Random interaction that made me laugh to myself and caused other passengers to move a little farther away

Smelly, homeless dude, out loud: Customers should clearly get 3% and they should be getting about 50% and I told them so and they didn’t agree but it should be about 3% […he then goes on and on in a similar vein..].after all 8 times 3 is 27.

Me (forgetting reality for a moment): No it isn’t.

Smelly (looking me in the eye): Yes it is.

Me (always bad a math): 3 times 7 is 27.

Smelly: No it isn’t. 3 times 9 is 27 so the customer should be getting at least 3%.

Me: You’re right. I see what you mean.

Smelly (still making eye contact): Yes, absolutely…[he starts the mysterious math equations again from the top]…they should get about 50%.

Me: Uh-huh. Yup. Well, this is my stop. I completely agree with you, however.

Smelly nods his head appreciatively then slides into the subway train seat I just vacated. As the doors close I hear him continue, “3 %…”

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I have no idea what we were talking about but he seemed interested in explaining it all to me. Hope it made his day, at least a little bit brighter.

a problem with books . . .

The last epic fantasy series I read, and the current trilogy I am reading, both focus on the main character’s illegitimate birth, although neither author uses that term. I suppose because the phrase “bastard son” is more eye-opening and flirts at the edge of acceptable language usage. The issue for me, however, is not politeness — There is no inherent power in a word unused; it’s goodness or badness depends solely on how it is flung at people.
My issue is with the basic misogyny at the foundation of someone being a bastard.Western society’s definition of the word relates 100% to the martial status of the father. It is a patrilineal concept not typically found in cultures that value women in their own right. In fact, in the United States in the 21st century – it is no longer seen as important. Women are entitled to birth children, whenever and with whomever they wish (unless it’s incestuous or something; that’s still weird.)
Fantasy books involved a tremendous amount of world building. So why do authors trip up on this point? That is what I don’t understand. The female characters can be bad-ass warriors, decorated soldiers, rulers and wizened ancients. But it still comes down to their being chattel valued only for the male genital allowed between their legs.
Let me add here, that I’m not talking Sci-Fi Porn – these are otherwise well-written, spellbinding, exciting stories.

Autograph

When I was in my late twenties or early thirties, two of my friends moved to New York City, and after learning how much I loved that city; they welcomed me to visit whenever I could. Riding the Staten Island Ferry was the most fun, I think, but I also savored the art galleries and the museums. I did a great deal of touristy things, and I am especially glad now that I went to the top of the World Trade Center (although at the time I was mostly impressed with the vast multitude languages spoken there.)

One afternoon, when my hosts were both working, I decided to roam around on my own. Laurie Anderson had just published a book and there was a book signing scheduled, so I settled on that as my eventual goal — I was planning to purchase the book anyway, so, hey, why not get an autograph, too.

In rural Michigan I saw few well-known people, let along famous celebrities. I was completely unprepared for the intense swarm of adulation. A few of the fans were funny — for instance, one person handed the musician a blank check from his checkbook. Most of the fans, however, declared that she was the singularly most important thing in their lives and they eagerly pledged their undying love to the stranger with a pen in her hand. The fan who was only two or three people a bit ahead of me in line, handed paper to the poet and implored:

My friend is going to commit suicide if I don’t get your autograph for her.

It was a very long time before the line moved again.

Ms. Anderson did provide the requested autograph, but also, in the most gracious and caring voice you could imagine, quietly and repeatedly explained to the young admirer that he needed to encourage his friend to seek professional help.

Simple inertia carried me to the front of the line with her book in my hand, but I have never asked another famous person for an autograph.

Thinking about Phil Ochs

As I write this, You Tube is running in the background.  When I move to the kitchen soon to make lunch, I’ll switch to one of my personalized stations on Pandora. A quick glance at my Twitter page reveals that among the friends, writers, musicians, filmmakers, meteorologists, news broadcasters, and the plethora of others whom I follow, there are a handful of famous celebrities; people you watch on major television networks who attract thousands of fans – technology makes communicating with them instantaneous and incredibly easy.  So much so, that it seems quaint to talk about transistor radios. Yet, on Christmas morning in 1966 when I was eleven years old, I danced throughout the house in delight because my parents had given me one.

I grew up in a rural area roughly an hour north of Detroit.  From the time school closed in June to the day it opened in September, we had no access to a library or much in the way of books.  My siblings and I sprawled out in front of the television.  We invented games to play together.   My brothers played softball or grabbed their bicycles to enjoy the freedom of dirt roads and state parks. My sister went to help my aunt or my grandmother around the house.  I hovered near the radio my parents kept in the dining room, or at least I did until the day my mom could not figure out how to get back to the station she and my dad liked.

My mother seemed not to have a problem with this much isolation.  She put little value on books or an education, especially for daughters. College prep courses were discouraged.  She declined to allow me Spanish or French classes.  Even utilizing more than the simplest vocabulary met with her anger. (I learned many years later that, in fact, she could not read much beyond the children’s stories she shared with us.) Loving and supportive in many other ways, she expected that her daughters would wait tables or be retail clerks until we married and had children (in that order.)

Intellectual pursuits were out of the question, even my writing which was actively encouraged by teachers and various relatives.   So my mother attempted to nip things in the bud the summer I turned 10 by removing all the loose leaf paper and spiral notebooks from the house and refusing to purchase more. I wrote on the sides of brown paper grocery sacks.  I dug out stories I had written previously so that I could write new stories in the margins.

By the time I regained access to paper in the fall, I developed the habit of reading my father’s newspaper and often would sit and watch the evening news with him.  His style of TV watching was both interactive and animated.  He would shout at the television when he disagreed with something or beat his fist at the air, demanding that the government line up and shoot dissidents, protesters, stubborn people, or anyone else he deemed deserving.  I thought that all dads behaved that way.

Finally, I received the wonderful gift of my own radio.   My mother enjoyed seeing how much I enjoyed music.  She actively listened to whatever music caught my attention and tried to teach me how to cake walk and jitterbug.

One of the few advantages to where we lived was that it was ideally suited to receive transmissions from several large cities.  I could get in stations from Lansing and Ann Arbor, two different rock stations from Ontario, and even Motown from Detroit.   The best reception came from Flint, though, and one day while spinning the dial I discovered an acoustic folk music show from now defunct public radio station WFBE.

I liked all of it…everything…all the music, all the singers and songwriters, but host David Tamulevich often played a voice that rang out above the others.  Not with the be-bop-ima-believer-pop-bop I recognized, but songs that bit back, confronting hypocrisy, racism, and apathy, albeit tuneful and melodious. It was 1967 and opposition to the Vietnam War suddenly raged in a corner of the bedroom I shared with my sister…raged so compellingly that I couldn’t blink or turn away if I had wanted to. Every week I sought out the show, and looked for others,  in the hope of hearing the songwriter who displayed such strong opinions, and eventually I needed to share his new ways of thinking with somebody. The only person around was my mom, so I went to her and said I heard a song on the radio I wanted to discuss; the song was Cops of the World.

It was a short conversation.  She remained intently quiet while I talked until she abruptly stopped the conversation with a snap: “He’s right.” Then more gently, “Why do you think they hate us?”

The first time I heard Phil Ochs on the radio I was 12-years-old and realistically too young to participate in any of the protests happening in places so distant from me. My opportunity came when I was a junior in high school. I arranged with our principal to bring in Draft Counselors from Michigan State University to provide advice to junior and senior boys nearing draft age. There were no teachers or other authorities at the assembly except for the principal himself. He stood unobtrusively near the door, and then a few minutes into the presentation he turned in my direction, gave a slight nod, and walked out.

After the furious 60s subsided, news about Phil Ochs came along only occasionally. I heard about the Allende benefit concert.  I continued to listen to his records. Local folk radio shows continued to play his songs. Coverage in major media outlets was absent. Without Facebook and Tumblr, without fan forums and fan-run websites which provide direct flow of information, there was no practical way to know what he was doing. 

It seems absurd in today’s 24/7 world where one can touch someone else, anywhere, within moments, that I never actually met Phil Ochs.  I never saw him in concert. I never earned the right to mourn him as a friend, a family member, or any type of loved one.  Nevertheless, because he had the courage to be an activist, because his songs reached that inexpensive, little transistor radio, I realized that I could make my own decisions; even if they were not popular; even if they were uncomfortable; even if somebody tried to make me shut up about them. Ultimately, as beautiful as Phil Ochs’ voice was to hear, it was what he had to say that drew me to listen.

The day I read about his death, I sat alone in my living room, and cried.

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Mentioned:

David Tamulevich   http://tamulevich.com/

Remembering Phil Ochs Song Nights http://sonnyochs.com/events.html

Currently the documentary Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune is readily available to stream online.

There is a comprehensive list of Phil Ochs’ body of work on Spotify.  I recommend checking some of the songs out.  In the meantime, here is a link to Phil Ochs – Cops of the World: