Thursday, May 21, 2015

My Fifteen Seconds of "Fame"

I don't know why it's taken me so long to post this. After all, it's not every day that I get interviewed by a television news station. In fact, I've never been interviewed before. But it happened last Tuesday afternoon.

I had posted comments on two local news stations' Facebook pages that morning about my close encounter with a wrong-way driver bound for tragedy the previous night. And just a couple of hours later, I received a voicemail from a female reporter at one of the stations asking if she could interview me about my experience. However, she seemed to believe that I had actually witnessed the fatal crash that occurred right after my near miss, so I thought I didn't have anything worthwhile to say to her and didn't call her back as she requested.

But that afternoon, a male reporter called from the same station, and this time I picked up the phone and talked to him. He too wanted to interview me. I told him I didn't see the accident, but he still wanted to interview me to "get the perspective" of someone who closely encountered the errant driver just moments before he died in a fiery crash that also killed two other people. So, I agreed to let him come to my house for an interview.

He and his cameraman arrived about fifteen minutes later, and I stepped out on the front porch for the interview. I felt nervous, but not as nervous as I was afraid I might be except for the fact that I was still nervous enough that my right leg involuntarily and disconcertingly jerked forward at the knee numerous times as I stood there answering the reporter's routine questions about what I saw and felt the previous night and what I thought about it all in retrospect. The interview concluded very quickly and the reporter and cameraman thanked me for consenting to it.

That night, my wife and I tuned in to that station's ten o'clock newscast right after the penultimate telecast of the penultimate season of American Idol, and a short way into it they aired a story on the crash, and a snippet from my interview appeared. Since I no longer subscribe to cable, I didn't have a DVR to record it with, but my wife recorded it off the TV with her cellphone video camera. I haven't checked out the result. I wasn't sufficiently enamored with what I saw on TV to want to see it again.

Still, I'm glad I did the interview. It was an experience, short-lived as it was, that I'll be unlikely to forget, although more likely than the other guy they interviewed who saw the accident, tried in vain to help CHP officers pull the wrong-way driver from his pickup before it caught fire, and then stood by helplessly as the driver burned to death in front of him. That poor interviewee and the other witnesses to this tragedy will probably have nightmares for a long time about what they saw and heard that awful night.

I have only relief that I wasn't driving in the fast lane when I encountered the pickup; sadness for the people killed, for their families and friends, and for those who saw the victims die; and an iota of shallow gratification that I got to do something I've never done before and enjoy my fleeting moment of quasi-fame.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Cool Brush With Catastrophe



I rarely post to this blog anymore. But something happened last night that I can't NOT post about.

I was driving home in lane #2 of the westbound lanes of I-80 from my bowling league after midnight and had just passed a big rig to my right when suddenly, in the fast lane next to me on my left, I saw the oncoming headlights of a pickup truck headed the wrong way eastbound, and the vehicle flew past me before I had time to do anything but register the almost surreal incident with numb incredulity.

I had my cellphone with me and thought about calling the police, but, since my cellphone won't connect with the car speaker my wife uses with her cellphone, I would have needed to extract my phone from the secure case attached to my belt, turn it on, locate, press, and hold the tiny "emergency call" icon at the bottom of the screen, and then call 911 while keeping at least one hand on the steering wheel and my eyes and concentration still mostly on the road, and I figured someone behind me would also see the pickup soon enough and call it in via a safer arrangement, and, hopefully, all would be well.

When I got home a few minutes later, I hastily posted the following to Facebook:

Tonight as I drove home from the bowling center after midnight in the westbound lanes of I-80, a pickup truck flew past me in the next lane going in the wrong direction. A monumental oops for whoever was driving, and lucky for me that I wasn't in that lane. Yikes!

I didn't give the matter much thought after that and, being as late as it was and as tired as I was, I bedded down and went right to sleep. But when my wife and I got up at 6 this morning, I told her about the incident and then turned on the local news. Soon after that, I saw mention of a fatal accident caused by a pickup driving the wrong way in the fast lane just east of where and moments after I had my encounter. 


A Ford-150 pickup collided head on with a Lexus sedan in the fast lane. The pickup immediately burst into flames and burned its driver beyond recognition of even his or her gender. The two male occupants of the horribly crumpled Lexus died at the scene, and the freeway was shut down for hours in that vicinity.

A normal person might well respond to this experience by solemnly banging out some platitudinous observance such as: "Times like these make me realize how precarious life is and how important it is to make every moment count and to kiss your loved one(s) before leaving and tell them you love them so that if these happen to be the last things you do and say to your loved one(s), they're the RIGHT things."

But since there's nothing normal about me, I'm not going to say this (even though I kinda just did). But I *am* going to reflect here on how I responded to what happened and try to draw some lessons from it.

This morning some of the local news channels posted the story of the accident to their Facebook pages, and I jumped in and commented on my experience last night. Someone responded immediately by leveling accusatory words at me to the effect that I hadn't even called the police to warn them about the wrong-way driver. 


Well, I never said this in my comment, but the commenter somehow drew that conclusion from what I wrote, and she was right. I hadn't called the police. I lied to her and said I didn't call because my cellphone was "inaccessible," and I went on to explain that the CHP had already been notified and that two CHP officers enroute to intercept the pickup saw the collision from the opposite side of the freeway just moments after the pickup passed me.

The fact is, even though my notifying the CHP would have made no difference in this instance, I didn't know this at the time and should have called in anyway on the off chance that it might have prevented a catastrophe. I *did* think about calling it in, but I reasoned that someone had probably done it already or would sooner and more safely than I could at the time, and that the pickup driver himself or herself would probably realize soon enough what was happening and take evasive action before anyone was hurt on the sparsely trafficked freeway on which I'd seen no one in the fast lane thus far.

But after that, I hardly gave it a second thought. I drove right on home without exiting the freeway at the next opportunity and stopping from where I could have safely called 911. And I didn't feel particular concern for any right-way drivers who might encounter the wrong-way driver behind me.

I'd like to pass this off not as a psychopathic lack of concern for my fellow "man" but as yet another instance of my typically poor judgement along with a psychologically protective kind of insulation from the needless distress of helpless concern. In other words, I cared about the drivers behind me but figured I couldn't do anything about it soon enough to make a difference and didn't want to stress myself with unproductive concern about it and reassured myself that everything would be okay.

But is this *really* why I didn't call in what I saw or give it much of an additional thought short of publishing my rather cursory post to Facebook before lying down and quickly departing the land of wakefulness?

I guess I don't know the definitive answer to this. Neither do I know why I don't feel the sense of profound relief that I was spared the fate of the two men in the Lexus. Should I feel it? Is there something wrong with me that I don't? Would most people feel it?

I won't launch into a pity party of saying (although, once again, I kinda just did) that I think my wife might be better off in the long run if that pickup had collided with me instead of with the Lexus and that the fact that it didn't is something I needn't celebrate with feelings and expressions of deep gratitude.

I'll just say instead that I take the following key lessons from all of this. First, be sure to do whatever I must to call in any road hazards--from wrong-way, persistently swerving, or alarmingly speeding or aggressive drivers to potentially dangerous road debris as soon as I can relatively safely manage it. 
And second, realize how precious and precarious life is and make damn sure that I kiss my wife and tell or show her I love her before I leave for bowling or other road travels, because one just never knows.

(You can access a multimedia account of the accident here.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

It's That Time Again


Another year has flown by and another "special day" greets me this morning.

I don't know how I've made it this far or how much further I'll be able to go. I say "I'll be able" rather than "have to" because I still want to keep going. You might wonder why considering that all my dreams now seem to end with the morning sun and my goals entail little more than getting through the day.

Gone are my hopes of writing my magnum opus on religion, free will, or anything else. I've come to the provisional conclusion that I have nothing to say that's worth saying and that people these days won't even read the words of those who do. Gone are my hopes of becoming the person I want to be. There's just too large a gulf between that person and the person I am and have always been.

No, today I live to love my wife, my cats, my family, and my friends. I live to enjoy the things I still can and to contribute what little I can to the enjoyment of others. That's it.

Do I sound depressed? I don't feel depressed. In fact, when I got up this morning and started seeing and replying to all the nice people wishing me Happy Birthday on Facebook, I felt happy. I still do. I'm blessed to have so many friends and acquaintances who care enough to send me birthday wishes. I've known some of them for over fifty years, and I feel a special sense of warmth and connection when I hear from one of them.

So, no, I'm not depressed. Just being realistic about who I am and what is left for me to do with a wasted life that's running out of time.

Yet, having said that, my mind is filled with things I could write even if nobody wants to read them. So maybe I was wrong to suggest that I don't even care to try. And if I were to try, just try, regardless of the result, maybe that would go a long way to bridging the aforementioned "gulf" between who I am and who I want to be.

Let's see what happens this year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Goodbye Six Feet Under



I canceled cable TV almost two years ago and hardly miss it. In fact, I think I’m much better off for having done it. For not only have I saved thousands of dollars in fees, but I’ve also watched great series I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to otherwise, because I would have been aimlessly frittering away my TV-watching time on the talking headless and other inferior programming instead of enjoying on demand via Amazon Prime, Netflix streaming, and Hulu some of the finest programs ever to adorn the small screen.

Over these past two years, in addition to watching great series that haven’t ended such as The Good Wife and Justified and reveling in several seasons of series that have such as Deadwood and Sons of Anarchy, I’ve also watched all of Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Friday Night Lights, Rome, Dexter, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and, just last night, I finished watching Six Feet Under.

Several years ago, a former friend of mine drunkenly raved about how great Six Feet Under is. He said it was a fantastically well-written, well-acted, and thought-provoking look at life and death and his favorite series ever by far. We watched the first episode together, although I think he passed out about halfway into it. Well, to be frank, I wasn’t quite as enamored with it then and subsequently as he was, but I still think it’s one of the finest TV dramas I’ve ever seen.

I guess what I disliked the most about Six Feet Under was that I often struggled not to despise almost every major character on the show. Almost every one of them, including all of the Fisher clan, seemed so incredibly neurotic, narcissistic, and callous to the needs and hurts of others, except to the extent that they saw them in terms of their own needs and hurts, that I often wanted to reach into the screen and slap them silly. I mean there were times when I virtually hated Nathan, Ruth, and Claire and recoiled from David’s whiny effeminacy.

But when all was said and done, I still cared about all of them, because, as all great TV series do, they were masterfully enacted as full-bodied, complex characters who took tentative steps forward and despairing ones backward along their developmental paths encountering life’s endless and sometimes overwhelming challenges, and there was so much poignancy mixed with delightfully dark humor in their travails, not to mention so many psychological, philosophical, and religious themes to contemplate along the way, that how could I not love the show and already miss it now that I’m caught in the melancholy wake of its majestic final episode? (You can see the final ten minutes of the finale below)

Well, now it’s on to what may well be the greatest show of them all--The Wire. What will I think of it and say about it after I’ve finished watching its finale? I should know in about three months.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Standing Up to North Korea




Was the North Korean government involved in the recent hacking attacks and threats against Sony Pictures? They say they weren’t. The U.S. government says they were. I’m not sure I consider either more credible than the other. But in this case, what difference does it make? Someone did it, and Sony Pictures indefinitely cancelled distribution of the ”The Interview” as a result. 

I can’t say that I blame Sony Pictures, but I hope they release the film later on. In the meantime, I applaud pugnacious Larry Flynt for pledging to release a pornographic parody of “The Interview” to thumb his nose at those responsible for the attacks. Moreover, President Obama has denounced the attacks and vowed to respond to them in a timely and appropriate fashion.

I have an idea of how he might do this. Why doesn’t the U.S. government pay Sony Pictures for the rights to the film and let one or more major networks broadcast it to the whole country for free? It could justify this as national defense against external intimidation and censorship, and many more people might end up seeing the film than ever would otherwise. I’d be one of them. The film looks like the kind of cinematic garbage I’d never see without good reason. But now I have the best of reasons.

Bring it on!  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Meditation or Philosophy?

"The gate to spiritual practice begins with the visceral insight that everything is going to vanish, including me." ~ Lewis Richmond, Soto Zen Priest

I just finished reading a Tricycle magazine interview with Lewis Richmond about using spiritual practice to make the most, or, depending on how you look at it, the least of aging. Lewis contends that the older we get, the more we tend to experience physical deterioration and psychological awareness of our impermanence that open a door to serious spiritual practice that may have been closed earlier in life, and that while meditation and other spiritual practices don't stop us from aging, thinking about our mortality, and dying, they can attune us more deeply to our moment-to-moment experience so that we see and accept it for what it is without wishing it were something else. He goes on to say that meditation and other spiritual practices won't necessarily make life wonderful, but they can still "make a big difference" in our life. In this way, aging can be welcomed as an opportunity for positive change instead of perceived and dreaded as a curse.

Two things came primarily to mind as I read this. First of all, I wonder if I wasn't right when I wrote years ago that spiritual practice may be vastly overrated in terms of the benefits it can deliver to the practitioner and to those in his or her orbit.

Second, I wondered if there aren't psychologically or philosophically oriented practices that might generate more fulfilling bang for the buck than would sitting countless hours on a mediation cushion. Of course, one could do both, and this multifaceted approach to personal development is, indeed, part of what has been variously called "integral transformative practice" and "integral life practice." But might one be better off spending the time one would have spent meditating reading about and practicing CBT or stoicism instead? Or would meditation make CBT and/or stoicism work better and vice versa?

My inclination is to think that, at my age and given my temperament, my time would be better spent psychologizing and philosophizing my way to wherever it is I want to go than trying to mediate myself there. But what do I really know of such things, and what can I realistically hope to accomplish with any approach?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day Musings



Yesterday was Mother's Day, and my Facebook news feed abounded with glowing tributes by my "friends" to their mothers, many of whom have passed on to the Great Beyond.

I too am grateful to my mom, who, at 76, is not only still around but very active and vital. I'm grateful not so much for her giving me life, which has been a mixed blessing, albeit through no fault of her own, but for what she's gone through and done along the way to help me have as good a life as I possibly can under the circumstances.

You see, I wasn't a normal kid and I've never been a normal adult, and I know she must have worried about me all along and that she still worries, especially, about what will become of me if she dies before I do.

Judging from my Facebook news feed, many of my peers paid their warm respects yesterday to moms who are no longer around, but I'm guessing that most of those moms had fewer worries or, at least, less reason to worry about their adult children than mine has had about me.

But as grateful as I am to my mom for the sacrifices she's made for me and for the help she's provided at crucial times in my life, and as touched as I truly am by the tributes that others paid their moms yesterday, the thing that strikes me most poignantly about it all is a very famous line from a very famous play:

Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I mean that I saw all these people posting about their moms who are either dying or dead, and I wondered, more even than I usually do, what it's all for. Girls being born, growing up, having children, working exhaustively hard to support and raise them, their children having children, aging into decrepitude, dying, and being honored on Mother's Day. "A tale told by an idiot."

I don't feel depressed as I write this. I'm just wondering, more than usual, what these cosmic eyeblinks of a lifetime of struggle, pain, moments of pleasure, and, if we're very fortunate, a modest sense of happiness or fulfillment toward the end of it all is all about.

I guess almost everybody finds a purpose or creates one of their own. Some people find it in just getting through the day, day after day. Many find it in embracing the doctrines and in carrying out the practices of their religion. Others find it in having kids, raising families, and being "productive members" of their society. Others, like myself, who live at society's fringes but aspire to do more than just live day to day, find it in reading, writing, thinking, learning, and connecting with others and trying to be helpful and good in any way that we can. And some probably find it in all these ways.

But, in the end, it still seems like a pointless process or, at least, one empty of substance or significance. Is it, or am I missing something?