Monday, December 31, 2012

Rejoice! We're All Gonna Die And Most Of Us Won't Be Young Or Pretty

For the past two years or so I've been undergoing some morbid grappling with mortality.  Often I am observing a family with children in a restaurant and I will begin to see the children maturing and becoming adults and eventually old and dying after their parents have long since passed on.  Some of this could be triggered by my own identification with the children.  I have vivid memories of my parents taking me to great restaurants -- particularly in New Orleans, and I wonder if anyone then was observing me with the same realization that someday I'd be a man in my fifties rather than a child of five.

Thirty years ago on December 30th my father ceased to be.  It is really difficult to imagine 30 years passing so quickly given that it simply ticked away moment by moment in a steady clip as time always does consistently and without fail.  I think of everything I have done and experienced in that time and it is mind-boggling to me.  It is truly a lifetime ago.  Sometimes I look at life as being comprised of several lifetimes.

There's the lifetime as a baby and a toddler.  I was here and alive but there's nothing much about it I remember.  There was no concern for anything nor was there a concept of time ticking away.  Then as memories started to gel into strings of events another lifetime began.  From about 4 or 5 I became more aware of my environment, learning the meaning of more words, learning how not to choke on hard candy, realizing how much I really disliked church, always looking forward to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and a tooth falling out so I would be visited by the tooth fairy.

I don't remember my first day of kindergarten nor would my developing mind have understood the point of it.   I don't recall any sense of anxiety about the new experience or being separated from my parents for a few hours a day.  It was an important first step in learning how to behave and in the development of social skills (and look how THAT turned out!) I suppose.  It was mostly just fun although I have absolutely no recollection of any other children there on a personal friendship level.  It's almost as if they were abstractions.  I was more fascinated by the mentally-challenged woman who was charged with placing out cookies for us to eat.  I remember my towel I would roll out on the floor when it was quiet time and we were to stretch out and shut the fuck up for a few minutes.  I think I enjoyed that part.  Early developmental chillaxing.

The lifetime of being schooled was definitely a kicker.  It is hard for me to fathom how 11 years from first grade to being a high school senior could seem to take so long to pass.  Initially I wasn't even looking ahead to high school graduation.  That might as well have been a century in the future.  Starting out it was just one year at a time.  Getting on the school bus in the morning, writing out ABCs and learning to count and whatever the hell else we did in first grade (for me it was drawing pictures of body parts), and then back on the school bus to come home.  Get up the next morning and repeat.

By the time I was in third or fourth grade the reality was starting to settle in that this was going to be one slow slog getting finished with it.  I can imagine having asked my mother when will I no longer have to go to school.  If she had said after the 12th grade I at least had learned to count the different between 4th and 12th and it seemed like one hell of a duration.  The older I got the longer it seemed.

Finally 9th grade rolled around and this was the home stretch:  four to go.  How in the hell four years could seem to pass so slowly is beyond my comprehension.  (Contrast this with the last four which seem to have flown by in an instant.)  High school was like a lifetime within a lifetime.  

Somewhere in that mix was a realization that I was on the verge of becoming an adult.  Thoughts of leaving home and starting a new life were forming.  Choices of college and fields of study were contemplated as well as career options.

Packing most of my treasured belongings into a car and heading off to college was probably another lifetime.  Four years to be devoted to advanced study seemed as eternal as those four years of high school.  But there was a big difference:  I was now in control of the situation.  I could take those four years and stretch them out to eight if I wanted.  And apparently I wanted.

Fields of study were embarked upon and discarded, swapped out for something else, and discarded again.  But hey, if you stay at it long enough you'll eventually get a degree in something just by default.

I was only 22 years old on December 30, 1982 when I received the phone call from a nurse at the hospital informing me that I needed to come to the hospital.  It never crossed my mind to ask why.  I knew.  This was probably the first major lesson in life I would learn.  When I walked into the hospital room there was this moment of intense clarity that only one other living person was in the room.  That was my mother.  The pile of flesh on the bed was nothing but a corpse.  There was no life in it.  And I will never forget that odd vibe in the room.  The man who had been my father was no more.  That lifeless body was not him.  I didn't know where he was but he wasn't there.

It is startling to me to reflect back on that day as if it happened a month ago and realize just how much time has passed.   I had only recently become the owner of a SONY Betamax video player/recorder.  In order to use it I had to go to a store and buy or rent media.  It would never have occurred to me to take a picture of it to share with friends because that would involve sending off the film to be developed, and then sending photos through the mail to whomever I wanted to see it.  Yeah.

I was very much aware that the future held great promise and that technology would unfold in marvelous ways.  There was already talk about these things called compact discs which would replace vinyl platters and turntables.  (And much, much later there would be talk of replacing compact discs with vinyl records and turntables, but I digress.)

The year 2000 was something I pondered a lot ever since I was a child.  It was thrilling to fantasize about that futuristic world even though I was always aware that I would turn 40 that year.  That fact was disturbing.  It meant I'd be old, and probably too old to enjoy the marvels of the time. 

There was a lot going on with me in the decade of the 80s.  Even at 22 I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, what career I would pursue, whether or not I'd ever find love, or how I was going to cope with this persistent homosexuality lurking in my core.  The following summer after my father died I packed my bags and moved to London.  I never gave a thought to my widowed mother or whether she might need me.  I was being called to my next lifetime.

Living alone on another continent with an ocean between me and my past was exactly what I needed.  I came to terms with being gay.  I scored a lot of music on vinyl and compact disc.  I bought my first truly high-fidelity music system at the age of 24 and little did I know I would still find myself thrilled with it at the age of 52.

In 1985 I was back in the US and decided to wrap up this college education thing.  I was still clueless about what I would do with my life but I at least wanted to put a degree in my pocket.  I didn't care what degree it was.  Finally, in the summer of 1987,  I took my last college course in British history and made one of the very few A grades I'd ever earned.  I was done.   In January of 1988 I was handed a diploma.  On with life, whatever that meant.

That was just a bit over six years after my father's body had been placed in the cold ground on December 31, 1982.  That seemed like a lifetime and the future was as blurry as ever.  For the first time in my life there were no guideposts for me, no benchmarks I could reach for, nor were there any job prospects; there was just me and the wide open future.  Little did I know that another lifetime was right around the corner in less than two years.

I moved to Denver for a year and then moved to San Diego in 1990 where, within a few short weeks of my arrival, I'd meet a man and fall in love.  Then I'd move to Los Angeles in search of some kind of job.  That's where I landed in advertising at the ripe old age of thirty.

This is the point where my concept of time took a bizarre turn.  I no longer seemed to have one.  I felt stable with a secure job and a comfortable relationship.  Had I suddenly "arrived?"

Promotions and pay raises came quickly and I was totally focused on my career.  There were some good upheavals along the way:  buying our first home together, getting a cat, and then within a year or so, selling the house, packing everything up and moving to Austin after buying another house. 

All that dread I had about being 40 in the year 2000 suddenly and abruptly became a reality.  It was one thing being 25 and feeling old because I was at the quarter-century mark, and it was quite another being 40.  It was horrendous for me.  And thrown into that mix was a job layoff which would become a decade of instability.  Job number 2 became job number 3, and then numbers 4, 5 and 6.  And then it was 2010...another decade.  And 50.  50.  If there's anything that can make you feel a fondness for 40 it's 50.

And then came job #7 which wasn't an event out of my control.  It was a choice I made.  I'm not sure whether getting laid off from #7 in January 2012 contributed to my current mentality or whether it's just another element in a big pot of steaming soup called life.  And I suppose that 10 months of unemployment in 2012 probably did me a world of good on one level.  It was the longest break in employment I'd ever had since entering advertising in 1997.  It gave me time to think about life.

If my father dying when I was 22 and my realization that life can leave in an instant was a watershed moment for me, then my studies of Eastern philosophy this year were another.  In all my years of life I had never once stopped to think seriously about the source of life.  Where do babies come from?  Not from a stork, of course.   Men and women have sex and if everything is in good working order, a baby happens.  A spark of life came from somewhere...God, the cosmos, maybe life is just a continuous strand and doesn't really spark or emerge suddenly.  But what I had never contemplated before is that it comes from the earth.  What you eat and drink -- and both of those are pulled from the earth in some capacity -- contribute to forming sperm and eggs, just as they are instrumental in growing your bones, muscles, skin, teeth, and hair.  Something that was once alive, maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, went into the formation of sperm and eggs which then formed another life, and all of it pulled from this earth.

And this earth was pulled and formed in a similar manner (and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it was considerably longer than 6,000 years ago) by whatever shit was out there drifting around the universe looking for a purpose.  Funny how that happens.

What I find so incredibly frustrating is how I have to stay focused on facts like these to keep from going totally insane about life and death and the crap in between.  I am bitterly angry (and somewhat confused) by how my life has evolved.   I'm not even sure I've been living between 1997 and now.  It just seems like a bunch of shit involving career obsession, what kind of cars to buy, or appliances, gadgets, phones, radios, TVs, pods, pads, computers, wireless mice, sofas, chairs, tables, plants, weather stations, backup drives, cameras, records, CDs, printers, batteries, books, curling stones, shiva lingams, and a fucking shitload of software.

I get frustrated sometimes just looking at people and how they have aged.  It almost seems like some cruel joke.  Sometimes I feel as if I have awakened from a long coma and I simultaneously marvel at the world and curse it. Sometimes it's not even a coma feeling.  I wake up from a nap and I'm not even sure who or where I am.  And then I hear Sheldon snoring in the other room and I'm not sure who he is either even though we have lived together for 20 years.  Is he the same person?  Am I?

 I see photos of people on Facebook -- people I went to school with, or people I've known since I was in my 20s, and I barely recognize them.  Everyone is getting older.  And the older we get the more crap will be thrown at us.  Older people you've known your entire life suddenly start dying off.  Then people your age start dying.  Even a few younger people start dying.  I don't have a clue how I got here or why this is happening.  And that bitter anger serves no purpose either.  I might as well bitch about the weather.  Same difference.

Sometimes I just want to give up.  Sometimes I want to try and recapture two decades which seem lost in a haze of work and devotion to career.  Of course, I can't recapture anything because it's gone.  What's left of it, or what's to come, depending on how you view it, is here.  This is it.  It should be beautiful and right now I harbor contempt for it.

Somewhere along the way I lost my awe of life.  I find myself increasingly disgusted by it.  I'm saddened that we can't stop all the senseless killing and take a break just long enough to come together and have a discussion about how magnificent our world could be if we could just work on our potential.

How, in a life so short, can people be so hung up on themselves, clinging to outdated beliefs, stockpiling weapons, being hell-bent against helping out anyone less fortunate, spending lavishly on shit they won't care about later, or eventually won't be alive to enjoy?

Most people act as if they have no clue how fleeting life is.  They are absorbed in power games and greed.  Are they really the ones in denial or is it just me who is fucked up?

For 2013 I need to figure some of this out and recapture the missing awe.  Because in the time it took me to get a college degree I'll be the same age my father was when he ceased aging.  I don't want to be bitter about it, and I sure as hell don't want to be looking back at 52 wishing I was here again.  That ain't happening.

I try really hard sometimes to be a good Buddhist and live in the moment and only in the moment.  I just can't sustain it for more than...a... moment.  It pisses me off knowing that I could lose track of time again and another 25 years will pass and I'll be 77, if I'm so lucky.

One of the things that grounds me is knowing that in 50 or 60 short years, everyone reading this will either be a dead and distant memory, or about to start banging on death's door.  The latter are the lucky ones who are 20 now and think they are immortal. 

Perhaps this is just a mid-life crisis.  I wouldn't know for sure because I've never had one.  If it is, why can't I be normal about it and just go buy a fucking Porsche?

OK, so who wants a cocktail?  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Return of Vacuum Tube Fidelity

Back in 1984 (!) I purchased this amp and preamp combo in a Tottenham Court Road audio shop in London. It was really a top-of-the-line deal back then and I absolutely could not afford to be buying stuff like this. (That's why I used the AMEX card!) I think the pair were around US$1,700 and I added a comparable pair of speakers which tacked on another $1,500. So it was a major purchase for me and one that I hoped would last a lifetime. (OK, being 24 years of age I really had no concept of what lifetime meant, but whatever.)

Sometime in the very early 1990s in Los Angeles, there was a rather nasty electrical storm at our apartment and I was not using a surge protector (ahhh, stupid youth!) and one of the units got a part burned out. Rather than having it repaired (which I assumed would cost a fortune) and knowing I didn't have the financial means at the time to replace it with equal quality, I opted to store it in the closet and buy something affordable which was an all-in-one SONY product for about $300. Since we were living in an apartment and I didn't feel I could blast music anyway, it didn't seem to matter.

Twelve years passed until I finally convinced myself to start building up a top-notch audio system again. I splurged on a new English-made integrated amplifier and turntable. The total cost for both was about the same as what I paid for the amp/preamp combo twenty years earlier. I had a hunch the quality wouldn't be quite the same given that fact. I also didn't feel like I could splurge on high-end speakers yet, so the only listening I did was with headphones.

Around 2006, a work colleague told me her husband had a friend who could probably repair my speakers and burned out amp. Even though I no longer needed them, he thought it would be very affordable to fix. I shipped two speakers, the amp and preamp out to California and waited a few months. The verdict was that the speakers could not be repaired but he was able to repair the other units. And it only cost around $300.

When the amp equipment arrived, I placed it back in storage. There's not even a headphone output and I still had no speakers! So the status quo carried on until around 2009 or 2010 when I FINALLY decided on a pair of high-end speakers. When they arrived I was eager to test my old 1984 vintage equipment. After getting everything set up there was no sound coming out. I thought that was odd considering the guy who repaired it told me it "sounds great." And why would he ship something back to me that really wasn't working. I convinced myself some part had jiggled loose during shipping, so I put it back in the closet. It didn't matter really. My "new" (by 2010 the amp was 7-years-old) amp sounded great after finally being wired up to speakers!

Awhile back I started hearing static in my system and sometimes one of the two channels of audio would drop out. Correcting it only requires a tap on the input selection knob on the amp but it is still rather annoying. Sometimes I have to do that 2 or 3 times each evening. I've been rather stressed because I will have to box this up and ship it somewhere to be fixed. Apparently it's a common problem as I learned from internet research. I could live for a couple of weeks with playing television audio through the tinny little speakers on the TV, but I wasn't sure I could live without music options.

This morning I decided to drag out the 1984 equipment, hook it up, and just be certain it really wasn't working. Guess what? It DOES work! Apparently when I tested it before I did something wrong. So I've spent the better part of this day hooking everything up to it and listening to various things on vinyl and CD. At one point you would have thought Elvis Costello's wife (that's Diana Krall and I am just assuming they are still married) was banging away on a piano in my living room while crooning about having her grape peeled.

Vacuum tubes, baby!!

Yeah! OK, if you want me to be brutally honest, I'm not sure there's a helluva lot of difference between this old stuff and the amp I bought in 2003. If I could do a real side-by-side comparison it's entirely possible I'd detect differences between the two such as that proverbial "warmer & richer" sound from the vacuum tube amp. But since I'd have to unplug and replug a device and unplug and replug speakers to compare, I am just not sure I'm all that bothered to know. They both sound incredible.

There are so many variables to consider.  Even proper speaker placement can make a big difference.  I repositioned my speakers slightly while testing out the old amp and that made quite an improvement in the sound!

Maybe after a couple of weeks with the old amp while the new one is being repaired I'll notice a step down once I get the repaired amp returned to me. I am just thankful I went ahead and got that old unit repaired so I won't have to be music-less for however long it takes to get the newer amp repaired.   It's going to be fun spending some quality time again with this old friend from 1984.

1984 amp and preamp.

Back view of preamp.

You may call me a geek now. And I'm sure some of you who have your music in the "cloud" and listen thru ear buds are wondering what the hell is wrong with me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Great Constitution of the United States of America

Some of this hasn't even taken effect. In fact it's steadily going the opposite direction. Read it. I'll be back with some thoughts.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Tot Lovin'

Happy Friday & Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Tot gets some lovin'

Jessie Lee monopolizing my space

Monday, May 21, 2012

∅ None For Nought ∅

I am pleased to announce I will be hosting the first annual RadNil 2012 Conference in Austin, Texas over the weekend of 14-15 July, 2012 as a celebration of radical nothingness and an appreciation of all things zero.

Conference Objectives:

 (0) Providing a space within which to understand that while one may indeed be the loneliest number, we aim to do you one worse.

 (0a) That's about it.

I am committed to making RadNil 2012 as affordable as possible for no one. Therefore, ticket prices are set at zero and none are currently available, so don't whip out that credit card!

There will be zero panelists leading silent discussions of no consequence whatsoever. Food and beverages are deemed unnecessary and will not be provided. For an extensive PDF listing of all events* during this conference, click here.

Coincidentally, this conference does coincide with the RadFem 2012 conference in London. Some of you may be torn between one or the other. I would suggest if you are on the fence, please attend the RadFem 2012 conference because you'll be missing absolutely nothing here.  However, if you insist, and prefer to attend my RadNil 2012 conference by choice, or because you are among the ranks of those who are prohibited from attending RadFem 2012, please be advised that my conference also has attendance limitations and therefore you may have zero luck in either case.

Due to the nature of the conference, Jews will not be permitted to attend, nor will people of mixed races. Before I start getting complaints and protests for being anti-Semitic and racist (which I'm not), I would like to add that all cisgender people are excluded.  Gays, lesbians, queers, transgender males and females, protestants, Catholics, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhists, Hindus, any and all followers of Islam, atheists and agnostics, and cyborg feminists are excluded as are musicians and other "artsy types." If you have dreadlocks, don't even think of attending.  If you are a poet with dreadlocks, you will be turned away before even parking your vehicle.   Annoying morning drive-time radio disc jockeys who are male will be castrated and then denied entrance, despite my non-violent ethos.  Children and babies are not allowed.  I also am prohibiting pets and that includes seeing eye dogs.  And that's OK because the vision-impaired are prohibited as well.

OK, I'll stop dragging this on and cut to the facts.  No one will be allowed to attend my conference. And it's not because I don't like you, or because I'm biased against you, or I don't understand you.  It would simply disrupt nothing and nothing is the whole point. 

Let me be very clear:  any attempts to divide this zero conference will be met with an absence of tolerance, and furthermore, empty wrath will be delivered upon you tenfold, if not twenty.

Don't feel slighted in any way whatsoever.  I am also #1 on the banned list from my own conference because I'd surely try to make something out of nothing.

Thank you for your support and solidarity.   Remember:  each atom in our bodies is 99.99999999% empty space.  So together we are a whole lot of zilch!

*Please note the screening of the film "Less than Zero" has been cancelled due to concerns that perceived negative integers could have the potential of upstaging this event. In order to honor the integrity of the conference, there will be no replacement film. In lieu of the film, 98 minutes of silence will be observed in a floatation tank.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Job Search Interrupted

How can I hunt for a job with this Siamese hunk of meat obstructing me?

Wait a minute! Isn't that a Facebook game on the monitor?

Meanwhile, the Tot finds comfort in unlikely places and positions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


This morning was a young toad in the early morning pre-twilight it became a raccoon turd glistening as the sun rose it became a snail as light revealed the slick trail and antennae. 

Not exactly a haiku.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Let's Talk Money, Honey!

I am already so weary of this so-called "class warfare" thing going on in our political discourse.

For the purpose of what I have to say on the matter, let's remove from the table any discussion of tax rates, what's fair vs. not fair, whether the rich should pay a higher percentage than those at the poverty level, etc.

OK, let me say one thing and THEN we'll take it off the table. The debate at least has some merit. I understand why some people with a rather narrow view might think it's so unfair that someone making $5 million a year is taxed at a higher rate than a family of four trying to get by on $25,000 a year...or less. If you are in the camp that believes everyone, regardless of income, should pay a flat tax of 10% because it's "fair", I think you are full of shit. As soon as a tax rate starts to take basic necessities of life away, then it's too high and unfair.

Someone working minimum wage, or two minimum wage jobs, and trying to support a child while being taxed is going to be forced to do without something basic, and adequate food will quite likely be one of the many sacrifices.  Anyone making $100,000 probably isn't going to need to skip a meal due to finances even at a higher tax rate. Depending on where they live, the yacht might have to wait, but so be it.

Now let's just focus on income rather than tax rates. What do you suppose would be the reaction if the top 3% of our school teachers -- the best of the best -- were being paid $300,000 or $400,000 a year? There would be an uproar the likes of which we'd never heard coming from the right, center, and probably even from some on the left. What about the best of the police? (The ones who aren't out using their clubs and teargas to suppress people exercising freedom of speech.) And what about nurses and firefighters? I can't think of a single ordinary job description which doesn't have some kind of salary range which everyone accepts without question. We all know the kid at the Pizza Hut probably isn't hauling in 70-grand a year no matter how hard he or she might be working, or how great they are at what they do.

I consider myself to be extremely fortunate with my career in advertising (despite my current unemployment). I've always known the positions I've held in the industry were critical for the success of the organization and the client base. If I failed to get creative materials to a media outlet in a timely manner, the advertising campaign could be jeopardized. Having been a media buyer for 12 years, I know that if I don't secure the time slots on desired networks, the commercials will not be seen.  And not to strictly toot my own horn, I also know the commercials themselves have to be compelling enough to get a certain number of average television viewers to pick up the phone or go to the website and order the can't-live-life-without-it widget for $19.95 plus $7.95 shipping.  If they don't, then it doesn't even matter how well I do my part.  No money coming in means I don't have a job, even if I'm the best damn media buyer on the planet.  So thank you creative directors and producers everywhere!

I have worked as hard as anyone in the industry and have played my part in generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue for agencies and clients. A lot of profits have been made as a result of my efforts. All that being said, my compensation has always been salaried with a small percentage of my salary coming as a bonus some years. And by small percentage, I'm talking 10% maximum and as an overall average through the years more like 3%-5%. Regardless of how much revenue I generate or how much profit a client might make as a result of my efforts, I know as a media buyer that I will never make $500,000 a year, nor should I.

I have made as little as $43,000 and as much as $88,000. Those salaries, particularly the latter, would be seen by many people as wonderful and I never took it for granted. The advertising industry is not what I would call stable work and that $88,000 salary lasted less than a year and was followed by 5 months of unemployment and then by a job paying half as much!  Worth noting also is that the highest salary I earned did not come with any benefits whatsoever.  It was freelance work.  No medical, no dental, no paid vacation.

Perhaps because of my experience, and a constant awareness that I've been doing OK because somebody...a LOT of people who might not be doing as well as I am have been ordering a bunch of stuff they see on TV and therefore I knew where my money was coming from ultimately.  I, along with everyone else in these organizations, are making a living thanks to people buying mops, steam-cleaners, hideous knives which are guaranteed to send x number of people to emergency rooms, food dehydrators, hand blenders, appliances which catch on fire after 3 uses, robots to vacuum your floor, 935 different devices to make you thin or have awesome abs, ladders, woks, drills, paint appliers, paint removers, pasta makers, chicken rotisseries, cat piss odor suppressors,  zit removers, teeth whiteners, breath fresheners, memory enhancers, spray-on hair for bald spots, "gold" colored coins being marketed as "investments" that have a fucking fleck of real gold in them worth about 80 cents, and wealth-building methods which, if successful, God-forbid you should pay more in taxes!  And let's not forget pills that make your dick hard so you can always be ready to fuck on a moment's notice.  (Make sure you have health insurance because if that boner lasts more than four hours you need to see a doctor right away!)

Yep, I've always known who butters my bread.

I also take it to the next level.  I look at corporate profits.  Let's take the Waltons for instance.  No, not John, Olivia, John-Boy, Mary Ellen and the rest of them.  I'm referring to the other, slightly more fortunate Walton family....the ones worth about $93 billion, give or take a little, thanks to a thriving chain of retail outlets selling lots and lots of people even more cheap shit than I can fathom. 

I am trying to imagine how anyone makes money that isn't somehow, directly or indirectly, made possible by consumers like us going out and buying stuff.

On a side note, I do appreciate it when someone like Alice Walton comes along and decides to give a little something back to the local community, I don't see that happening nearly enough, and she still could have, and probably would have, if she'd paid 5% more in tax on those billions.  But hey, museum admission is FREE thanks to Wal-Mart!  God bless them.

When I was a child, I remember being able to put 5 cents in a vending machine and getting a cold Coca-Cola in a bottle.  A gallon of gasoline was less than 50 cents and some dude would come out and fill your tank, check your oil, and clean your windows!  With a smile on his face (sometimes).  Back in those days, if you mentioned that you'd bought something made in China you'd probably have been branded a red communist on the spot.

Thanks to corporate greed, it's hard to find an American flag decal for your Hummer that isn't made in China.  And this is where I start to come unhinged.

We pay the same or more for the same products as we did a few years ago when those products were made in North America or even Europe.  Manufacturing jobs vanished as corporations hauled their production to countries where wages are pennies compared to dollars.  Corporations are doing great as a result of these and other tactics aimed at maximizing income and pleasing their shareholders.

As an example I love to use Ray Irani, CEO of Occidental Petroleum, who in 2010 had a salary of $1,191,667.  Not bad.  I'm not sure there's a man or woman on the planet who is actually worth that kind of money, but hey.  I'm sure he has a family to feed just like most other working Americans.  And I'll bet his mortgage payment is a bitch.  So I don't begrudge him for it.   Really, I don't.  I'm sure he hates long meetings and conference calls as much as the rest of us do.

However, I do know that salaries like that are made possible, and only made possible, because people like us are buying shit or services.

But here's the real kicker.  Mr. Irani can certainly survive quite well on that salary.  He might have to make some conservative adjustments here and there.  He might have to save up for 7 or 8 years before he can afford to buy his yacht.  I have no idea what his living arrangements are but it might be rough if he wants a 10,000 square foot home in Los Angeles, even in Compton (if there is such a thing as a home that large in Compton).  Maybe he'd have to settle for 4,000 square feet.  Hey, life's tough and we have to manage it.

But he doesn't just make $1,191,667.  Mr. Irani also raked in a little extra as a bonus in 2010:  $32,975,000 to be precise.

OK, I'll be totally honest here.  I just lost any fucking compassion I might have had over his cost of housing dilemma.   Or how long he might have to wait before he gets his goddamn yacht.  Before all of you start screaming "but...but...what if, like you, he had a rough year in 2009 and only made half of what he was making in 2010!", let me finish.  I'm not done yet.

Also in 2010, Mr. Irani got some stock and options to, you know, help pad his condition a little more just in case he might have been irresponsible in some way and squandered $10 or $20 million after too much rum punch at a black tie gala.  That bumped him up another $40,250,000.  But maybe we shouldn't even count that... it's all just on paper for now.

Total compensation package for 2010:  $76,107,010.

If my 2010 bonus alone, as a percentage of salary had been that much, I would have been given an extra $1,660,279.30 for my superb contributions to the advertising agency.  I would have told them they were out of their minds (after waiting to be sure the check was going to clear the bank).  And then I would have promptly resigned because (a) that's just insane business behavior, (b) it seems unsustainable and would put me under incredible pressure to live up to that value, and (c) I could easily retire very comfortably on that sum.

Now you know why I love using Mr. Irani as my example.  He's not even the top dog in the CEO pyramid for 2010.  That honor goes to the head of Viacom who edged him out by about $8 million. That's OK though because they did OK too based on 2nd quarter financial reports just released on May 3rd. Believe me, that 8:30 AM conference call on Friday was probably worth attending!

In light of all this I totally understand where Mitt Romney is coming from.  These are his people and his world.  And in their eyes it's just not fair that a majority of us want them to pay a higher tax rate than a Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez trying to make ends meet by pressing out tortillas in Tyler, Texas all day so they can afford to fill up their tanks at the Exxon station on the way to Wal-Mart or Kroger to buy shit for their kids to eat for dinner.

There's just a couple of things I do not understand.  At what point does executive compensation become immoral?  How much is too much?  Do we draw the line at $100 million a year?  And why would anyone in their right mind want or expect to be compensated that much in one year anyway?  It's almost more money than any human could possibly spend unless they want to go the extra mile and do something crazy like...I dunno... what?  Buy an election?  Control the entire political process?  You tell me.

One of the joys in life in setting realistic financial goals and reaching them;  $70 or $80 million a year kinda takes the fun out of that aspect.  Maybe I'm just a little too sensitive because if I was raking in $2 million a year I'd be running a kick-ass food bank or something instead of trying to figure out where my next $60 million was coming from and whether all the liberal socialists were going to jack up my tax rate because of some podunky thing like our educational system falling apart, roads and bridges needing repair, water systems in dire need of updating, and preparing ourselves to be technological stand-outs in the fucking 21st century which, by the way, is already 12% behind us while we squabble over marriage equality and the evils of reefer, both of which will surely, sooner or later, rip apart our moral fiber and destroy our civilization.

But what truly blows my mind to shreds are not the Mitt Romneys of the world, or the people making so much money it can't possibly be spent on any personal "needs" without appearing to be a complete and total self-absorbed prick with horrific taste in chandeliers.  If a family of 8 could live comfortably in your master bath and walk-in closet, you might need to take a step back and self-evaluate.

What I'm throwing my hands in the air about are the people like you and I, who are making $25k a year, $50k a year, $75k a year and are actually having to feed and educate their children, and keep them clothed, and look after their health care needs, make sure the mortgage payment is sent in on time,  try to sock a little back for unexpected emergencies, and plan for retirement, all of which are generating more wealth for those corporations who control this system, while these very struggling people simultaneously weep these ridiculous tears that it would be so unfair to tax the rich at a higher rate than anyone else, and because those of us who are actually blessed with a functioning conscience, we must be Marxists and anti-American.  (Or French.)

I am not a Christian but all of this is enough to make me wish Jesus would come back right this instant and yank so many of his followers' heads out of their asses.  But I have a hunch we're just going to have to let this play out, and the ride is not going to be one of joy.

Thanks for listening, and Vive la France!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: In Memory of Kristopher James Keith

I lost a Facebook friend within the last week and it wasn't due to any defriending on either side. Kristopher was fighting cancer and unfortunately his body could take no more of that battle. Although we never met personally, Kristopher and I shared a lot of interests and cats were one of them. He was particularly fond of Tater Tot, and who isn't? I know he would have given anything to see the Tot in person someday. So I am dedicating this post to him and all 19 of his rather amazing years of life.

Tot gazing out the kitchen window

The Tot pose

Kristopher was keeping a very low profile on Facebook during the entire month of April so I knew he was going through a rough spell. Although I tried to suppress my thoughts, I knew it wasn't good. Knowing that if he was rarely on Facebook, he probably wasn't doing much else online either, so on April 13 I posted a Tot exclusive on his page. That was one of the last times we had any direct interaction.


Prior to his downturn in April he would frequently start prompting me around 5pm for the Pussy Blog. "Yeah, yeah, relax; I'm working on it." I would have been catching hell today for be so late. And I wish I was.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Tot Shabbat Edition

Tater Tot assuming the Loaf position
Jessie Lee showing off her unique underside
She enjoys Daddy upside down
Happy Friday! Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: 4/20 Edition

Friday "crept up and crapped on me" as my grandma used to say.  I almost forgot it was Friday!  My attention was focused on it being 4/20.  Anyhoo...

Tot making his way over for a 2nd portion of tuna.


Jessie Lee showing contentment with her meal.

Hope your Friday is/was a great one!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Friday the 13th - Part II Edition

Another memorable Friday the 13th! We had one in January and I got laid off that day. On this one I forked over $8,800 to the IRS. At least the latter scenario makes me feel good: I'm doing my part to fund the war machine! Perhaps I paid for some body armor...or a toilet seat perhaps. That's a better use of my money than some frivolous first-class vacation in Europe for a month, right? Am I right?

Anyway, let's get down to some feline business. That's why we're here.

Tot spent the morning asleep on what has to be a very uncomfortable 3-ring binder.

The Tot lurking on a shelf...on a collapsed cat trap, ironically.

Jessie Lee giving her daddy a robust yawn.

My babies will be getting a Friday fish treat shortly.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Lazy Good Friday Edition

The Tot thinks the photo album makes a comfortable bed.
My photo scanning project has been interrupted for a bit.

Meanwhile, Jessie Lee has claimed the far more comfortable chair.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Small Cat Traps Edition

This has been a busy and frustrating week.

Plenty of boxes from amazon arrived this week. However all but one are too small to serve as cat traps. I believe the kittehs are a bit disappointed that I didn't order bigger stuff!

Jessie Lee cooling her belly on this rather warm afternoon.

Tot will guard the boxes even though they are too small to contain his bulk.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Austin Bluebonnets

This might well be my favorite time of year in Austin when the bluebonnets are in bloom. These are just a couple of photos from the neighborhood.

Imagine an entire hillside along the freeway covered in these! It's spectacular.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Pussy Portraits Edition

What a beautiful Friday!

The very handsome Tot.

Sweet Pea pausing during grooming in a pot.

Jessie Lee adoring her daddy.

Bonus Tot yawning.

I do not like the sloppy appearance of this post. I've been trying out the Safari browser and either something isn't set correctly or it does not allow me to center photos on the blog. Consequently, the text appears off-center.

Guess I'll switch back to Firefox for the next post.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Collard Blossom

The collard greens are getting ready to spit seeds which unfortunately means all that attractive leafy vegetation now tastes like cardboard. We should be able to gather plenty of seeds for the fall crop.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Auto-Incorrect Edition

I've used Microsoft Office Picture Manager for years to crop and resize my photos before posting them to my blog. I like it because it's simple and doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles to complicate things.

Now suddenly when I save a photo after resizing, it has decided to apply Auto-Correct to the color which changes the tones to some god-awful unnatural shit, and I cannot figure out how to turn this off! As I said, it's not a complicated piece of software.

That being said, here we go with the Friday Pussy Blog. I've tried to manually restore them to the originals as much as possible.

Out-of-focus Tot

The incomparable Jessie Lee

Sweet Pea, lizard catcher extraordinaire.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Prickly, Dangly and Squiggly

After nearly a week of doing battle with the flu, I finally felt like getting out today to see what's going on around the ranch

Purple Prickly Pear

Ball Moss

Red Yucca

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Supreme Cat God of the Food Pantry Edition

The door in the background leads to the utility room/cat food pantry. I wonder why this becomes the gathering place?

One of these two kittehs will establish clear dominance over the situation.

The competition has begun!

Well. It appears we have a winner!


Happy Friday, everyone! Hope yours was great. Ours was pretty dismal. Cold, wet, and somewhat stormy!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Painted Kitchen

It's been awhile since I first painted our kitchen yellow. After getting yellow travertine tiles installed a couple of years ago I had been mulling over the idea of painting the kitchen again in a different color. I love yellow -- it's one of my favorite colors -- but not everywhere! (I actually went through that phase once when I was about 13 years old and EVERYTHING in my bedroom was yellow.)

Here are some before and after shots.

Before: kitchen area

Before: cooking area with freshly made hamburger buns and ketchup courtesy of Sheldon.

Before: dining area.

After: kitchen area (interior poorly lit due to extremely bright morning sun).

After: cooking area

After: dining area

I must confess I am thrilled. This new color really accentuates the counters much better than yellow did. It's also much more forgiving than the yellow was when painting around the white door trim and baseboards. I also think perhaps I'm a more experienced painter now than I was at the time I painted the kitchen yellow. That was my first major painting project, and since then I have painted every other room in the house.

Now I just need to do something about the drab off-white doors. I haven't painted any doors in this house and I'm definitely not looking forward to it but it must be done.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Friday Pussy Blog: Painted Tot Edition

This has been a busy week! I decided to paint the kitchen after mulling over various paint samples for months. (A separate blog post with photos is forthcoming shortly.)

The area around the windows is inset about 5 or 6 inches and I decided to paint that area that frames the windows a slightly lighter shade. The Tot was sitting on the window ledge as I painted down the left side. As I started painting the right side he decided he wanted none of that so he started backing up.

"Don't back up, boy!" I shouted.

Oops. The poor boy got a dusting of paint on his butt.

A wet towel got him nicely cleaned up and all is forgiven.

It's a beautiful Friday with abundant sunshine streaming through the windows and rather warm temps. It's almost too warm for outside work.

The Tot approves of the kitchen makeover.

My orange Totloaf.

Jessie Lee pretending to snooze in Sheldon's office chair.

Hope your Friday is equally relaxing!