Wednesday, January 28, 2009

But Inspections Are Free

The saying on the street is "There's no such thing as a free lunch." You have to sit through the sermon, at least. It also applies off the street. My experience with subsidized housing is there's no such thing as a free subsidy, either.

People who live in subsidized housing live under rules and regulations that those who have never experienced them imagine only pertain to totalitarian states. I get a minimum of two invasions of my room every month. One for bug spray, one for "inspection." "You are not required to be present for this violation of your privacy." The rules for passing inspection are set by bureaucratic pinheaded suits who have never lived in a 200 square foot studio apartment, or visited one, or know anyone who has. Therefore the rules are insane, as rules tend to be that are not based in any way on any knowledge of reality. Therefore I'm always failing my "inspection" and required to be "re-inspected", at which time I must have corrected the cause of my "failure". So usually there are 3 invasions per month. Re-re-inspections are also possible.

Fortunately, at the re-inspection I can't fail anything I passed at the inspection. So, let's say I failed the inspection because the right side of the room was too cluttered. If the note says, "Your room failed inspection/ the right side was too cluttered/ please correct this for re-inspection on [Month/Day]," that means I can take all the junk on the right side and slide it to the left side. Now the left side is cluttered, but that's OK, because the left side passed previously. So sometimes the insanity works in my favor!

This month I have failed inspection because there isn't a 3-foot wide path from the entrance to my room to the window. The rule that I must have such a path, I've been told repeatedly, is based on the need of paramedics to get a gurney to my limp dying body when it's time for my last trip to Harborview before final discharge to my Eternal Studio in the Burning Pit of Hell. I will presently amuse myself by describing in print how bat spit insane the 3-foot rule is.

First of all, the entrance to my room is itself 2 feet 10 inches wide. So if the gurney is 3 feet wide it can't even get in the door. If they bring in a super-transformer-gurney that can tuck its sides in to get in the door, let the stupid thing tuck its sides in the rest of the way.

If they can't get to my limp dying body because my stuff is in the way, how did I get there? If I store stuff up near the window, that means I'm not going to be dying at the window. I'll be dying someplace I can get to. Do they think I'm going to climb over my stuff just before dying? What, just to make extra work for the paramedics? I don't think playing a lame practical joke on the paramedics is going to be a big priority when I'm choking on that pretzel.

If there's an earthquake and the building pancakes and I'm trapped in an air pocket with tons of rubble around me, am I going to be left to die on the grounds that a gurney can't be rolled up alongside me?

For that matter, if inspection is at 3 PM, and the earthquake was at 2:59 PM and I didn't clean up the mess by the time the inspectors arrive, did I fail? Answer: Yes! Because the rules are made by dumb-asses!

Meanwhile, suppose you don't live in subsidized housing. Let's say you're a serial killer who likes to chop your victims up and saves the variety meats in a freezer in your basement in your own house. Lucky you, you don't get inspected monthly! It's your reward for pulling your own weight in society!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Bob Hope to End All Bob Hopes

Whenever the national media obsesses on one subject for days I call it a Bob Hope. That's because, at the end of May 2003, the media obsessed on Hope's 100th birthday for a week, and then just two months later obsessed another week as they poured out his eulogies. If only he had passed away a week BEFORE his 100th birthday, we could have got birthday and death all wrapped up in one week, BUT NO, he had to drag it out. We ended up with at least four "Bob Hopes" that year, two due to Bob Hope himself, one to the Iraq invasion, and one to Martha Stewart.

This week's Bob Hope is Obama's inauguration. Not only has he got himself being presidentially inaugurated, Obama has cleverly arranged this for the same week the country honors Martin Luther King, Jr., a fact which gives his inauguration the punditry-significance equivalent of a telephone book on a high chair. Without MLKJr Day during the same week: "Obama's inauguration is the most important event in African-American history since the invention of peanut butter." With MLKJr Day the same week: "Obama's inauguration is the most important event in African-American history since the invention of peanut butter, and wouldn't Martin Luther King, Jr., be just tickled pink?"

I'm writing this Monday. Israel couldn't simply announce they'd be pulling out of Gaza by tomorrow morning. They had to feed the ongoing Bob Hope-itude, the current Bob Hope-unami, by announcing a pullout "in time for Obama's swearing in."

Were it not for Obama's impending assumption of office, last Thursday's pretty river landing of an Airbus 320 by Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III might have been mainly an opportunity for the press to inquire into the relative vulnerabilities of French-made planes versus properly made planes, with regards to large water fowl. Instead, we get "Isn't this a wonderful thing to have happen now, in time for Obama's inauguration, to show what kind of great country we live in, where we can all pull together in times of need?" over and over again on CNN and Fox. With multiple testimonies from average American Hudson River ferry boat workers.

There's nothing the media can't tie to Obama. Chris Rock recently put out a DVD of a tour in which he made very few references to Obama. So CNN had to interview Chris Rock this week, focusing on why he had so little to say about Obama. Tomorrow they can interview an actual rock and ask it the same question. The next day they can do a piece on why the B in BLT doesn't stand for Barack.

CNN also highlighted the remarkable similarities between the rush of travelers to DC and the Inauguration to the annual Hajj to Mecca. Hajj: lots of people. Inauguration: lots of people. Hajj: a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah. Inauguration: a demonstration of the solidarity of the American people and their submission to their elected leader. Hajj: Includes the rite of Ramy al-Jamarat in which pilgrims throw stones to signify their defiance of the Devil. Inauguration: this year, for the first time in history, there will be much throwing of shoes to signify the pilgrims' contempt of the last president. I'm crossing my fingers hoping that the last will become a great new American tradition.

Clearly, this country hungers for opportunities to engage in mass behaviors. Following American Idol, Survivor, and the NFL isn't enough. A nation of extroverts, we need structured mass play on the level of Children of the Corn. This is America, the land of Hope. We can accomplish anything we try. We can create a Mother of All Bob Hopes.

I propose that whenever the country is down in the dumps, say with a recession, or say a depressing war occupies too much of our attention, we hold a week long Throwing of the Shoes at the Bush Ceremony.

You may work the details out amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

America Has PreTSD

In writing, it always helps me to collect my "thoughts" if I can think of one word or a short phrase that sums up what I plan to dribble over. Let this week's word or short phrase be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)!

I've been meaning to talk about PTSD for some time. For one thing, there's a lot of it going around. For another, I have caught some.

Last week Jim Page walked into the Real Change and invited me to a house concert set for the next day. I mentioned that my PTSD might prevent me going. He mentioned back that he himself has Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I'll be getting to that later. But first I want to explain how the Post-kind of TSD can make it hard to do things on the spur of a moment.

Usually I won't go to any event for which I have less than 48 hours to get used to the idea. One time I agreed to go to a community meal with 3 hours notice. I found myself waiting in line alone for the dinner to start, with loud conversations battering me from all sides. The ensuing panic attack didn't make me stronger.

People often tell me, "Wes, suck it up. We've all had bad things happen to us in the past. The trick is to put it behind you and get on with your life." These people are sadly misinformed. They think that the panic attacks are caused by dwelling on bad memories, which is wrong. So as a public service I will explain what really happens.

First of all, yes, there is the Trauma. Note that it is capitalized. We aren't talking about little t trauma. We ARE talking about the time Mom tried to suffocate me after Dad drove off to leave me to collapse into the pool made by the geyser of blood from my temple. We are NOT talking about dead goldfish or simple corporal punishment, unless there were thousands of screaming goldfish, or unless by simple you mean by the rack or thumbscrews or such.

Big T Trauma isn't just more traumatic than little t trauma. There are qualitative differences. Big T Traumas undermine your world view and force you to be on your guard for years to come.

After my Father nearly killed me, and after my Mother tried to, I still had to live with those people! If you can't trust your parents to not try to kill you, you can't trust strangers to not try to kill you, either. So I had to spend years looking over my shoulder, ready to duck.

It's that long period of necessary vigilance that gives rise to most of the unpleasant symptoms of PTSD. By the time you get the diagnosis, you have worn out your vigilance machinery. You have arthritis of the vigilator joints. Your original injuries have more or less ceased to be a factor. Being told to forget about them is useless. You might as well tell me to forget the Hundred Years War. Have done so -- doesn't help.

The phrase "panic attack" adds to the confusion. The "panic" is not in response to any fear. It just is. The disorder is this: That you get the physical symptoms of panic when you KNOW there is nothing to be afraid of. Being told there is nothing to be afraid of, over and over, by well meaning people, when YOU ALREADY KNEW THAT, could result in someone taking someone's head off, tossing a penny in the socket and making a wish. Ha! Get it? Means "well"! I just channeled Shakespeare!

Getting back to Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you've followed me so far you should understand now that Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder is just as bad as the Post-kind. It's all about being on Orange and Red Alert so long they look Blue to you. Your alert button is broke. Sometimes it doesn't work at all; sometimes it gets stuck.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Embrace Your Stupidity

Every day I am more and more convinced that the main difference between smart people and stupid people is that stupid people have all the answers.

As a corollary, to write opinion regularly you must avidly embrace your own stupidity, and roll with it.

So say I wanted to write this week's column about Barack Obama's selection of Reverend Rick Warren to do the invocation at the inauguration. Just to mention Rick Warren's name here is an Adventure in Stupidity in itself. Why don't I just save myself the trouble, turn in a column with the words "I have nothing better to do in life than smack myself in the head with a 5-pound sledge hammer" repeated 33 times, and then smack myself in the head with a 5-pound sledgehammer? Should I mention that Obama might likewise have saved himself some trouble? Probably I should not. Just go to the hardware store, Wes, and get the hammer.

There are times when you can't take a side on a topic without inviting hate mail. Turns out that anti-abortionists, for instance, are as angry with Rick Warren for accepting the Obama invitation as the Gay Community is at Obama for offering it. You could make a case that Obama invited Warren in order to drive a wedge between anti-abortionists. Then, you could move to New Zealand, like you always wanted to, and live out the rest of your life raising chickens for slaughter, telling everyone you meet your name is Sally and you're really a vegetarian.

Or, take the case of the guy who shot up his former wife, their family, and in-laws, set fire to her house, and might have escaped safely to Canada if it were not for the one flaw in his plan, that his Santa suit caught fire in the commission of his own arson, and burned to his skin. If I had written that myself, it would have been a clown costume. Which brings up my opinion of clowns. I tend to think that, since clowns make fun of everything, it gives you the right to make fun of clowns. Not all clowns, it turns out, share that view. So I fall back on solipsist jokes. Why didn't the solipsist laugh at my joke about him? A. Because it didn't exist.

My point being, if I use this space to share an opinion of mass murder, such as "mass murder is unfortunate", I'm just asking for trouble. Someone will send a three-page letter in 8 point Courier telling me that my opinion is ill-informed and biased. "I have read Real Change for years, and in all that time you have never, NEVER, mentioned the good works that mass murderers do for their communities, or exposed the people that drive mass murderers to murder. Just this morning someone cut me off at the Mercer exit. Would you write about that? NO!"

Another fall back is liturgical-calendar humor. "Yesterday, I had an Epiphany!" Ha. "Advent-ures in Advent-ends." Ha, ha!

It's true. I was watching CNN covering the Israel-Gaza conflict, a conflict I don't dare have any opinion of, and they showed emails from viewers answering the question, "How would you solve the Israel-Gaza problem?" A number of stupid opinions followed. My favorite, which led to the small e epiphany, was the one from a Canadian that said something to the effect that "we" should completely rebuild the infrastructure in Gaza and spread the people around better, so that it would be easier for "us" to spot the Hamas soldiers among them.

OK. I won't venture an opinion of my own of the kind. I have no solution. But I will say this much. If Canada ever mucks with the infrastructure of Gaza or sends its people to spread out the Gazanians or whatever they're called, all hell would break loose.

Some people can't see that "rebuilding infrastructures" and "spreading people around" are not solutions to violence. They are descriptions of violence.