spiked with an air of pretense. No big deal. I dealt with her kind on numerous occasions during any given shift. Pretend that they’re the center of the universe for a couple of hours and they’ll feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth, leave you a phat tip and be on their merry way to torture some unsuspecting hormonal hard-ons at the club across the street.

Everything started out just fine. After working their way through two overpriced Grey Goose cosmos apiece as well as a Brie appetizer and Caesar salads, they had both settled in to a nice glass of Chardonnay while waiting for their entrees to finish cooking. The food runner delivered their food while I was telling a four top about the nightly specials. After writing the four top’s orders down, I turned to make sure everything was okay with the two resident princesses.

“Ladies, is everything cooked to your satisfaction?”

Crickets. Nothing. Silence so deafening a pin hitting the ground would have registered on the Richter scale.

After standing there waiting for a response for what damn near seemed forever, she thrusted her plate in my general direction without looking at me and said, “This is absolutely, positively the most disgusting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth! Tell your chef he’s lucky I’m giving him a second chance.”

I resisted swinging at the softball she lobbed toward me regarding the history of what had been in her mouth. “I’m so terribly sorry, Miss,” was what I went with instead, taking the offensive Halibut Beurre Blanc with Haricot Vert Almandine from her and escorting it back to the kitchen.

Now here’s the deal about sending food back to the kitchen. If we fuck something up, we’ll own it as the day is long. If your New York Strip comes out medium well instead of medium rare, it’s our bad and we’ll fix it no questions asked. Hell, we’ll even throw in a complimentary cocktail as an apology while we recook the damn thing. If, however, you order the escargot and throw a fit when the chef sends out snails, then you basically deserve the taste of the dishwasher’s snot you’re enjoying with your chipotle mayo when the refire hits your table.

Barney, our executive chef, was in the weeds. Dinner orders were rapid-firing out of the printer faster than the expeditor could get them hung and the entire kitchen crew was beginning to get that deer in the headlights look they wore when they found themselves knee-deep in the shit without waders on. The restaurant was full and we were on an hour wait, which meant the kitchen was walking the tightrope between getting everything out perfectly within a reasonable amount of time or crashing uncontrollably into the abyss of 45-minute cook times and pissed off patrons. It was the critical time you sometimes see in the back of the house when success depends on everyone working in zen-like cohesion, and the slightest unexpected curve ball can potentially capsize us toward comping copious amounts of food and giving away our profits just to keep people happy.

So I wound up and threw the curve ball.

“Hey Barney,” I yell over the kitchen chaos. “I need a halibut refire for 23 on the fly!” In restaurant linguistics, “on the fly” means I need the motherfucker as soon as yesterday. It’s the one phrase that invariably sends already semi-stable line cooks over the edge and takes temperamental chefs to the brink of grabbing butcher knives and running through the front of the house with thoughts of slicing and dicing. On the fly orders cut directly to the front of the production line, meaning that the poor slob who’s already been waiting five minutes too long for his filet mignon gets elbowed back another half step, risking pissing him off as well.

Barney looked up at me, sweat dripping from his eyelashes. “What the fuck? What the hell was wrong with it?”

I showed him the partially-picked-at fish. “I dunno, man. Don’t hate the messenger. This chick says it’s the worst thing she’s ever put in her mouth.”

Barney picked up the halibut, briefly examining it before slapping it back down on the plate, scattering the beurre blanc overboard and splattering onto his chef coat. “Goddamn puta madre! I’ll give the fucking b***h something to put in her mouth!”

I write the refire ticket, hand it to the expo, and Barney works his pissed-off magic, getting the new entrée out in record time. The runner gets it to the table, and away we go for round two. As is customary, I wait until she takes the first bite before approaching her to make sure the second time’s a charm.

“Miss, is everything to your liking this time?” Now, 99 percent of the time guests are satisfied with recooks. Whether it’s correcting a genuine kitchen fuck up, a server who ordered the wrong thing or placating a control freak who wasn’t going to be happy with the first thing that came out no matter what, the majority of customers are genuinely appreciative of the second effort and move forward with their dining experience from there.

Enter the other one percent.

The air around her was heavy with the weight of pretense. “I’m not sure where you found your chef, but maybe you should send him back to Denny’s where he came from,” she huffed while holding the second halibut out for me to rescue her from.

At this point I had to jump in and try and save the poor entitled b***h from herself. “Miss, may I ask what exactly about your meal that isn’t to your liking?”

She sighed so heavily I was amazed she had any oxygen left to speak with. “My dog eats better than this, that’s what the problem is! You tell your chef I’d be embarrassed if I was to let this sort of crap come out of my kitchen!”

“Perhaps I could recommend something else that might be a bit more to your liking,” I suggested.

Oops. Crossed the line on that one. At that point her face turned bright green, her eyes bulged from their sockets and her head began twirling uncontrollably 360 degrees round and round until it resembled a rickety carnival ride like the ones you find during the summer in the parking lots of discount shopping malls. She spat blood, dripped ooze and puked bile – all in my general direction. “Look here waiter, I know what I want and what I want it to taste like, and this isn’t it! Now you take this back and tell your chef to make me the halibut just like it’s described on your menu. And I don’t intend to pay for it by now, either.”

“Yes, Miss. Right away.”

I was about to enter Dante’s lost 10th circle of hell. I walked the second god-forsakenly awful halibut back to the kitchen and deposited it directly into the center of the ring of fire. I knew that the words which were about to exit my mouth were going to have potential brimstone-esque ramifications, but I was caught in the purgatory between oh shit and fuck me with a pitchfork with no chance of redemption in sight.

“Uh, Barney… I gotta refire on 23. She says it tastes like dog food.”

It took two line cooks and a pantry chef to restrain Barney from going out into the dining room and introducing himself to the ladies on table 23. This was after he had thrown the second returned entrée across the kitchen, shattering the plate it was on against the wall. It was also after he had a meat cleaver wrestled from him and a rolling pin knocked out of his hand. The last thing I remember hearing as I was walking back out into the dining room was, “Tell that goddamn b***h I’m gonna send her out a halibut she’ll never fucking forget!”

I was refilling the coffees on table 24 when it went down. Right after psycho bit into her third halibut, she let out a scream while spitting her food out on the floor next to her table. I turned around and saw that she had stood up and was pointing down at entrée number three. “OMIGOD THERE’S SPIT IN MY FUCKING FOOD!” She proceeded to throw up over what was left of her food, sending the rest of the diners around her into a standing frenzy of their own wondering if they too had been nibbling on some wayward rogue phlegm. Psycho’s girlfriend started crying and screaming too as her dress was covered in halibut vomit, and several surrounding patrons threw down their napkins on top of their plates in disgust and left without paying while the GM ran around trying to prevent the entire restaurant from going up in flames.

You’ve got to hand it to Barney — he was a man of his word.

Since his dismissal, he had been calling me several times a week leaving messages on my voicemail stating his desire to get together so he could apologize to me in person. I knew better. What he was really doing was scrounging for juicy tidbits about the state of the restaurant, how the lawsuit with psycho was progressing and whether he was going to be held financially liable for the thousands of dollars it cost the owners to buy off the other patrons that night to keep them from suing as well. Against my better judgment, I finally agreed to meet him one day after work after about two months had passed in the hopes that he’d stop calling me.

When I showed up at his apartment he answered the door in his boxer shorts and a stained t-shirt. He hadn’t shaved in what looked like a week, and I couldn’t really be sure when he had last set foot in a shower. He was drinking cheap scotch straight from the bottle and was ranting and raving about how the post office kept losing his unemployment checks. Paranoia was closing in on him, sending him a little closer to the edge than he inherently already was.

He took the plastic baggie into the bathroom, and several loud grunts later emerged with it filled with what appeared to be several freshly birthed turds. “Those bastards think they can go around fuckin’ with people’s unemployment money…Well, I’m gonna teach ‘em a lesson they ain’t never gonna forget, that’s for sure!”

He opened a drawer in his coffee table and began rummaging around through the disorganization. “Fuck, I know it’s in here somewhere,” he bellowed. After several more moments of random shuffling he announced, “Ah ha, found it,” and held up a lint-covered postage stamp. He licked it, lint and all, and stuck it to the poop-filled baggie. “I’ll be back in a sec,” he told me as he headed out the door to the street side mailbox that sat in front of his apartment complex where he planned to deposit it.

I sat there by myself, not entirely sure how to feel. So I did what any sane man in such a quandary would. I took another pull off the scotch bottle, lifting a silent toast to not having yet gone off the deep end entirely myself as well as to the regularly scheduled five o’clock mail pickup.

A Long Walk off a Short Pier

On any given day, the plank you’re forced to walk seems to always come up a couple of steps short.

“Manager to the valet stand.” Those seemingly innocuous five words combined in that precise order are usually enough to make any relatively sane supervisor duck for cover. That’s because the person at the end of that sentence is usually impatiently waiting to spew random entitlement like IED shrapnel that connects with whichever random unlucky warrior who just happens to be in the way at the time.

I walked toward the valet stand – we referred to ticket takers as Valet Associates – with the sort of enthusiasm usually found in someone who has just opened their mailbox and discovered a summons for jury duty. The lobby was full for a Monday night, occupied by hungry moviegoers purchasing tickets for the latest blockbuster sequel that Hollywood had uncreatively crapped out from its studio bowels.

The maitre d’ gave me his not-so-subtle get this crazy bitch out of my face glare. “This young lady would like to speak with you,” he said while forcing a smile through his clenched teeth.

She could sniff out a manager the same way a vulture anticipates an impending corpse, and she honed in on me like a liquor salesperson trying to meet an end-of-the-month quota on an unsuspecting rookie bar manager. “Are you the manager,” she asked with a tone that implied my day was potentially about to become as memorable as my last root canal. She, of course, already knew the answer but was waiting for my verbal verification so that we would all be on the same page about on whose shoulders the blame for whatever potentially world-ending problem she had encountered would squarely lie.

My official title was Unit Manager. I had accepted the position at a trendy dine-in movie cinema, which is essentially a movie theatre and restaurant rolled into one. Movie tickets were approximately three times what they normally cost, but the price included seating in an oversized electronically-operated La-Z-Boy reclining chair which was accompanied by a pillow and blanket should you wish to spend the next two hours napping instead of watching the movie you’d just paid for. To each recliner was attached a miniature table upon which sat a food and beverage menu and a magic button that, upon pressing, would summon your own personal service person – whom we referred to as Ninjas – who would anxiously take your order and deliver your requests in a stealthy manner so as to not interrupt you while you continued watching your movie. The food and drinks were as overpriced as the movie tickets, and it wasn’t uncommon for date night tabs to approach $200. Overall, though, what we were selling was a mostly affordable periodic luxury experience that people could pamper themselves with and come away feeling as if they’d immersed themselves in a unique few hours away from whatever daily realities they had temporarily escaped.

The theatre had six cinemas, movies ran from 9 AM until 2 AM daily, and for the amount of patrons we accommodated and the inherent diverse nature of the crowds that different genres of movies attracted complaints were relatively few and were usually snuffed out by handing out complimentary tickets to a future showing. But, as with any service environment, there’s always a small percentage of rancid-eyed snizzmountains who insist on too much never being enough.

“Yes, I’m the manager,” I confirmed with as much enthusiasm as a drunken driver creeping through a DUI checkpoint. “What can I do for you?”

She presented me with whatever latest version of the iPhone we were on that year. The glass front of it was thoroughly smashed and looked as if someone had vented their frustrations on it with a sledgehammer.

“I want you to look at this,” she exclaimed in an elevated volume so that everyone within earshot could also get in on the fun. “Your chair did this to my phone and you need to pay me for it!”

Our recliners were often accused of many things, mostly along the lines of them being so comfortable that people had difficulty staying awake in them for the duration of their movies. Periodically, electronics would fail and a chair wouldn’t recline. However, I’d yet to hear any accusations toward one of them intentionally going rogue on anyone’s cell phone. Just when you think you’ve heard it all…

“Can you tell me exactly what happened,” I inquired while pretending to care.

Her face began to turn a shade of red normally associated with either Pinot Noir or someone constipatedly sitting on a toilet struggling to make dreams come true. Suddenly, the explanation flowed out of her like a laxative-inspired diarrhetic diatribe. “My phone slipped out of my hand in the middle of the movie and fell between the cushions. When I put the seat out of recline mode I found it and now it’s destroyed! You owe me eight hundred dollars and I want it in cash NOW!”

The people who were in the lobby purchasing their tickets began to ear hustle while pretending they weren’t, the same way a bottlenecked motorist struggles to catch a glimpse of the traffic accident that just slowed down their day. After all, there’s nothing more entertaining than an unexpected complimentary front row seat to a random bloodbath you can pretend you aren’t sadistically enjoying while you secretly are.

“I’m sorry to hear about your phone, Miss,” I lied. I found her story suspicious but couldn’t disprove her version of it. In the typical the customer is always right mantra most corporations adhere to like crack addicts inhaling their next fix, I caved in the best I could. “Unfortunately, I’m not authorized to make cash reimbursements of that nature. Those types of things are handled through our home office. However, if you’ll leave me your information I’ll be happy to forward it to my general manager and she’ll contact you regarding a potential resolution first thing in the morning.”

As I suspected, that went over about as well as a patient recovering from surgery only to be told that a sponge had accidentally been left inside them. “That’s not even close to being acceptable,” she informed me while suddenly edging more of herself into my personal space. “I’m not leaving here without my eight hundred dollars! What kind of a manager are you, anyway? You’re going to pay me, and you’re going to pay me NOW!”

The movie theatre environment never seemed more apropos, as I prepared to flip the switch on a sequel. “Again, Miss, I’m not authorized to compensate you in cash at this time. If you’ll leave me your information someone will contact you tomorrow regarding your concerns.”

And so it went for the next several minutes, each of us returning the other’s volleys like a tennis point that never seems to end with the score perpetually stalled at deuce. All good things must come to an inevitable conclusion, however, and the time came for me to break the stalemate. “Miss, I’ve apologized and told you what I’m able to do for you and I have other things to attend to at this time. If you’ll kindly leave your information with the valet, I’ll be happy to see that you’re contacted tomorrow.” And with that I wished her a pleasant evening and turned to walk away.

“Don’t you walk away from me,” she demanded with the sort of tone that makes one want to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. “You get back here NOW and give me my eight hundred dollars or I swear I’m gonna sue you!”

As I continued my journey toward getting as far away from her as humanly possible, I suddenly felt the back of my head being pelted by what felt like small pebbles. When I looked down at my feet, I found myself standing in a collection of multi-colored M&M’s. I turned around just in time to see iPhone girl high-tailing it out the front door; the candy box whose contents she had just emptied on me resting on the floor like a discarded shell casing.

The ear-hustling lobby spectators looked at me in unison, apparently secretly hoping I’d chase after her to further enhance their voyeuristic adventure. Like a rock band that refuses to come out for an encore, though, I kept walking in the opposite direction while leaving them there wanting more and feeling slightly cheated – which seemed to be my destiny for the night.

Honoring the Warrior

Not everyone born on an Indian reservation who was sent to reform school and Vietnam ends up a renown, international writer, but Jim Northrup did.

It’s been nearly four years since Northrup passed away. He’s remembered for his syndicated newspaper column “Fond du Lac Follies,” books, humorous stories, cathartic war-poetry, and cruising the backroads in a 64 corvette his wife won at a casino.

Born on the Minnesota Fond du Lac Indian Reservation twenty miles west of Duluth, he was sent to a federal boarding school three-hundred miles away from his family when was he was six. There he was taught not to speak the Ojibwa language and learned how to fight. He had to. He was one of the smallest kids in school and lost a lot more fights than he won.

It wasn’t long before he took the path of a lippy street-fighter that eventually led to the Red Wing State Training School for Boys. When memories of his writer grandfather resurfaced, he decided to honor those memories by contributing to the reform school newspaper. He wrote with insight and humor. One time he pranked readers by asking ten questions on the front page and telling them the answers were on the seventh page of a six-page newspaper. He recalled getting a kick out of that idea during an interview.

He also remembered stories he heard around campfires on the Rez from elders about poison gas during WW1 or tales relatives told about fighting in Korea and WW2. Members of his tribe who risked death in battle were greatly respected so he signed-up to be a Marine when he was eighteen.

He survived the Vietnam War with his body intact, but the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he brought home stuck with him. He sometimes referred to PTSD as “party till somebody dies.” Talking with other Vietnam Vets helped him sort things out and so did writing — especially poetry and short stories. “I could just write a poem, get it in the book and close the page on it.” he mentioned it an interview.

Excerpt from his poem “Shrinking Away” below:

Survived the war but
was having trouble
surviving the peace
Couldn’t sleep more than two hours
was scared to be without a gun
nightmares, daymares
guilt and remorse
wanted to stay drunk all the time
1966 and the VA said
Vietnam wasn’t a war

He returned to the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation after working  a variety of jobs and resumed writing while developing a reputation as a funny story-teller, birch bark basket maker, Jeopardy freak and political smart-ass. Regarded as a man who wore many headbands, he embraced other Anishinaabe traditions including wild rice gathering, maple syrup collecting and moose hunting. Between writing, he found gigs as a radio commentator, newspaper editor, stage hand or anything else he found interesting or necessary. At one point he was a tribal court lawyer and lay attorney.

His writing, which focused on conditions and changes occurring within the Indian community, grew more powerful and he became an influential Native American voice through his award winning syndicated column, books, interviews, poems, radio commentaries and performances. He was know in parts of Europe and beyond.

Despite his political edginess, PTSD and success as a writer, Northrup remained a warm, folksy man who continued to tell his stories in a straightforward and humorous way until his death. In 2016, wearing a Marine Veterans baseball cap he told an applauding audience at Lambeau Field in Green Bay he used writing sometimes as a to way to deal with combat trauma and referred to that writing-process as “my brain taking a shit.”

Paiute poet Adrian C. Louis would later say “The main enemies of a warrior are the demons inside himself. Jim Northrup conquered most of those. He was a kind man, a good man, a traditional man, and my favorite Indian writer.”

Although Northrup didn’t call himself a pacifist, Artistic Director Ron Pelusu of the History Theater in St. Paul recently mentioned in an online chat he was “someone who seeks out peace.”

Northrup never achieved the luxury of continuous peace — at least not during his time on Earth. Yet he found direction, periods of solace and an understanding of himself in work, honoring the ways of his tribe and through an inside journey that inextricably connects the future to the past.

Or, as Northrup himself might say, “If you don’t remember your heritage, you don’t know where you came from — consequently, you don’t know where you’re going.”

The Messenger

Words are inadequate to describe certain experiences that happen outside the law of cause and effect.  Although they are universal, they are often so weird that to recount them makes most people uncomfortable, unless they are New Agers, spiritualists, or mind-curers who believe in the great American tradition of the happiness machine, revelations on every bathroom wall, Jesus’s face in cloud formations, or apparitions in every shadow. I am none of those.

But strange, real experiences do happen, however, usually very infrequently in one’s life for those who are accessible but not looking for them.  The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung called them synchronicity, meaning a meaningful coincidence in time without a causal relationship between a psychic state and a physical event, or dreams or thoughts, also without a causal connection, that occur simultaneously across physical distances.  Since a recounting of their outward manifestations is bizarre, and their meanings are personal, and since we live in the era of science as the dominant ideology, and a culture of pseudo-science, schlock weirdness, and “miracles,” it is easy to skeptically mock, with a condescending grin, their reality.

Because American culture has always been replete with charlatans and scammers who have preyed on people’s gullibility and ignorance, such experiences have gotten a bad name.  To admit to experiencing such a meaningful coincidence is to open oneself to derision, despite the testimonies of such esteemed authorities as Jung and William James, to name but two.

But I think I’ll take a chance.

I have been living in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts for forty years.  It is beautiful country, known for its peaceful rural roads, lakes, streams, and vast tracts of mountain forests rife with wildlife.  It is paradise for fishing and hunting, and the woods are filled with gorgeous hiking trails that attract urbanites in search of peace and quiet, those proverbial country escapes.

Ever since we moved here, I have made sure to get outdoors to run or walk in all kinds of weather, preferably alone and when few people were out.  To be alone by a lake or stream in sun, rain, or a snowstorm is my idea of paradise. With my family I have hiked many of the mountain trails. And over the years I have seen many animals: bobcats, deer, foxes, bald eagles, herons – the list is very long.

But my great wish has never been granted: to see a bear and to see it up close. Friends and neighbors find this hard to believe, for anyone who has lived in this area for just a few years has usually seen one.  Not me, for forty years.

When I was a boy, the only son with seven sisters, my father told me a story that has always stuck with me.  In the early years of the twentieth century, his father, my grandfather, was picnicking with his family and a few other families at Bear Mountain in upstate New York along the Hudson River.  As they were reclining on their blankets preparing to eat in a meadow below the mountain, a huge bear came ambling toward them out of the tree line.  This was 1905.  Seeing the bear approach, everyone except my grandfather got up screaming and ran downslope away from the bear.  My grandfather stood his ground, as my grandmother and great-uncle told my father; he stood very tall and straight and started to play the penny whistle his father had brought with him from Ireland.  What the tune was I never really knew.  My father said my grandmother remembered strains of Amazing Grace but his uncle, Uncle Black Jack, a NYC Police Department blacksmith, remembered a lively jig.  Who knows?  The bear came walking toward him and the blankets spread with food, stopped just short, stood huge on its hind legs, let out a fierce roar, then dropped down, turned, and loped back up toward the trees where he disappeared into the mountain forest.

My wish has never been to stand down a bear in such a manner.  Just to see one up close would be enough.  My grandfather had a fierceness that I lack, and anyway, I don’t have a pennywhistle.  When I try to whistle with my mouth, little sound emerges, and what does isn’t tuneful, and he was a master whistler as well.  But bears have always been eluding me, as if the time was not ripe, or I was not prepared for their arrival.

Then just yesterday, Father’s Day, I was sending an article of mine – “My Father’s Voice” – to my only son and daughter.  It begins like this:

Although my father, whose namesake I am, died twenty-seven years ago, I just spent a hilarious and profound afternoon with him.  For a few hours on a beautiful late spring afternoon, I sat out on the porch and listened to his inimitable voice beguile, instruct, and entertain me.  He had me laughing out loud as I read through a large folder of letters he had sent me over the years.  We were together again.  It was his voice I heard, his voice speaking to me.  It could be no other.  In the beginning and end are the words.  If we are lucky, we hear them.

I heard my wife scream from the kitchen for me to come fast.  I ran to it and there, eight feet from the open window, was a bear facing us and almost swinging from the bird feeder and the branch above, its feet akimbo, an almost mischievous look on its face.  It watched us as we watched it for 4-5 minutes.  Then, afraid that it might break the open window that had another bird feeder stuck to it, I cranked the window in, the bear walked over, stood up, looked at us and the feeder that was too high for it, went down on all fours and started walking away as we rushed out to see it walk across the driveway and the neighbor’s lawn.  I feebly whistled after it; it stopped, turned and looked back, then continued on its merry way.

My wish had been granted, shortly after the summer solstice, the first day of summer, my wife’s and my anniversary, and Father’s Day. It immediately felt as if my father had sent me a gift.  My wife quickly sent the photos of the bear she had taken to our son and daughter.

The night before, as a Father’s Day gift, my son and girlfriend had taken us out to dinner.  As we sat at an outdoor courtyard under the trees of an old inn, I was asked to speak of my father.  Unusually for me, I was a bit lost for words, except to say he was a wonderful father, the best I could have hoped for and how close we were.  At the back of my mind, I saw a photograph I love of him pushing in a stroller the son who sat to my left when he was very young.  It was taken on the street outside the inn where we were dining, right behind my back.

Shortly after the bear had come to visit us, still amazed, we went for a long walk, and when we returned, there was a video on the computer from our son to whom I had earlier sent the article about his grandfather. In January, our son had moved back to town with his girlfriend after ten years living down south.  They had bought a house about a mile away near the lake and woods where we had just walked.  The same bear had walked through the woods adjacent to our walk, pushed over the fence around their large yard, and was in their yard eyeing their bird feeder.  My son couldn’t tell if the bear was whistling because his dogs were barking too loud.

But I heard my father laughing at the message he had sent.

I recalled how his letters that I had just read and written about were like mini-short stories, akin to a father sitting beside a child’s bed and telling him a goodnight tale.  They always ended on an up-note, no matter how serious what preceded.  He was a storyteller talking to an adult son, just as in my childhood he would tell me bed-time improvisations on the Pinocchio story, tales of lies and deceptions and bad actors.  Those stories had to have an edge to them, a bit of a question mark, just as his letters are peppered with the phrase quien sabe (who knows?).

Those letters came through the mail.

The latest message came by bear. That I know.

Quien sabe?

You?

The Oppressed Have the Moral Right to Decide How Best to Resist Their Oppression

Question: Should people from the oppressor group tell the oppressed people how to conduct their resistance?

Should Jews tell Palestinians what form their resistance to Israeli oppression should take? During World War II should Germans have directed Jewish, Roma, Slavic resistance in the concentration camps?

Nowadays, should whites be telling Blacks how to resist systemic racism — a racism entrenched by segments (and maintained by a plurality) of White society?

I think not. That is why I have a problem, with a likeliest well-intentioned essay, “Racism: Another Crossroads.”

The writer identifies himself as a White male. He then immediately goes on the defensive: “Some people would immediately dismiss my opinion on that basis, but they would be wrong to because prejudice is wrong.”

To defend his opinions, he resorts to ad hominem by accusing dissenters of prejudice.

His opinion is that those who want to bring about change for the better should do so non-violently. He writes, “Mohandas Gandhi in India, was a exponent of non-violent resistance, which King enthusiastically took up. They met their oppressors with resistance but a resistance based in love of humanity, not the resistance of vengeance and hatred.”

In his book Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths: Civil Disobedience, Nonviolence, and Satyagraha in the Real World, Mark Shepherd emphasized,

It’s important for us to be clear about this: There is nothing passive about Gandhian nonviolent action.

Gandhi’s nonviolent action was not an evasive strategy nor a defensive one. Gandhi was always on the offensive. He believed in confronting his opponents aggressively, in such a way that they could not avoid dealing with him.

But wasn’t Gandhi’s nonviolent action designed to avoid violence? Yes and no. Gandhi steadfastly avoided violence toward his opponents. He did not avoid violence toward himself or his followers.

Gandhi said that the nonviolent activist, like any soldier, had to be ready to die for the cause. And in fact, during India’s struggle for independence, hundreds of Indians were killed by the British.

Gandhi and his non-violent resistance — Satyagraha — targets the oppressors for conversion from their violent ways. It is preposterous that the victims of oppression should be targeted to convert to non-violence under conditions of oppressor violence.

The essayist continues,

We are now at a crossroads once again … to tackle this … with intelligence, compassion and dignity to achieve a new era of cooperation and understanding through non-violent resolution. We can also choose to tackle this through violent insurrection, looting, rioting, vandalism and murder. While vengeful behaviour may be totally understandable, we must ask will it achieve a fairer and more just future? Or will it just perpetuate negative cycles?

… If we want a better future, a better world we need to achieve unity of purpose and mutual understanding. Resorting to the basest instincts of humanity will not elevate us to a better place, it will only bring more pain. This fight against racism must be won, but it can only be won by taking the higher ground and maintaining the dignity that all humans should aspire to.

Question: Why does the White male writer target the oppressed rather than the oppressors?

Why focus a call upon the oppressed for “intelligence, compassion and dignity to achieve a new era of cooperation and understanding through non-violent resolution”? Why describe the protests as “violent insurrection, looting, rioting, vandalism and murder”? There is an argument to be made that short of violent insurrection (a pleonasm, since is there a non-violent insurrection?) how else is a revolution in the system to be brought about? Elections? Please… such a response should cause one’s eyes to roll. The essayist ought also to have considered that much of the looting and destruction of private property was probably carried out by agents provocateurs.

With all due respect, has the non-violence preached by any of its proponents achieved racial equality for the Blacks in the US? Yes, every one regardless of melanin production can be seated anywhere on the buses. It is even possible to star as the captain in a Star Trek series. But in the real world can Blacks walk the streets without fear of being subjected to a stop-and-search? Are Blacks accorded respect and partiality in the economic life of the United States (Canada, Australia, and Europe)? Are they treated fairly by the justice system, the penitentiary system, and the gendarmerie? Or are Blacks, by and large, still oppressed today?

Yet the essayist writes of the protestors, “Resorting to the basest instincts of humanity will not elevate us to a better place, it will only bring more pain.”

Who is “us”? And more pain for who? The oppressed are already in pain.

As for the “basest instincts of humanity”? Really? What could be baser than one group of humans oppressing another group of humans? Yet to inversely chide the resistance as being as base as their oppressors for the temerity to resist that oppression is morally unhinged.

I agree 100% with the essayist that the “fight against racism must be won.” But I disagree that “it can only be won by taking the higher ground and maintaining the dignity that all humans should aspire to.” The higher ground belongs to the resistance by default. “[M]aintaining dignity”? The dignity of resistance was quintessentially captured by the anarchist revolutionary Emiliano Zapata when he said: “I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.” It is a sentiment that Gandhi would also agree with (Shepherd writes about what Gandhi “described as the coward’s way: to accept the wrong or run away from it.”).

In a previous essay I argued,

First a given: there can be no resistance unless there is something to resist against. There can be no anti-occupation resistance if there is no occupation, and there can be no resistance against oppression if there is no oppression. It is a simple logic that eludes many people. That it eludes many people (and almost all of the corporate media) is demonstrable by noting the outcry whenever a resistance uses violence: Those evil, soulless terrorists harming other people — and they do it without reason. Well, there is a reason, although the corporate media refuses to divulge it. Occupation/oppression is violent, and it gives rise to resistance. There would be no violence were it not for the violence of occupation and oppression. There is no chicken and egg here. It is obvious that the sole target of vehemence should be the occupation/oppression that induces the resistance, for without the occupation/oppression and the violence that perpetuates it, there would be no violent resistance. Ergo, resistance (whether non-violent or violent) seeks to end violence by defeating an occupation/oppression.

In another essay, “Progressivist Principles and Resistance,” I wrote:

As a principle, resistance to oppression must be an inalienable right no matter what the type of resistance it may be. Blame for any violent resistance must never be laid on the oppressed but rather on the oppressor because oppression in itself is violent and when one suffers violence then violent resistance becomes justified as self-defense.

This is akin to “fighting fire with fire.” Uncontrolled fire can wreak great devastation, but few would object when a large fire is lit to snuff out what might be a more calamitous fire. Why, then, should people object when a violent resistance brings to an end a violent oppression? Peace can only reign when an oppression has been halted. Certainly, it would not be preferable for the violent oppression to continue in the face of pacifist resistance?

Therefore, as a second principle, a resistance movement must never incur greater limitation in tactics than an oppressor uses. To limit a resistance more than an oppressor would be morally anathema. The logical proof is easily verifiable since the cause of the violence is the morally reprehensible oppression; without oppression there could be no resistance. In the case of an occupation/oppression, an entire population is targeted – both civilian and military. In a morally just intellectual space, a military field should never be supported or tilted in favor of the oppressor. Intellectually, if not morally, the entire population of the oppressor could be considered a legitimate target; this writer would, however, recoil at targeting children, elders, and women…

It also follows that an oppressed people must be granted an equivalency in tactics and targets that is beyond moral condemnation, again because there would be no violent resistance were it not for the oppression and violence wreaked upon the resisting people. Ergo, the blame for any violent resistance belongs to the oppressor – not to the resistance.

Conclusion

To summarize briefly:

  1. 1) it is not up to a member of the oppressor group, despite being a dissenting member, to dictate to an oppressed group what form the road to liberation may or may not take;
  2. 2) all the impetus for a resistance and the responsibility for the tactics of a resistance lie with the oppressor;
  3. 3) consequently, a resistance should never have a hand tied behind its back.

Interview Most Foul

Imagine this: A so-called presidential historian for a major television network publishes an interview in the most famous newspaper in the world with the most famous singer/songwriter in the world, who has recently written an explosive song accusing the U.S. government of a conspiracy in the assassination of the most famous modern American president, and the interviewer never asks the singer about the specific allegations in his song except to ask him if he was surprised that the song reached number one on the Billboard hit list and other musical and cultural references that have nothing to do with the assassination.

Imagine no more. For that is exactly what Douglas Brinkley, CNN’s presidential historian, has just done with his June 12, 2020 interview with Bob Dylan in the New York Times. The interview makes emphatically clear that Brinkley is not in the least interested in what Dylan has to say about the assassination of the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, whose murder most foul marks in the most profound way possible the devolution of the U.S. into the cesspool it has become. Brinkley has another agenda.

He introduces the interview by sketching in his relationship with Dylan and tells us that he therefore felt “comfortable” reaching out to him in April after Dylan had released his song about the JFK assassination, “Murder Most Foul.”  He conveniently links to a New York Times piece by John Pareles wherein Pareles writes about the surprise song release, “The assassination of John F. Kennedy is its core and central trauma — “the soul of a nation been torn away/and it’s beginnin’ to go into a slow decay” — while Dylan tries to find answers, or at least clues, in music.”

That is simply false – for Dylan emphatically does not try to find answers or clues to JFK’s murder, but boldly states his answer. If you listen to his piercing voice and follow the lyrics closely, you might be startled to be told, not from someone who can be dismissed as some sort of disgruntled “conspiracy nut,” but by the most famous musician in the world, that there was a government conspiracy to kill JFK, that Oswald didn’t do it, and that the killers then went for the president’s brothers.

But neither Pareles or the presidential historian interviewer Brinkley has any interest in Dylan’s answer.  As I wrote five days after the song’s release, it was already clear that the corporate media were in the process of diverting readers from the core of Dylan’s message.

While the song’s release has garnered massive publicity from the mainstream media, it hasn’t taken long for that media to bury the truth of his words about the assassination under a spectacle of verbiage meant to damn with faint praise. As the media in a celebrity culture of the spectacle tend to do, the emphasis on the song’s pop cultural references is their focus, with platitudes about the assassination and “conspiracy theories,” as well as various shameful and gratuitous digs at Dylan for being weird, obsessed, or old. As the song says, “they killed him once and they killed him twice,” so now they can kill him a third time, and then a fourth ad infinitum. And now the messenger of the very bad news must be dispatched along with the dead president.

Brinkley continues this coverup under the guise of promoting Dylan’s upcoming album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, while showing his appreciation for Dylan’s music and his genius and asking questions that emphasize cultural and musical allusions in the new album, and making certain to not allow Dylan’s explosive message any breathing room.

Here is Brinkley’s opening question, the only semi-direct one the presidential historian deems worthy of asking about “Murder Most Foul” and the assassination of an American president.  This question opens the interview and shuts the door on further inquiry.  It is a ridiculous question as well:

Was “Murder Most Foul” written as a nostalgic eulogy for a long-lost time?

To which Dylan responds:

To me it’s not nostalgic. I don’t think of “Murder Most Foul” as a glorification of the past or some kind of send-off to a lost age. It speaks to me in the moment. It always did, especially when I was writing the lyrics out.

Could Brinkley really think he was asking a serious question?  Nostalgia?  What, for a brutal assassination, as Dylan describes it:

Being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb

….

Shot down like a dog in broad daylight

….

The day that they blew out the brains of the king
Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing

No, the presidential historian knew the question wasn’t serious. Did he think Dylan was nostalgic for the bloody murder of a man he calls the king, as he sings the part of Hamlet sending his midnight message of truth and revenge to JFK’s ghost? Of course not. Brinkley was doing what all the mainstream corporate media do: Making sure the truth was hidden behind a stream of pop cultural references and questions that would appeal to the New York Times’ aging readers who are nostalgic for their youth as they contemplate old age and death.

When Dylan answers one of his questions about his recent song, “I Contain Multitudes,” by saying “it is trance writing,” he uses a word that applies to this New York Times’ interview.  It is a trance-inducing interview meant to do what the Times has been doing for nearly six decades: obfuscating the truth about the murder of President Kennedy by the national security state led by the CIA. The same CIA that has always found a most receptive mouthpiece in the Times.

This interview, that begins with a witless question about nostalgia, ends with the question all the aging baby boomer Times’ readers were waiting to hear Brinkley ask Dylan:

How is your health holding up? You seem to be fit as a fiddle. How do you keep mind and body working together in unison?

From nostalgia to health more or less sums up this interview.

Murder be damned – even when Dylan’s song that initiated this interview, “Murder Most Foul,” truly startles and is a redemptive song. For Dylan holds the mirror up for us. He unlocks the door to the painful and sickening truth of JFK’s assassination. He shoves the listener in, and, as he writes in Chronicles, “your head has to go into a different place. Sometimes it takes a certain somebody to make you realize it.”

Bob is that certain somebody.

“What is the truth and where did it go?” he asks.

Brinkley asks other questions to take your head to places where you won’t see a thing.  It’s quite a magic trick.

Mortality

Travesty or Tragedy?

I have often wondered what the world would have been like if the USA had lost 20% of its population (like the Soviet Union in WWII or Salvador and Guatemala at US hands) in any one of its endless wars?

I do not wonder that if one now searches for web entries on deaths in Africa, figures caused by starvation, political-economic terror and the lack of basic infrastructure (despite 70 years of “Western aid”) and other diseases, nothing appears before COVID-19.

There is profuse interest in wherever Americans are (although one could understand were the rest of the world indifferent). The idea that the most wasteful population on the planet might be brought to a standstill — perhaps even releasing resources for the rest of the world — has some attraction. Is it merely impolite to ignore the “suffering” of the self-important imperialists?

Or perhaps this suffering is really feigned, like that when a few superfluous office buildings were spectacularly demolished for fun and profit?

The recent stories retroactively “reclassifying” influenza certificates are no less disingenuous. Should revised “corona” statistics be trusted any more than the unemployment statistics, the regularly altered “basket” used for the Cost of Living Index, the numbers of deaths reported in US theaters of war, or the tax returns of  Fortune 500 conglomerates?

There is a potential for unprecedented change if the humane imagination can grasp a world entirely devoid of the Anglo-American Empire. Yet the image that comes to my mind is Géricault’s “The Wreck of the Medusa.”

However, I fear that the supposed gravity of illness in the USA is as contrived as the allegations made against China. This does not mean there are no deaths, just that they amount to no more than the count of bloody ears after a pacification job.

Were this a true pandemic, the USA would be the least important concern for rest of world — except to send all their green and tan clad vermin back to their nest.

The US regime is not only the leading producer and user of weapons of mass destruction, they lead with other WMDs: mass distraction and mass deception.

The apparently overwhelming volume and variety of data and contradictory or partial information in circulation masks the political and economic issues with the beloved, seductive but ultimately deceptive gauze of pluralism.

While the whole world’s attention is focused on the fevers of white folks, the piracy, brigandry and murder continues unabated.

Water, water every where,
and all the boards did shrink,
water, water every where
nor any drop to drink.1

  1. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, First published in Lyrical Ballads, First Edition, 1798.

Down and Out in Portland: Retired in Style in Waldport, OR

The irony of this quote from the Dustin Hoffman movie, The Graduate, is not wasted on Duane Snider:

— One word: plastics.

That was Benjamin Braddock, just graduated from college, sitting in a swimming pool. Giving him advice on gaining the American dream, the neighbor’s statement says it all. Today? Hedge funds? Flipping houses? Coronavirus repossessions?

For Duane, that one word: artwork.

Duane as a child with his only sibling.

We’re sitting on the back porch of his brand-new Adair home on a third of an acre on the high land of Waldport. He and his wife Linda are proverbially happy, fat and sassy in this new iteration of their lives.

He went to Benson high school, when it was an all-male segregated school. It was during the Viet Nam, at the height of the draft.

Just a few weeks earlier, Duane and I ran into each other on the beach near the Alsea River emptying out into the Pacific. Loons and eaglets started the conversation, and quickly Duane recognized me by my by-line for this newspaper. He had purchased a piece of art from one of the people I have featured in a Deep Dive column for Oregon Coast Today – Anja Albosta, artist and environmental refugee from Yosemite  see Dec. 16, 2019, “Art in a changing climate”).

Duane’s 68,  and his wife — originally from Sonora, CA — is 67. Duane’s work life is quintessential drudgery millions of Americans called working stiffs have face. In his case, 39 years working at one place, grinding optics for an optical service in Portland. It was for Duane 20 years in a hostile work environment where his boss bullied him. There was no real upside to the job — a repetitive job tracing lenses and frames and low pay.

He conveys to me that for more than a decade was highly depressed, even suicidal.

I could see the Ross Island bridge. Daily, I would look out the window and fantasize jumping off it. Even planning out in my mind how I’d have to aim my fall just right as to hit the bike path just to be sure.

Alcohol and drug abuse were a big part of his life, but to his credit Duane’s been clean in sober going on three decades. His addiction to substances was eclipsed by another addiction – art collecting. He’s been a fixture in Portland’s art scene for decades —  a gallery gadfly, and someone who ended up with smart and strategic ways of appreciating art and purchasing it.

He’s a veritable encyclopedia of Who’s Who of the Oregon art world.

It’s not so unusual Duane would have gained this proclivity for art appreciation and deep regard for art’s role in society as something bigger than commerce, industry and day-to-day drudgery of commercialism.

When he was a youngster, he studied guitar. He was good enough to end up switching over to classical guitar in the style of Andres Segovia. He’s taken a master class from the best – Christopher Parkening. That was 1975.

I knew I was going to have to take a vow of poverty if I was going to try and pursue being a musician.

Duane’s father was a union baker and not very involved in the boy’s life. For the just-turned-18-year-old Duane, his cohorts were going to be drafted but he was talked into enlisting. “A friend said the Navy, since it wasn’t the Army. Anything but the Army. But that was nuclear submarine duty and I was claustrophobic. There was no way I was going on a submarine.” Instead, he ended up in the Air Force. He even tried the conscientious objector route.

Military life was short-lived when he was drummed out as a 4-f. They found traces of codeine in his drug test. “Ironically, I had done all sorts of party drugs.” It wasn’t the LSD he dropped they discovered, but the codeine the psychedelic from which it was titrated.

Music Out, Optics In

If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past.

Everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare.

― Baruch Spinoza

He was homeless for a few months. Coming back from Lackland AFB, Duane ended up working with the crippled children’s division of OHSU. He took a second master guitar class at Berkeley. “I knew poverty was going to be a regular part of my life. I wasn’t that good. I took classes with trust fund babies. Money wasn’t an issue for them.”

Here’s where things really get prescient – “I had a poster of Picasso’s Old Guitarist on my apartment wall in Portland. I was studying with extraordinary musicians. I wasn’t about to spend 10 or 15 years in poverty.”

The Old Guitarist was painted in 1903, just after the suicide death of Picasso’s close friend, Casagemas. Picasso was deeply sympathetic to the plight of the disenfranchised and downtrodden. He painted many canvases depicting the poor, sick, and outcasts of society. In fact, Picasso was penniless during 1902.

It’s an amazing painting in the style of El Greco. That moment for Duane Snider turned into a life passion – sacrificing part of his soul in that daily grind in order to enter another world: one that was rarefied, filled with the passions and creativity of artists just like Pablo Picasso. Except his art ersatz it was Portland based.

When he returned from Berkeley, he ended up in a friend’s parents’ house. He applied to Portland Community College, talked to a counselor, told her he wanted to find a steady job, one that was reliable. “I wanted something recession and depression proof. Optician fit the bill.” He ended up taking psychology and philosophy classes awaiting the term to start for his major.

He grabbed a job at a lab his second term. He parlayed that into a full-time gig at Columbian Bifocal. The first 20 years it was a family run place, and the last 19 years it ended up as one of 17 labs for Hoya, a Japanese investment group.

Good benefits, steady work, and a bully boss. “We hated each other. It’s amazing I survived.”

He hands me a DVD of an Oregon Public Broadcasting special featuring Portland art collectors. Duane is profiled. He laughs, recalling how he had read about the great philosopher Spinoza’s life as a lens grinder. What was good for the father of rationalist and deductive reasoning had to be fine for Duane Snider’s life.

Not so ironically, the dust from lens grinding led to Spinoza’s early death from tuberculosis.

The amazing number of artists Duane has met propelled him to write essays on art for a local art rag – NW Drizzle. Here’s what he penned in 2005, as he emphasizes he was “just coming out of a four-year bout of suicidal depression.”

When I gave up the guitar, I couldn’t give up my need for a place to put my passion. It seems natural that my passion migrated toward the visual arts. Giving up playing music meant letting go of a sizable part of what I thought was my identity. My search for a new sense of self played a major role in pushing me toward the idea of collecting.

That’s when I started learning that the real value of art is not determined by the price on the sticker, but by the strength of the connection between the viewer and the object of interest.

Deeper Dive in the Mind of a Collector

Early-20th-century philosopher Irwin Edman gives a remarkably simple bit of insight into what art offers us in everyday life:

Painters speak of dead spots in a painting: areas where the color is wan or uninteresting, or the forms irrelevant and cold. Life is full of dead spots. Art gives it life. A comprehensive art would render the whole of life alive.

Duane Snider is the embodiment of turning life into his own art project:

“Instead of using pigments and a canvas to make an artwork, I told myself that I would turn my life into a conceptual art piece to create a lifestyle that’s sustainable and comfortable,” tells me twice: once on the beach on our first meeting in Waldport and then up at his new 1,900 square foot single level home.

The beauty of my own life-force is I get to get under people’s layers, follow the act of serendipity, and then sculpt with words conceptualized, philosophized narrative. Story.

In the middle of a beach with harbor seals sunning along their haul out on Bay Shore, two very different guys run into each other and start a deep conversation. I am a radical social worker and revolutionary writer (some couldn’t tell that from my regular gigs as a newspaper and magazine) and educator. Marxism is more than just a conceptual point in economic history for me.

Here is Duane Snider, saying he too is a Marxist, but emphasizing he was dealt a hand of capitalism’s cards, so he successfully learned to play the game within those constraints. He tells me he feels guilty for getting he and his wife Linda down here on the coast with zero debts and a custom home that is paid off.

I reassure him that he is kosher with me, and no one should begrudge he or his wife this little slice of paradise.

The dream in Waldport was germinated 36 years ago. They purchased a home in Portland (Richmond District) for $48,000. That was 1984. Thirty-two years later they pulled up stakes in Portland with a $517,000 sale price. No permanent lines of credit needed. He even got their nest egg out of the market and put into cash two years ago. “I saw this coming.”

He didn’t predict the SARS-CV-2 virus outbreak, but he did see a faltering Stock Market.

“He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.”

His tutelage in art began at a most unlikely place – Menucha which was an estate created by the Meiers of the Portland department store fame. Near Corbet in the Columbia Gorge, Menucha (Hebrew for rebuilding, restoring and renewing) hosted camps for youth.

 

According to the website: “In 1950, First Presbyterian Church of Portland purchased the property from the Meier family, who were pleased to see it dedicated as an ecumenical center, a gift in perpetuity to communities of people from around the world.”

Duane began collecting art before he ended up  buying the Portland house. The art bug drilled into his consciousness when in 1967 he went to a high school arts camp at Menucha. His parents always took off for Reno and Vegas during summer vacations, and they opted to put the young Duane in a summer camp.

That was serendipitous.  He told me that he had never been to an art gallery until after high school. He met Jackie West who ran Graystone Gallery in the Hawthorne District. “I went inside and I was looking around the half gallery/half store. It was an old house. Actually, it became part of the Oregon Potters Association. My eyes landed on this water color. It was as if time stopped.”

He ended up purchasing his first piece, a hyper-realistic water color of an iris by Kirk Lybecker.

Duane emails me a couple of his essays in NW Drizzle – “Embarking on a journey of discovery: The life-affirming qualities of art” & “Art’s true value: Aesthetics vs. commerce.” In his essays he reiterates how art came to save him and how collecting became a true emotional and spiritual line to the artist, to the art. Here is one  passage:

The gallery from which I bought my first artwork made the sale because the gallery owner made an effort to make the pricing and sales process as transparent as possible. She gave me a short but thorough explanation on how galleries set prices. She explained that great art comes in all price ranges, as does mediocre art. That’s when I started learning that the real value of art is not determined by the price on the sticker, but by the strength of the connection between the viewer and the object of interest.

He launches into several iterations of how art —  the actual object — is more than what it is in your hand or on the wall; that it is something that “holds great value for us as individuals and for all cultures of the world.”

Red is the Color of Egalitarianism

Duane and I talk about the friction and dichotomy  between the high-highfalutin rich “patron of the arts” and the middle-class view of art – we need the rich folks to support the arts, but we also need to invest in regular people getting original artwork in their homes. “Conceptually, I am a Marxist working in a capitalist system.”

That means he wishes our society from top to bottom was more egalitarian.

Duane Snider has no angst when it comes to what a thinker like Michael Parenti might say about capitalism: “It’s the powerful who write the laws of the world– and the powerful who ignore these laws when expediency dictates.”

We met the first time during a voluntary social distancing because of the cornonavirus, and then shortly afterward when the state of Oregon pushed more draconian measures to shut down business, interactions, meetings, and public gatherings.

Then we shift to all the artists he knows, has known and will know. He has over 200 works of art in his home, most of them on display. I had to look through some of the windows from the outside to view many fine works on the couple’s walls.

His goal is to have the collection donated to a non-profit like Art in Oregon, whose motto is “building bridges between artists and communities.” The engine there is to get businesses to purchase and show art, and for there to be that bridge between the artist and the community.

Duane is less an enigma than he is kind of Every-man. He puts on several hats – he knows most of the gallery owners in Portland, is friends with the director of the Portland Art Museum, spent time with Dennis Hopper and Danny Glover, and finds solace watching a warbler feed from his new backyard.

“I connect with anyone who knows what arts is. We need to get young people into discovering our unique art. Unfortunately, unique objects are under threat in the digital age.”

He repeats how he played the hand that was dealt him. He came from a working-class family. He himself was poor and homeless for a time. He learned the value of art through “figuring out the game you have to play to survive, to be comfortable.”

No contradictions there, and Duane Snider would smile at one of Karl Marx’s doozies: “The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs.”

Q & A in a Nutshell

Paul: Why have the world’s super powers and despotic regimes always deployed the bombing of museums, cultural landmarks, and looting the arts and important symbols of a country’s artistic and historical (archaeological) output?

Duane: The easiest way to destroy a society or a culture is to destroy its art treasures.  When you take that away, you take away their history and sense of identity.  Also, historically, art has huge inherent value because of its ability to offer meaning to people beyond those of the culture that produced it. Also, unique and rare art objects that are considered beautiful and meaningful are valuable because they are rare or unique.

Paul: Riff with this — “So here we are in the 21st century. The forward march of labour ended some time ago. How do today’s artists portray poverty? Interesting question – for perhaps wealth has never been more raw and obvious in the art world. This is the age of the diamond skull. Compared with the compassion of a Caravaggio or Van Gogh, contemporary art really does seem to take the rich collector’s view on life. Where’s our Luke Fildes? For images of economic injustice in today’s art you probably have to look outside the gallery world.”

Duane: In general, most artist don’t even address the issue in today’s market.  Social commentary is more aligned with journalism and documentary efforts.  Much of the art market doesn’t want art that shines a light on social inequities of the darker side of our culture.  There are huge exceptions of course in museum installations and high-end art by big named artists, and there is a lot of art that is beautiful, but not pretty that skirts around the big issues but doesn’t show up in fine art galleries.  Photography is the most common place to find imagery of social injustice because of the connection to journalism.  The sad fact is that most art is a commodity and with that comes the necessity for broad acceptance of work for it to be marketable.  How many Diego Rivera’s do you see out there these days?

Paul:. If you could do your youth and high school years over again, would you? Yes, why and how? No, why?

Duane: When I was in my forties and fifties, I wished I could have changed a few things, but now, not so much.  I suffered some in getting here, but it turned out well enough that there is little I am not grateful for, on a personal level.  I am comfortable and largely free of any feelings of guilt.  What should I change? I don’t know.

Paul: Tell the average consumer and retail-loving American why art is valuable to them and to our society especially now in 2020?

Duane: Art is one of the last places we have where we can freely explore our identities and the meaning of the lives we inhabit, where we can express ourselves in simply possessing and object or identifying with a performance experience.  Art offers insight into who we are, how we are unique, and what we believe in.  Art gives us context for understanding the content of our lives.  How do you put a dollar value on that?  For way too many Americans, money is what they look to for those answers.   What a shallow existence that is.

End Notes — I talk with Duane a lot, and I have met him a few times on the beaches near Waldport. He and I have this sort of “out on our own Covid-19” relationship. We talk long and hard about the failure of capitalism. The failure of Western nations to move aside and not only give back what they’ve stolen but for complete reparations.

The quandary is I work three gigs. I lost $39K in a measly retirement account because of the perverted whims of the masters of finance on Wall Street. That chunk is a huge push back on my life.

My spouse is out of work because of despicable management in her job that laughed at the idea of washing hands and who constantly berated my spouse, who is a professional with 20 years in her field.

We have tried for more than 8 weeks to get her unemployment — she’s worked like since she was 14 years old, paying into this muck. The state of Oregon is a joke. Those Zoom motherfucking meet-ups by politicians at the state level and locally are what I can only characterize as infantile, disconnected to real struggle, and bizarre.

Duane Snider won’t disagree, and he repeats how he feels guilty for setting himself up with a paid-for-home and some money in the bank and his social security, along with his wife’s.

I assure him that his sacrifice in life — working 39 years hating the job, hating himself for some of that time, and his deep depression larger issues with substance abuse, well, man, he respects artists, and he wants art to be shared by the masses.

He is quick to deride the “business of the art world,” where the artists are literally screwed and art is a trading commodity. He loves each piece he has, and we go over each one. He knows the artist for each piece and for those he purchased at openings, he spent time talking with each artist.

Pieces he bought in group shows, he went ahead an hunted down the artist. He touches the images with his vision, his heart and his intellect.

Capitalism destroys people, and sometimes eat eats at the soul and sets a course of disengagement, resentment and a dog-eat-dog retribution. It creates people who say, “I have mine, and screw everybody else.” It is a violent system — just the act of sending in Sheriff deputies to homes, parading the evicted and foreclosed upon citizens to the squad car, well, what sort of violence does that breed? What sort of lived and relived trauma will that have not only on the parents but the children?

That mentality is seeped in all of them at the proverbial top — Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Trump, Obama, the entire lot of them.

Imagine how many presidents have failed to pardon Leonard Peltier? Thinks of the structural violence of bailing out banks and Wall Street while taking SNAP away from families. Imagine a society where people have no health care, and the shit coverage they have is so violently mean and expensive, they opt not to go to the for-profit hell that is modern US medicine.

Duane is all there, in the fight in heart and mind. I see his artwork addiction has both magnificent and something deep inside, where he is finding some landing pad for his emotions, and all those years where he was about to jump off the Ross Island bridge.

I wonder if he’ll ever get that image from Portland — maybe I’ll head out from the coast to my old stomping grounds and shoot it and mess around in Photoshop and give it to him before more evolution unfolds in each other’s lives.

That’s communism — no expectations for the things given, and no bullshit competition to trade up whether it is material things or ideas and discourse.

Duane’s learned the lexicon of Marxism and has played his cards in a mean as cuss Capitalist system. I repeat that good commie’s love their wine, their music, food and art. Not as a bourgeoisie thing, but as a tribute to the enduring nature of struggle and persistence, even in the most horrific gulags and dungeons.

 

The Art of War in the 21st Century

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War1 is one of the most influential books written on military strategy and philosophy. This is not confined to just Asians but Europeans and Americans alike have attempted to study The Art of War hoping its wisdom would be revealed to them.

However, it is clear with how the western intergovernmental military alliance, known as NATO, has chosen to conduct itself since its inception in 1949, that western understanding of long-term military strategy has left much to be desired.

The largest folly they continue to commit is that they think that it is through stubborn force and intimidation that one gets their way. True one may be successful to a certain extent using mainly force, one may achieve that assassination of a key figure, one may convince the people that their ally is their foe, and one may get that regime-change they were hoping for, but these have all proven themselves temporary orientations in the long-term scheme of things. One reason for this is that the truth almost always eventually comes out

It is a very tiring strategy one has to admit, to be always using stubborn force, and despite all this force that one is constantly applying to the subject they wish to bend it never quite behaves as one commands it to, at least not for very long.

Despite this strategy being the most inefficient and energy intensive, that has not deterred imperialists from mulishly using it over and over again. The world has been an unbending subject to such a strategy since Churchill’s announcement of the Iron Curtain in 1946. That is, the world has been subject to an ongoing cold war for 74 years.

However, this seemingly never ending war has been a complete failure.

Russia, China and India are much stronger in every way than they were in 1946, despite all efforts to prevent this, and have become veritable leaders in the world. The world population in 1946 was roughly 2.5 billion people. No doubt there was the thought that if war continued as it did during WWII (which caused roughly 85 million deaths), that with a few more rounds of those kind of numbers, the ‘subject lands’ would be nicely culled and obedient to their masters. Instead we have seen the world population increase to 7.8 billion people, most of this growth occurring in the so-called ‘subject lands’.

Despite all the havoc and destruction, force has most clearly shown itself not to be the most powerful tool in weakening the ‘enemy’.

So what went wrong with a military strategy that seemed impossible to lose?

You must know yourself before you can know the ‘enemy’

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
– Sun Tzu

Despite the ridiculous amount of money that has been poured into the beast-man, otherwise known as the military industrial complex, the west is increasingly finding itself growing weaker and weaker against its said ‘enemy’.

So what are the ‘good guys’ doing wrong?

Ironically, while the west has been obsessively fantasising over all the things they relish doing to Russia and China when they have finally won this war, Russia and China have decided to actually focus on cooperation and the improvement of their nation states.

In other words, it is because Russia and China HAVE NOT been focused on war as their ultimate priority that their countries have been able to flourish and are prospering.

Here is an example.

Many in the west put anything to do with space, that is, the universe we live in, as the lowest priority on their list and I do mean lowest. There is more excitement and media coverage over a guy who broke the Guinness book of records for how many hot dogs he ate than astronauts going into space.

While the United States has been focused on tearing down its space program, Russia, China and India have been doing the very opposite. If you think the U.S. still has the best space program and will always be best, you may not be aware that American astronauts need to use Soyuz (Russian) rockets to go into space because the Americans shut down their own shuttle program in 2011.

While the U.S. State Department along with European nations, such as Britain, continue to mount a dangerous level of aggression against Russia, American and European astronauts need to fly to Russia so that they can ride in Russian Soyuz rockets to get to the International Space Station.

How boorish and ungracious is that?

That at the same time that there is hardly anything nice ever said about Russia by western politicians and press, these same countries then take for granted what Russia is doing in supporting their space programs. To showcase the grace of the Russians in all of this, Soyuz means ‘union’, and the Russians most evidently see this as a union not just for Russians but an international union.

In addition, the United States has banned any cooperation between American and Chinese astronauts and consequentially banned China from using the International Space Station, which ironically will be shut down by 2024. It was under Barack Obama’s presidency that this ban was implemented in 2011. The Chinese are planning on building a space station before the ISS is obsolete. And I think it is safe to say they will be open to American astronauts boarding their space station, in light of the fact that they have kept an open invitation to the U.S. to join the AIIB and the Belt and Road Initiative.

As a consequence to all the accomplishments Russia and China are making with their space programs, a wave of optimism for the future has swept their populace. Just ask anyone living in these countries what they think of their cosmonauts and taikonauts and they will all tell you the same, that they are heroes and a symbol for hope. When was the last time we in the west felt genuine optimism and hope?

This is a very indicative example of how the west’s priorities have caused themselves to look increasingly inconsequential on the world stage. They have viewed themselves as number one for so long that they really cannot fathom that this could ever change, despite it glaringly staring them in the face. The world is moving forward, no matter how much one beats their chest and stamps their foot, and the longer the tantrum the more time lost and the further back in the line one finds themself.

Increasingly the judge for success on the world stage in the 21st century, has not been shaped by the size of one’s military but rather on the growth of industry and science driver programs.

Warfare in the 21st Century

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the pinnacle of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the pinnacle of skill.
– Sun Tzu

There a many different forms of warfare, but namely there is warfare that exists in the physical domain of aggression vs defense and warfare that exists in the mental domain of ideas.

The majority of tyrants from the ancient times to present day, have always had a network of powerful people behind them (whether they were aware of it or not) that opened up a path for them to sit on the throne so to speak. For example, we now know that there was a very direct support of Hitler coming from the Bank of England amongst other very influential institutions. That is, Hitler did not arise to power ‘naturally’ or by his mere merit.

The desperation of that economic environment in Germany was predictably formulated as a direct consequence of the Treaty of Versailles which was essentially a death sentence to the German people. And Hitler who had started to make a small name for himself was selected and endorsed as the ‘face’ of what had already been decided would be the fate of Germany.

Wars have almost always been the result of funding and organising from powerful groups with geopolitical interests, often of empire, who create an environment of disinformation and desperation amongst the people through economic and military warfare along with color revolutions.

However, once there was the creation of nuclear bombs, geopolitical warfare was changed forever.

Though we still use much of the same old strategies today, war is ever more located on the plane of ideas, and along with this the ever increasing focus on the manipulation of information and the populace’s perspective of who is good and who is bad.

The war that needs to be fought against the present tyranny is thus increasingly a mental war. In the case of the populace, all together they hold more power than they realise. The real crisis of today’s western thinking is that the people have forgotten how to think. Attention spans have gone down drastically along with a functional vocabulary. People are becoming more and more dominated by image based messages rather than content that requires more than a 10 minute attention span. Articles in the news keep getting shorter and shorter because people seemingly cannot be bothered with too much reading. Along with the serious decline in reading in replacement for quick entertainment (more successful than any book burning in history), people no longer bother to work for a comprehensive viewpoint. Information becomes an annoying barrage of ad campaigns, each yelling louder and more frequently than the other.

The solutions to our problems such as the oncoming economic collapse (in case you haven’t noticed we are doing everything the same as pre-2008), have their solutions in what Russia and China are presenting. The initiation of war has almost always been presented as a false ‘necessity’, that is in response to the dominating geopolitical ‘balance’, which is basically meant to service the present system of empire, and the erroneous belief in zero sum game.

However, the idea that humans exist in a zero sum game, doomed to battle forever over a diminishing return of resources, was disproven time and again in modern history through the application of successful principles of national political economy. Notable examples of which include Colbert’s dirigisme of France’s 17th century (later revived during the presidency of Charles De Gaulle), the Hamiltonian system of America as exemplified by Abraham Lincoln’s Greenbacks, FDR’s New Deal, and JFK’s space program as well as its most recent expression of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

This system understands that fast money is parasitical and acts in direct opposition to the long-term investments required for projects that will revolutionise a nation’s infrastructure, including science-driver programs.

That debt for such long-term projects is not qualitatively the same as the present debt we see accruing today, and that debt towards investing for the future will always yield a higher return than the cost over time. This is why debt towards long-term investment on infrastructure and science driver projects, such as space exploration, will always be sustainable with a massive return quantitatively and qualitatively. Whereas, the gambling of fast money will very predictably lead to a collapse as was clearly indicated by the 2008 financial crisis, and which insanely has yet to be addressed with a serious bank reform.

The higher battle ground is being fought on the plane of ideas and which proposed ‘new system’ will replace the current collapsing one we are presently in. On the one side the hegemonic rule of a one world government who thinks that they can use force and oppression to rule and on the other side a multi-polar system of cooperating nation states committed to progress that will offer a real qualitative return for the future.

The 75th celebration of Elbe Day just occurred on April 25th, this is the day American and Russian soldiers met for the first time in WWII. Their handshake at Elbe River was a symbol for the end of the war against fascism and a strong comradery formed between these men who became united as defenders of liberty.

So who is the ‘enemy’?

The enemy is our lesser selves.

Our most base fears, desires and obsessions. The voice that whispers in our ears telling us not to believe in anything genuine or honest, that the world we live in will ultimately destroy itself and thus it is all about looking out for number one. That it is our fate to be the play things of higher powers.

This is the voice of a prisoner of Plato’s cave, neck shackled and looking at only shadows on a wall. This is not reality. This is the voice of someone who has been enslaved for most of their life. The voice of someone who has become so disempowered that they wholly accept whatever ugly condition is imposed upon them and will even work to defend it as necessary.

There is a way out of all of this, but you will have to become an optimist in order to see the solution.

President Putin has used The Art of War most skillfully and has shown that he not only knows himself but knows the said ‘enemy’. That it is not by force that one will win this drawn out war but by the ability to predict your opponents actions and circumvent them with something…positive.

And therefore, President Putin understands the most important lesson of all in this philosophy, that The Art of War is in fact The Art of Peace:

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

– Sun Tzu

  1. Fifth Century A.D.