Could’ve Skipped That

Dropped off the Honda at the local mechanic, an honest guy with a friendly smile. Walked a mile home on a hot morning. Felt a little vertigo (tight shoulders and neck, slight veering to the left), and the hips creaked with each step. Approached a middle school bus stop and saw two punks staring at me. One smirked to the other. They laughed up their sleeves as I came closer. Glared at them, but the bigger kid smirked again, whispered to his buddy and drew a laugh. Leaned in and barked, “Something must be real funny.” Silence.

Could have skipped that. Who cares what 13-year-olds think?

Ate breakfast, worked on the screened-in-porch door. Made lunch for Judy and me. Assembled the door. Glued and stapled the sections together.

Called the mechanic and walked back to the garage. Felt woozy as I got near. Had to cross Aloma ( a busy four-lane road). Vertigo came back as I stood on the median. Spread my feet wide apart to brace myself as traffic wooshed by in front and behind me. Considered sitting down. Could have skipped that.

Made it to the mechanic’s, and he offered me a cold drink. Must have looked wrung out from the heat.

The man had time to talk. We discussed fly-by-night service companies in Orlando. Agreed that we’d avoid any company sporting a Christian symbol on their ads. They’re usually the worst. Said, “Hey, Hitler was a Catholic, just not a good one.”

The mechanic said, “Speaking of Hitler, what about Trump?”

“You don’t like Trump?” I asked.

“Oh, I do,” the mechanic answered.

The conversation turned into a political debate. The mechanic’s assistant spouted conspiracy theories. Blamed Obama for Russian election interference. The mechanic floated the idea that Trump was a better choice than a career politician for defending social security. Business men manage money better. Trump is a business man.

Made a few counterpoints. The assistant identified me as a liberal moron, sneered, fell back on smug indignation. The mechanic enjoyed the debate, laughed frequently. (He must enjoy starting political fights when things get slow.)

Could’ve skipped that.

The Contrary Generation

Tom Brokaw dubbed my father-in-law’s compatriots the greatest generation. They grew up during the Great Depression and fought WWII. They believed in sacrifice for the greater good and love of country. They worked hard, persevered against long odds, and fought harder after getting knocked down.

They also spawned the Baby Boomers.

I’ve been wondering what moniker pundits will give to my generation. Some of the early Boomers protested the Vietnam War, participated in the free speech and free love movements, took drugs, formed communes, refused to conform to the demands of the free market system. Then, in the eighties, Yippies evolved into Yuppies. They swerved to the right and pledged allegiance to capitalism, greed. Yuppies became neo-cons in the late 90s and early 2000s. They believed in the United States’ right to use military power to intervene in the Middle East, to depose governments and install American-leaning democracies. Now a significant percentage of the Boomers believe in Trump, the great Big Daddy. They pray that he’ll use charisma, loud-mouthed bullying and cut-throat bargaining to secure the tattered remnants of white privilege. So much for peace, love, nonconformity and power to the people (uh huh).

We are the contrary generation.

Of course, not all the boomers swayed to the tune of every passing fad and bowed down to every commercial campaign. Not all sold out. Some tried to make their portions of the world better. But I had hoped that the abundant youthful idealism of the 60s would have produced more positive action over the long haul.

The 60s were a party. The 70s a hangover. The 80s a redirection. Every year from 1992 on has been part of a fitful thrashing about, a search for solid ground. I understand why the millennials look at us in disbelief.

But the Boomers are human. Current and future generations can look at us as a cautionary tale. The Millennial and I-Generation’s assumption that they won’t fall into the same traps leads to identical behavior. The Boomers, once upon a time, thought they were better than the Greatest Generation. They thought they were special. Look how that turned out.

Mad Lord Punt

Mad Lord Punt, oil/canvas, 11×14″

Mad Lord Punt woke from a nap,

drew on a map, and

told the storm where to go.

He huffed to the east and blew to the west

and stemmed its windy flow.

Punt slicked his hair and puffed out his chest,

said “Look here, look here at me!”

He had bested the rest and reminded them lest

they forgot his chivalry.

Mad Lord Punt promised this, swore that,

and it all came true in a way.

He protected guns and his favorite chums

and never let Dems win the day.

He might have lied but just a few died,

and they didn’t count anyway.

His legend stayed shiny,

though he sounded quite whiny

as the idol’s feet turned to clay.

Mad Lord Punt sits on his gold.

Yellow ore warms his bum.

He can’t ever be told

that his lover’s grown cold.

But mourners are beating a drum.

His middle’s grown fatter and

the world’s bigly sadder

now that the crowds have long gone.

But he never did anything wrong, no sir.

He never did anything wrong.


(Summit, Oil/Canvas, 30×40″)

Two leaders meet to resolve conflicts, personal and international. They stare solemnly into each other’s eyes as they shake hands. Intertwined flags representing the pride and ideals of two nations serve as their backdrop. The flags remind the powerful men that deliberations carry weight, that the negotiators-in-chief must pay the price of power by shouldering the heavy burdens of office.

The two retire to a super secret conference room with their translators and lawyers. The meeting stretches long into the night, and the only word coming out of the palace is that lackeys served refreshments after the fifth hour passed.

The world waits breathlessly for word of the results of their intense negotiations. What will they say? What new policies have been chosen? How will their decisions affect the lives of millions?

The curtains part. Two middle-aged men solemnly tread a burgundy carpet toward twin lecterns. The first man taps his mike, leans forward and says, “Beer is good.” The other nods and adds, “We like beer.”

Reporters erupt with questions: what kind of beer? do you favor lagers over stouts? how do you explain the unfathomable popularity of IPAs? will there be an agreement for tariff-free beer exchange between countries? is this the budding moment of a suds-détente?

One leader waves his hands to quiet the crowd. The other leans toward the mike during a lull in the shouting, smiles sadly and says, “We like beer.”

The Reality Party

s-p-painting-2Self-Portrait, oil/canvas, 12×9″

Reality is a slippery thing.  Every time I paint a portrait I discover that my mood and the mood of the sitter creeps into the paint. The expression of a painting can completely change if a slight twist of the lips or a squint in the eye is added.  How do I catch the reality of a person if they keep metamorphosing right in front of me?  Objects in still lives are easier to pin down, but if I look at them long enough I discover hidden shades and colors that I hadn’t noticed before, and my perception of the whole is changed.  Landscape subjects flicker and move continuously with every stray breeze or the passing of a cloud.  What then is real about a street or a tree?  Nothing is still and unchanging if I’m really paying attention.

Is it worthwhile to keep looking for reality?  I think so.  Reality is a process of discovery, of finding new things in what appears to be obvious and familiar.  It cannot be circumscribed or pinned down, but its open-ended nature makes life that much richer and mysterious.  Art critics have long ago declared that realistic art is dead, and those who persist in this tradition are morticians applying cosmetics to a corpse that should have been buried long ago.  But of course the naysayers are not practitioners in capturing reality and have no idea that it is an ever expanding field.

DSC_1215                         Bust, charcoal, 17×14″

I’ve been following the news about the Democratic Party and their search for a new message that will revitalize political fortunes for its brethren.  I’ve also been thinking about the Republican drift into fantasy and anger driven polemics.  The GOP has based its political fortune on stoking the fury of its adherents by offering them false narratives.  Scapegoating, denying science, flag waving in the service of suppressing dissent, and ignoring the facts of recent history are some of the tools they’ve employed to seize power.

If the Democrats truly want to distinguish themselves and to set an original agenda they could identify themselves as the Reality Party.  Search out the real, proclaim it, and offer concrete solutions in response.  Never try to recreate a world that has long past, but respond to problems as they arrive with a clear eyed resolve to do the best for the most people.  Never promise a one size fits all solution to any one dilemma facing our country, but attack any difficulty with all the tools at hand.  If there are no tools, then figure out how to make them.

Wouldn’t it be great if politics graduated from its current practice of engaging in ceaseless dogfights for cash, influence and power?  What if Lincoln’s vision of a government that is “by the people and for the people” came to fruition and our elected officials focused on doing practical things for the benefit of all?  I’d vote for any candidate that fit that bill regardless of party affiliation.

I sometimes tell my Drawing I students that I’m teaching them to search for What Is.  They often prefer to hold onto What They Think Is There.  They struggle with the basics of perspective because they refuse to draw what they see and hold tight to drawing what they thing ought to be there.  Some get upset when they discover that their assumptions about reality are wrong or do not predict all possibilities.  But if they stick with the process they discover that What Is is a wonderful field of open inquiry, of ever expanding horizons. And isn’t the “pursuit of happiness” most likely to succeed when it’s based on such a search for reality?

dsc_0112     Bougainvillea Looking West, oil/canvas, 20×24″

Happy Hitler Puppy Song

I’ve recently been reading Sri Aurobindo.  He teaches that in the supracosmic state there are no binary oppositions, no contradictions.  Right and wrong, love and hate, truth and falsehood no longer stand in contrast to each other, no longer mutually define their qualities in antithetical tandems.  I decided to experiment with that thought, given that we are being told that we live in a “post fact” world, and combined images of innocence and evil into a charcoal drawing entitled, “Happy Hitler Puppy Song”.


The song below accompanies the picture.  Its tune is bright and bouncy like a kid’s toy ad  from the mid 60s.

Happy Hitler Puppy Song, sing it when all things go wrong. 

Your dreams are dead, your future’s gone. 

Happy Hitler Puppy Song.


It started up in Queens in a small genetics lab.

They sang it to a beagle, a Schnauzer and a Lab.

It really started growing in a Dachshund culture tube.

Now he’s got a will of iron and he’ll wag his tail for you, wag his tail for you.


Happy Hitler Puppy Song, sing loud, sing it strong.

We’re so far right we can’t be wrong.

Happy Hitler Puppy Song.


You’ve got to have this puppy, no matter what your views (Arftung!).

Your life is really crappy, and you’ve nothing left to lose.

He sometimes snarls and lunges, and barks and bites and chews,

but he’s always sweet and cheerful when Brite Bark’s yipping news, Brite Bark’s yipping news.


Happy Hitler Puppy Song, sing it when all things go wrong.

Your dreams are dead, your future’s gone.

Happy Hitler Puppy Song, Happy Hitler Puppy Song.


Have a supracosmic day (if you can).

Landscape Painting Force Field


Bougainvillea Looking West

I’m still working on a landscape that I started this summer and wrote about in “Front Yard Monet”.   I know that it’s nearly done as some areas are resisting improvement, and additional maneuvers only make them slightly worse.  I tell my students that each painting is a collection of missteps and corrections, and that with every new canvas a painter learns a new way to accept defeat.  But defeat does not mean discouragement.  It means that new territories of experience and expression still await.  A perfect painting means that exploration has come to an end.

I also tell them that painting a landscape usually involves more problems than changing light, fickle weather and attacks by bugs: a plein air painter is often beset by bystanders who comment on the work in progress and share their viewpoints about their lives, religion, politics, and art.  They persist unless discouraged.  On Friday I resorted to a desperate measure to fend off three onlookers and was partially successful.

I was painting a patch of grass in the left foreground when I heard the sounds of a motor and a radio approaching.  A weather beaten man with one lone tooth in his upper jaw who wore a baseball cap, shorts and a tee shirt pushed a mower slowly toward me.  Reuben stopped to look at the painting, but didn’t turn off his radio or the motor as he told me about his attempts at painting and photography.  He had a thick accent, and what with the background noise I had trouble understanding everything he said, but managed to pick out a few of the major points.  The man said that he had several regular customers in the neighborhood and helped them with their gardens as well.  Reuben enjoyed working as him own boss in the outdoors as it gave him time to appreciate the beauty he saw everywhere around him.  A recent sunset moved him so much that he took a picture of the red and purple tinged clouds above a glowing horizon. And then Reuben knocked on the door of a nearby house, showed a befuddled stranger his picture, and pulled his victim out onto the lawn to make him look at the splendor of nature.

He had used up the memory in his phone and now carried a small digital camera to continue taking his photos.  With practice and persistence he had developed a sense of composition that allowed him to isolate the most choice elements in the landscape.  Now when he snapped a picture he framed hidden beauty in such a way that it revealed itself to his viewers.

Reuben also told me that he had financial difficulties and lived in a rented room a few blocks away, but that his life had grown so much richer now that he lived a simpler life.  I didn’t cut him off because he kept saying things about life and art that agreed with my own observations, because it would have been wrong to interrupt his joyous flow, and because the man had a huge need to unburden his thoughts to a willing  (and/or unwilling) audience.  After 20 minutes, however, I began to use a Buddhist practice of following my breaths to help me remain patient. He had begun to repeat himself, and I feared that the sun would set before Reuben finished his harangue.  Thankfully he walked on after he had taken three or four selfies with me and my landscape, and had apologized at least five time for taking up my time.

I painted a bit more after he left, but decided to go inside for a drink of water.  I remembered that I had a cigar on my dresser, a Christmas present from my daughter’s fiance’.  I took it outside with me and lit up.  Reuben returned pushing his mower just as I arrived at my easel.  He grinned and said, “I bet you’re smoking that to keep me moving on.”  I smiled and said nothing but thought, “Damn right!”

A man in a pick up truck pulled up a bit later and asked me what I was painting.  I pointed down the street to my view, and he looked at the painting on my easel.  He seemed surprised, gave me a compliment or two, told me he lived just down the block and promised to return later.  I puffed on my cigar and hoped that he would not.  He drove away, but swung back around the corner a half hour later and pulled up in his driveway two houses up the cross street.  He did not come back for a chat.  “Good cigar,” I thought.

A young woman stopped her car beside me just as I began to place a few touches on the clouds above a tree.  She asked me if I were a professional, and I said, “Yes, and I teach painting and drawing at Crealde School of Art and Valencia.”  She said, “I take classes at Valencia.  What’s your name?”  I told her and said that our department was a good place to  study.  She seemed bright and pleasant, but light was fading and it was time for me to pack up and start supper. I puffed on my cigar.  A cloud of smoke drifted in her direction, and she fled before she was engulfed.

Later that night I sent a message to my daughter on Facebook.  I told her that her boyfriend’s gift, a Quorum Shade from Nicaragua, was much appreciated.  And then I looked up cigar stores online to see if a local shop sold them.  I’m thinking about starting a series of landscapes in my neighborhood and may have to stock up.


My Viewpoint

The Reign of Error

This political season had its full share of outright lies, evasions, rewritten history and underhanded maneuvers.  The results of the election left some jubilant and others distraught, but most felt a sense of relief that the bombardment of propaganda had finally ended. I think that we all have an inner thirst for truth and sincerity, and they’ve been scarce commodities during the last 18 months.

Quakers don’t have a creed, but they do have a set of testimonies.  The testimonies are time tested guidelines that, if followed, help a spiritual pilgrim make his/her way on a path toward communion with God.  One of the testimonies deals with personal integrity.  Good Quakers tell the truth simply, lead lives that involve no secrecy, and attempt to treat everyone they meet with open good will.  The benefit of living this way is an easy mind that carries no unnecessary burdens. A person blessed with a straight forward life has nothing to hide, no lies to remember and no dubious schemes to promote and defend.

I don’t claim to be a good Quaker, but this testimony rings true for me.  Both sides of my family came from German peasant stock.  The truth was delivered directly, bluntly when I was  a child.  The words and punishment often had a harsh edge, but I knew that at the heart of things my parents and grandparents wanted me to have character and integrity.  I’m concerned that these values no longer are accorded much honor.  Success at any cost and by any means appears to be the accepted goal these days.

But I’m not going to point fingers at certain parties who turned the election into farce for two reasons:  1. I’m not perfect; 2. my personal outrage has little influence.  Instead I’m going to rely on my wife’s advice.  She tells me that when she’s upset by bad behavior she examines her own record.  She tries to recognize times when she has been guilty of similar acts of bad faith and vows to never engage in such behavior again.

I told my kids when they  were little to help me bail water from incoming waves back into the ocean.  When they got older they realized that this was a joke, a comic exercise in futility.  Striving to maintain a straight forward, honest life in the face of this rising tide of Machiavellian scheming and shameless deceit may also be a pointless gesture.   But I tell myself to hold tight to a high standard of integrity, and I believe that every time I do so I commit an act of true defiance against this advancing reign of error.



This Is Spinal Trump



On Thursday night I flipped back and forth between the movie, “This Is Spinal Tap” and D.T.’s speech to the RNC in Cleveland.  One show was a cynical but funny drama with lots of braggadocio and self-delusion, and the other was a movie by Rob Reiner.

The mockumentary rockers in Spinal Tap, who revealed themselves to be mediocre musicians and songwriters, built a career out of swagger and pointless gestures that their fans, for reasons unknown, accepted as the real thing.  The “loudest band out of the UK” thrust their hips, waggled their tongues, and head banged on stage as if they were rebels delivering the unvarnished truth about sex, drugs and rock and roll.   But the theatrics were derivative, and the lyrics were nothing but inane drivel.

Trump’s performance mirrored Spinal Tap’s cliched artificiality.  He squinted like Clint Eastwood in a Dirty Harry movie when making a manly point.  He nodded his head to the applause and sign waving (he approved their adulation) like Mussolini at a rally.  He led the crowd in a chant of “USA, USA, USA,” as our cheerleader in chief.  He frequently stepped back from the podium to bask in the waves of praise and approbation he received from the crowd, and when he returned his face would squinch up at the eyes and mouth into a grotesque mask of hollow satisfaction.  He looked like a porn star faking pleasure.

The speech itself was a tossed salad of wild accusations, lies, threats, contradictions, baseless assumptions and vague promises.  But the underlying message was that the country and the world was in a mess and needed a savior:  Donald J. Trump.  He’s the Man, the Big Daddy, the John Wayne tough guy who’ll lead us through.

I fell asleep before the end of the movie, but did manage to stay awake through the commentary following the speech.  I believe that David Brooks said that Trump had taken us to a dark, dark place.  I agreed and was thankful that someone else thought that.  I’ve sometimes felt that our existence on this planet is something of an absurd joke, a pointless exercise that always ends badly.  But I’m never happy when corroborating evidence shows up that proves my worst suspicions correct.

George Carlin used to say that the world is a freak show, and that he felt no urge to fix it.  He was too old to give a shit any more and was willing to sit back and watch the spectacle. The freak show has begun to go beyond the limits of the endurable.  I can’t stand watching a slow motion train wreck, the onset of an epidemic of anti-science, anti-reason blindness.  And if Trump gets elected I won’t be able to follow George’s example of looking at the world from a position of amused detachment.  Things stop being funny when the worst possible scenario comes true.

Trump and Tribalism

The roots of Donald Trump’s recent success grow wild in the muck of tribalism.  Tribalism is the belief that my group is better than yours.  This article of faith, in its current form, proposes that a certain group of pale Americans are the true inheritors of the American Dream.  It also suggests that members of this tribe have been finding it more difficult to realize their aspirations in recent years because of the growing power and influence of people in opposing tribes (the less pale and the traitorous pale who supported President Obama).

The us vs. them stance can be  attractive to those who have been marginalized socially and economically.  A man, a woman can join a team, feel part of a bigger movement and experience the surge of power that comes by working to right injustices (real or imaginary).  The difficult work of looking for personal reasons for personal failure can be put aside.  The familiar carrot and stick promise of the American Dream–if you work hard enough you too can become rich and powerful–if you’re lazy you too will end up in the gutter–can be resuscitated once the so called agents of destruction are removed.

Tribalism is entrenched deep within our psyches.  It’s a mechanism that allows us to identify with a group for the shared purpose of survival.  Prehistoric encounters between  wandering bands competing for the same resources were fraught with danger.  Ancient peoples traded goods and information when it suited them, but also fought each other for land, water, genetic variety and hunting territory.  The term that tribes used to describe their group, to name themselves, was “The People”.  Members of other factions, even if they shared a similar heritage and language, were not considered fully human and were treated accordingly.

The history of the 20th century is a tale of racial and national tribalism. Hitler, of course, made use of this hardwired instinct to manipulate Germans and to persecute anyone he deemed an outsider.  Gypsies, Jews, Slavs, the mentally handicapped, and homosexuals were carted away and systematically killed as the Nazis considered them non German (nonhuman).  The Japanese promoted their supremacy and justified mass killings in China using a similar set of psychological maneuvers.  And Allied propaganda referred to both Germans and Japanese by derogatory names to give the impression that they were less than human. It was easier to kill a “kraut” than it was to kill someone from a culture that produced Beethoven, Goethe, Liebniz and Einstein.

Donald, with all the grace and subtlety of a tank crushing a bed of flowers, has reinvigorated the tribal strain in American politics. Trump promises that he will “make America great again” if chosen to become the leader of his tribe.  He will use his manifest power, charisma and can do attitude to reestablish the dominance of his people in America.  The details are sketchy, but he has big plans.  Big, big plans.  His pale people will become great again if only they believe in him enough to join his campaign to persecute Muslims and force Mexico to build a giant wall to imprison themselves within their borders.

He treats his opponents with scorn and derides their achievements.  They’re not as wonderful as he is.  He rewrites history to suit his narrative.  His story is better.  And he just won’t stop talking.  Why should he when he thinks that he’s already running the show?  But what he isn’t saying is that his real tribe consists of himself and a few insiders.  He’s a ruthless power player who has used liberal and conservative, private and governmental connections to expand the wealth he inherited from his father.  His true associates are a select few.  Membership in their tiny tribe is limited to the absurdly wealthy.

The rest of his “millions and millions of people” will eventually find out just how much Mr. Trump cares about them if they are foolish enough to elect him.