Pinching Pennies

pennychartI was obsessed with these pennies. Not at first; the obsession grew over the course of a couple weeks. Previously I had never liked these coins. I remember in my first week or two of working as a cashier, I wanted to strike up some small talk with one of the boy cashiers. I never knew what to say, so I made jokes. “I hate pennies,” I told my coworker. OK, so it wasn’t a joke, just a random thought that had made it past my verbal editorial board. “Panties?” he asked, half confused and half wanting to make a real joke out of it. “Hey guys, what do you do when a girl tells you she hates panties?” Ha ha. But it was true: I hated that little copper nonsense trinket.

A cent? What for? They only pass back and forth between polluted hands, unwashed, unwanted, unsung. Let’s eliminate the need for pocket clutter and just round up. Or down? This concept may be too Fascist for these times…

That dirty little Lincoln is the estranged, drug-addled, red-headed cousin of the affluent silver family. Quarters, nickels, and dimes; always useful. Fifty-cent pieces; yessir. Silver dollars; how regal! But pennies just make me eye the bottle of hand sanitizing gel, longing for hygienic absolution after every monetary transaction.

Bacterial colony living on copper coins.

Bacterial colony living on copper coins.

“You can keep the pennies,” many a customer has allowed me. Or better yet, “The register can keep the pennies.” No one wanted them. To make them sound important, I often counted change back to people in terms of pence. “Two pence is your change today!” Or: “Here is your 6p, good sir.” I was only hit back with blank stares. Occasionally I used “two bits” in place of “twenty-five cents,” but I really wanted to make the penny into something it wasn’t.

Until we got the new rolls.

The day they arrived in the register I barely noticed their fresh new packaging: paper rolls instead of plastic. However, when I twisted open the roll and released the coins into the drawer, my eyes thrilled at their sight: shining brand-spanking-new pennies from THIS YEAR, fresh from the mint, gleaming in their copper glory. My good god, these fresh beauties had never been spent, never been touched by filth-grubbing bums, never ground by a dirty boot into the feculence of the earth. They were sparkling virginal legal tender; the pride of US currency. I took it upon myself to defend and protect these little gems.

“And here are two shiny new pennies as your change,” I told one customer. He held the practically worthless two cents in his hand and stared at them as if they were either gold or shit. No one shared my pride. No one deserved this treasure.

After a few days of coveting these paper rolls in my drawer, I grew increasingly protective of them. If any tainted pennies rested in my drawer, I made sure to give them all out as change and empty the penny compartment completely before filling it with the new rolls. I’d give all the old rusted patina coins as change and secretly smile down at my own stash of brightly burnished copper.

I was fixated on them. Not even just my shiny new ones, but pennies in general had entered my greater consciousness; I looked out for them, desired them. A customer had left three cents on the counter, finding them unnecessary to take with him. This happens quite often and I find it somewhat generous, even if it was just a 100th of a dollar. The next customer came along and needed one of the pennies to complete his purchase of $40.01. I gladly allowed his use of the communal penny and started bagging his CDs. As I directed him to the front to pick up his bag, I watched his hand grab the remaining two cents. As we both walked toward the end of the counter, I eyed him tapping the pennies along the counter top nonchalantly as if he hadn’t just stolen money from us. He obviously planned on taking those two cents, even though he had just spent $40 on music. Even though he earned a salary, he simply couldn’t resist taking those two remaining dirty little coins.

“You can’t just take those. They’re for people to spend,” I called. My greater sense of perception understood how trivial the two cents were, but my overprotective cashier power came forth and secretly reveled in making him lose face over two cents. He fumbled them back onto the counter, apologizing.

I won.


Insomnia Files: Salad Days

Sleepless nights morph into hours of cycling thoughts, an endless refrain. The best thing to do is, firstly, get a grip on yourself, man! Next: write down your machine-gun fire of thoughts in a supine stream of semi-cognizance until the absurdity of it all lulls you into a slumber, or at least into a fit of intoxication. Warning: this might be worse than having to hear about someone else’s dreams.


October second, dos double-oh dos

I woke up in the pre-dawn morning to a choir of garbage men yelling “Motherfucker!” My sensory deprivation techniques only partially blocked them out … just enough to be able to sleep, although the voices mingled with the dreams. My respite was rich, if not long enough. Still. However.

I check the box and the long lost mail has finally arrived. The pith-jockey really cracked the whip on the ol’ beast of burden and two full weeks later … huzzah! The structure of civilization has not yet completely crumbled.


Now I’m lounging on the swami bed, opium swirls pumping around me, searching for an open lung. Pretending to be busy, persuading myself to be sleepy. Peanut butter. A bad pilsner (Dutch, see?) left a bad taste. Or perhaps a good one created a bad memory.

I had a good and strange day. My antennae are reaching and twitching, finding more each day. Self-imposed discomforts feel fantastic in the face of adventure. Something new is at least something. I’ll pick the best looking cashier, because he’s smiling, and the attractive ones always move the line faster, male or female. I need conversation like insect larvae need fruit. Asking the thrift store guy if he gets sick of listening to ’80s music all day was the highlight of my human verbal interaction today. We jived a bit, but my Ben Franklin shut him up and that was that.


Fully stocked fridge.

One thing I love about my current situation in life, and others may disagree according to taste, opinion, and upbringing, is that I’m not married and I don’t have kids. I don’t have to provide for any other person or thing right now. And as far as right now right now, that’s a very good thing. With a few extra dollars to spend on food today, I bought a bag of frozen blackberries *[see marginalized notes]. In my fridge, all I have are a bottle of vodka and flavored “aroma” condoms. It feels good to strip away unneeded responsibility, the clutter and worry of a certain lifestyle. It’s so freeing. Freedom in almost every way. Identity renewal.


*FDA’s unacceptable contamination levels: Berries, canned and frozen: average mold count is 60 percent or more, average of 4 or more larvae per 500 grams, average of 10 or more whole insects or equivalent per 500 grams.

I often ask questions that I can’t answer myself, almost like people who give advice they can’t follow. If I ever ask you for your favorite word, it’s because the question tortures me every day. I was sure that your answer would not feature sound or meaning alone, but a happy wedding of the two. There are beautiful words that have repellant meanings, like melanoma, catheter, or diarrhea. Great syllabic beauty, but … I like knucklehead and  galore quite a bit. Lascivious used to be my least favorite word when I was 17, but now it might be climbing the charts.

I think, for this moment in time, which is subject to change at any moment, I would choose salad. My reasons: 1) The property: the greenness and coolness, in allusion to youth, metaphorically, that the blood is still cool and judgment unripe.

2) Etymology: The word salad, I find, is related to salt, sausage, and silt. Fifteenth century old and modern French. In Vulgar Latin it means “salted” — short for herba salata “salted vegetables.” Now my attraction to the word is making all kinds of sense! Sausage, salt, and salad are my three main food groups (after blackberries and vodka, apparently). 3) The subject: a cool, raw, vegetable-laden delight. And those vegetables should be heavily salted if you know what’s good for you. 4) The sound: the pronunciation of the word is inherently familiar–you’ve heard it and used it your whole life. But what should happen if all of a sudden you speak the word and you are corrected, that it’s actually “samad” and you’ve been saying it wrong your whole life? Psychological freakout, bordering on existential disaster. 5) The slang definitions: Urban Dictionary has dozens of random meanings attached to the word, the best one being simply “a polite way of saying sex.” Tossed salad, anyone? And finally, 6) The spelling: I love S’s, to write and speak in sibilance, and the rest of the word is almost a palindrome, yet has a firm close to the end. There it is.

I think I’ll try to surrender all conscious functions to the gods of slumber now … we’ll see.




Exaltation from Above


It was a sultry July night and the static in the air was up to no good. Every occupant of the tenement pushed opened their windows into the dark indigo night hoping for a respite from the heat, a change in the mood, but there was no breeze to speak of, just a dull hum and the occasional frenzied cackle carried up from the street. The guy in the unit upstairs took this opportunity to stand by his window and slowly unravel an entire roll of packing tape. Without pause, slowly unraveling the tape as well as the rest of us.

“Hey man!” I yelled up to him through the stone-thick vermin-infested ceiling, “What are you DOING?” But the tape roll ran its course for the next 40 minutes straight. Only the distant intense wailing of a small child broke my tape-gun fixation. I wondered, was that child the guilty party behind the rotten diaper garbage stench that filled the entire building today? And just as the riotous clucking of the nocturnal tree-fowl heightened to an unbearable crescendo, I realized, we all die alone and this may be the last and most sublime sound that will enter my human ear holes before my corpse is shucked clean of its soul by an almighty demon god. [inspired by true events]

Stories from the Block: Part 1 — Crazy TV

As an observer in this world, it can start to feel like the action around you isn’t real, but rather that you’re watching an episode on a screen. The task at hand is to dare to understand what you are observing and appreciate the spectacle.


A scruffy black man parks himself near a low tree on the sidewalk and begins his bombasts. His voice booms and carries into the air, clearly and loudly up to the 9th floor where I live. Even with my windows shut I can make out his words. His cadence and vocabulary are similar to those of someone with Tourette’s, but without the pauses in between outbursts. His discourse is peppered with blasphemies and accusations, blaming others for his insanity.

For hours he bellows into the open night, unleashing his angry and endless stream of consciousness made up of broken thoughts and enraged bitterness. He seems to never tire or run out of breath. His ranting can go on for hours into the night, only to be resumed in the early morning with that same tenor of anger and despair. His vocal chords strain under his epic fury and resentment, sometimes reaching a fever pitch of absolute bile. He might live in one of the halfway houses in the area. He might be homeless.

One day I stepped onto a bus and he was already aboard yelling directly in the faces of several passengers. He stooped, pushing his face within inches theirs, screaming at top volume, “You’re why I’m crazy! Why do I have to be crazy!!?!” He walked down the aisle getting in each face, roaring his profound question. Some passengers seemed intimidated and were obviously uncomfortable, but a large number of them simply ignored the man. A few began to snicker. Suddenly he panicked as if the bus was careering straight into the gaping chasm of Hell. He screamed ten times in a row, “Driver, let me off this bus!!”


As he stepped off, the laughing passengers became even more vocal in how droll they found the situation. “He has PTSD, from the war. I knew him back then,” one passenger revealed. They lived through something atrocious together, and now years later only one of them can laugh about it.

On my street, he stands below my window and lets his constant pain be known. Sometimes when I catch a phrase or two, I laugh a little myself, but otherwise it is deeply disturbing. Today he screamed for hours, but stopped when a fire truck and ambulance sped up to the corner with their sirens blowing. Another McDonald’s casualty?


The EMTs got out and rushed to a person who had collapsed at the corner of McDonald’s and Halfway House Row. Yelling man seemed fascinated by the action as he stood back and watched silently with a sideways glance. General Schwarzkopf’s doppelganger stepped out of the paramedic truck and helped hoist the body onto the gurney. An EMT kicked some small hard object into the crosswalk, pointed at it and then to the yelling man, scolding him firmly. What object could possibly have made the EMT so irate, blaming the now-hushed street man? A bit of a crack pipe? An undersized dildo? The General and the other EMTs quickly pushed the gurney back into the truck and drove off. Yelling man began wandering to another destination to work up the heated froth necessary for his next tirade. The streets are now more or less quiet, if only for a moment.

7 Habits of a Highly Effective Bad Bitch: My Dad


#1 Health
Maintaining your health allows you to gain the superior edge over problems. This bad bitch meditates every day. He doesn’t judge what happens during it, he just sits down and does it. Have a mantra to focus on. When a thought crops up push it away. This prepares you for the rest of the day, energizes you, calms you, and enhances what you encounter next. He recommends following meditation with a shot of espresso for the ultimate elevation.

My dad declared that he won’t let things “get“ him, and it’s a solid way of maintaining a progressive attitude. Don’t let ailments define you or even associate themselves with who you are. Treat them and live your life as usual.

You can have the TV on, but stay active somehow. Pump some weights or read during the show.

Jogging in nature is the perfect exercise. Bad bitches like my dad don’t need to show off muscles at the gym. He’s focused on his body and his mind and needs no equipment to clutter the process. Jogging is free, solitary, tones the heart, focuses the mind. This too is a meditation. When jogging you focus on breathing or listen to music—other thoughts come and go like soft clouds on the wind. Fishing can be another Zen practice, where at the end of the day you are left with peace of mind.


#2 Beauty
Most dads keep the beauty routine simple, if existent at all. This bad bitch styles his hair using just water. He knows that sunscreen should be used religiously on the face so that he can enjoy his time in the sun and not emerge looking like a baboon’s ass. If you have no sunscreen, tear off a small piece of paper and lodge it under your sunglasses to form a nose tent. Floss and work a toothpick into your gums every night until they bleed a little. It brings circulation to the gums and keeps your teeth in place. Stress shows on the face, so stay relaxed. A cool mind creates a cool face.


#3 Food and Drink
My dad always says, “Take all you want but eat all you take.” A measure of self-control adds to the enjoyment of food. And you know this bad bitch pairs wine with everything. He really tastes his food and wine by sniffing it, holding it in his mouth, breathing it in, swishing it, savoring it. Meals should be created improvisationally—throwing in unexpected colors, textures, dried fruits, seeds, or the odd hot peppers from the garden. My dad can whip together a meal with almost any three ingredients, transforming leftovers, Iron Cheffing the oddest components into a masterpiece. Bad bitches are confident about innovation. Recipes are for inspiration only. After dinner, a handful of granola or spoonful of peanut butter is the perfect dessert.


#4 Create Art
Music is a crucial component of every day. It sets the tone, changes the mood, alters the perspective, and creates discussion. Playing musical instruments exercises the mind, hand-eye coordination, and it can be a meditation in and of itself. Expressing emotion through music is cathartic, and hearing it can be the same as it is one of the purest forms of art. This bad bitch works hard to constantly expand his musical taste, and he’s never embarrassed about what he listens to.

Absorb yourself in art, hobbies, physical work, and reading. These activities fire up the brain and foster tons of ideas for creating new things.

#5 Be Amused
My dad can find something to compliment in anything and anyone, and you should too. If someone is getting on your nerves, this too shall pass. Everything is transient. The annoyance or pain will not last. This bad bitch turns it around and finds something amusing about the situation.

Be amused! Not irritated. Have some wine and enjoy every interaction. It means you are never bored. You are always learning. The baddest bitches know that every moment of life is meant to be enjoyed. With each interaction you can find an authentic connection. Be confident in your amusement. Your happiness is under your control.


If you are kept awake at night by loud neighbors, don’t fret about it (and glorify your misery). A bad bitch joins the party and at least has a good time being conscious. Once again: wine.


#6 Organization
Bad bitches like my dad are fully focused on doing what they want. The best way to stay on track is to stay organized and make lists every day. You need lists for long term, short term, and daily thoughts. A master system of lists generates focus and can organize your whole life. He doesn’t need an assistant, a calendar, or phone reminders—just lists. To ensure productivity, create a timeline of short deadlines to accomplish your goals for that day, week, year, etc.

#7 Self Acceptance
Have your own style, do your own thing, and you don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Open-mindedness is another key to enjoying life. Seek to understand others—it is an extension of truly understanding yourself—and know that gaining a diverse perspective brings personal improvement and growth. Appreciate what you have, work with it and enjoy the fuck out of it.


Oakland Morning


Mornings in an urban neighborhood can be inscrutably stark. Last night’s chill remains in the air. Last night’s unbidden bodily fluids remain on the sidewalks, heaped in viscous knurls. Store owners are just arriving to set up shop and hose the mysterious gunge piles off the streets. Pedestrians can’t tell which puddles are hose-water and which are urine. The equivocal stains on these sidewalks only get deeper, more layered, everlasting. Ossified street folk are at the terminus of a dark day and preparing for their first bucolic nap in the sunshine.


Baby strollers and shopping carts packed with garbage bags must be carefully safeguarded from predators of every ilk. Inveterate Chinese scavengers begin their day poking through dumpsters collecting sluiced bottles and cans, wearing wide brimmed hats, gloves, and dust masks. Morning traffic yields to hobos pushing shopping carts filled with recyclables down the middle of the street, against traffic. The average bicycle, if properly secured, will balance up to four large garbage bags filled to capacity with glass. A shopping cart can hold around ten. Since it is a business district, Saturdays remain relatively quiet, even at 10am. All businesses are closed and gated, except for a spare few of the cafes. The majority of their customers will have begged and bargained for the change they use to buy their coffee, mumbling epithets as they inhale the heated brew.

Lessons of Wisdom and Beauty From a Cool Mom


She doesn’t allow the word “bored” to enter her vocabulary or her consciousness. She knows that her creative imagination and witty intelligence provide plenty of self-entertainment fodder no matter where she goes—the isolated woods, floating on a raft in the middle of a reservoir for hours, or even a crowded hospital waiting room. Even before the advent of mobile phones and portable devices she would invent games in her head to keep her mind busy.

Independence is one of the strongest virtues taught to me by my wise mom. You are responsible for making yourself happy. It comes from within, and no one else can give it to you.

A cool mom spends some time each day in the sun, touching the grass and the soil, connecting with the earth and appreciating its gifts. She absorbs vitamins and minerals by simply soaking in the elements of nature.


When my mom is in this state, wild creatures are inherently drawn to her. Neighbor kitties come to play and she indulges them with sticks to chase for hours. Birds practically land on her forearm like Snow White, falconer of backyard finches and sparrows. She orchestrates bird feeders and baths in the yard so that one species isn’t too vulnerable as prey for another. She instinctually understands life and death cycles, and builds her ecosystem accordingly.


My mom has the simplest of beauty routines. Shower infrequently. Scrubbing your whole body with soap every day is wasteful, damaging, and very American. That shower water should be reserved for the plants that need it much more. Moisturizing is essential and should be done with lavender-infused oils. Sunblock is important when you want to spend long periods of time outside, which is frequently. Nails may be kept slightly long and clear. Manicures are pointless since they will be ruined by the (more rewarding) experience of digging your hands in the dirt–plus, you really don’t want someone fussing over you.


More beauty tips from my mom: sleep and rest whenever you need to, think happy thoughts, and most of all: don’t worry about it. Lots of stresses can show on your face damaging it permanently—you may as well get those lines from sun and smiling. My wise mom once told me, “Don’t fret about how fat your upper arms are—flaunt them now—for they will only get worse.”


Growing a lifelong sustainable garden is one of my mother’s grandest achievements. She is well versed on the politics of modern agriculture and has applied her wisdom to creating a diet that she can control. Organic produce travels from her yard to her plate, and she transforms much of it into a gorgeous jewel-toned salad every evening. Her creations are rampant with complex texture and explosively juicy flavors. The unused compost is returned back to the garden to continue the life cycle.


A cool mom says quality wine is good for you! Drink as much as you want, but know when to rein it in. My mom enjoys red wine for its pleasurable effects as well as its fortification. If she finds herself dozing off on the couch after dinner, it’s time to move onto a pitcher of water infused with cucumber and lime.


High impact exercise is not only unnecessary, it incurs too much wear and tear on the body. Years of Jazzercise classes in the ‘80s proved that to be true. My mom swims. She grew up swimming, using nature’s bodies of water as a gym. It’s low impact and works every muscle. Swimming makes you feel lifted and hugged, then afterwards you feel as if you have run ten miles.


However, exercise classes such as Pilates should be taken mainly as a bonding experience with friends. A weekly place to meet up with bosom buddies is the perfect way to maintain friendships as well as your core strength.


A mom can tap into her coolness when immersed in the peace and tranquility of nature. On special outings my mom enjoys sitting in a float-tube on a lake, fishing pole in one hand, beer in the other. This ritual incorporates exercise, meditation, relaxation, and if she’s very very lucky, scoring dinner for the night. But always scoring.

Daily exercise? A wise mom knows that gardening and sex are two (usually mutually exclusive) stress relievers. They are both cathartic and meditative and generate a well-being that benefits everyone in her midst. Gardening is motherhood. Digging deeply into the earth, feeding life forms, cultivating your harvest, giving away seedlings. She reaps what she sows. She puts her sweat and blood into the plant kingdom and it gives back a hundredfold. She perpetuates life, fuels the cycle. She is woman.



The Greek Body

The Ancient Greeks are thought to have had rather short lifespans, often ending in their 20s and 30s due to the chaos that was Ancient Greece. Yet, we know that many Greek philosophers lived into their 90s. Whether reaching their final days or the third-way mark, like us they suffered the multitude of physiological ailments that become upsettingly apparent by our 30s.

The Great Hippocrates of Kos, crackerjack of Western medicine. (Image by Wellcome Library)

The Great Hippocrates of Kos, crackerjack of Western medicine. (Image by Wellcome Library)

The Greeks focused their medicine on balance of hot, cold, wet, and dry, and of the four humors: phlegm, blood, yellow bile, and black bile. Hippocrates of Kos (460-377 BCE), the Grand Poobah of Modern Medicine, introduced some illuminative concepts to the world, such as the idea that diseases were caused by natural origins, not spiritual. How could he believe such heresy? A pox on him!

Hygieia, as daisy-fresh as the day she was born. (Image by  Alexander Handyside Ritchie)

Hygieia, as daisy-fresh as the day she was born. Image by Alexander Handyside Ritchie.

Hygiene comes from the Greek term hygieine techne, meaning ‘healthful art.’ The art is based on the discovery that keeping your parts clean is vital for health. Hygieia was the Greek goddess of health and cleanliness, but I’m sure even she had her moments where she let things ride in the same underwear for a few days. As we get older we ponder more about whether or not we should be licking doorknobs and subway poles, and whether to eat something off the floor (in front of someone). Hand sanitizer becomes something we purchase instead of just using a pump-full for free at the doctor’s reception desk.

Greek physician cutting to the chase. (Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen)

Greek physician cutting to the chase. (Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen)

Cholesterol comes from the ancient Greek terms chole, meaning ‘bile,’ and stereos, meaning ‘solid,’ describing the state of cholesterol first discovered in gallstones. The lipid cell is fundamental for biosynthesis in all animals. It builds membranes and maintains their fluidity. The issue that causes concerns is hyper- or hypocholesterolemia, an imbalance of cholesterol levels. In our 30s we begin to pay attention to conditions that affect cardiovascular health because we know our tickers’ days are numbered. Good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, HDL and LDL—which is which? Elevated LDL basically jams your arteries with fat and hardens them into pink strips of rebar. The Greeks used flaxseed to lower the bad cholesterol, and the guys in the Whole Foods HABA aisle will tell you to do the same thing.

Just let your blood flow like a mountain stream. (From England or Netherlands, 12th century.)

Just let your blood flow like a mountain stream. (From England or Netherlands, 12th century.)

Hemorrhoids, from the Greek haimorrhoides, meaning ‘flowing blood’ (also known as piles, which is actually from the Latin pila, meaning ‘balls’), are a delightful condition your aging body will get to know eventually. ‘Rhoids are the most common anal pathology and they love to make jokes about you—their favorite being, “Rectum? Damn near killed him!” Dear readers, I know it feels like the hemorrhoids are trying to kill you, but rest easy. They are now with you for the long haul. If they really bother you, you can traipse down to the druggist and have him do a loud-speaker stock check for Preparation-H, Tucks pads, or Anusol. Or you could opt for the Hippocratic method of treatment, burning, cutting, and drying with a hot iron.

Ring it proud! (Leper with a bell circa 1400.)

Ring it proud! (Leper with a bell circa 1400.)

Psoriasis, Greek for ‘itching condition,’ is an itchy, scaly rash that will drive you mad for the rest of your days, and may be one of mankind’s oldest skin diseases. However, this chronic, non-contagious, and usually genetic condition remains difficult to treat. Most people who are going to have it show signs by their 30s. Hippocrates introduced the usage of pine tar and topical arsenic to treat the unbearable itching. Prominent Greek physician Galen (133-200 CE) opted for a broth of boiled vipers—and I say, to each his own. Historically psoriasis was often confused for many other conditions. We now know that most biblical accounts of leprosy were actually psoriasis, but treated with the further stigma of shame. Patients believed to be lepers were forced to ring a bell or clapper to announce their unclean arrival, speak in only a whisper, and avoid touching anyone else. The good Ol’ Testament, spreading truth once again! It actually took hundreds of years to sort out the distinctions between the signs and symptoms of psoriasis and leprosy. If you are stricken with this malady, get yourself a good bell anyway. It’s your way of taking back the ailment and saying, “I’m here, I’m itchy, get used to it!” Cousin to our friend psoriasis is the illustrious Eczema, Greek for ‘something thrown out by heat’ or ‘to boil over’ referring to the boiling bubbling blisters. Eczema is another chronic, noncontagious skin condition characterized by itching, oozing vesicular lesions. Oh, the weeping!

Hippocrates also believed that sex cured diseases. Orgy for the cure!

Hippocrates also believed that sex cured diseases. Orgy for the cure!

Gonorrhea is a condition that may be more likely to strike you in your 20s when all caution and clothing are tossed to the wind, but still a formidable disease for 30-some-odds. The word comes from the Greek terms gonos (seed) and rhein (to flow), back when the copious flow of mucus was believed to be excess semen. So the next time you or your mate excretes a copious flow, you can exclaim, “Gonorrhea!” As one of the two ‘rrhea’ ailments we will discuss today, gonorrhea, (or ‘the Clap’ from the Old French clapoire, meaning ‘brothel’) can be treated with an antibiotic offensive. You may choose to do as the Greeks did and treat with liquid alum, dried figs, and wine, but please, research the ancient texts for dosage before self-medicating. Also worth a mention are Herpes and Chlamydia, the two Greek characters in the theatrical production of your genital tragedy. Herpes, a Greek word meaning ‘to creep,’ is an inflammatory viral condition that skulks through your body until a weakened immune response allows it to erupt. What a creep! Chlamydia, Greek for ‘mantle,’ cloaks all kinds of beasts with all kinds of infections.

It's just a shame, that's all. (John Arderne, circa 1425)

It’s just a shame, that’s all. (John Arderne, circa 1425)

Last, but certainly not least, we have diarrhea, the most common ‘rrhea’ of them all. Hippocrates is credited for coining the term diarrhoia, meaning ‘flowing through.’ Gastrointestinal conditions are just the tip of the malady iceberg that will give you grief in your 30s. You may find yourself pondering, what is “being regular” and how do I achieve it? If you have diarrhea, it could be the result of a number of health factors, as it is a symptom of numerous diseases and a byproduct of the guilty pleasure diet. Hippocrates recommended spontaneous vomiting to cease the fecal flow. Imodium is another route, albeit less dramatic. Either way, please wait a couple weeks before entering a public pool.

What about all the other oozing bodily fluids? (Image by Suzanne Alexander)

What about all the other oozing bodily fluids? (Image by Suzanne Alexander)

What else can we do but embrace our bodies’ imperfections and deterioration. As we breach the period of ‘middle age’ we learn that some of these horrid Greek disorders are here to stay. Proudly purchase your salves and creams and know in your hearts that Hippocrates would have wanted it that way. And whatever you do, do not image search any of the aforementioned conditions.



Stalingrad, Not So Bad?

Suffering is inevitable these days.  Everyone you know is struggling, trying to find or maintain something decent, livable, a step up from anguish. No one is quite happy with their job, but those who have one clutch onto it as if it were a beloved child who will very soon grow up and disappear forever. Very soon.

Then there’s finding shelter. In the Bay Area this very basic need, which is in fact one of Maslow’s core physiological needs that happens to support the foundation of all others, is one of the grandest undertakings for the working-class populace. How low will you go to secure living quarters you can only just barely afford? Think of the worst neighborhood you would be willing to live in, the sketchiest building, the loudest neighbors, the longest commute to work. Visualize that place and imagine 200 San Francisco yuppies pleased as punch to come and snatch it away from you.

You and your new roomies just found a great apartment building!

You and your new roomies just found a great apartment building!

In today’s urban landscape it’s difficult to find a dwelling that doesn’t force you to recall false memories of the Battle of Stalingrad or a camping excursion in Auschwitz. People in their late 30s with two jobs must cohabitate with several others in order to afford a room in the city. These other roommates will probably still have not developed the rudimentary habits of personal hygiene, respecting others’ property, and paying rent and bills on time… if at all. The couch is covered in animal hair and the acute body odor of the band that slept on it for the last few nights. The roommates leave the house with the door unlocked, or wide open. They invite friends over who inevitably drink all your beer and use all the toilet paper only to depart leaving you with the fallout. Your ceiling will leak when it rains. Ants will invade your home permanently.

If you are unfortunate enough to share an apartment building with several other tenants, you will endure their sounds, smells, and invasions of privacy. At any given minute in the day, you will hear their car alarms, fake orgasms, bad music, loud TVs, screaming dogs, clamoring children, and petty arguments. You will smell their rancid cooking and off-brand incense and be forced to evacuate the building every time someone “cooks spicy food” that triggers the central fire alarm to ring in every unit. The fire trucks will rush to the scene and the alarm will ring out until every last layabout shuffles down the long stairwell.  Only then will the firemen usher the tenants back inside, shaking their heads in disdain.

The owners of the neighboring tenement buildings have the delusion of grandeur that their former halfway houses are now some sort of high-class suburban chateaus that require constant landscaping maintenance. Laborers are hired to arrive at 7AM on weekends to mow the lawns and prune the trees. The “lawns,” however, are strips of dirt dotted with garbage and dog excrement. That doesn’t stop this guy from breaking out the Line Trimmer to spruce up the glorified litter box:


Weed-whacking the dirt: productive and efficient!

This coveted living space, by the way, comes with a parking spot for an extra $200 per month. If you can’t swing that, you must move your car several times a week from one spot to another, usually underneath a bird-infested tree, otherwise you will owe the city $83 per day in tickets. In fact, even if you do move it to a non-street-sweeping spot, there is a good chance you will still get that ticket out of spite. Within two days on the city street your car will be covered in dozens of fecal spatters and a sticky dark film that can never be scrubbed off; not that you would ever pay for a car wash. But the one time you drove to your parents’ house and used their high-power car-washing supplies you discovered that the filth could not be removed.

Some guys got all the luck.

Some guys got all the luck.

Holidays with Demons, Sadists, and Other Devourers of Children


Kiddies, consider yourselves warned (photograph by George Brett)

Winter holidays are a time of reflection, relaxation, and acting out our suppressed emotions by dressing up like sadistic demons. Let’s take a look at how cultures around the world celebrate the monsters and cryptid beasts of winter as they parade the streets, ward off evil spirits, and threaten little children.

Belsnickel – Pennsylvania Dutch/German
Belsnickel, a character from German lore, is a cantankerous tattered old man with a simple motivation: flogging children. The man is whip-crazy, hunting down mischievous kids and playing bad cop to Santa’s good cop. In Germany and Pennsylvania Dutch communities, Belsnickel appears in dilapidated furs and a sooty face, carries a bundle of switches, and terrifies the local naughty children with threats of a good thrashing. Belsnickel precedes the visit of St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, by a couple weeks ensuring that the wayward children rectify their behavior by Christmastime.

Belsnickel brandishing his twigs

Belsnickel brandishing his twigs (photograph by Peptobismolman1)

Pennsylvania German children can expect a violent scraping of birch switches at the door heralding Belsnickel’s arrival. The unkempt thing on the doorstep enters the home and questions the children’s righteousness. If the kiddies have been good, he tosses candies upon the floor. If they greedily scramble to retrieve the sweets, he scolds them with the sharp wrath of the switch. Can’t win, can you, kids?

Though several Pennsylvania German and Dutch communities have suffered the ire of Belsnickel for well over a century, they still invite him to the annual party. The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center in Kutztown, Berks County, and the Lehigh County Historical Society commemorate Christmas with a real life Belsnickel ready at the whip.

Kukeri and their towering fecundity

Kukeri and their towering fecundity (photograph by Klearchos Kapoutsis)

Kukeri – Bulgaria
In Bulgaria between New Year and Lent, the kukeri, or mummers, take to the streets in a striking masquerade and procession to banish evil spirits from the villages. Also taking place throughout the Balkans and Greece, the ritualistic pagan traditional finds men bedecked in elaborate towering costumes made of fur pelts, wooden masks and phalluses, and a belt of giant copper cowbells. Kuker is a deity who signifies fertility, celebrates the new agricultural season, and heralds in the regenerative resources of spring, the ancient new year. The ritual can be traced back to the Bulgarian’s Thracian ancestors, who deified Dionysus, a god of wine, sex, madness, and other physical ecstasies. The kukeri visit the homes of the village, by force if need be, and symbolically bless them with a prosperous year. They often act out dramatic scenes, including acts of sex, death, and rebirth.

Kukeri on the prowl

Kukeri on the prowl (photograph by Elena Chochkova)

The Surva International Festival of Masquerade Games (Mummer’s Games), established in 1966, held in Pernik, is the largest folklore festival of Bulgarian culture.

Here comes Krampus (photograph by Giulio)

Here comes Krampus (photograph by Giulio)

Krampus – Alpine countries
Krampus, Krampus, Krampus, where do we begin? Named for the old German word for “claw,” this bestial creature has scratched his way to commercial success as the bad boy of the Yuletide season. Krampus plays the anti-St. Nicholas in a vision of evil magnificence: hulking, blackened, and goat-like, with sharpened horns and a serpentine tongue. While primarily clomping his cloven hoof (the other foot being a claw-pronged bear paw) across the lands of Austria, Southern Germany and other Alpine countries, his reputation has emerged in cultures all across Europe as the most infamous of holiday demons. Similar to many of our mythical creatures of the pre-Christian holiday season, Krampus serves to strike fear in the hearts of young babes. Yet, where other beasts merely threaten punishment to the immoral, Krampus kidnaps them and whisks them away to his evil den.

Krampus drooling over the prospect of thrashing naughty young tots (photograph by Horst A. Kandutsch)

Krampus drooling over the prospect of thrashing naughty young tots (photograph by Horst A. Kandutsch)

Mari Lwyd's gaping skull (photograph by Andy Dingley)

Mari Lwyd’s gaping skull (photograph by Andy Dingley)

Mari Lwyd – Wales
Next, on New Year’s Eve, we travel to Wales, where Yuletide revelry is still in full force. Cups of Wassail punch are passed around to the sounds of clinking glass and merriment, perhaps in preparation for a Noson Gyflaith (Toffee Evening). Suddenly you hear a knock at the door. Is it a group of carolers? Why no, it’s Mari Lwyd, the wraithlike specter of an old grey horse who’s gaping skull seems to float above a mass of ectoplasm, and she wants inside your home. You’re sort of obligated to let her in and appease her with cakes, ale punch, and even money. The village of Llangynwyd, near Bridgend holds re-enactments of the ritual with burning torches succeeding the Mari on New Year’s Eve.

The Badalisc knows about all of your bad things (photograph by Luca Giarelli)

The Badalisc knows about all of your bad things (photograph by Luca Giarelli)

Badalisc – Val Camonica, Italy
Hailing from Val Camonica, Italy, the Badalisc, or Badalisk, is a woodsy creature who is dumb as a stick and looks like one, too. Appearing as an oversized worm with an enormous, furry, horned head, flashing eyes, and gaping mouth, his main form of malevolence revolves around annoying the community with his insipid gossip. The village of Andrista celebrates the feast of Badalisc in a ritualistic tradition every year during the period of Epiphany on January 5th and 6th. The Badalisc is captured by the townspeople and dragged around the village while being lured by a sexy young woman. After some typical old world drumming, fighting with a hunchback, and bickering with the witches, the Badalisc gives his speech, exposing the transgressions of society. Eventually he is set free to crawl back into the woods until the local residents have racked up enough sinful stories for Badalisc to reveal the following year.

Badalisc in action (photograph by Luca Giarelli)

Badalisc in action (photograph by Luca Giarelli)

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