Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What Does It All Mean?

Another night.  Another White Russian.  Lost count of how many I’ve had tonight.
          Lost count of how many random conversations I’ve had tonight.
          She left me hours ago.  She was sick and tired of my bullshit.  Hey, she’s the one who invited me out to this watering hole in the first place. 
          Somewhere in Bushwick.  Or is it Bed-Stuy?  Or is it some extension of Williamsburg?  Who cares.  It’s all gentrified North Brooklyn to me.  One thing I’ve learned about asking directions in Brooklyn—don’t do it.  Even the locals can’t give you a straight answer for “excuse me, how do I get from point A to point B?” 
          I forget the name of the dive.  All I know is that someone’s got Tom Waits on heavy rotation tonight.  I’m too shitfaced to make out the lyrics.  But I recognize that voice anywhere.  Sounds like Cookie Monster on Ketamine. 
          She gave me a handjob under the table.  Lucky me, I can keep a straight face, because damn that felt gooood.  But I was more interested in my Jack Daniels Sour than I was in the conversation we were having.
          How will I get home?  Honey, I’ve found my way home on larger quantities of alcohol and with a further commute.  A short L-train (assuming it’s functioning tonight) to 8th St. and then an A-train to Hamilton Heights—been there, smoked that.  Don’t worry about me, I’m alright.
          No, seriously.  You don’t need to call me a cab.  I got this monthly Metrocard, and I plan on squeezing every nickel out of it.  I’m good, I promise.
          I mean seriously.  Other than the fact that she flashed me her tits, what does she have going for her anyway?  Not a whole lot.  But it’s not like I have much going for me either.  I look like shit tonight; I look like I just crawled out of bed (which I did); and I pretty much couldn’t get laid in a brothel with a suitcase full of money.  So yeah, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with; I have no one I love, so this is as close as I will get.
Act 10:30pm (mezzo piano)
          “What does it all mean?”
          I don’t know where he came from.  I don’t remember him sidling up to me.  If I could choose any random bar patron to sit down next to me, he’d probably be one of my last choices. 
          He had a heavy pink face, like one of them old portrayals of Paul Bunyan from those picture books I used to love when I was a kid.  His hair was some grizzly mahogany that clashed with his orangish beard.  And for fuck’s sake, he was wearing coveralls and a red flannel shirt.  Who dresses him in the morning?
          What does it all mean?  He asked.  So I answered the only way I knew how to answer.
          “What does what all mean?”
          “You know, it!  What does it all mean?”
          Oh shit, there’s only one thing worse than a sentimental philosopher; and that is a sentimental philosopher on alcohol.   And he just had to plop himself next to me, a simple man who doesn’t even know what he’s doing in one hour, let in this incarnation.
          So I gave him the most honest answer I could provide given the circumstances:  “Nothing,” I spat as I took another swig of my Moscow Mule.
          Unflinchingly, he took a swig of whatever that bright red thing in a highball glass was.  I’m afraid to even ask what he ordered.
          “You never wondered why you are here?”
          “Nope.”  And that was the truth.  Truth be told, I couldn’t even tell you why I got out of bed this morning. 
          “What if I told you I know the secret: life, the universe, and the meaning of it all?”
          “Will it help me pay my rent this month?”  I asked
          “Rent?  What I’m going to tell you will last longer than your rent money and make you feel more fulfilled than you ever have in your life!”
          “Do me a favor and please tell my landlord how frivolous my rent money is.  If he doesn’t evict me for that, I’ll buy you another round of whatever that shit you’re drinking is.”
          “Cosmo on the rocks.  But that’s not important.  What I’m about to sell you will change your life forever.”
          Um, no.  I’m not taking advice from a man whose choice in potent potables comes from the Carrie Bradshaw School of Being an Insufferable Bourgeoisie Nag.
            I just twitched and said “well, I’ve already lived three different lives in 37 years.  So I’m pretty sure there’s almost nothing you can say to change my life forever.”
          He took another quick sip of his Cosmo. 
          “But I already have changed your life.  Look behind you.”
          The interior had changed.
          I was no longer in the dusty dive bar.
          Maybe he slipped something in my drink.  Or maybe the room was more colorful than I remembered it being.
          And who replaced Tom Waits’ voice with Enrico Macias? 

To be continued.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Very Uncomfortable Post for Comfortable Americans

Whose lives matter? 
This day in age, one cannot answer that question without making a political statement.  If I were to give an honest answer, I would surely be cashing in on my “liberal stripes.”  Surely, as a liberal, I must adhere to #blacklivesmatter.  And I do. 
Clearly, no matter how hard I try, I will never truly understand the struggle of being a person of color in America.  I have worked several jobs where I was the only Caucasian in the room.  I have as good as immersed myself in non-White America as one who was raised an upper-middle class Jewish American can. 
And yet, as the saying goes, When in Rome, no matter how much pasta I eat, I will only be a second-class citizen at best. 
But does that mean I shouldn’t try?  Does that mean I shouldn’t align myself with #BLM?  Absolutely not.
There are a few uncomfortable truths I would like to air out in this post.
1)     Yes, white privilege exists.  Anyone who disagrees is lying or in denial.  I have more than once experienced this.
How many times have I been in a group of black people, and people thought I was “the boss”, in charge, or some figure of authority thereof?  And in none of those situations did I explicitly state that I was any of the above.  People merely assumed that the white guy with the stiff posture who walks with a gusto must be the man.  Body language, sometimes unintentional, can be damning. 
I’ve been accused many times of being racist.  Sometimes it was “race baiting.”  A customer didn’t like the way I looked at her, so she assumed I must have a problem with black people.  It happens.  But most of the time, it was what we call microaggressions.  Little things that weren’t intended to be harmful, but still made me look like I was not comfortable being around black people.  For example, seeing a group of black teenagers conversing loudly and vibrantly, quickly walking the other way.  I wasn’t doing it to be racist, but it was obviously perceived as such.  Those who know me would know that wasn’t my intention; but those who didn’t would think I’m being like George Zimmerman. 
Yes, white privilege exists.  And it is the duty of all white people who aspire to have meaningful coexistence with black people to be aware of this. 
2)     White Guilt.  What is wrong with #AllLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, or anything else like that?

It’s that many people who espouse views like that have traditionally been using it for racist purposes.
What’s wrong with being proud to be white?  Nothing.  But bear in mind that if one searches for “White Pride” on Google, they will find plenty of websites supporting KKK, Neo-Nazis, et al. 
Some would suggest taking back whiteness.
I would say the climate is not ripe for that.  After all, it would be perceived as being an affront to #BLM.  It wouldn’t add to the conversation.  It would only further drive a wedge. 

I may not agree with absolutely everything that every member of #BLM says.  But I agree with the message at large.  That black people have been unfairly targeted for long enough.  Even in our day when slavery has been abolished, Jim Crow laws are mostly banned, even in our day when segregation is no longer de jure, it still happens on a de facto basis; and it needs to stop!

So now is not the time for white people to speak.  That would be akin to when Kanye stole the mike from Taylor Swift.  Sit down, listen, you’ll have your time, this isn’t it. 

3)     On the acceptability of casual racism. 

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, it’s that for many Americans, bigotry is okay as long as it’s not against your own group. 

I am astounded at how many Americans can turn the other way at Donald Trump’s many infractions.  And his campaign too.  There are too many to list right now, but anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave for the past year knows what I’m talking about.

I speak especially to my Jewish brethren.  Once upon a time, there were Americans who used the same rhetoric against the Jews that Trump uses against Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, et al.  There was a time that plenty of Americans associated Jews with communists, anarchists, Elders of Zion, and other pernicious stereotypes hellbent on unpending society as we know it.  Yes, there was a time that Jews were barred from the highest jobs in the country.  I’ve heard many stories about those days from my grandparents (and people their age).  Some of them still maintain a general mistrust of non-Jews because of those days. 

Don’t Do Unto Others….. not just a Christian concept.  Many world religions have a concept similar to this adage by Hillel.  There is a simple litmus test proposed by Abraham Foxman, founder of the ADL:  If you want to know if a statement is racist, make it about the Jews; if it now offends you, it is racist. 

Let’s try one on for size:  “We are going to deport every undocumented Jewish immigrant from this country.”  Or “When Israel sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

Catch my drift?

America has a long way to go before it fully embraces the dictum it was founded on, the dictum Jefferson said was self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator [whomever that may be] with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. 
Meanwhile, one cannot turn on the news without hearing of more atrocities being committed against peaceful protesters.  I cannot log onto my Facebook newsfeed without echoing the words of Ecclesiastes, all is vain. 
I cannot accept a world where people assume that because I am white, and because I sometimes slip up, that means I am on the wrong side of history.  And I have worked hard to eliminate my childhood biases from my system.  But I must accept that no matter how hard I try, I will never be fully accepted—not by either side of the spectrum.
I choose to stand with #blacklivesmatter.  I choose to stand with them because many people of color in America still have a very raw deal; and it needs to end. 

Uncomfortable as it is for me to state this, it must be said.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

In Memory of Gertrude "Gittel" Feuereisen Chanis

          Assorted memories.
          Her picture sits on my desk in my classroom.  If not for her, I would never have become a teacher.  Or, I would have racked up so much debt in grad school, it wouldn’t be worth it.  Either way, I keep her in plain sight at all times when I’m on the job.
          She was known for her keep fashion sense.  To an outsider, she may have looked like a typical balabusta walking down the streets of Borough Park.  But to those who knew her, she was so much more. 
          First, there was her hat collection.  Oh, her hats.  The more colorful, the better.  It’s an old stereotype of Hungarians, they like things that are colorful.  But even by Hungarian standards, her fashion sense was ostentatious.  My mother tells me it embarrassed the dickens out of her late husband, my Zeide.  He was a quiet, simple man.  He typically wore the same white shirt, black pants, red suspenders, big black yarmulke, and white tzitzit every day.  There was not a lot of variety in the way he dressed.  Every year, his yeshiva had a weekend getaway for alumni.  Zeide would go.  He would beg Savta to please wear a tichel, like most of his cohorts’ wives.  She would never sully her head with such an ugly hair wrap.  But he would beg and beg and beg.  Savta would give in (or pretend to).  She would then go to the store, buy herself a new hat, and make sure it was as flashy as she could muster.  Sequins.  Rhinestones.  Feathers.  Oh yeah, she would get creative.  And poor Zeide always looked so embarrassed. 
          She never acted her age.  When I was a child, if I ever asked Savta how old she was, she would say “100.”  She nearly lived to 100.  But she did not look or act 100.  And she didn’t want anyone to think that she was almost 100.  She would not take a cane or a walker.  She had one of those foldable shopping carts; that was her walker.  To an outsider, she would look like she was just going shopping.   She would not get a home help aide.  Whenever the social workers at the hospital asked how she can live alone at her age, she would get very sassy with them.  No matter how much they told her that she should not be doing all her housework by herself, she still didn’t care.  She hated the way home help aides did housework.  As far as she was concerned, all they were good for was passing her a towel when she was in the shower.  And with a wave of her hand, she harshly said “I can get my own towel, thank you very much.”
          Nobody could drive you crazy the way Savta did.  Oh yeah, she was one of those people who could give Sophia from the Golden Girls a run for her money.  One time, she got in fight with her sister Yudit because Yudit suggested that Savta had cancer.  Of course, Savta gave her an unequivocal “leave me alone, I don’t have cancer!”  Yudit then had one of her sons print out some literature from the internet about how to fight cancer.  She slipped it under Savta’s door.  Savta was livid.  Then later, she found out that Yudit’s son, who is the sexton at a synagogue in Queens, recited a prayer for the sick for Savta.  That was all she could take.  For the next few years, Yudit was dead to her.  It was funny, but it wasn’t funny; that was Savta for you.
          One of my favorite stories was when three of Savta’s sisters decided to visit their father’s grave in Lakewood, NJ—and they didn’t invite Savta.  Before Yom Kippur, it is customary to get a blessing from your father; and if your father is not alive, you are supposed to visit his grave.  My father always drove to Staten Island to visit his father’s grave before Yom Kippur; I usually went with him.  So Savta’s sisters went to their father’s grave, and they didn’t invite Savta.  So Savta got pissed off at all three of them.  But here’s the funny part: even if they did invite her, she would have said NO!  She thinks this custom of visiting your father’s grave is stupid.  Knowing her, she was more upset that she wasn’t given the opportunity to chide her sisters.  They probably heard it from Savta so many times, that they decided just to go without telling her.  But Savta wanted them to hear her complain about how they shouldn’t visit his grave...
          Savta had many quirks.  And they made her the kind of person who was not always easy to get along with.  But I still took the time to visit her.  I wasn’t sure how much time she had.  So I learned how to not let her drive me too crazy.  And I’m glad that during those last years, I got to know her.  There was so much I wanted to ask her.  There was so much she wouldn’t tell me.  She told me a lot about her childhood in Hungary.  But her father was a topic she would never discuss.  She loved talking about her travels.  But her own experience in the Holocaust was mostly off limits.
 She had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Holocaust.  And she loved to argue about it.  One time, she randomly called me to ask how many people survived Bergen-Belsen.  She always heard that there were no survivors.  All her books (she had plenty) said the camp was completely liquidated.  I went on Google and looked it up.  Yes, the camp was completely liquidated.  But before that, there were prison transfers.  So there were a handful of survivors; but they were lucky enough to have been sent to other camps before Bergen-Belsen was completely liquidated. 
At her age, she had an amazing memory.  But sometimes, it was spotty to a fault.  One time, she called me about Sheldon Silver.  She wanted to know where Sheldon Silver was born.  I looked it up.  He was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  “But I thought he was a Holocaust survivor!”  I scoured Google trying to find anything about Sheldon Silver and the Holocaust.  He would have been a little child when the Holocaust occurred—living on the Lower East Side.  Nope, Savta still insisted he was a Holocaust survivor.  I threw the question out the Facebook.  Everyone who replied agreed that Silver was a LES native.  Some friends said she was maybe confusing him with someone else. What amazed me was how impossible it was to get her to back down.
Perhaps the funniest Savta story of all happened at a Passover seder when I was younger.  Her sister Edith survived Auschwitz.  We were taking a little break from the seder before the meal.  Savta asked Edith what stops the train made on the way to Auschwitz.  Edith had no idea.  Savta wouldn’t let it go and continued to badger her.  Edith yelled at her “WHAT STOPS DO YOU THINK THE TRAIN MADE?  DO YOU THINK WE TOOK THE A-TRAIN TO AUSCHWITZ, THE B-TRAIN TO BUCHENWALD, AND THE D-TRAIN TO DACHAU?”  To be fair, Savta had a bit of survivor guilt: she and her father were able to escape Hungary.  But the rest of the family was stuck in Europe after Pearl Harbor, when America closed its borders.  I’m still not clear on why that happened.  But Savta, who missed out on the travesty, was forever curious about what it was like.  So the funny thing about the story is that it takes someone like Savta to ask such a question; and it takes someone like Edith to answer the question like that (another post).
I could fill pages and pages with stories about Savta.  The most important lesson I’ve learned from her is to never take anyone’s word for anything.  Always question everything.  She took it to the extreme.  But in her world, nothing was ever de facto true. 
She will be missed.

May her memories forever bring a smile to all who knew her. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater

There are many questions I get asked when I reveal that I'm a heathen.  The most common one is possibly "what happened?"  There are many posts in this blog that already address this question.  Of course, I am more than happy to answer those who ask out of genuine curiosity and not to be patronizing.  So it goes without saying, those who come to wish me a "refu'ah sheleimah" (speedy recovery), you know where to find the exit.

The question I would like to address today is "what do you believe in?"  Rest assured, I am not eating dead babies and pouring their blood as a libation to Molokh.  But mainly, when I deny God, they want to know if I don't believe at all.  This discussion is one that's long and involved (and may require more than one post).  Since I am on a library computer, and I am working within a time limit,

I inevitably will have to cut this post short.  So bear with me while I put the pieces together.

On Science.

Yeah science!  Almost all of us card-carrying skeptics first turn to science to find the answers that religion has not satisfactorily answered.

Of course, science cannot answer everything either.  Some of those questions are better left toward metaphysics.  And many times, the answers provided there are no more satisfying than the ones furnished by religion.

The best baseline I've found for science are the ones set by Karl Popper.  For a question to be scientific, it has to be a) testable, and b) falsifiable.  A question like "is there a God?" is not scientifically testable.  There are no tests that can be set up using the scientific method and reproduced in a lab with (nearly) identical results.  It is not falsifiable either.  Ask most religious people if there's any way you can get them to stop believing, they will say no.  There is no way to empirically prove/disprove that God exists.  Therefore, it is not in the scope of science to answer that question.

Next, one can glimpse into the realm of logic.  Sure, there are plenty of logical proofs that assert God exists.  But in my experience, those proofs do not hold water when scrutinized.  One could use similar logic to prove "black is really white" (cf. Douglas Adams).  I may devote later posts to this.

 But using logic, one can most certainly prove that belief in God is valid, but not that it's sound.

In order for those arguments to be sound, we enter the realm of faith.  And this is where it all becomes murky....

In essence, trying to prove the existence of God is as fruitless as the “Babel Fish Argument” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  In the end, proof denies faith, and without faith, God is nothing (hyperbole intended, you fools!)

Which brings me to the question, what is my take on science?

There are many blogs better devoted to an in-depth scientific view on the universe.  I am no expert on science.  I love science.  I love reading about it.  But my knowledge of mathematical axioms and scientific realities are unfortunately very limited.  As such, I cannot parse the intricacies of General (or Special) Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, or even Epigenetics, Macroevolution, the Biochemistry behind the Krebs Cycle, Photosynthesis, or even something as simple as “how do birds fly?” 

But does that mean I cannot put my faith in science?  Absolutely not.  Everyone puts their faith in something sometimes.  How many readers here have ever driven a car?  Now, how many of us actually can explain how a car works?   One doesn’t have to understand how a car works to drive it.  I don’t have to be able to explain how the combustion of fuel drives the various pistons and components of the motor.  I can use GPS without knowing the physics of it.  This internet connection I’m using right now, I only  have a rudimentary understanding of how the Internet works; and yet I am an avid Information Superhighway Surfer. 

Why put my faith in science but not God?
I propose the following solution:

Constant Conjunction.

This is not a very strong argument.  But it is the simplest one I can think of on the spot.  And thus, I will use it for now.

For those unfamiliar, constant conjunction is a term used by David Hume to describe how we can empirically know that causality exists.  For example, How do I know that next time I drop a pencil, it will fall to the ground?  Maybe next time, the laws of gravity will defy themselves.  In my living memory, every time I’ve dropped a pencil, it has fallen.  Constant conjunction.  And then, we have Newton et al explaining how this gravity behaves. 

And now, to apply it to science vs god.

Science is not perfect.  It is a work in progress.  Scientists are always updating their views.  A biology textbook from 10 years ago might have some of the same basics as one printed today.  But if one were studying more advanced biology, there would be differences.  A physics textbook  printed before 1915 would not have any mention of General Relativity.  But after 1915 (I’m not sure how soon after), once General Relativity made a splash, it would soon be ubiquitous. 

Theology, in its nature, is more static than science.  The scientific method is one that is set up such that any one datum can raise questions to even established knowledge, and once said datum is scrutinized, reviewed, and further tested, a new theory can be made to supersede our old theory.  Yes, a scientist should not live his life thinking arrogantly that his way is the only way. 

Theology, on the other hand, relies more on dogma.  Even when it does use logic, the logic of the theologian tends to be much more pedantic.  How many clergymen have seriously scrutinized their own beliefs?  I’m not going to say zero; I know for a fact that many have gone through periods where they questioned everything.  But by and large, when talking to a person about faith, they do not utilize the same level of scrutiny to their faith as they would to a scientific principle.  Yes, I’m talking about educated people too. 

Back to Popper’s Laws:  Many religious claims are not testable or falsifiable.  Therefore, I am more partial to science than I am to religion.  Religion, to me, is like asking which hand it is better to masturbate with.  We can argue about that until the cows come home, but I would think that most of us have better things to do with our time.  That’s the same way I feel about religious claims in general.

Is there a higher power?  Maybe.  But why waste my time worrying about it?

 So, what do you believe in?

If I may be coy for a second, I believe in me.  As John Lennon (quoted by Ferris Beuller) said, "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me..."

But unlike your standard run-of-the-mill narcissist, I also believe in others.  I do not know what makes my mind separate from others.  I cannot tell you where my mind ends and where others' begin.  I especially cannot tell you what makes me conscious, everyone around me conscious, but I am only personally aware of my own consciousness.  I believe in me.  I believe in others.  But I can't understand what mechanism separates me from others.

In my formative years, I might have believed in an eternal mind.  Perhaps, like Atman, there is a collective consciousness.  Sometimes, when deep in the throes of an orgasm, I feel a slight out of body/mind experience ephemerally.   If there is a higher intelligence, why is it so hard for us to reach it?  Or is it all in my head?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dear Faigy Mayer

Dear Faigy,

Today, April 20, 2016 would have been your 30th birthday. You would have been celebrating your entry in your thirties with a nice big jamboree. You would have picked a very nice restaurant. You would have been surrounded by friends. You would be all smiles, that large infectious smile of yours. And you would have made some awkward comments about your birthday being the perfect day to be a stoner, even though you're not a toker. Today would have been a very happy day.

I remember the time I visited you up in Columbia Presbyterian Psych Ward up in White Plains. Your first words to me were "is this your first time in a looney bin?"  Your life was on the rocks. Your relationship with your parents sucked. Your dad had you committed. You had no idea where you would go after you were discharged. But during the time I visited you, you were all smiles. You were very hospitable. I made you smile, you returned the favor.

But my fondest memory of you will always be the last time I saw you.

It was the day of my Savta's funeral. I wish you could have met Savta. You would have loved her. I know, she would have made things awkward. She would have badgered me about why I am bringing such a pretty girl to her apartment but we don't get married. She might even have hunted down your parents and called them trying to make a shidduch. That would have been very awkward. I wouldn't mind. But you might. And so would my parents.

Savta's funeral was in Borough Park at Shomrei Emunim, the same place yours would be two months later. Savta was very special to me. Thanks to her, I'm a teacher. She had a funny way of showing it, but she loved me. I loved her too. I loved her enough to go into Borough Park on a regular basis to visit. I loved her enough to spend a few days of Pesach with her. I hate Pesach. I hate being around frum people for long periods. But I love Savta enough to spend that time with her.

After the funeral ended, I was distraught. I was beyond shaken. I took a long walk to the 55th St train station. It was about a mile. I didn't care. I needed to clear my head. Long walks are therapeutic.

I got on the D train. I got on the phone while I was sti overground to tell my after-school students I wouldn't be coming. At around the  Ft Hamilton stop you got on the train. I heard you calling my name. I looked up, and there you were with a big smile on your face. I grimaced back, but indicated that I would be with you in a minute.

Boy was I glad to see you. I was still shaken. If anyone could cheer me up, it was you.

I got off the phone at around 36th St. You were already seated next to me. Your life was falling apart. But you still were happy to see me.

I told you that Savta died. You say there and listened to me as I ranted and raged about how much I miss her. You were a good listener. Every so often, you chimed in with an awkward comment or two. But today, I was so glad to hear them. Someone else might have been offended. I wasn't. You were like an angel, sent by a god I no longer believe in, sent to console me. And you did.

You were headed to 34th St for something work related. I wish I took the time to discuss your situation. I didn't. I should have been a better friend to you. Hindsight is 20/20.

When you got off the train, I hugged you goodbye. I couldn't have known it would be the last time we ever hugged. It would be the last time I ever saw you.

Thank you Faigy. As I write this I am tearing up on a city bus. You were like an angel. Like your name, you flew into my life, and you were no more.

May your memory continue to bring smiles and inspire all who knew you.

Better Call Saul Status Update: Klick

                Those of you who follow me on Facebook might be familiar with my Better Call Saul review.  Today, I decided to simply post it on my blog.
        Today’s episode of BCS is brought to you by the word DON’T!  That one word could be used to describe this entire episode.  When Mike found that card on his windshield, it was almost like the dues ex machina stepping out from behind the clockwork and nudging Mike away from his current trajectory.  But the same message can apply to Jimmy; the same message can apply to Chuck; and most of all, the same message for us, the audience.
        We begin with another flashback.  Anyone who’s ever seen me in a writing workshop (few of my current readers) knows that I hate flashbacks at the beginning of episodes; I consider it a lazy literary device.  However, Gilligan, Gould, et al use the device quite tastefully (usually).  In this case, we get a further glimpse into the complex relationship between Jimmy and Chuck.
        We haven’t heard a whole lot about mother McGill.  We know that she cared for Jimmy.  We have previously heard that when Jimmy was arrested for doing a Chicago sunroof, Mrs. McGill convinced Chuck to save Jimmy.  We don’t know a whole lot else about her.  But similar to Mr. McGill, we see that Jimmy was also the “favorite son.”  Yes, Chuck is the one who is willing to do the “right thing” and stay with his mother the whole time.  But even so, the mother’s dying words were “Jimmy”, not even acknowledging that Chuck was in the room.  Even though Chuck was the “good one”, Jimmy is still the more likeable one.
        In general, Jimmy is much more likeable than Chuck:  Chuck is Bert to Jimmy’s Ernie; Chuck is Squidward to Jimmy’s SpongeBob; Chuck is David Spade to Jimmy’s Chris Farley; Chuck is Laertes to Jimmy’s Hamlet; Chuck is Zeppo to Jimmy’s Groucho; Chuck is Alan Harper to Jimmy’s Charlie Harper; Abbot to Costello; Hardy to Laurel—well, you get the picture. 
        And so, Chuck, who is not content to be the other brother, begins to finally give Jimmy what he deserves.  Chuck has done the right thing all of his life.  He has followed the rules.  He worked hard.  He got a great job.  He once had a beautiful wife (who probably also liked Jimmy better), a beautiful home, and a prestigious law firm with his name on it.  But now, like the ruins of Ozymandias, Chuck McGill is separated from the wife (we don’t know why yet), living in squalor, suffering from a possibly psychosomatic disorder—electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which is considered idisomatic by the WHO and thus not considered an actual diagnosis—, and obsessed with finally giving Jimmy what he deserves.
        You see, Jimmy has always played fast-and-easy with the rules.  From his days clipping money from his father’s register (though to be fair, that wasn’t all Jimmy), to his days as Jimmy Cicero/Slipping Jimmy, to the specter of his future as Saul Goodman, Chuck McGill is almost Cassandralike in that he sees what his brother is destined to become.  Much like the old Sesame Street book The Monster at the End of this Book, Chuck behaves like Grover trying to keep us from turning the pages.  Chuck thinks that the monster at the end of the book is Jimmy/Saul, and he will do anything to keep Jimmy from reaching the end of the book.  But in the end, guess what?  The monster at the end of this episode was not Jimmy; it was Chuck.
        If Jimmy is our tragic antihero, his hubris is that he is too empathetic.  We have already seen how much care he puts into each client.  And the clients he serves love him.  He has patience for the elderly where most people wouldn’t.  In that sense, he is gifted.  But if only he stuck to being Ben Matlock, he would be fine.  Jimmy is no Matlock.  Unlike Matlock, he is Machiavellian on the inside.  Yes, he is willing to doctor some documents to make his brother lose a client, which was stolen from Kim to begin with. 
        Yes, a few episodes ago, Jimmy dared Chuck to get down in the mud with him.  Chuck said no.  But was that “no” really a no?  No it was not.  In fact, as we saw, Chuck did Kim pretty dirty by convincing her client to stick with HHM. So Jimmy did Chuck one by doctoring the documents.  Chuck, with his obsessiveness to detail, knows he did not make that error.  So he knows Jimmy, who was in his house, must have done something wrong.
        It is pretty scary how accurate Chuck was.  But it all changed when Chuck fainted and bumped his head.  Enter our first Don’t.
        Don’t go in and save your brother!  Saul Goodman wouldn’t.  But Jimmy is not yet Saul.  Blood is after all thicker than water.  So he goes in to save his brother.  And of course, Chuck sees right through it.  He knows Jimmy engineered it all.  Ernesto even joins Jimmy, just like Kim did, seeing that Chuck was losing his edge.
        The scene in the hospital was quite intense.  Almost torture, watching Chuck’s POV as they were prodding, poking, EKGing, CAT scanning, et al.  Chuck didn’t want any of it.  But they were legally bound to.  And Jimmy was still trying to “save” Chuck (while Chuck suspected that Jimmy was going to put Chuck away).
        Why did Jimmy save Chuck?  The smart thing would have been to make like Walter when he saw Janie ODing on heroin and walk away.  But just like the Jimmy who cried hardest at his dad’s funeral, and just like the Jimmy whose mother’s dying words were his name, Jimmy stood by Chuck.  It’s almost like role reversal here; now it’s Jimmy who is doing the right thing and Chuck who is the bad guy.
        Don’t Confess to your brother!  The culmination of the episode is Chuck finally acting like he’s “bought the farm.”  He has retired from HHM, and is now making himself a virtual Faraday Cage by lining his room with space blankets.  Jimmy’s gaslighting has finally gotten to his head.  It’s time for him to retire, enclose himself in a cocoon of space blankets, never to bother the world again.
        Jimmy’s reaction was sheer pain.  The smart thing would have been to throw up his shoulders and give up on Chuck.  Just like after Chuck told Jimmy “you are not a real lawyer” and confessed that it was he who told Howard to not hire Jimmy—and Jimmy abandoned Chuck, but not for good—Jimmy should have taken a permanent exeunt, and perhaps had his brother committed. 
        Instead, Jimmy convinced his brother that he is a good lawyer and he will be lawyering to his death.  And then Jimmy, thinking it was Chuck’s word against Jimmy, told Chuck the entire scenario.  And the episode ends with a klick.  Chuck recorded the whole thing.
        Ladies, Gentlemen, and others:  Here we have it.  Just when you thought you knew Chuck; just when you thought you hated Chuck; Chuck does one on Jimmy.
        Sure, Jimmy is guilty of a felony.  Sure, Jimmy screwed his brother over.  Sure, Jimmy is a criminal.  But by now, we’ve grown to love Jimmy so much, that we actually want to see Chuck fail.  Much as we rejoice when the Boogie-Woogie Sheep take Bert outside, much as we rejoiced when Leia finally shut C3P0 off in The Empire Strikes Back, and much as we cheered when Cpt. Picard told Wesley Crusher to shut up, we took serious schadenfreude when Jimmy humiliated Chuck.  And when we saw that yes, Chuck can play just as dirty as Jimmy can, we were ambivalent.  Do we still hate Chuck, or do we feel bad for him now? 
        Those of you who read my posts regularly know that I feel for Chuck.  Right now, I feel less bad for him.  Much as I know he’s in the right as Jimmy is the criminal (not him), what he did was pretty backhanded.  As my father would say, “don’t bullshit the bullshitter.”  We shall see how Jimmy gets out of this one.  My guess:  this is entrapment and inadmissible as evidence.
        Don’t shoot Hector Salamanca.  The most explicit DON’T was found on Mike’s windshield.  Now Jimmy violated the DON’Ts I mentioned above.  But Mike now has no choice but to follow it, as he finds it on his windshield. 
        Mike’s parts were rather subdued.  First, he’s testing out that rifle we’ve already seen him looking at.  The gun merchant, a BB favorite, is a perfect pairing with Mike.  Both are very terse, but the gun merchant is a lot more amiable.  Both know their weapons and both have very refined tastes.  But whereas Mike is caustic and sarcastic, the gun dealer has much better customer service.  He helps Mike perfect his shot.  But then, he cleans off the gun, “no offense.” 
        The shooting scene was a great moment in silence.  Hector and Nacho are about to shoot an innocent man (the truck driver?)  Mike wants to shoot Hector, but Nacho is in the way.  He could have shot Nacho and there would have been no problem.  But Mike is still taking half-measures.  He doesn’t want to shoot Nacho.  Even if Nacho knows that Mike was the one who screwed the family, he has too much to lose by snitching on Mike.  So Mike possibly returns the favor by not shooting him.
        But we know Hector doesn’t die.  We don’t know what happens to Nacho.  Supposedly, in the Season 2 episode of BB where we first meet Saul, when Jesse and Walt were holding Saul at gunpoint and Saul said “it wasn’t me, it was Ignacio,” it is hinted that Ignacio was Nacho.
        Either way, for some reason the deus ex machine interfered with the Mike narrative, pushing him away from being a cold-blooded killer (for now).  But Jimmy is not being pushed into being Saul; not yet. The writers want it to be organic.  Since we already know it’s going to happen, they don’t want to force or rush it. 
And so, this show does not seem forced.  The entire beauty of this show is how it portrays the human comedy/tragedy, complex/intricate relationships, and what makes us tick.  The characters are all flawed.  They are not lofty, dramatic, or by any means forced.  And this is why BCS just may be one of the most brilliantly underrated shows currently on TV.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Out of the Crock Plot, into the Bowl

Out of the Crockpot, into the Bowl
          Beryl and Shmeryl walked into a bar somewhere in Downtown Khelm. 
            Beryl was a student in the University of Khelm.  He was receiving the greatest education a Khelmite could possibly receive.  He had just chosen a major in Tautology with a minor in Philosophistry. 
            Shmeryl, on the other hand, was a grammar school dropout.  As such, he had squandered the wonderful education that Khelm had to offer. 
            Beryl and Shmeryl slowly sipped at their beers. 
            Beryl started scribbling on a napkin.  Shmeryl just stared at his hands and continued to drink
            What kind of conversation were Beryl and Shmeryl about to have?  That’s not important.  In fact, I don’t even know a Beryl and Shmeryl.
            Outside that bar, the Wise Men of Khelm gathered.  There was Mendy, Sendy, Motti, Mordy, and Loozie. 
            As the wisest man in Khelm, Mendy asked “Rabboisai!  What is the meaning of life?”
            The other men scratched their heads, looking dumbfounded.
            “To please the Master,” said Sendy.
            “To not get caught cheating on your wife,” said Motti.
            “To cook the perfect batch of cholent,” said Mordy.
            “Nothing,” said Loozie.
            The other three wise men leered at Loozie.
            Mendy asked “come again?  What do you mean nothing?”
            “I mean we didn’t choose to be born.  I know I didn’t choose it.  The Master would be happier if he didn’t have to deal with our constant bullshit.  And in the end, we don’t know what will become of us for posterity.  So there is no point to this life.  If there is an afterlife, it’s pretty pointless too.”
            Motti shook his head.  Sendy and Mordy sucked their teeth in.
            Mordy countered “then why don’t you just jump into that river?”
            Loozie said “I think I just might.” 
            And so, that night, Loozie went for a swim.  Beryl and Shmeryl (whoever they are) continued to get drunk.  And the other wise men continued to have an unimportant discussion that is of no consequence to this story.
            East Eden Wharf.  Where we last left Jonah off.  He was at a bar and out of cash.  He had a ticket to Ninvus, and he needed a fix.
            Lo and behold, who should appear but the fish-man’s mortal enemy.  The bane of his existence.  KaJooLoo. 
            KaJooLoo is a monstrous creature.  But unlike the fish-man, KaJooLoo is all powerful.  He can do many things.  Like actually not be a complete killjoy.
            And so, KaJooLoo took a seat next to Jonah.  To disguise his rather grotesque appearance, he wore a long battered purple frock coat and a Guy Fawkes face mask topped off with a Dick Tracy fedora hat. 
            Jonah was too filled with ennui to even care that a stranger just sat next to him.
            KaJooLoo has a very astonishing backstory.  However, it has been mired by myth.  Some say he doesn’t really exist.  I don’t think he actually does.  Not that it matters anyway.  For the sake of this story, let’s just say he does.  And let’s just say he sat at the bar.
            The fish-man...I was going to say something about him.  I forgot what I was going to say.  This is probably for the best.
             As they sat at the bar, suddenly, two Red Devils magically appeared in front of KaJooLoo and Jonah.  Before Jonah could ask how KaJooLoo knew what his favorite drink was, he said "to your good health."  And they drank.
             KaJooLoo the Dark One didn't speak.  He didn't need to.  The drinks were bottomless.  That was one of his many great powers.  He could make a pint of beer last forever.  Shots?  I'd hate to do shots with him
             It was then that KaJooLoo gave Jonah what he really wanted.

             A one-way ticket to Timbuktu.
              What goes in Timbuktu stays in Timbuktu

              I have never been to Timbuktu.  I have seen many pictures.  For more information about Timbuktu, please visit your local public library, do a nice Google search, or pay attention during Social Studies class.  You may learn something exciting.
                 Yes, Timbuktu was in the complete opposite direction of Ninvus.  And as far as Jonah was concerned, it was the end of the world.  It was known as the most exotic place in the world.  The gold was a-plenty and the weather was always nice.  And best of all, there was no way a fish-man could survive in that arid climate.

                 Jonah was finally going to enjoy his life.  
                 Beryl turned to Shmeryl.  

                 "Hey Beryl, do you know the story of Jesus?"

                  "I'm sitting on the right. I'm Shmeryl, remember?"

                  "Whoops," said Beryl.  Sometimes, even their mothers confused them with each other.

                   "Yes," said Shmeryl, "I have heard the story of Jesus."

                    "Well you know," said Beryl, "he's coming back.  And he's really angry."

                     "What for?  Didn't he like die for our sins and become the son of God, or something like that?" asked Shmeryl.

                     "Well you know, he didn't want to die.  So he wants to come back.  And when he comes back, he wants to kill all the Jews in the world, and a bunny rabbit."

                      "Whoa," said Shmeryl, "what would he want to do that for?"

                       "He wants to kill all the Jews in the world," Beryl reiterated, and a bunny rabbit!"

                       Shmeryl took a meaningful swig of his beer.  He didn't know what to say.

                       Finally, Beryl ejaculated "you're supposed to ask 'why the bunny rabbit?'"

                       "Okay," Shmeryl sighed, "I'll bite:  why the bunny rabbi?"

                       Beryl shrugged and said sadly "you see?  nobody cares about the Jews!"

                       Shmeryl dejectedly responded "I don't get it."

                       Beryl turned back to his beer and said curtly "I wouldn't expect you to."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Far Away from Home (surrealism continued)

Far From Home
by I.M. Acher
        Hillel and Shammai were the greatest Zen Masters of their day.  Students used to come from all over the world to learn from them.  Shammai had the higher IQ of the two, and his academy was more prestigious; Hillel, however, was more open-minded and willing to educate all who entered his doors.

          A student walked into Shammai’s academy.  He asked “Rabbi, how can I find inner peace?”  The master asked the student to pass him a candlestick holder.  The student passed the master his candlestick holder.  The master asked the student to turn around.  The student turned around.  The master then forcefully smacked the student upside his head.  “There,” said the master, “do you feel it now?”  The student walked out of Shammai’s academy and never returned.

          The same student stepped into Hillel's academy.  He asked him “Rabbi, how can I find inner peace?”  The master asked him to pass him a candlestick holder—one with a lit candle.  The student hesitated, scared that the master would smack him.  The master then said “watch me very closely.”  He then blew out the candle.  “And that,” the master said “is how you find inner peace. Everything else is overpriced snake oil.  Now go in peace.

          Jonah woke up the next morning.  Just like every other morning.  It was 10:00AM.  He had no job.  He had nowhere to go.  The leftover pizza in his fridge was beginning to go stale.  He was almost out of money to buy some more food.

          And yet, the fish-man he dreamed of bade him to go to Ninvus.

          I mean where is Ninvus anyway?  Perhaps had he paid attention during social studies class, he would have remembered. 

          But as he turned over, he saw a clean looking slip of paper on his nightstand.  It was the one slip of paper that didn’t have food or beer stains all over it. 

          The slip of paper was a boat ticket to Ninvus.  He doesn’t know how that ticket got there, or how he even paid for it.  But he figured he had nothing to lose staying in Nod.  Might as well take a vacation in Ninvus.
          The fish-man got the ticket for Jonah.  How the ticket made its way to Jonah’s nightstand is a mystery.  After all, the fish-man doesn’t have prehensility.  Also, since when do fish-men have money?  I guess we are just going to have to suspend our disbeliefs for this one and assume that the fish-man was capable of some form of magic that we can’t possibly explain.
          The wharf of East Eden.  Some say that Eden was once Shangri-La (before there even was Shangri-La).  If Eden ever was anything close to paradisiacal, those days were long gone. 

          Never would you find a more wretched hive of buggery.  See, Eden was a place where everyone did “the right thing”—or at least what The Master said the right thing was.  But they never questioned The Master.  They devoutly followed His words.  And the Master did not reciprocate.

          He promised them a good life
          He promised them pleasure
          He promised he’d kill the Leviathan and they’d feast on his flesh
          He promised that one day they’d never have to do work again
          He promised the world, he delivered a goose egg.

          This is why I would never live in Eden.  I would never fit in.  I have never met The Master.  I’m not even sure if The Master is real.  But given their blind faith in The Master, He is very real to them.  And I could never suffer a neighborhood where people don’t think for themselves.
          Jonah arrived at the wharf.  He had one ticket to Ninvus.  But he didn’t even want to go to Ninvus.  He didn’t want to be in Eden to begin with. 

          He went to a local bar.  But this was Eden, so the bars did not serve alcohol.  Not that The Master ever literally said not to drink alcohol.  But his followers still managed to find ways to make it verboten. 

          So he sat at that bar, sober, pensive, and wanting to get a fix.  But nowhere to get a fix in East Eden. 

          Jonah just wanted to go home.
          The fish-man should have known that Jonah was not going to go to Ninvus.  For a fish-man with a lot of foresight, the fish-man sure seemed to miss plenty of important details.
          Hillel was walking by a river with some students.  He saw a skull floating by.

          “See that skull?”  the master asked.  “That man drowned because he drowned someone else.  And the person he drowned also drowned someone else  And the person who drowned him will also be drowned.”

          Most of the students stroked their beards and nodded in acquiescence. 
          One student was not satisfied. 

          Little Doubting Tommy asked the Master “and who started the vicious cycle?”
          The Patient Master responded “No one.  The cycle is about as old as the great deluge itself, where many myriads of myriads drowned.”

          “But Master,” said Tommy, “a watch does not wind itself.”
          The Master stroked his beard.  “Son, that is because you have not seen the most perfect watch ever made, so perfect it does not need human hands to wind it, it never needs repair, and it never runs out.”

          Doubting Tommy still wasn’t sold.  “Master, where can you find such a watch?”
          The Master shouted “fool, do not question the wonders of the world.  When you have seen the things I have seen, you may begin to formulate your questions correctly.”

          Doubting Tommy coolly responded “but sir, have you ever seen such a watch?”
          Nonplussed, The Master said “no I have not.  But if you have enough faith, it just might be real.”

          But Doubting Thomas was not finished.  “And when will the cycle end?”

          To this, The Master said “it never will.  One day, there will be no one left to drown. And then, it will be too late.”