UGHH—Why I Hate Government!

A few months back, someone stole my passport from my car. Yes, I know, what kind of idiot leaves a passport in his car, and apparently we all now know the answer. Point being, the looming international trip scheduled for the next lunar cycle is now causing me some serious angst. I am without proper documentation and my plane flight is practically taxiing down the runway.

Having filed the paperwork at my local passport office, I felt pretty content to wait out the 4-6 weeks it would take our government to print out fewer pages than one finds in a daily junk mailer. But Washington has a way of annihilating the simplest of tasks, and so, today’s mail from the State Department reads: The photo you have sent was not taken within the last 6 months and you must retake a photo and send it to the following address xxxxxxxx.

Except, the photo was taken four weeks ago and now I’ve just finished a phone call with the State Department trying to get an answer.

You ready? Because the brilliance of this response will give you the howling fantods.

 

“Clearly this is not a recent photo.“

“But the photo was taken just a few weeks ago.”

“Well, we will require another one as proof.”

“Proof of what?”

“That this is you.”
“But there was no date on my photo. How do you know when it was taken?”

“We don’t. But the person in this photo is not 44 years old.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“I’m sorry?”

“I said you’re fucking kidding me. I have an already-paid-for trip to the Caribbean in less than thirty days and you sent my passport application back because you think I look too young?”

“Um?”

“Um what!”

“Sir, we just require another photo.”

“And how long will it take to process?”

“Six weeks.”

“I leave in three.”

“I’m sorry sir.”

“That’s simply not acceptable at this point. Because if I send you another photo, it will look the same.”

“Maybe you could do it right when you wake up so you look older.”

“Holy crap, are you serious?”

“Um.”

“No, there is no way this is serious. Am I on a radio show?”

“….”

“Look, I know you are just doing your job, but I really need some help here.”

“We can help you when you send in your photo.”

“But only if I make myself look old, right?”

“It would help.”

“Ok, I’ll send the photo. Do me a favor though. When you put it up on the post office wall for what’s about to happen, could you make sure they get my age right!”

“….”

Click

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By ccxander

On Donald Sterling’s Penchant for Bigotry and My Personal Misunderstanding of Utopia

After four informative decades on the planet, society’s objectives still elude me. In this week’s news, an octogenarian made some ignorant and offensive racist remarks and nearly every citizen is ready to hang him. He’s a scumbag with intolerable views and a penchant for bigotry and deserves whatever penalties the league will impose, not to mention the American public’s derision. The only redeeming quality for this asshole is that he has more behind him than ahead of him and he’ll be leaving the planet soon enough. However, we have athletes who kill people and animals, politicians who lie and steal from fellow citizens, celebrities who drunkenly drive into others and drug themselves into suicidal endings, and yet, somehow we find empathy for their life’s plight, and offer them nth more chances to become good people.   Strange, right? That an entire nation can pile on about words while offering understanding and compassion for acts.

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I guess I’m trying to discover the goal. Is it a utopian society where everyone abides by a similar code of ethics – a supreme moral template – one which will eliminate any intrusion upon other people’s lives? Is this just the Au rule melting its way into the public consciousness in ways that folks in the Bronze Age just weren’t ready for?   Are we now at an advanced stage of evolution where we can finally see others as human beings instead of animals and Darwin’s dogma has pretty much gone the way of Columbus’ theory?

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Truth is, I want to understand. I’d like to be able to walk the Earth without fear of retribution because of my national flag, my belief system or my genetic inheritance. I would like to be able to approach my religious Extremist brother and have a conversation about deities, or drop into a KKK meeting and hear alternative perspectives on race relations. I’d like to chill with Black Panthers and anarchists and Yakuza and educate myself. It seems, however, that these groups are rather closed, shrouding themselves beneath the conspiratorial blankets of commonality. And but so that’s my point. We have factions that fracture our world while at the same time complaining that everyone should agree on things. In the marketplace of ideas, some are more valuable than others.

A recent study of citizens from fifty nations concludes the value parents most want their children to explore is not achievement, but compassion. Here in the States, “compassion” is one term in the literary pool of others like “tolerance” “acceptance” and “kindness.” So, inmy quest to understand, I need some guidance. When it comes to Sharia Law, which should I tolerate – the religion or Honor killings? When it comes to Affirmative Action, should I support the concept that we can treat some ethnicities differently than others, or is that whole idea a horribly slippery slope that also allows people to treat some ethnicities in a wholly negative way? Do I learn to accept Sterling’s blatant prejudice because I’m supposed to be tolerant of other viewpoints?

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So many of our rights have come into conflict that we now depend on nine robed- folks to decide our own morality. Andlest we all forget how well folks in robes have done in the past, recall the Klan, the Clerics, the Priests, and the Driuds – toss in Darth Vader and you’re pretty much at the epicenter of indecency. If I blaspheme a religion, am I observing freedom of speech or abridging freedom of religion? When Sterling rants, is he observing right to privacy or executing hate speech? Do I need to wait a few years for these cases to navigate the judicial labyrinth before I figure out what’s right?

I guess I’m aiming my hood ornament at the following: It’s not going to work.   Legislating morality is akin to building a dam in the Pacific.

As much as we can suggest utopian idealism, self-interest will always outweigh societal ones. Mankind is still animalistic by nature, andtherefore borne with survival instinct. Whether it be nation, tribe, family, or self, mankind will always choose his close relationships over distant ones. We will never get everyone to agree. And yet, until we all find a way to live our lives without infringing on the lives of others, we are doomed to destroy ourselves.

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Ironically, if we ever do achieve a world where equality and compassion dominate, all that kindness will create a world where overpopulation kicks the shit out of us.

But hey, one can always hope, right!

 

By ccxander

Thank you for the Birthday Wishes

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This is the unconventional intimacy of cyberspace, where one receives miniscule adrenal rushes from the typed words of: a girl he once had a crush on, an old friend he hasn’t spoken to in years, a former adversary, a colleague. Long walks beneath crayola skies and sub-comforter midnight phone calls now succumb to technology’s soundbites : a status update, a tweet, a post. The phone is more telex than telephone and Graham Bell is wondering whether he’s gone deaf.

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This is where we are then.

Our heads are always screen-bound, the fluorescent glow of a cell phone replacing the sun. Very soon, skin cancer will disappear beneath the rising disease of seclusion. I used to think connection meant holding a hand, but now it’s a hand that holds a connection.

Our cultural velocity is speeding up. We no longer write letters with words, but rather, text words with letters. “Thank you” is now TY. “You’ve floored me” is ROFLMAO. These days, when you give someone the finger,they put a keyboard beneath it.

We look down now, into aworld of pants’ creases and heeled shoes and sidewalk gum – these are the images in our screen’s periphery. We listen for oncoming pedestrians, glancing up momentarily to side-shuffle left or right so we can get back to our binary biosphere. We accidentally step off sidewalks and have sidewalk accidents because we are tethered to a digitized world.

Status is not something I should have to post. It is not as simple as “on” or “off,” “working” or “idle.” Status is a place in the world, a reflection of character and ambition and generosity. Status cannot be portrayed in 140 characters or a turn of phrase. Status has history, accomplishment, loyalty – terms that disappear beneath the fidgeting fingers of a generation of immediacy.

I am forty-four today and already sounding like some old, cynical crocodile who’s preparing for a mothballed closet and socks with sandals and nonsensical blogging. But then, maybe it’s not the age so much as the distance. These screens can bring us nose to nose, but keep us so far away. Most often, that distance is protective, guarding us from familiarity. There are days, however, when one wants to go down the rabbit hole of rapport.

And so, on this day, when grasping you to give you a hug is impossible, when shaking your hand or kissing your cheek is unmanageable, let me just say a sincerethank you for the birthday wishes. They make this world of 1’s and 0’s a bit more palatable.

By ccxander

The Wrath of My Own Curiosity

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Took a little journey out to the racetrack today, with a few friends, and made the mistake of bringing a notepad with me.

Santa Anita has a one-mile (1,609 m) natural dirt main track, which rings a turf course measuring 9/10 of a mile, or 7 furlongs plus 132 feet (1,448 m). Too, there’s an unusual hillside turf course, which crosses the dirt and is primarily used to run turf races at a distance of “about” 6½ furlongs (exact distance 64½ feet [19.7 m] less than same, or 1,288 m). Which is all to say these horses are going to be fucking exhausted.

To comply with a State of California mandate, Santa Anita replaced its dirt racing surface with a new synthetic surface called CushionTrack, a mixture of silica sand, synthetic fibers, elastic fiber, granulated rubber and a wax coating but returned to an all natural dirt surface in December 2010. The experience was a bit like throwing on a condom and then deciding to bareback it, although that analogy is so rife with equine perfection, it’s a shame to waste it here.

The site occupies 320 acres, has a 1,100-foot (340 m)-long grandstand, which is a historic landmark that seats 26,000 guests – most of them ample chain-smokers who draw down on the PAYDAY loan store about ten minutes prior to post.

The grandstand facade is Art-Deco-rendered, and though there are some modernizations, a look into the place’s bowels reminds you the track was built amid the Great Depression. There arecracked beams, plasticky chairs, and enough initial-carved tables to indicate the site has withstood some serious seasons. The track’s infield area accommodates sandboxes, hot-dog covered picnic tables and hundreds of small, brown, ice-cream-eating children accelerating along monkey bars and shrieking like Hades has risen. To access it, one travels through a catacomb-ish tunnel and if you accidentally happen to be down there when horses run overhead, it’s a bit like Thor pummeling hammer blows upon your skull, I’d guess. Since the infield can accommodate 50,000 or more guests, you can imagine there’s a lot of adolescent urine in those sandpits, and there is. On that note, the Park also contains 61 barns, which house more than 2,000 horses, and an equine hospital, presumably to handle nosebleeds – because anything worse requires a gun. One final note regarding the infield. Back in the post-Pearl Harbor 1940’s, the area was used to inter Japanese Americans, and on occasion, one could see them squinting at the horses traversing the track, which is horribly offensive and yet also true.

When you arrive at the sub-San Gabriel mountains park, there are twenty-two black-slacks-wearing valet parking attendants, and if you are fortunate enough to have acquired a free parking pass, they greet you with the sort of adhesive smirk and total disinterest one expects from guys who spend their days sprinting beneath a hot sun. This is in great contrast to their approach five hours from now when those smirks will widen into professional smiles as you reach your tipping-hand into your pocket.

Inside the gate, one of several heavy-set women will stamp your hand and wish you “ ‘aveanicedaysir,” with the sincerity one can only develop by crouching inside a 3×3 cubicle for six hours in 90 degree temps. I remind myself to bring her a cocktail before noon strikes.

If you arrive early enough, touring the grounds provides insight into racing history. There’s a statue of legendary horse, Seabiscuit, surrounded by flowers, although track personnel become testy if you ask questions like, “With all these flowers, why the long face?” Several tourists pose for photos in front of the statue and at least one youngish woman lurks beneath the horse in a way that makes this reporter very uncomfortable, but if we’re being honest, also a little curious. Too, there’s a statue of John Henry, who was a steel-driving slave from folk tales, but whom I now know is also a pretty famous horse.

A bit further onto the acreage, the horse paddock hosts an active group jockeys, grooms, and the celebrities du jour, horses. Dressed in various shades of silks – jocks used to wear silks but new technology now offers speed silks, which are made from Aero Dimplex material, and the line also includes helmet covers, jockey pants and boot sleeves – jockeys look a bit like anthropomorphized lollipops. The silks originate in sacs inside of spiders and it was some pretty time-consuming and, you can probably guess, boring, research to determine that that fact didn’t matter. Inside the jockey locker room, there are six racks of silks; each containing about 100 outfits and the place vaguely resembles a costume room for The Wizard of Oz.

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That the jocks wear really fast, air-splitting colored silks to distinguish them from each other is enough for now. Along with the silks racks, the jockey room hosts two simulated horses (the kind of thing you find in deep Texas saloons, although without the bucking). Too, there are treadmills, several beds, assistants who polish mud off of boots, and many rusty metal machine/instruments for which this reporter cannot even fathom a use.

It’d be unacceptable to ignore the jockey-to-horse size ratio. These animals are large, weighing in around half a ton, whereas the jockeys look like the figurines on wedding cakes or trophies, and it would take a few trips to In’N’ Out to help them bust the scale’s triple digit mark. Imagine Kate Moss’s midget sister competing at Sumo and you’ll get the idea.

As for the grooms, they’re a bit like Presidential Cabinet advisors. They scrub and braid and feed and scoop – the grooming of these animals is centerfoldish – performing all sorts of significant but unceremonious jobs in order to make meddling owners happy. With small paychecks and frequent 4 a.m. rise times, one wonders what drives these men. When interviewed, they say things like, “I gonna like the animals. They my friends.” There are many Central American grooms here.

The horses are less animal than athlete. Spending a few minutes in the paddock – the pre-race warm up area – you can see them Alpha-dogging each other and whinnying their dominance in some pretty forthright equine dialect. They strut and shake their manes, rear-up and pound hooves, and nip at one another’s haunches, in what can only be called bizarre pre-race convention. It’s a bit like a boys high school locker room, although the horses would need bigger towels. With regard to that issue – and it is unavoidable when one visits the track – there’s some pretty impressive equipment there. One can really get a feel for phrases like “hung like a horse” and “piss like a racehorse,” and if I were transporting a young daughter to Derby Day, I’d avoid the whole scene for fear of…well, you get it.

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According to the track staff, the horses also have some interesting habits. They like to chew at the bandages the grooms place on their legs. Consequently, the grooms spray the bandages with chili powder, at which some of the horses express serious dismay. Others, humorously, have grown to like the powder and will lick the bandages for hours, although you can probably visualize the aftermath of a horse eating spicy foods. Not pretty, right?  When horses retire, many of them stay on site, pulling race officials around the track and spending evenings nudging up against other elder ponies. Interestingly, when photographically matched with the descended faces and large snouts of the track audience, there is more similarity than difference.

A few MTP, (minutes to post, or “race time” for track virgins) the horses parade from the paddock to the track. While hundreds of fans look on – everyone tries to see something in the horse’s character that might indicate a win that day – the grooms march them in a circle around Seabiscuit and then make the fifty-yard trek to the track. Young children lean over fence rails to try to touch the horses, and cigar-smoking grown men, in fedoras, rapidly scratch notes onto their racing programs. Several people bust out camera phones and shoot photos of the animals, which frankly, feels grotesquely paparazzi-ish and makes me wonder where they’ll be putting those photos later. You hear soft ooh’s and aah’s as children watch the horses, sounds which quickly turn pornographic when some idiot reaches over the rail and gets bitten.

Next to me, Louie, an old Italian man, with one of those voices that sounds like Miss Piggy swallowed a cheese grater, asks me which one I like. “I like the 3 horse,” I reply, to which he smiles and for a moment I feel like I’ve properly navigated the racing day etymology. Louie puts me in my place quickly, however, responding,“He’s too small.” I am tempted to say “Well, you’re a little hoarse, yourself, Louie.” but refrain for fear of laughing myself to death.

Speaking of language, the track has a hold on proprietary lexicon. For those who’ve never been down the rabbit hole, here are a few terms to learn:

Smart money- guys like Louie have been here since the 60’s studying horses, jockeys, track conditions, and equestrian dietssince they were big enough to ride Disneyland rides. Though these are animals, Louie and his brethren can call many of these races accurately. When they bet, it is termed the smart money. That Louie lives in an apartment in Arcadia, which is pretty much the sphincter of California, implies smart money may be a misleading term.

Exacta Quinella Trifecta- ways to select different combinations of winners and also-rans

Pick Six– pick the winners for the last six races of the day and you’re considered track royalty, exiting with enough to buy a new Mercedes, with some left over for champagne. That these are animals with rampant injuries, sleep problems and gastrointestinal issues, not to mention some don’t like this whole running thing all that much, your odds of winning the pick six are about the same as dating HalleBerry.

Inquiry– basically the race judges determine whether someone cut someone else off or pushed a fellow rider (wouldn’t mind having this on the LA freeways).

Handicapping – not the normal usage and very offensive when used that way, evidently.

By the time the horses get to the track, most of the guests have entered the racing arena to place their bets. Crowds here are diverse. In the track’s bowels, there are cafeteria-sized rooms where the average patron is forty pounds overweight, smokes two packs a day, wields ample facial ticks, and seems content to lose a week’s pay in search of the big score. There is a fixed digestive smell about them and it’s rare to see this many missing teeth. Besides the hundred or so betting windows, a host of food service stations exist, all offering the same ectomorph-supporting fare of Nachos, Churros, Hot Dogs and Beer. By their waddling gaits, no one here could make one lap around this track. Your more compassionate doctor would enter this area and cry.

If one can overcome the pinniped-like demographic, it’s interesting to note the studiousness of this population. Most of them are engaged in a curious prognostication ritual where stacks of newspapers, green sheets, yellow sheets, blue one-pagers, and magazine notes pile high around their table to the point where the human-like creatures can barely see out. Imagine a toothless, well-aged Ziggy comic strip and you get close.

Two levels up, the track offers a swimming pool sized bar, where some pretty unbelievable patrons imbibe their way into oblivion. Drunkenness here reaches new levels. People move as though there is a constant earthquake and at least three attendees are face down on the counter. One finds slurring that borders on mild retardation and the whole concept of aiming has not found its way into the bathrooms. Betting windows also lurk here, although observing these folks making their way from the bar to the windows is like watching Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) fake a heart attack.

The Frontrunner restaurant sits five escalatored levels up and overlooks the home stretch. Tie-wearing waiters serve three-course gourmet lunches to those willing to shell out the $65 (includes valet parking) and who fashion themselves in sport coats and pleated slacks. The “house” provides professional handicappers for this clientele, although if we’re speaking bluntly, they suck. I know this because ours was named Bill. Bill has been handicapping races since 1994 and lives four minutes from the track, which is to say in a one-bedroom apartment that may or may not be evicting him soon. Today, Bill is one for seven, and the one he picked right actually came in second but the winning horse was disqualified. Thus, Bill considers today a successful one. I hate Bill.

The custom of picking horses is more cerebral than expected. Navigating through the various handicappers’ suggestions, past finishes for each horse, the jockeys who are currently “on fire,” and which horses have registered to race but scratched (pulled out) prior to race time, is a labyrinth that requires some serious gray matter. Prior to the second race, I pulled the intellectual oar for about twenty hyper-focused minutes, after which I hustled to the betting window to give them my pick. A woman whose eyebrows wanted to be noticed took my twelve-dollar bet and handed me a ticket. Since I’m being truthful here, I flirted a little. If you’ve ever seen the Mona Lisa, that was the response. When the race ended, my horse was about as successful as my flirting.

Races start on the half hour and begin at 1:00 p.m. Long shadows now stretch across the turf and we are getting ready for the final trek. Those once wearing sport coats, currently stand with collared shirts wide open and the sort of sauna-ish sweat one expects when high stakes are on the line. Two men are still in the running for the Pick Six (call the winners in the final six races) and stand to gain six-figure winnings if they nail the last one. Half the restaurant is drunk and most people are so exhausted from the anticipation/climax parabolic wave that many folks resemble beached fish.

The Vatican Guard-dressed bugle blower blows the horses into the gates and the announcer screams “And they’re off!” Race fans have a way of rising to the occasion. Here, screams escalate like college fraternity houses, and by the time the home stretch comes around, everyone is jumping up and down staring toward the finish line. Neither Pick Six horse comes in and enough ripped tickets rise into the air to make one think of a Manhattan parade.

As folks filter out toward the parking lot, the weathered, the drunk, and the wealthy merge into an economic Pangaea. I pass the cubicled-woman at the front gate and she appears ten years older. As they run for cars, the valet crew has their tip-generating smiles ready and I reach into my now-empty pockets for a few bucks. For a brief moment, I can reflect on the day.

Horseracing is losing its impact upon the sporting public. For two minutes, eight times per day, miniscule men maneuver atop massive steeds, driving them to go faster. People, who can’t afford to lose money, lose money, and people who can afford to lose money, lose more money. There is speed, intensity, and the unnerving feeling that these animals might not want to run this fast. Overlaying the entire affair is an addiction to gambling, the naïve hope that, upon the backs of these beasts, life can be better.

I’m not certain what to do with it all yet. But then, I guess the “not knowing” is what makes it all worth doing, right?

One thing I know for sure: From now on, I should leave my damn notepad at home!

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By ccxander