The Star-Spangled Banner.

The Star Spangled Banner is not a waltz. It’s not a pop tune peppered with screaming and “runs”, it’s not a ballad and it’s not some smaltzy jazz tune. You will not find it in any hymnal. To be honest, it’s a reworking of an English drinking song about alcohol and sex called “To Anacreon in Heaven”. It is meant to be sung at a fairly lively tempo and military bands still play it this way. Stop behaving like it’s gospel. It’s not. A performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” is not a religious experience in any way. Performers didn’t really start smaltzing out on it until Whitney Houston turned it into a hit record during the first Gulf War. The song, and what we do during its performance, is a symbol of pride. And for a country that prides itself on Freedom of Expression, we must remember that people express pride in different ways and for different reasons. The cool thing about the good ol’ USA is that no one has the right to dictate how we express ourselves. We bang our chests about our freedom, so it’s important that we respect the freedom of expression of every citizen. No president has the power to contradict that, not even an Orange-Tinted Julius Caesar wannabe that wants to control the masses down to a very narrow scope of what we should all be. Honestly, I grit my teeth through every hackneyed “jazzed-up” performance of the song but I still tear up. I find the meaning. I tear up because of what we have, what we had and what we’ve become. Not all these tears are of pride. We can do better. Anyone that thinks these are the greatest days of the USA must suffer from the Opioid Epidemic. Get help. But more importantly, make the country, and more importantly the WORLD, a better place. Skin color, race, sexual orientation, religious choices, abilities, disabilities: they’re all insignificant. It’s not difficult: work hard, give more to the community than you receive, love and do good things. No citizen of the United States is a dictator. And no true patriot would ever aspire to be.

Slam.

Our local Mariano’s (supermarket) has a grand piano near the checkout lanes. When I first heard the piano music on our way into the store, I assumed it was some automated thing plunking out the holiday music the weekend before Thanksgiving, which in itself is an irksome thing because the hordes of people at Mariano’s at the time were clearly there purchasing food for their upcoming Thanksgiving Feast, not items for the frenetic exercise we call “The Christmas Holiday”.

I tuned out the piano.

As Earl and I made our way to register six, I noticed that the grand piano actually had an elderly gentleman installed on the bench and while he appeared to be three months away from becoming a Disney Animatronic Amusement, he was actually playing the piano and had apparently been hired to do so by the fine folks at Mariano’s. By the way, Mariano’s is nice but it ain’t Wegmans. Just sayin’.

So as we are standing there in line at register six, the guy is playing lively Christmas tunes on this grand piano, while I’m staring at our impending Thanksgiving dinner and hauling it out of the cart and up onto the conveyor belt. I’m not a fan of Christmas music to begin with but it makes me especially surly before the Thanksgiving holiday. Honestly, early Christmas music is a constant reminder that the joyous time of the year is now force fed to the masses through ads, sales, and constant reminders that you are a bad Christian if you don’t abandon your family at 6:00 PM on Thanksgiving to head out to the mall to buy lots and lots of idiotic things for your loved ones.

As we waited our turn for our impending Thanksgiving dinner to be whipped across laser beams and into bags, the elderly Billy Joel then crossed a line, a very deep line in the white sand, because we don’t have snow yet. He started playing “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music”.

I nearly leaped over registers six through ten and slammed the grand piano cover on his bony little fingers. “My Favorite Things” Is. Not. A. Christmas. Song. Yes, it has been performed as a holiday treasure (not buried, but it should be) for the past couple of decades because it talks about woolen mittens and brown paper packages. Yes, Barbra Streisand croaked it out on a holiday album. Yes, Julie Andrews sang it once with a Christmas Tree in the background on a kinescope black and white variety show in the early 1960s. But the fact of the matter is, everyone knows the song from the movie version of “The Sound of Music” and it’s used to calm a bunch a sea urchins down during a thunderstorm, which is wild in itself because I doubt that thunderstorm was the first thunderstorm to pass through Austria in the 1940s.

It irks me enough to make quote the Reverend Mother, “What is it, you cuntface”.

Do people really enjoy listening to holiday music before its time? I guess I shouldn’t expect anything less, after all, the National Anthem that we are all so worked up about lately is actually a drinking song called “To Anacreon In Heaven”. Said song is about consuming alcohol and sex. I’ve seen brides and grooms slow dance to Whitney Houston warbling out “I Will Always Love You”, a song about ending a relationship. “Born In The U.S.A.” is about the Vietnam War.

A song about calming down during a thunderstorm repurposed to be about the birth of Jesus? Why not.

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Comfort.

I have no doubt that there’s an “other side” when it comes to what happens when we die. I believe that we see only a small portion of the total picture of the Universe, that there are many stages of life, even before we are born and after we die, and this knowledge gives me peace. When it’s my time, I won’t be afraid.

Some religions want us to believe that there is judgement and that if we screw up our life we are sent to eternal damnation in hell and we are surrounded by flames and torture and screaming and the like. It’s hot. Eternity is a long time. Why would an all loving Deity do that to one of his creations? No, that sort of hell is a human construct perpetuated to keep us in line and to control our thinking. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

I remember asking my mom in the late 1970s about hell and her thoughts on the subject. She said that she thinks we don’t get damned to eternal torture but that maybe we come back and learn again. I asked her if that meant this was hell and she said, “maybe”. But it was a learning place, not a mean place.

Last night I had a family reunion in my sleep. A dream, a premonition, contact with the other side, I don’t know. My gut says it was more than a dream. Perhaps my dreams are just quite organized. But many of my relatives that have passed on were there and lending their comfort and support to address some things that have been bothering me of late. Now, I’m not troubled nor unhappy (quite the contrary), but my analytical ways have had me in hyper-evaluation mode over the past few days, especially surrounding my pilot career. This has happened once before, where I felt a little down about flying and the circumstances surrounding being able to fly as frequently as I’d like to. Like the last time, my Dad, a private pilot that passed away nearly six years ago in a crash of his second home built, came to me in a dream and gave me a pep talk. Last night the whole family was there. He said he liked flying “low and slow”. I asked him why he didn’t like flying the Tomahawk back in the day, he said it didn’t give him enough view and “it could be slippery”. “You need to fly the airplane you want to fly.” I asked him if he’d fly in the right seat in “the Cherokee” if I flew as PIC (Pilot In Command). In the dream or the vision or the premonition I had last night, he said “absolutely. Go buy one.” We talked about some other things that are too personal to share in a public forum. They were all right on the money. Things started making sense.

My godmother was also there. She told me she’d break the alarm clock so we could talk. We talked about some spiritual stuff and about some of the other things that have been bothering me a little bit and she said I needed to calm down. Stop analyzing. Get out of my head. “You have a good head on your shoulders, you’ll know when you’re really in trouble. Stop worrying.” Have fun. Enjoy life. Again, we talked about more personal things.

Dream? More? All I know is that it felt incredibly real and that I feel amazing this morning. My head feels clear. And when I awoke, my Amazon Echo Dot, which I use as my alarm clock, was flashing but not making any noise. Normally it’d be playing some soothing sounds to awake me, but not so much as a peep this morning. It was 6:17 and my alarm had been flashing for 17 minutes.

Those 17 minutes were worth it.

Inhibition.

Raj on “The Big Bang” theory, at least in the early seasons, couldn’t talk to Penny unless he was drinking alcohol. I get that. Back in my club DJing days, I was always isolated from the crowd by playing music in a DJ booth removed from the action. I controlled the tempo of the bar, but I didn’t participate in that tempo. I never had great social skills in that situation; I indicated my attraction to my husband by shining a light in his face from the DJ booth. Sexy times.

Earl has not been feeling well the past couple of weeks; his back has been hurting him and he’s had a lot of down time. When I told him that I was in the mood to go out for a drink tonight he encouraged me to do so alone. There’s a gay bar not too far from our home, it’s a 10 minute walk or one ride up the Brown Line to the next stop. The clientele is older. The music is from a jukebox. The faces are friendly. I decided to venture out alone.

I’m still not good in these social situations. I tend to get a beer and park myself on the perimeter. I’m fascinated with the people watching. I love watching the cliques do their thing and finally mingle. I enjoy watching who goes home with whom. I like trying a different beer. I was content. A man approached me and asked why I was standing in the corner. I replied, “I’m flying solo tonight and just watching the crowd.” He invited me over to their corner of the bar and said that they were friendly.

I thanked him but continued to do my own thing.

Another man invited me to dance to “Life In A Northern Town” by The Dream Academy. He was about my age, incredibly handsome and although there was no dance floor, the bar area magically cleared when he decided he wanted to dance. I couldn’t find a danceable rhythm in the song so I made a few strides and smiled in an awkward manner. He thanked me and moved on to someone that could find rhythm where there was none.

Apparently when I stand in the corner, drinking a beer by myself and enjoying the people watching, I can be a little intimidating. There’s a million things that I could use to strike up a conversation but I’m worried that I’ll misstep and say something awkward and people will then tweet about me and I’ll have some sort of dark sticker on my identity and my lack of social convention will go on my permanent record. I can chat with the best of them, but only after the conversation has started. I’m not good at meeting new people and I’m not good at striking up a non-dork conversation. I need to get better at this sort of thing.

I tested the bar by playing a fairly obscure Mariah Carey song on the jukebox. The track was “Prisoner” from her first album. I’m not a Mariah Carey fan in any way, but this song was a drag favorite back in 1991 so I wanted to see if the crowd knew the song. A couple of folks at the bar sang along so I apparently wasn’t completely out of my element. I finished my beer and left, nodding a smile at a few people along the way as I made my way out the door.

I had a quiet walk home. Maybe next time I’ll actually interact with the crowd instead of just observing it.

Climate Change.

Earl and I were enjoying dinner at 6:00 p.m. Central Time. The curtains were drawn and we had a beautiful view onto our balcony and the cityscape it reveals. Here it is mid-November and we were also seeing flashes of lightning. Not unheard of but not very common for this part of the country in the middle of November.

I’ve been paying close attention to the weather for the past 24 hours in preparation for a flight I have planned for Sunday afternoon. Even the aviation forecasts are describing our weather as a “roller coaster” this weekend, with flashes of autumn and winter taking turns in the same day.

All of this has been leading me to think about Climate Change. Even though the apparent position of the United States is that Climate Change doesn’t really exist, I can’t help but notice the weather feel different than it did when I was a kid. A little less predictable. A little more like a roller coaster. As I chug through the last year of my 40s, I do think about the fact that the really bad stuff probably won’t happen until I move onto the next phase of my eternal journey. I worry about my young nieces and nephews though. What are they going to have to deal with when they’re my age? What will the planet be like? How much of the Continental United States will be under water?

It would be easy for me to think, “eh, this isn’t my problem, I’ll be gone”, but that’s not part of responsible thinking, now is it. We should work hard, give more than we take and do what we can to make the world a better place than how we found it. As “the greatest country on Earth” moves farther and farther away from that goal, tending to one’s selfishness seems to be the goal of the day, I can’t help but wonder what permanent damage we are doing to life on Earth with our collective irresponsible choices.

I hope someday we all smarten up a little bit and start seeing the Big Picture again. It would be a nice change of pace.

Why.

Years ago I was walking into Danbury Fair Mall. Several people were making their way through one of the entrances and a man held the door for the line of six or so people that walked through. I said “thank you” as I passed through, but I had a frog in my throat and it just sounded like a croak. Getting oriented to the mall, the man ran up to those of us in the process of dispersing into our own directions and yelled, “You’re suppose to say thank you! You’re welcome!”. His grandiose gesture brought the gaze of others upon us and we were to feel sufficiently shunned.

This had me wondering, was the man holding the door open to be polite to those of us passing through the entranceway? Was he holding the door open to feel better about himself? Did he need to feel superior in some way? I couldn’t help but think that his gesture was not a gesture of kindness but an gesture of superiority.

I don’t think I’ve ever stopped asking “why”. As a kid I’m sure I was always asking my mom and dad crazy questions like, “why do the power lines always travel in pairs” or “why do they open register 2 before opening register 1” or “why is the first exit in Ohio exit 241?”. I’m always searching for a reason or a justification or a cause for every and anything in the world. Knowing the impetus behind an action or a situation completes my thoughts on it. It isn’t necessarily closure but there’s logic and that brings me comfort. My dad died because he didn’t keep his airplane airborne at a low altitude. There is a second stop sign on the wrong side of the street at many intersections in Chicago because the signs are easily hidden by parked cars. I was the only one of my generation with red hair because the Irish genes on both side of the family met under the right circumstances at the right time to kick off the ginger gene.

When something happens or somebody does something without an apparent logical reason I can be bothered by it. I think that’s one of the reasons why I struggle with some friends and members of my family still being Trump supporters. There is rarely any logic behind anything the Trump administration does. There’s no rationality behind exclaiming Trump is “The People’s President” when the man has never worked a day in life, dodged the draft, openly admitted that he’d sleep with his daughter if they weren’t related, has toilets, heck, complete rooms gilded in gold, has bankrupted several companies, has his own fleet of jets, had his wife imported from the old country and signs legislation that will bring more financial burden to the middle class. In what world is any of that indicative of “a man of the people”.

I can’t figure out why this country is gripped in such hysterics, angst, vengeance, and competitiveness.

If we set aside our egos, stop the grandstanding and take a step back and look at the world around us (instead of focusing on our small speck of an existence we’ve built), it’s really easy to see that we are way off kilter. The only reason I can find for the craziness is 9/11 and the ensuing non-stop wars afterward. There’s lot of chest beating about how we beat the terrorists and we are doing great things in the world, but it only takes a quick glance at the news or social media or the communities around us to see that we haven’t won anything. Watch a rerun of any television show from before 2001 and see how much different we were. Brighter colors. Brighter smiles. Brighter times.

With the constant turmoil of 2017 I have not been able to rationalize any of it, and it’s taking a toll on my psyche. Moving to Chicago has helped a bit; the people here are friendlier, there’s more to do and the skies are brighter more often than they were in Central New York, but it didn’t resolve the logic I’m searching for.

And for a person that needs some sort of resolution or logic or a complete circle of thought to any given situation, I’m ready for these times to end and for us to start acting rationally again.

Freak.

I’ve mentioned before that my interest in computers, and technology in general, was kicked into overdrive when our local Ames Department Store converted over to a computerized point-of-sale system in the early 1980s. Prior to that I was interested in anything that had a button. I wanted to know what that button did, how it did it, and more importantly why it did it. I was fascinated by anything connected or systematic: the telephone network, washing machine cycles and their predictability, how traffic signals worked. All of this was fascinating to me, and when Ames brought in and IBM 3680 Retail Store System to replace their mechanical (yet inventory tracking) cash registers, I was awestruck. Keen observation taught me how the old inventory numbers from the mechanical cash register price tags were modified to work with the computerized system. Since Ames was basically the only game in town, we went there often and I’d discreetly watch every keypress the cashier made. I could easily remember all the notes taped to the cash register, for example, I knew who wrote bad checks at any given time.

I was 14 or so when I went to Ames with older friends from the neighborhood. They walked around; I did the same and decided to buy a candy bar, a card for some occasion, and a Billboard magazine. None of these things had price stickers on them and this was before the days when scanning was mainstream outside of a handful of grocery stores in bigger cities, so all of the data was punched in by hand by the cashier.

In the spirit of speeding up their cashiers by forcing them to use “touch typing” for the numeric keypad, all the number keys were covered. Apparently cashiers were expected to know certain inventory numbers by memory. Notes taped to the cash register usually helped in this regard.

The customer in line in front of me was completing their sale when I noticed a change in the rhythm of the printer and the precise moment the cash drawer opened. Usually the drawer opened when the receipt finished printing and ejected for removal; in this instance the cash drawer opened immediately after the amount tendered was entered. This was a good thing, the cashier didn’t have to wait for the cash register to do its thing before making change for the customer. I deduced that the software must have been upgraded to be more efficient.

The cashier was a young woman named Kelly. She had graduated a few years ago and had been working at Ames since graduation. She’s was kind of snotty in high school. Her father drove our school bus and he picked up his daughters every morning. They were the last stop on the run before heading to the school. Kelly would take her sweet time coming to the bus, sometimes making us wait three or more minutes. Normally the driver would just move on, but he knew his daughter was going to school so he’d wait. She’d take her sweet time coming down the driveway. We’d all roll our eyes and make comments under our breath. We didn’t want to get hollered at by the driver for being disrespectful. She’d get on, glaring as she did so. Her hair was big with lots of Aqua Net.

Her hair hadn’t changed much since graduation. She wasn’t particularly happy in her job. A few years later, my friend Scott and I were hanging out in the break room (Scott worked the service desk at the time) and she was back there reading the National Enquirer. That was 1986 or so. She told us she thought the government should move all the “gays to Mars” so that they didn’t “infect the good people with the AIDS”. That was the same night Scott and I came out to each other.

Back to the checkout line.

Kelly looked at the candy bar and typed in 67200000. The register complained with a large beep. She sighed, hit clear and did it again. 67200000. Beep. Clear. 67200000. Beep. She had tried again. I mumbled “67235515”.

“What?”, she asked, looking squarely at me.

“67235515. The SKU for candy bars was changed a few months ago and it’s now 67235515. You entered 67200000 the last time I was here and it worked but the software changed and it must not work anymore.”

She looked at me, aggravated yet quizzical at the same time.

“67235515”, I said once more.

She entered the number and the register didn’t complain. She then entered the price. 39 cents.

She came to the card and entered the SKU. 81230013.

Next came the Billboard magazine. 02700000. Beep. She sighed again.

“02730021”, I replied.

“How do you know that?”, she asked as she entered in the number.

“I don’t know, I just do.”

I actually knew all of this information from the notes I had seen taped to the cash register and from careful study of the receipts any and everyone brought home from any store. Those receipts were my connection to this budding technology and I wanted to know everything I could about them.

“You’re a freak”, was her only comment as she laughed at me.

I turned red as I handed her the money. The drawer opened immediately as soon as she entered the amount tendered. It had never done that with me as a customer before.

My friends and I were in the ’69 Dodge truck my friend Ray owned headed back home when he asked, “how did you know those numbers”? He had watched the whole thing from end of the checkout stand as he waited for me to come through the line.

“I study these things because computers are the way of the future.” I was too embarrassed of being called a freak again to admit that I had collected dozens of these receipts, had figured out every nuance of the cash register system and had even drawn out flow charts of how they worked.

“You need a life”, was his only reply. He then turned up Van Halen on the cassette deck and we motored home.

I munched on my candy bar.