Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 21, 2019

Planes, Trains, Mountains & Lame-Brains

Planes, Trains, Mountains and Lame-Brains 

– By Mark Nielsen, July 2019 – 

 

This a road-trip story which has two heroes, unlike most stories, which have only one. One hero is a world famous African, the other is just an average kid from Iowa who stepped up when I was in a bind. And like the best Road Movies here in America– featuring famous comic figures like my heroes Steve Martin and John Candy  –my own Road Trip also involves planes, trains, and automobiles, plus a few bumbling, hilarious detours along the way.

That’s why I call this story Planes, Trains, Mountains and Lame-Brains

So first comes the plane, of course. My ex-wife Sue and I coordinated with her godmother Barbara, a native of Switzerland, to plan a visit with her in July of 2009. To her credit, Barbara helpfully covered most of our travel costs throughout several Swiss cities, all prepaid in advance, which is important for later. After Switzerland, we would then continue our travels on our own (and on our own dime) in Italy. The first three days of the trip were wonderful, and Barbara was a great hostess in Zurich, but there’s no comedy there, just family time and tourism. 

Not the train we took but our view was just as pretty…

Now comes the train. From Zurich, we boarded a train to St. Moritz, high up in the Alps, which is where the adventure, and the bumbling, begins.

Once we were up in St. Moritz, a classic Swiss ski town, we decided to go higher still, on a day trip. 

St. Moritz, Switzerland in the summer.

So to get up to the top of the famous Piz Nair mountain where this photo was taken, we took one of those 24-person cable cars. 

  The view from atop Piz Nair is truly stunning, the definition of peak experience: a 360 degree view of green valleys and distant mountains, and you can see for, like 100 miles. 

And standing atop that mountain, maybe I was feeling woozy from the altitude, or overwhelmed with the beautiful scenery, or maybe I just had another among the one million attention deficit disorder moments in my lifetime, but somehow I managed to drop my Mastercard –10,000 feet up!  

We didn’t discover this loss of the card until later that night, when we quickly called to arrange for a new card to be sent down three days later to our eventual destination in Umbria, in central Italy, since it was the weekend. I just assumed I could use my Discover card in the meantime for any credit card situations. 

Next morning, we were scheduled to board yet another train south to Lugano, in the Italian section of Switzerland. For those bad at geography, there are four distinct quadrants in Switzerland: French, German, hardcore Swiss, and Italian. So we got to the train station, headed for Lugano, but then my next bumble was forgetting one of my bags back at the hotel. I would have abandoned it, except that my passport was in that bag. As you’d expect, Sue and Barbara were flabbergasted at my stunning stupidity. So we went and retrieved my passport, but then we missed the train. As a last resort, we were able to transfer over to bus tickets later… Wait, what?! A bus too? Of course … since Steve Martin and John Candy had to get on a bus in the movie, how could we not follow suit?! So we just barely got out of St. Moritz, three hours later, and the two ladies barely looked at me the whole bus ride down. 

When we got to Lugano and checked in at the hotel, Barbara mentioned that there was what she called a “little music festival” in town that weekend. It was in fact the Estival Jazz Lugano 2009– not little at all, but in reality a major European event being broadcast nationally. Now I had been a jazz deejay on college radio, plus a fairly serious jazz fan ever since . So I was thrilled to “accidentally” be there at the right time for this free, big-name festival. Better still, my favorite American alto saxophone player David Sanborn was on the bill. 

And after him, South African trumpeter, storyteller and human rights activist Hugh Masekela would follow Sanborn onstage.

South African trumpeter, folk singer and activist Hugh Masekela, at the Estival Jazz Lugano, 2009.

Meanwhile Barbara and Sue were tired from traveling, or perhaps tired of me, so they stayed back at the hotel, and I made a solo excursion by simply walking eight blocks to the lovely town square. Ideal, right?

The ideal soundtrack to this tale would be Hugh Masekela’s #1 U.S. radio hit from 1968, the soul / jazz classic “Grazing In the Grass”.

I first learned about Hugh Masekela as a college student and a protester against South African apartheid in the 1980s. I knew South Africa had exiled Masekela as an agitator for decades until the white Afrikaner government finally stepped down peacefully around 1994. But even after that, from the early Sixties until now in 2009, Hugh had been a loud voice of protest and peacemaking. For almost 50 years, Masekela refused to be silenced about the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, plus other economic injustices, violent conflicts and refugee crises worldwide.

As you would expect, the musicians’ performances that night on the square were amazing, and when they told stories it was all in English, and the 73-degree outdoor setting was perfect, and I was in heaven… I went back to the hotel exhausted but ecstatic. Then I got a good rest in preparation for our goodbye breakfast with Barbara, and a train trip to Milan, Italy. 

Miraculously, Sue and I got to the train station on time the following morning, with no mishaps. And as a reward for my improved mindfulness, who did we encounter on that train platform? 

None other than Hugh Masekela himself. He was with his band, on the way to their next festival appearance somewhere in Germany. It seemed that several other people on the platform also knew who he was, but most were apparently polite Swiss citizens of good taste and restraint, instead of a brazen, loud, celebrity-obsessed American like me. So I had to at least try shaking the hand of one of my all-time heroes, both creatively and politically. Thus, with little hesitation, Sue and I went to meet the great man and say thank you. 

Not surprisingly, he was gracious and funny, and very down-to-earth. I commented that for him to be out on tour at his age (he was 68 at the time), and doing it by train, was quite impressive. He replied, “If we don’t tour, we don’t eat, maaaan. These European festivals are our bread-and-butter.” I told him I had protested U.S. investments in South African businesses before apartheid fell, including those of my own university. At this, he nodded, giving me a generous pat on the shoulder.

Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, in the early 1960s.

I also told him that in the 1990s I had seen a concert by his ex-wife, the incomparable singer Miriam Makeba, performing with the great Dizzy Gillespie, who I knew was a hero to both of us. In their heyday, and for a long time afterward, Hugh and Miriam had been like the Louis Armstong and Aretha Franklin of pan-African music. His tribute to her the previous night from the Lugano stage was moving –since she had just passed away in 2008– and I thanked him for this as well. Even though I never wanted this moment to end, still I didn’t overstay my welcome, and I didn’t trouble him for a photograph. But the encounter was quite powerful, even so. Then he got on his train and headed north, we got onto ours , headed south, and we arrived in Milan a few hours later.  

Duomo Cathedral, Milan, which took almost 500 years to be completed.

And thus beginneth the automobile portion of our Road Trip tale. Or should I call it the “can’t get an automobile” portion, since the rental place in Milan would not accept our Discover card as a guarantee, to rent the vehicle we had reserved. 

Attention all U.S. travelers: Discover is useless in Europe!

We were flummoxed, and returned to our hotel to consider our options. And to pray, which I don’t recall Steve Martin ever doing. While we were in the lobby, we began a conversation with a young Army sergeant from Iowa. He was not in uniform, but was traveling briefly while on leave from a base in Germany. I must have seen something on his luggage or somehow intuited that he was American. I think his name was Andrew, but unfortunately I’ve forgotten by now. 

Feeling a bit desperate and foolish– and once again kind of audacious, as I had on the train platform meeting Hugh– I explained to Andrew that if we could pay him a fee, in Euros or in dollars with a check, for him to put down a Visa or Mastercard at the rental agency, then we could rent a car. I promised we weren’t trying to scam him, and we were willing to give him all of our stateside contact information. In return, he was trusting us enough to let us drive off in a car he was renting on our behalf, and hopefully not steal it, thus leaving him holding the bag. So then —in a heroic act of trust and citizenship and goodness, and to make a few bucks [cowbell] …for his trouble — Sgt. Andrew helped us get that rental done. We exchanged money and information with Andrew, and finally I drove –for the first time in over a week!– back to the hotel and rested …after creatively solving the third major travel mishap in three days

It was like we’d been through a real-life, self-inflicted episode of that show The Amazing Race: Moron Edition. Have you seen that one? But that kid Andrew, he was as much a hero on that day, to this moron, as he ever could have been anywhere that the Army planned to send him next.

We had a pretty good time in Milan that night, and also the next day. But when the second morning arrived, cue the squealing tires, we high-tailed it as fast as possible out of yet another city that  I had almost stranded us in. 

La Casella resort and equestrian center, Umbria, Italy

With a little help from GPS, we eventually found our pre-booked and secluded equestrian resort in Umbria, Italy. It would be my first real rest in about five days. We explained to the hosts about our package coming via DHL, with our replacement Mastercards in it. When it arrived the following morning, … BIG sigh of relief. One more bullet dodged. We finished out the week by seeing some of Tuscany, and lovely Umbria –including Asissi where my ancient hero St. Francis came from– and finally a few days in Rome, …and I didn’t get lost or screw anything else up the whole rest of the week! I promise it’s true. 

So I took a plane to make a date with history, took a train to meet one of my biggest heroes, and finally I rented an automobile with the help of a heroic American soldier who never even had to pick up a gun to rescue one of his countrymen. It was the best, but weirdest, Road Trip ever! 

The only thing that will ever top it is if I get a chance to shake Steve Martin’s hand, maybe on a cruise where thru some mishap we have to share a room, …or perhaps we’ll share our creative goals and deepest fears while up in the Goodyear blimp. What do you think? Do I have a shot? 

Me and Steve. “Hey, will you write a short blurb for the back of my first book, Steve? I promise you’ll like it!”

DEDICATED TO Hugh Ramapolo Masekela (4 April 1939 – 23 January 2018) .

THE NEXT TO NORMAL STORIES, STREAMING (compliments of WGLT public radio, Normal, IL) :

https://www.wglt.org/programs/next-normal-story-slam#stream/1

– Lugano Jazz Fest 2009, Masekela’s full set, on Swiss TV:

…. ~28:00 -he dedicates and begins  “Stimela (The Coal Train)” a story-song, about economic refugee miners and their poor working conditions in South Africa, which was also a big inspiration for my own effort in performing the above story, complete with using the hand percussion techniques Hugh used in his concert performances.

…… ~54:30 on the Lugano broadcast = “Grazing in the Grass”

 

 

MaB-Sinatra, Monroe, Lawford, (Rudin)- WaPo story on the FBI checks on Sinatra-Mob-JFK connects

This “swamp” gets weirder, and deeper, the more I work it.

I started out looking into a goofy 2003 Australian movie, All the Way, in which Dennis Hopper plays Sinatra (both Hopper and Sinatra are briefly featured in my work-in-progress historical novel Murder in Birdland, set in the years 1959-63, and thus running parallel to the JFK era).

Then I discovered this quietly essential “character” Mickey Rudin, Frank’s long-time attorney who was also Marilyn Monroe’s main attorney, and worked the phones furiously in the hours after her overdose death in 1962. And ultimately, I end up at the doorstep of  the 49th Ismaili Imām, Prince (Shah) Karim al-Husseini, Aga Khan IV (b. 1936)… another client of Mickey Rudin.

Of course. Why wouldn’t an Afghan/Pakistani prince and religious leader be in bed with the same people as Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn’s shrink (who also happened to be Mickey’s brother-in-law), John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan?

(Side note: I also just discovered claims that The Ronald’s wife Nancy reportedly had an affair with Sinatra, though whether that was before or during her time with Ron, I’m not yet sure… I’ve got bigger fish to fry today.)

So now I’m wondering if Mickey Rudin was some master puppeteer, working alongside other Mafia-connected backstage players –super agents and former studio heads and union bosses like Sidney Korshak, Lew Wasserman and Jimmy Hoffa (who has a forthcoming movie on the way soon himself, The Irishman, about his assassination, by the Scorsese/DeNiro/Pacino dream team).

Watch this space.

It may be old news, about people long dead. But it’s still the story of America, especially its love/hate relationship with celebrities, criminals and religionists. We love ’em, until they get caught saying or doing something immoral or “Un-American”. Then we love wringing our hands and pointing fingers and denying we ever liked them. Once that line is crossed, what we really love is the lynch mob mentality that wants to tear them down and create conspiracy theories, all to persist in our denial that we idolized the wrong people in the first place.

On the other hand, if I were being scrutinized by the press and the FBI as much as Marilyn, JFK, and Sinatra were –and let’s face it, Donald Trump IS the new J. Edgar Hoover (paranoid, obsessive, far outside the mainstream sexually, power-hungry) — then I’d want a bulldog attorney like Mickey Rudin on MY team, as well.

Side note 2: If you’re at all interested in Hopper, there’s a unique and newish documentary called Uneasy Rider out on Amazon Prime that you may want to check out. Not unlike Mickey Rudin and Sinatra, Dennis was always one degree of separation from important artists, politicians, and probably more than a few criminals, for over 50 years. For movie buffs who know about the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, his Bacon Number is One. As in, somewhat secretly, Hopper was at The Center of the Hollywood Universe, linkable to more stars and IMDB figures than any other actor ever. He knew everyone, from James Dean to Jack Nicholson to David Crosby to Bob Dylan, from painter Robert Rauschenberg to arty German or American filmmakers like Wim Wenders and David Lynch, from Taos, NM biker gangs to art gallery giants (Hopper was a painter, photographer, and important art collector), from state governors and drug kingpins (probably) to whomever took over for Hoover at the FBI. If he wasn’t dead now (he passed in 2010), I’m sure The Donald would still be calling Hopper– one of the most famously radical liberals ever– a “good buddy”, just to try and bask in a bit of the glow that Hopper gave off. Until Dennis called him out as a fraud.

And trust me, Dennis played everybody for fools, went toe-to-toe with giants, and self-resurrected several times in his life. He has a lot more in common with Trump than one would think.

Donald, Melania, and Hop… doesn’t anyone know how to smile around here? Not Photoshopped, a real photo from an Apprentice event… photo by Peter McCallum (cropped).

 

 

Blues & Abstract Truth -Cover

When they say “cool jazz”, this is what they mean.

The Blues and the Abstract Truth (on Impulse! Records, a subsidiary of ABC)

.      Recorded – February 23, 1961 – Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Oliver Nelson – alto saxophone, tenor saxophone

Eric Dolphy – flute, alto saxophone…. George Barrow – baritone saxophone…. Freddie Hubbard – trumpet…. Bill Evans – piano…. Paul Chambers – bass…. Roy Haynes – drums…. ……………………….

Link To the YouTube Full album

……………………….

“Stolen Moments” – 8:46

“Hoe-Down” – 4:43

“Cascades” – 5:32

“Yearnin'” – 6:24

“Butch and Butch” – 4:35

“Teenie’s Blues” – 6:33

……………………….

A lot has been said over the years about this disc already, though usually only by nerds like me. But as you’d expect, that never stopped me before from saying still more, and it won’t stop me today either.

It’s definitely one of my Desert Island Discs (the handful of essential music I’d want with me if I was going to go “full Brando” –in other words buy an island near Tahiti, which Marlon Brando actually did around this time in history, though it was lush, not at all a desert, and yet he did get lonely… yep, I’d set up housekeeping, drink exotic booze, listen to strange squawking bird sounds, put this on my turntable, and tell all of y’all to go jump for a few years… which trust me, is very tempting given how ridiculous American life has become under The Rapist President, …tempting even though I don’t have the money to even fly to Tahiti, let alone buy an island, or even rent a comfortable one-room shack there for a week… do they have Air B&B in Tahiti?).

But back to the blues. I first discovered Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth when I was a radio deejay on WNUR, once a week, on the 1984-87 jazz staff as an undergraduate at Northwestern University. (A station where, on the rock music side, Steve Albini was just getting his start. Albini was the future founder of the punk band Big Black, and a producer of Nirvana and many other essential punk and modern rock bands, both then and now… sort of the Jack White of my youth.)

Being in front of that mic was a quietly thrilling little chair to sit in, on occasion. Yeah, it was just “college radio”, but we had enough signal strength to reach out to the suburbs (even my hometown, though friends and family rarely tuned in), and certainly south into the heart of one of the great jazz cities. I think the final two years of college, I had a 4am-8am slot on a weekday. Drive time. Sort of.

Yes, maybe in retrospect it was not that big a deal. As usual, I’m a legend in my own mind. Nevertheless, to me, it was a unique privilege, whether I had ten thousand listeners (which I doubt, given the limited appeal of jazz, or of a slightly amateurish 20-year-old trying to find his voice and develop his ear, in public), or even just a hundred listeners (I’m sure I had more than that, at least after 6am). The best part was to have access to rack upon rack of LPs– and a few CDs, which were just then coming into common use in the late 80s– representing the absolute cream of the crop from the prior 60+ years of what some call the only truly American cultural innovation: jazz music.

I most likely picked this one up because I was already becoming a fan of the pianist on the session, Bill Evans. Along with the bassist here, Paul Chambers, by 1961 Evans had already played on one of the most important jazz records of all time, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, released in August 1959. To date, it’s still the biggest-selling jazz record, and even ranks at #12 in the 2003 Rolling Stone list of the 500 greatest albums of all time . 

Nelson’s record has been called essential “post bop”, and is cited as much for Nelson’s compositions and arrangements as it is for the usual rabid attention many jazz fans pay to great solos and soloists. However, the album does have some great soloing, especially from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. In my opinion, the flute work from Eric Dolphy is the other distinct feature that sets this record apart. As does the excellent engineering and production by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder, one of the giants in the industry for decades. (He worked on albums including John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Miles Davis’s Walkin’, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, Sonny Rollins’s Saxophone Colossus, and Horace Silver’s Song for My Father.[1] He is regarded as one of the most influential engineers in jazz.)

TBATAT also feels like about half of the movie soundtracks for any movie that came out in the late 1950s and through most of the 1960s. Especially film noir and crime dramas, which tended to lean heavily on the tension that is evoked by many great jazz compositions, in every era. The album is equal parts planned and improvised, joyful and sad, mainstream and weird. The opening cut, Stolen Moments, is the best known. But for my money, the most interesting cut is the final one, Teenie’s Blues, precisely because it goes for the “weird” in a big way, without becoming cacophonous like the newly emerging free jazz that was on the rise at the start of the 1960s. TBATAT is, by comparison, more restrained, dignified, and yes, emotionally accessible than most jazz tends to be. It takes me places, without forcefully jerking me in any direction I wouldn’t already wish to go.

Put it on in the background while you work on a project sometime. I’d be willing to bet it will subtly take your imagination into some wonderful places.

The blues are concrete. The truth is abstract. Great art consists in weaving the two together, and Nelson and his band did that in 1961 as well as any group of artists ever accomplished.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 28, 2019

Celebrities, Doughy Fanboys, and Playboy Models

May 27, 2019 …RIP Bill Buckner. I did end up getting Bill’s autograph as well, many years later at a charity softball game in honor of Andre Dawson’s Hall of Fame induction. He proved that he had a sense of humor about the famous Red Sox World Series fielding error, on a terrific episode of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. And he seemed a decent guy overall… unlike Boggs, who seemed like sort of a douche.

But Bill, thanks for the memories. Boston still got their World Series eventually, and dramatically, as did the Cubs finally. The world is still falling apart, but you had a good run, and you made it a better place to live for awhile.

Marking Time

Boggs 87 Playboy snip Snippet of a 1987 Playboy cover.(Edited for good taste…you’re welcome.)

.      I was listening this week to Marc Maron’s WtF podcast interview with Yeardley Smith, who plays Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons. She gave a warm, humble and engaging interview on the podcast …plus, don’t miss Marc’s hilarious and large recent guest appearance on the Feb. 17 episode of The Simpsons, wherein he interviews Krusty the Klown.

Marc and Yeardley –two only semi-recognizable C-list stars, by their own admission– amusingly got into the subject of mid-level stars and the “doughy” fanboys seeking multiple copies of their autographs at places like an airport baggage claim. Yeardley says she looked into it, and most people can only sell an autographed photo for $3 on eBay (since, as she herself says, there ain’t a big market for Lisa Simpson memorabilia).

It made me think about my MLB Hall of Fame member…

View original post 575 more words

The Big Geek Photo

Actor, author, blogger, and proto-nerd Wil Wheaton (left) – an example of somebody associated with the “ghetto” genre of science fiction, or of tv, though he is actually a broader and deeper thinker/performer than most give him credit for.

[ Today, a sort of “greatest hit” post from a few years back… in which I rewrite a re-discovered piece from 2007, my last stint teaching English Lit and Drama to Grades 6-12. ]

People are kind. They find it easy to forgive you in the name of tragedy or insanity.”

-Walker Percy, Love In the Ruins, 1971

Such is the kind of snickering philosophy and anthropology you get from Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, and a plethora of other classic practitioners of what is called literary fiction.

“Literary fiction”… kind of off-putting, isn’t it? It’s a misnomer in many ways. Everything that uses written words is technically “literary”, if one wants to be literal about the word itself:

  • {circa 1640–50; Latin līterārius, or litterārius = “of reading and writing”. See letter1-ary }

I think the designation literary fiction can become a catch-all category for anything that doesn’t easily fit in the category of a certain marketable genre of fiction. It’s a publisher’s or college professor’s designation, nothing more. Salman Rushdie, for example (a writer whom I adore), has written YA Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Historical Fiction, Political Satire and so forth… he’s all over the map! Is it all literary fiction, or none of it, or only some of it?

Plus, some genre fiction writers are excellent literary practitioners as well. If they’re out to explore the human condition in-depth, not just out to entertain us, but they happen to do this through fantasy or horror or romance or a spy thriller, then they’re actually writing literary fiction in the guise of genre fiction. It’s a marketing term, a branding thing… nothing more. It can either free people up, or it can be a trap. 

Further complicating the issue: the age-old Art vs. Commerce debate: if an author has a hit book or series that seems to fit a known genre, they can make serious bank through film adaptations, but may suffer dismissal by “serious” critics, academics, or non-fans of that particular genre.

Case in point: how many fans of The Color Purple –by a black lesbian writing in the realistic or “literary” vein– would also concede that white, straight fantasy, sci-fi and YA author Ursula LeGuin (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness, and other speculative fiction which often featured heroes of color and/or androgynous sexuality) had as much to say about race, gender bias and prejudice as Alice Walker did in The Color Purple? It’s not that the authors or their fans would even disagree on this point… it’s just that they didn’t know. Very few of them had occasion to even talk to each other, given all of their separated, partitioned, unique “tribes” and lingo that would have to be learned and translated. They were in their own separate subcultures –the feminists, the sci-fi nerds, the black activists, the LGBTQIA+ community, the college professors specializing in postmodern criticism, the network tv producers and consumers, etc.– each existing in different contexts, practically on different planets, within the baffling American landscape. 

And yeah, I’m wimping out by not naming more actual author names here. But I didn’t set out today to recommend specific books or authors.

What I did set out to do was to discuss a “community of readers”. I’m looking to recommend reading older books from your local public library, instead of buying them. Not because I’m looking to take money away from anybody, or to save a few trees. 

No. I prefer my books to come from the library partly because it’s less expensive, but also because I enjoy the little notes and dog-ears on the pages, and being out amidst many shelves of well-loved books, and seeing what is unavailable for checkout because it is still relevant, if not popular (which it may well be). All that extra information about a book serves to remind me that I am not alone, but instead I am part of a reading community.

The Walker Percy quote above, for example, had some very light pencil marks around it. They weren’t obtrusive –just enough to help me see that it was actually a subversively funny line, and I should pause to appreciate the artistry in it before continuing. That’s the other nice thing about reading: you can pause, pace yourself, and actually contemplate an idea without the distraction or the “rush” of the next line being spoken, or without the picture in front of you (if it’s a stage play or tv/film presentation) adding a secondary tone or color to the original written words.

This is not the first time that I’ve seen this kind of pencil mark/highlight indicator. It seems like these close-reading marks have been in a dozen or more library books I have picked up over the years. It’s as if I have a Reader’s Guardian Angel looking over my shoulder, saying, “See that? How cool is that?!

(Either that or I have a Reading Soulmate in my old hometown — whom I’ve yet to meet, but I accidentally stalk by reading her favorite books right after her… but we won’t go there today… that’s just crazy talk.)

Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but the biggest kick that I get out of reading fiction of any kind is that moment when plot becomes secondary, and the author puts in something bigger, maybe more universal; a new take on a common theme, or a powerful philosophy embedded in a tiny little joke. Or maybe the author simply uses a moving and imaginatively described detail, so beautifully rendered that it makes you stop and think about your own life.

Reading is like swimming: Sure, you can do it alone, but it’s much more fun with friends. So go grab your favorite library book and make a few notes in the margins, or underline a word, or fold over a page –all gently and responsibly, of course. With discretion and restraint. Maybe your personal note will lead to bigger things.

Or maybe I’ll be the next person to grab that book off the shelf, and learn not just from the book, but from you.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 21, 2019

Anxiety and Consciousness -an Eastern Easter Meditation

Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall a soul,
except sin.
God commands you to pray,
but He forbids you to worry.

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

* * *

“And I pray that I may forget

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Too much explain…

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.”

Ash Wednesday,

T.S. Eliot (1930)

* * *

“…then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
and death i think is no parenthesis

“since feeling is first” by E. E. Cummings, first published in 1926 in the book is 5.

“””””””

Thich Nhat HanhVietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar, and peace activist who was once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr.—

On the Christian Eucharist, eating, mindfulness, and awareness

For more, start with Hanh’s

Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting through the Storm

+ + +

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.John 20

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 19, 2019

The 5am Thugs (original poem by Mark Nielsen)

Dixie da Dog is whispering in my ear: “Feed me, Seymour… or I will bite your ear off.”

 

Scout sez: “This couch ain’t big enough fer th’ both of us, pardner.”

.

The 5 a.m Thugs
by Mark Nielsen, 4/4/19

 

Go back to sleep, it’s not time yet–

before I do something we’ll both regret.

Ssshhh! Be quiet, you’ll wake your sister.

Can’t we train you coonhounds to whisper?

 

I know you’re hungry, and if you could talk

you’d constantly bug us for longer walks.

But me, I’m tired. I need to sleep

another half hour, or I’ll be a creep

 

the rest of the day, just ask my friends.

So just be patient, and when this ends

and I’m well-rested and fill your bowl,

and put you out, all will be well.

 

.  .  .  .

The Treeing Walker Coonhound is a breed of hound descended from the English and American Foxhounds. The breed originated in the United States when a dog known as “Tennessee Lead,” was crossed into the Walker Hound in the 19th century

Read More…

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 5, 2019

CBD, Pot and & Me: Not the Last Word, But a Good Word

Olivia Newton-John recently went public about using medical cannabis to help fight her cancer.
Oh, Sandy! Really? How are we supposed to feel about that?

I have been immersed in the “cannabis community” for about a year now, as the receptionist at a medical cannabis dispensary in Illinois that serves several counties. While I’ve been there, I have seen/heard an explosion of information, opinion, new media coverage, and a rapid increase in casual discussion by mainstream people both in that cannabis community and outside of it (with both pro-cannabis and con opinions). It may still be “alternative medicine” for many, but the implied meaning and stigma attached to “alternative” ain’t what it used to be. We can at least talk about it without feeling weird, or like it’s a risky subject.

The point is, people are talking. But unfortunately they may or may not know the facts. Furthermore –and I say this as a former teacher of writing and rhetoric at the high school and college level — they may or may not know how to recognize bias, manipulation, or who might be putting this discussion information (or disinformation) out into the world.

It takes some skill, for example, to recognize a paid (but disguised) article (basically an advertisement) intended to do good P.R. for a CBD company, and how that would be subtly different from a neutral journalistic or medical approach to the same subject.

Disclaimer time:

I’m not here to deliver all of those facts. Or certainly not all at once.
Most importantly, I’m no doctor, biologist or chemist. (On the other hand, I’m also not a salesman or cannabis/hemp cultivator asking you for money, which goes to the subject of bias. Even though I work as a sub-contractor at a dispensary, by industry standards I’m a nobody. I don’t have money to be gained or lost on the basis of whether you read this, or whether you believe me.) Plus many facts, at least on the scientific/medical side, are still being studied. But if I can dispel a few myths and rumors, and clarify the questions you should be asking, then that’s a good step in the right direction for anyone considering using CBD/hemp oil or medical marijuana (not the same thing, see below).

Starter Guides

If you want some starter info about cannabis in general, the Chicago Sun-Times had a very good marijuana article by Tom Schuba back in September of 2018. Embedded at the bottom of that article is a link to another good article by Tom, on CBD oil: “Cannabis 101: A guide to CBD oil, what it is, how it works, who can use it”. Most of the information there in both articles still holds true, though I’m betting that things in IL will be heating up and changing slightly, and soon, with the election of governor J.B. Pritzker in November 2018. He is already making headlines with this issue pretty regularly here in early 2019.

Recreational Adult Use in Illinois?

As for the hype that marijuana in Illinois will be recreational and legal for all adults [which became the case in Michigan last fall], I believe it’s not going to happen as fast as the industry and politicians say it will here in Illinois. It’s more likely to take two years, and probably longer, for people to be able to go their local dispensary –as if it’s Walgreen’s or a liquor store– and pick up an eighth of bud.

Why? Illinois is a “purple” state politically, and the dirty, racially-charged brand of politics peddled here has seldom followed national trends. Marijuana law– and who benefits from the business boon that cannabis is– will be fought over. Business, political, agricultural and law enforcement careers will be made or lost over how that fight goes. Plus the naysayers will not go away quietly –nor should they, since it is a democracy, and since some important fact-checking is not conclusive yet. Illinois is already one of the most stringent and cautious medical cannabis states in the U.S. in terms of quality control. They won’t suddenly throw all caution to the wind now that Gov. Pritzker is in.

Not to mention the national context: with the FDA, EPA and Trump’s Cabinet waiting everyone out (and with the first two likely underfunded by Trump’s anti-regulatory policies), who is monitoring how pesticides –just for example– are used on the hemp plants currently being grown and consumed? How responsibly are they packaging that CBD oil which is made from the industrial hemp plants? Are the lab results calling it “safe” as stringent in Kentucky or Colorado as they are in Illinois?

If China, by comparison, gets into the CBD game, then it’s even more likely that lab-testing and other checks-and-balances will be very lenient overseas. So the U.S. has to go slow. There is a lot at stake. And while the medical aspect is a high priority, the business and political aspects should not be the tail that wags this fat dog (a cash cow, getting fatter every day, to mix my metaphors).

So slow down, calm down, and let the professionals do their jobs. Sorry if this feels like I’m peeing on somebody’s parade. I’m just a realist, and that’s my opinion.

But in a two to three years, yes, I think recreational marijuana is coming to Illinois… and maybe within a decade, it goes national.

Normalization

Current stats for Illinois about the average holder of a medical marijuana card –these are official government stats, people– are that she is a white, employed woman between 50 and 60 years of age, with a good family income around the national median. This is the exact profile of a person looking for good, safe medicine –but unwilling or unable to go the “street drug” route. She might have lupus, or M.S., or any number of qualifying conditions where the medical studies of its effectiveness for reducing inflammation and neurological pain are pretty clear by now. I’ve seen direct evidence of the “rise of the Oprah Nation” at the dispensary where I work.

The old ladies be gettin’ high… the numbers don’t lie.

Of course, the black or gray market is still strong, partly because many younger or more recreational users decide not to get medical marijuana cards. Especially when they find out that it will cost $300+ to get a 1-year card (if you include the fees paid to a doctor, whose sign-off is still required on the “recommendation” form in order to apply). Plus they’re probably more willing to settle for affordable borderline ditch weed than middle-aged, cautious connoisseurs –due to their “workin’ at the Steak ‘n Shake” limited income.

Nevertheless, with all the new middle-class, middle-aged users, the hippie/stoner-on-a-couch/gateway-drug vibe formerly attached to marijuana is burning off fast — as it should. Marijuana was generally seen as a problem (or more accurately, a symptom/scapegoat in targeting other social problems) only in the second half of the twentieth century. It spent thousands of years prior to that comfortably under the radar, at least within Western civilization. However, once it became more politicized in the U.S. –similar to alcohol and Prohibition, but with plenty of differences– we got thrown into the murky, frustrating debate that we still have not emerged from.

I’ll reserve a more technical discussion of medical marijuana, and the rules and governmental aspects of it, for another day. Today’s topic is CBD oil or hemp oil, the unregulated retail OTC product purchasable at health food stores, at pharmacies, at vape and smoke shops, over the internet, and increasingly at even more questionable locations.

(The “jumping on the money train” has officially shifted into high gear, people. It’s a growth industry, it’s trendy, and people looking for something to make or sell in an economy that barely manufactures anything anymore can smell the dollars from miles away. When the AARP and Good Morning America are talking somewhat seriously –and regularly– about CBD oil and pot, it’s a sure sign something has changed the past few years.)

CBD Oil: My semi-informed perspective

I started this write-up today because of a discussion I was having with personal friends on Facebook. I’ll put some excerpts of that discussion up below. But first, a clear and simplified explanation of the biology behind all this, which I found at Medical News Today, which appears fairly unbiased to my eyes and ears:


How CBD works
All cannabinoids, including CBD, produce effects in the body by attaching to certain receptors.
The human body produces certain cannabinoids on its own. It also has two receptors for cannabinoids, called the CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors.
CB1 receptors are present throughout the body, but many are in the brain.
The CB1 receptors in the brain deal with coordination and movement, pain, emotions, and mood, thinking, appetite, and memories, and other functions. THC attaches to these receptors.
CB2 receptors are more common in the immune system. They affect inflammation and pain.
Researchers once believed that CBD attached to these CB2 receptors, but it now appears that CBD does not attach directly to either receptor.
Instead, it seems to direct the body to use more of its own cannabinoids.

Now let me weigh in personally, not even as a CBD oil user yet, but just as an educator and a current dispensary worker.

Below, a few highlights of what I and other personal friends said in that Facebook discussion I mentioned above (all names changed for privacy). We were all responding to a recent item featuring singer/actress Olivia Newton-John, who recently used medical marijuana in her fight to beat cancer. For the record, we are all aged mid-to-late 50s, and all white (not that it matters much, I’m just stating it up front for demographic transparency, since we are talking about race, class and bias here, not just cannabis):

First, my friend Kyle (remember, not his real name):


“Interesting. CBD is also used for treating pain (from cancer to Parkinson’s disease to other neurological diseases). In fact, CBD treatment is excellent for pain, anxiety and sleep. When I see my neurologist next Friday I will be speaking to her regarding CBD. I am glad to hear cannabis has helped Olivia Newton-John significantly. “

And on the other hand, meet James, one of the smartest, most even-handed people I know. So, understandably, he cautioned us by quoting the professionals I mentioned above, in this case at Harvard Health:


From Harvard Health:
“Some CBD manufacturers have come under government scrutiny for wild, indefensible claims, such that CBD is a cure-all for cancer, which it is not. We need more research but CBD may be prove to be an option for managing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Without sufficient high-quality evidence in human studies we can’t pinpoint effective doses, and because CBD currently is mostly available as an unregulated supplement, it’s difficult to know exactly what you are getting. If you decide to try CBD, talk with your doctor — if for no other reason than to make sure it won’t affect other medications you are taking. “

My friend Anna agreed that not all CBD is created equal. On the other hand, she has chronic Lyme disease and thus has found out from credible sources that actual medical cannabis– because of the extra THC being left in to greatly assist the anti-inflammatory CBD (in what pros call the “entourage effect”)– can put her condition into remission.

And finally, my two cents, or what started this whole thing:


“I agree that neither CBD nor medical cannabis are a cure-all for everything, as some have vaguely claimed. I’ve done a year’s worth of active reading from serious sources. Plus anecdotal interviews with real users of both products, and discussions (slightly) with actual medical personnel. Consensus is that the science to back everything up is still in its infancy, partly because the Feds have closed the door to large population university studies, government research grants, or NIH-level million-dollar funding of large medical studies with humans. This is the way they would go with most other medicines and health conditions/treatments. But on marijuana, they’re still ruled more by social beliefs than actual science, so they’re only moving forward grudgingly. On the other hand, the science that does exist looks pretty good. Plus, use of CBD or hemp oil is low-risk, whether or not it yields the high rewards that everyone is seeking. Still, there is no magic bullet, and the hype and celebrities and faddishness of it all is not helping anyone but the profiteers. However, if one seeks out the high-quality, lab-cleared products, whether regulated (medical marijuana) or less regulated (CBD oil), and can pay the price (because insurance companies sure won’t), then cannabis/hemp is, I believe, an effective if imperfect alternative or supplement to traditional pharmaceuticals.


And i would also concur that CBD or cannabis/marijuana interactivity with other medications needs to be studied much more as well. James is right to offer cautions, about internet/celebrity mythology and who the stakeholders are that might be pulling these “rah rah CBD” strings, …as well as cautions about the actual medical/scientific evidence still being fuzzy in some areas .”

So now it’s on you, to keep doing your homework. Or check back with me later. Or just decide. Because I run a mini-democracy too. Or a divinely-inspired socialist collective. Or something like that.

I can’t do everything for you, and if I tried, the fascists would win.

 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 4, 2019

Anglo-American Franco-Afghan Tibetan Mantra Blues

God’s Woodshed” , Near Downs, IL

. . . . .

English Apocalypse American science Greek rhythm Tibetan mantra Blues

(after Allen Ginsberg’s “What I’d Like to Do”, London, 1973) [

[composed 4/4/19 in honor of National Poetry Month]

Change the title of Allen’s never-begun poem so it flows,

For once get the clean, well-lighted spot on the couch without fighting the dog for it,

Know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Fraud In Chief will do time

(or at least go down in a bloodless coup),

Understand what the Greeks –classical and current– have to do with anything,

Finish my novel so the damned Apocalypse can come already,

Step in that river naked again and come out finally clean and free of poison

(inside and out),

Put a pin in that and come back to it later,

Out-Blake Willie Blake by combining collage, poetry, music, projected video and live dancers in a blindfolded rhythmic homage to Laurie A.

(featuring Trump standing trial for eating Chuckberries off the Obama bush),

Finally mix apples and oranges without anyone giving me a hard time about it

(hey, I like apples and oranges exactly equally),

Compose songs to the sun and the son and the Son, and soon,

Find me guilty and give me a full pardon already,

Learn to play and sing “House of the Rising Sun” without reading, without stumbling and without stopping,

See London, see France,

See and be everyone everywhere all at once

(with their eyes but with my own heart),

Reverse-interpret Lorca, Rimbaud, Eliot, cummings and Scooby Doo, back into “tongues of angels” as they were originally composed and intended,

Eat a… Heck, eat whatever I want, without consequences,

Get over myself,

Bring home the troops,

Send the Afghans their heroin back– along with some books, clean water, and carpentry tools so they can do their own nation-building,

Seek peace, find it, and give it away.

–Illinois, 2019


Neal Cassady  by Ettore Sottsass (1962)

.

Cowboy in Paris (after Neal Cassady and Pope Gregory Corso)

      by Mark Nielsen……………………………………………………………… 3-26-19

 

Clear the cobwebs out the inside

of your stetson, your brain pan, your faded and dying

Soul, that shell, no longer wide nor deep enough

to contain all of what we ‘uns got to pour into it.

Whether it’s the easy-access absinthe –down the gullet an’ then

right back up the circ’latory elevator to the blinkin’ stars in your brain–

 

or be it the coal-black skin o’ that Malawian gal across the street,

an’ her eyes, into which you look, like a mirror, staring

into whatever the opposite of a void might be,

this 27,000-horse town got so much love an’ energy to give

–enough to make a gent like you

shout yippy-ki-yay, loud enough fer the gendarmes

to haul any old coot or young gun off to the pokey,

with him (or you) smiling every chain-bound step o’ the way.

 

(for Graham B. Nielsen, who’s in France as I write this…)

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