Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Monday, April 7, 2014

That's What Makes You Strong—The Passing of Jesse Winchester

We have lost one of our very finest. Jesse Winchester has left the building. 

Such exuberant joy, such tender innocence, such melancholy longing, such wit and whimsy, such deep philosophical and spiritual wisdom all served up in a two to three minute song with the most delightful and moving melodies and powerful performances.

Whenever we go on a road trip, we make sure to have at least one or two Jesse Winchester cd's in the mix. I once collected his first seven albums into five CD's rearranging his songs into a two-CD collection—"The World According to Jesse"—which contained 46 of his philosophical and spiritual musings; and three single sets: "Mock and Roll" (his humorous songs, his rock songs, and his songs about music), "Pop and Cover" (his own "pop-style" songs and his renditions of other people's songs), and "Love and Loss"
(the contents of which are obvious). I have never done anything quite like this with any other artist. This, I must point out, was before the days of digital playlists and mp3 players.

Jesse Winchester is also my primary example of why a live, solo performance of a truly great songwriter is better than the best recordings. Jesse's albums are pure joy, but his live performances shared an immediacy, intimacy, and intense interpretation that was nearly impossible to capture in the studio.

I love the work of many great songwriters and performers, but if I were doomed to choose only one performer whose catalogue I could listen to, I don't hesitate to say that it would be Jesse Winchester's.

"When I do fall, I will be glad to go," Jesse sang, and I hope that it was true for him. There are many of us who are not glad that he had to go so soon. But as Jesse Winchester sang,
"I wave bye bye
I pray God speed
I wish lovely weather
And all the luck that you need"
Ihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yoD-7QpcqI

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Reviews of Rotten Tomatoes, Walter Mitty, Inside Llewyn Davis, and American Hustle


I have been using Rotten Tomatoes for years now—it is a very valuable tool— but I have not felt compelled to comment until today after watching "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

I have been noticing a specific phenomenon lately; it is somewhat alarming but still useful. Mediocre films by "top level" directors get absurdly high "critic" ratings, but the audience’s “liked it" ratings run well below those percentages. Whereas some fine movies get mediocre reviews, and some mediocre movies get complete trashings (“47 Ronin”), yet those critical reviews are countered by positive audience responses.

Take, on the other hand, films like “Inside Llewyn Davis” or “American Hustle,” both of which received 93% from the critics. I lived through and loved the folk era—I recognized the Dave Van Ronk album cover and the obvious Tom Paxton references. I also saw the Mark Spoelstra reference (The Five and Twenty Questions album) which no reviewer seems to have noticed, and the Peter, Paul and Mary and Al Grossman references as well. I was a fan of Jim and Jean and the Clancy Brothers as well as Van Ronk and Dylan, and I loved Dave Van Ronk’s wonderful autobiography, “The Mayor of MacDougal Street” upon which this movie was purportedly based. Unfortunately, the movie was tedious and lifeless with a complete disdain for the real musicians and the music scene of the time. The Coen’s have every right to create a story about a crass, selfish, self-important loser, but it is wrong to make so many direct references to real individuals while making no attempt to make that depiction have any basis in reality. The bit with the cat was the only redeeming virtue in this piece with the possible exception of a couple of song performances and John Goodman’s obligatory Coen Brothers’ cameo. This is either a mirthless comedy or a pointless, mean-spirited dramedy, but clearly the filmmakers could not make up their minds. The audience, of course, could make up their minds and only gave it a 75%, which is still rather generous.

“American Hustle”? More mediocrity: unfunny slapstick; aggressive scenery chewing by nearly all cast members (as much as I enjoy both female leads); missing motivation and inexplicable actions; a painfully predictable plot—even if you don’t know the “history”— with no real tension or suspense (unlike, for example, “Argo”); and nothing at all noteworthy about the actual style of the film. Critics: 93%  Audience: 81% (I would argue highly overrated by both).

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is, on the other hand, quite a masterful piece of movie making. The fact that it has much more in common with the Danny Kaye movie of the same name than with the James Thurber short story is forgivable. It would be nearly impossible to film the actual story today. For one, it is extremely short (only a few pages); for another, it is a very harsh and sarcastic, though amusing, attack on a daydreaming nebbish who is a menace to himself and those around him. There is not one whit of romanticizing about foolishly fantasizing Walter and his necessarily domineering wife.

Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a thoroughly engrossing new take on the theme of breaking out of one’s box and taking a chance on life and love; an old story but nicely envisioned and reinvigorated. From the first instant of the very clever opening credits, the viewers understand that they are in an unusual world, a world that is an overlapping of fantasy and reality. The filming of both the “real life” and the fantasy scenes are truly noteworthy. The intertwining conceits of online dating and a mystery surrounding the final cover of the iconic Life Magazine create a compelling premise that takes the viewer on a nice set of turns along the way (and I don’t just mean the skateboard). The action sequences and the wonderful vistas are legitimately breathtaking while comfortably fitting the outlandish story. This movie is gentle in its humor—plenty of chuckles but few guffaws—yet certainly funnier than either of the other movies with which it is compared above. This movie, though, was not going for guffaws, it was going for heart, which it has in abundance. I defy anyone to find any real heart in either of those “top rated movies.”

“Walter Mitty” has only a 49% rating from the critics, but a 79% from the audience, and I predict that this assessment will rise as word of mouth allows the Stiller film to overcome both the completely unjustified critical “write-off” as well as the “I just don’t like Ben Stiller” prejudice. This is extremely well written, well acted, well filmed, and well directed, and it deserves a much wider audience.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Saving Social Security: Both the program and the larger concept of SOCIAL security.


My friend, Ben Rich, wrote the following comment on a post that I shared about Social Security:

This is a very serious problem, not only for our generation, not only for senior citizens (now). Think about our children, now working, looking toward their own retirement. I certainly think that people should save and invest. But, real incomes are in decline making it harder to save and invest. What will our children face after 30 - 40 years of work?

You are right, Ben. We really need to come at this problem from both ends. Workers used to have pensions; after working for forty years for a company, they had expectation of a modest pension and their Social Security. In other words, part of what might have been their "pay" went into company pensions and another part of their pay went into Social Security. CEO's made ten to fifteen times what an ordinary worker made.

Then, in the late 70's-early 80's, everything changed. People who had worked their way through the company from the stock room to the board room became irrelevant because knowledge of the particular business was supplanted by knowledge of "business," and rather than spending forty years with a company, top level executives could move from running a cardboard box manufacturer to a soda company to a pharmaceutical company without any knowledge of that particular business. More importantly, those changes were made more and more often so that the "boss" had no real familiarity with the company or its personnel. Employee loyalty was no longer valued, and the perks that helped to engender that loyalty, like pensions, health benefits, etc. were rapidly eliminated.

As a result, companies immediately had much more profit and fewer responsibilities to the employee. Rather than sharing this largesse with the workers, that increased wealth went to the management and stockholders. Then, under Reagan, corporate mergers, creative bookkeeping, and contract breaking under Chapter 11 bankruptcies, tax havens, drastically lower tax rates for corporations and the wealthy allowed even further erosion of income for the middle class and the working poor.

The so-called "market" has become a rigged game that has nothing to do with Adam Smith's conception of capitalism. Those at the top agree to give themselves an ever larger share of the pie while reducing everyone else's share, and they pay politicians to grease the wheels for this unjustified transfer of wealth.

The cap on Social Security at barely over $100,000 dollars has the average worker pay a significant percentage of their income into the pool while the truly wealthy pay a pittance in comparison. Furthermore, those who make much of their income from investments pay a much lower tax rate than those who do the work of this country. At present, companies are rewarded for outsourcing jobs or downsizing, when "downsizing" merely means those who are left do much more work for the same or less pay.

We need a real movement to regulate financial markets, make boards and CEO's responsible to both stockholders and employees, get unlimited anonymous money out of politics, make corporations and industries responsible for the actual damage that they do to the environment and prevent that damage from continuing, and drastically strengthen the social safety net for children, workers, retirees, the infirm, and the downtrodden. We need to stabilize the banking and financial industries so that fraud and foul play cannot jeopardize a lifetime of savings in one quick downturn. We need to control medical costs so that one illness cannot destroy a lifetime of savings. We need to have a fair wage so that people can even begin to accrue a lifetime of savings.

The irony and the tragedy of our current state of affairs is that we were on a hundred year run toward realizing these progressive ideals when we were train-wrecked thirty years ago by uncontrolled greed. We can set the train back on the tracks, but first, we have to realize that it has actually jumped the tracks. The current powers that be are doing their utmost to convince those of us on the train that despite all these bumps and crashes we are still on the tracks. A vast majority, of course, realize that the profiteers and exploiters are wrong, but we are not yet convinced that it is within our means to right ourselves. It is within our means to set things back on the correct, progressive path, but the longer we wait, the harder it will be.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Honoring OUR Veterans on Veterans' Day

 Mel McMullen, WWII gunner 
                         Jim McMullen, WWII pilot and career USAF officer

Mel and Jim with their father, our grandfather, James McMullen, WWI veteran.

 Jennifer and Mel McMullen, former National Commander of CBI (China, Burma, India) Veterans' Association and member of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society.

Today, and everyday, we honor you, not merely for your military service, but for being who you are and for helping to make us who we are. Thank you!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween—"Through the Darkness"


Through the Darkness (Nosferatu)

Through the darkness eyes came shining
Like a torch to guide her way—
Like a fire through her soul—
And they seemed somehow to say,
“Through the darkness I will lead you—
Only trust and you will know
Just how much I really need you,
And why I can’t let go!”

Through the darkness of the shadows,
Something tapping at the pane;
Though her heart begged her to run,
She knew she would remain.
The hunger in her lover’s eyes:
Like a dream inside a dream—
Like a knife blade through the silence—
Like a scream inside a scream!

In the mirror in the moonlight,
She can see her trembling face.
In the mirror she’s alone in an empty room,
But she feels his warm embrace.
“Through the darkness I will lead you—
Only trust and you will know
Just how much I really need you,
And why I can’t let go!”

As he knelt there at her bedside,
She knew her will was gone,
And she felt just like a stranger looking on.
The hunger in her lover’s eyes:
Like a dream inside a dream—
Like a knife blade through the silence—
Like a scream inside a scream!

In the mirror in the moonlight,
The door is broken down,
But they can’t explain how the lady died...
Or the blood at the neck of her gown.

But through the darkness
Her eyes come shining
Like a torch to guide your way—
Like a fire through your soul—
And they seem  somehow to say,
“Through the darkness I will lead you—
Only trust and you will know
Just how much I really need you
And why I can’t let go—
How much I really need you...
I need.........”

© 1979  Tim McMullen ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Performance from the Steve Gillette Songwriter's Workshop, Saturday Evening Concert, March 25, 2012

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Don't Let the Cons Con You into Decimating Social Security


We need to stand strong and united. The assaults on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are real, and they come from both sides of the aisle. The excuse for attacking these essential, social safety net programs is the "dreadful deficit," which, of course, was created from a budget SURPLUS and was the direct result of many errant policies.

Though some Democratic Representatives have endorsed a few of these policies, most are the direct result of Republican ideology and policy: unjustified military actions and unnecessary military spending (often on programs and equipment that the military has explicitly said that it does not want or need); huge tax decreases for the wealthiest corporations and individuals; unnecessary and unwarranted subsidies for some of the wealthiest industries; egregiously unfair tax loopholes—available only to the wealthy—that allow many of the wealthiest corporations and individuals to avoid warranted taxes; totally misguided and faulty deregulation of the financial sector that lead to several drastic economic downturns, especially the most recent "great recession"; the "no-strings-attached" economic bailout of those most directly responsible for the economic collapse which has left the worst actors in better shape than before their fraud-induced collapse while leaving most of the country still devastated by economic loss; a completely unrealistic cap on Social Security contributions; six years of political sabotage and stalemate from the minority party outspokenly intent on destroying any chance of significant job recovery or health care reform merely to gain political advantage; and very significantly, a cynical media assault on Social Security, Medicare, and government in general, designed to mislead several generations into believing that there will be nothing for them in the future, that they should abandon all interest in wider society, that privatizing everything gives them a better chance, and that they should care about nothing but their own interests, and, of course, by example, that lying, cheating, and stealing are simply necessary methods for success and that the rules limiting these methods should be loosened or eliminated.

The chained CPI, a method of conscientiously miscalculating downward the needs of retirees so as to significantly reduce their benefits in the future, is actually a drastic, negative change. Before Social Security is touched, before Medicare and Medicaid and a hundred other programs that have already been diminished by political blackmail, extortion, brinkmanship, and disingenuous compromise, we need to rebuild the middle class and our social safety programs by reversing all of the failed policies mentioned above. Only after we have raised the income threshold on Social Security; only after we have reduced our outrageous and unnecessary military spending, including bringing the "Big Brother" surveillance regime under control; only after re-regulating and better regulating the financial sector; only after significantly reducing tax loopholes and subsidies for the wealthiest should we even begin to consider cuts to social programs.

Should we attempt to eliminate fraud in social programs and tax policies? Absolutely. That naturally requires more regulation and regulators, not less as the Republican congress and media echo chamber have advocated and accomplished for many years. Furthermore, we need to bring real criminal charges against those who actually committed or condoned fraud and worse, offering jail time, not just pittance penalties—people have been out of work for years now as a result of this malfeasance, and these criminal corporations are asked to pay only a few days income in fines? There is real injustice here, but many of those in Congress have fought tooth and claw to prevent their financial backers from being held accountable, choosing instead to wreak havoc on women, children, the elderly, workers, immigrants, and the poor. If we all demand that they make other more fair and equitable changes before tampering with the few programs actually designed to benefit the common man, maybe they will listen.

I encourage you to sign the petition from Bernie Sanders whether it comes from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Alliance for Retired Americans, Campaign for America's Future, Campaign for Community Change, DailyKos, Democracy For America, The Other 98%, Progressives United, Social Security Works, USAction or any other organization or politician endorsing the protection of Social Security and Medicare.

"The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth!"
Tim McMullen

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Nod to Walt Kelly & I Go Pogo—"We have met the enemy, and he is US!"


My last post on Facebook included a video about the media distortions and mob think to which we are so easily lead; when posted elsewhere, it got the response, "Well, I guess that's why the govt. sees us all as sheep."

My response— I think that you are right: many in the government do see the people as sheep. This story is the very opposite of government manipulation, but it may expose, as you suggest, why so many politicians and those who pull their strings think of us as such.

Although some jury awards have seemed overboard, and although frivolous or nuisance lawsuits can be used unfairly, the "Tort Reform" movement is cynically motivated by the same treacherous greed and perpetrated by the same corporate criminal interests that oppose all regulation of business. In a society ruled by true laissez faire (let business do whatever it wants with no government interference) and caveat emptor (let the buyer beware), the scoundrels and the sociopaths always have the upper hand.

Tort reform; deregulation; term limits; the "religious" right to refuse insurance protections to employees; union busting; the corporate right to intrude on employee's personal lives; gag orders in legal settlements; the absurd but shrewd idea that corporations are people and money is speech; the gutting of the Voting Rights Act; the unscrupulous purging of voter roles; the enactment of new registration and voting requirements that intentionally suppress voting; "No new taxes...ever!"; the cutting or eliminating programs for those in need while heaping incredible subsidies or bailouts on those who illegally foreclose on peoples' property or pollute and destroy the environment; unjustified and illegal wars pursued on false pretenses: All of these are part of the same movement, aided by the corporate controlled media, designed to decimate the middle class. A peasantry set at one another's throats for the few remaining crumbs really is a sensible goal for a ruthless, anti-social, plutocratic oligarchy.

The fact that so many of those elected to positions of power actually subscribe to a conflation of Ayn Rand's hypocritical social Darwinism and a misinterpretation of MIlton Friedman's "business has no moral responsibility except to make money" is due, for the most part, to the carefully cultivated cynicism, apathy, and cowardice of the American people who have come to care more about the new "American Idol," the latest "Survivor," or the latest irrelevant sexual scandal or lewd celebrity pictures on the net than they care about the running of our government or the welfare of our society and our world.

As a result of willful ignorance, intellectual ennui, and a nagging but indefinable sense of aggrievement, the populous is easily manipulated and roused to incomprehensible and often uncontrollable anger over calculated and intentionally distorted or spurious claims by demagogues (Ted Cruz being the latest puppet of the Right, though the left have theirs as well). After a few hours or occasionally even days of engagement, of course, the angry mob subsides to its disinterested apathy once again.

 WE ARE the GOVERNMENT, but in so many ways we have allowed our selfishness, cowardice, ignorance, and apathy to turn over our responsibilities and our interests to those who care little for the actual needs of the country but for whom ruthless self-interest and self-righteous hypocrisy are most useful tools.

"The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth!" Tim McMullen

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Making it Look EASY!

An early celebration of Jennifer McMullen's birthday with Carolyn Swanson and Mel, Kevin, and Tim McMullen at Scott's Seafood Restaurant in Costa Mesa last Thursday. 



As we were leaving the establishment, the young hostess who had initially been informed of Mom's birthday (hence, the free chocolate cake and candle) came running over to Carolyn and said, "Is that her? Look at how fast she moves. There's no way that she's 89!" 


Way to set the bar higher for all of us, Jennifer. 

Here's to a great 89th Birthday, Jennifer... Aunt Marie... Granma... Mom!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Monumental Docket of Minimal Rulings from a Hopelessly Divided and Partisan Supreme Court


There should be a lot of justified rejoicing in California and around the country with the striking down of the grossly and ironically misnamed "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) and allowing the striking down of Prop 8 in California to stand (due to a technicality of legal standing).

"The AC-DC Sock-It-To-Me Talkin' Blues"

I, too, am gratified that they didn't make some irrational, indefensible, contrary decision, as they so often do, but these are really just manipulative cop-outs as were their other decisions this week. Narrowing of rights and protections of the individual is the basic approach of this court. First, they sent back an affirmative action law. They didn't rule that affirmative action was unconstitutional; they simply continued to narrow the circumstances in which it can be used; i.e., they can't ignore or deny the racism and discrimination that continues in this country, but they repeatedly narrow the remedies for protection or restitution.
"The Governed's Mental Getcha'"

Yesterday, the court admitted that racial discrimination and voter suppression continue to occur; they simply said that since the original list was made so long ago, and even though Congress re-approved it only six years ago after lengthy and detailed analysis of the current situation, Congress will have to create a new list. Until the new list is created, any state, no matter how bad their record or how recently their attempts to disenfranchise minority voters, can implement any schemes they devise to prevent minorities from voting, and the only way to stop them is through a lawsuit which can take many years to move through the courts. The courts recent rulings on class-action suits makes this method even more suspect as a way of preventing voter disenfranchisement.

This is the most activist and partisan, pro-business/anti-individual court in the last fifty years, and they are absolutely aware of the political implications of their decisions. They have calculated that under this demonstrably dysfunctional Congress that new list cannot be updated, perhaps for decades, so, while declaring the Voting Rights Act constitutional, they have, for all intents and purposes rendered it useless.

On the surface they appear to have done the right thing with DOMA and Prop 8, but again, their underlying machinations are problematic. DOMA was flagrantly discriminatory and unconstitutional, and they acknowledged this fact. This will be a huge boon to same-sex couples when it comes to federal rights in states that accept same-sex marriage, but in this decision and in Prop 8, they appear to have declared this a "states-rights" issue; therefore, according to these rulings, it may still be constitutional to ban gay marriage in individual states, and it may be constitutional for those states to continue to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. As a result, the federal government may also be able to deny federal protections (pensions, tax benefits, etc.) to same-sex couples in those anti-gay states. In other words, the Feds can't make a law outlawing same sex marriage; that would be unconstitutional; but the states can ban it, and the feds could create regulations that mimic the states.

"Talking Herstory"

These "narrow" rulings on clearly national issues are disingenuous, manipulative, and cowardly. "States' rights" rulings use the same rationale that recognizes Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade as the constitutional law of the land, a right to contraception and abortion that cannot be taken away by the government, yet they allow the individual states, as when Missouri attempted to limit birth control, or as Texas attempted last night to all but eliminate access to abortion as a practical reality, while not altering its constitutionality per se.

In many ways, this Roberts' Supreme Court majority, as bad as they are on protection of individual civil rights, is a group of scurrilous toadies when it comes to the interests of the national Chamber of Commerce and the corrupt corporate cabal that have recently overwhelmed our political system. Besides the absurd Citizens United decision that gave carte blanche to corporations to corrupt the political system, they have now banned nearly all class action suits for any kind of discrimination claims, thus taking away the only effective way for individuals to protect their rights when facing the behemoth legal structures of corporations. These are patently irrational decisions from any viewpoint except the dystopian, Ayn Rand, Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman world in which corporations and their investors have free reign to exploit both workers and the environment at will, and the individual worker, citizen, human being is merely fodder for the personal acquisition of wealth by the corporate elite.
"The Greatest Threat"

I continue to predict that this court, whose intellectual spearhead is the hyper-hypocritical Antonin Scalia and whose pro-business mentor is Chief Justice John Roberts, in its attempts to roll back the rights and freedoms of the individual in favor of the ruling elite, will become the most overturned Supreme Court in American history.

Tim McMullen

Monday, May 13, 2013

The "Eyes" Have It...Celebrating Sixty-Seven Years of Marriage!

Carolyn and Tim had the pleasure of Mel and Jennifer's company all last week (and vice versa). As you know, M & J do everything together, so when their eye doctor told them that they both needed cataract surgery, they scheduled them for the same day. Tim picked them up and brought them to Rowland Heights on Monday, took them to the surgery in Ontario on Tuesday (They were quite a hit in the Kaiser outpatient surgery), and to the post-op check-up on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday they relaxed: Mel worked on the video of their recent trip to China, Tibet and Mongolia on their laptop. Jennifer caught up on e-mails and played games of chance on her iPad.
 On Saturday, Mel, Jennifer, Carolyn and Tim went to the Mark Taper Forum to see an excellent version of Joe Turner's Come and Gone directed by Phylicia Rashād.
After the play we had dinner at Babita's in San Gabriel (a great, gourmet "Mexicuisine" restaurant) to celebrate the McMullen's 67th wedding anniversary. We had a delicious dinner, and we all enjoyed the complimentary anniversary flan. 
As you can see they both seem completely recovered from the surgery and in high spirits. Today, May 13, is the actual anniversary of their wedding.  Married 67 years and still going strong. They are an inspiration to us all.  Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Yet Another Story From the Past for the Present


HAPPY HOUR, NO HOST
A short story by Tim McMullen

“It's just a buzz... a kind of gnawing sound, that's all. I can't explain it. I just feel it... buzzing…here!” He lifted his torso from the couch and thrust his outstretched fingers against an area on his forehead just above his nose, disturbing the beads of sweat that had collected there; his eyes sought Weston's with an angry plea. “You gotta' help me! It's getting worse!”
It was a torturously hot day, and, typically, the air conditioner was out. Dr. Philip Weston had just opened the windows of his fourteenth floor office when Fanning had entered. The fellow had been in the office nearly five minutes, and he had been raving continuously since he'd seated himself on the psychiatrist's couch.
Weston was experiencing the same reaction he always encountered with a new patient. He wished that they could all be like the "old timers,” the long-term patients who had learned not to expect so much. If they could just accept the process and not be so hung up on "the cure”—but it was always the same: the same old denial, "I'm not crazy! There's nothing wrong with my mind!"; and the same old whine, "Help me, Doctor! You've got to help me!”
Slowly, he realized that his imagined words had coincided with the words and tone and supplication of Fanning, his new patient. He opened his eyes just in time to meet the intense and painful gaze of the man. He looked to be in his early to middle forties, with close-cropped dark hair; flecks of grey salted his temples and crown. When he wasn't speaking, Fanning's mouth drooped open peculiarly, almost as if it were trying to speak against his will, and his eyelids, though apparently closed, fluttered uncontrollably. For most of the last five minutes, however, he had been speaking, albeit in an agitated, stumbling cadence. The words lurched forth three or four words at a time, and his rambled narration was anything but lucid.
Thus far, in fact, Weston had not really decoded any of the man's exposition. Instead, he simply sat and stared at the man's eyes. The eyes themselves were very unremarkable; they were a typical light brown, and the shape and size were also ordinary. But the look.... Deep in those eyes Weston saw something that both gratified and alarmed him. He had probably read the phrase a hundred times in stories and novels, and perhaps even in a case study or two, but he had never actually encountered such a phenomenon. Now, however, he had no doubt; if there was such a thing as "tortured eyes,” this fellow definitely had them.
“Well ... " Weston drawled and then paused as he tried to pull his attention back to his patient's still unidentified problem. After all, the fellow was paying for the hour. Holding his pencil and pad near his chest, Weston flapped his arms a couple of times in an effort to get air to his perspiration-soaked armpits. "It really is a scorcher, isn't it, Mr. Fanning? Sorry about the air conditioner...Isn't that just the way, though?" 
Fanning remained motionless on the couch and did not speak.
"Well," said Weston, trying another tact, "sometimes it helps to run through the details a second time. It helps us make certain that the facts are straight, and it helps you to articulate more clearly what you feel is the problem.”
"I told you the..."
“Yes, I know, but slowly and calmly now,” interrupted the doctor. “Start at the beginning and just talk it through again."
"Look, I'm a neurobiologist! I'm not some loon off the street!" replied Fanning.
No-No...not you, Weston observed silently, but his face was a mask of reassurance.
“I've never been to a psychiatrist in my life ... and I never needed to, either!" Fanning made a move to scratch his head, but his hand halted in mid-flight; apparently puzzled, he gazed at it for a moment then laid it back at his side.
“I've tried five doctors, and they all say the same thing: 'No reason for that bleeding, Mr. Fanning. You're fine. Nothing wrong with you ... physically! Nothing a little peace and quiet won't cure." Fanning spoke calmly and quietly, his voice barely above a whisper, but his eyelids and his fingers twitched convulsively. "Peace and quiet," he sneered, raising his voice. "Doctor, I haven't worked in nearly two months. I haven't seen any friends for weeks. Christ, I haven't done anything for days but sit and listen to it gnawing away. I CAN'T STAND IT ANYMORE!" Fanning clenched his graying brown hair in his fists, threw his head against the twill beige of the couch, and let loose a sob.
Oh, fine! A screamer, thought Weston. He turned his back and rolled his eyes. Recovering himself, he cooed, in his best couch side manner:
"NOW, now, take it easy. Take it easy, Mr. Fanning. We can't help you unless you're willing to help yourself. We have got to work as a team." He reached over and patted the man's shoulder, an expedient to which he resorted only in extreme cases. He noticed a wad of cotton stuffed in Fanning's ear. "Now then, let's go back to the first time you heard this...uh...uh...buzzing."
Fanning turned back and lay with his eyes closed; his body was more relaxed, and he spoke now in a hoarse, whispered monotone.
"It's quieter now ... not so bad... I can think. What ... what did you ask me?"
"I asked you when the buzzing began,” replied Weston.
“Oh, yeah,” Fanning said, but he gazed off distractedly with a puzzled look, as if he were a student trying to work out a difficult mathematical problem. His face was uplifted and his eyes were nearly closed so that Weston could see only the whites peeking from under the still flickering lashes. “Funny,” Fanning continued, “When you touched my shoulder.... " His voice trailed off, and he looked at Weston.
“Yes?" said Weston.
"Oh, yeah. I've been thinking about when it started. I'm not sure. It kind of crept up on me, you know? One day, about two months ago, I realized there was this noise. I figured it was the air conditioner or the fluorescent lights or something. Stevens and I were in the lab. It was real faint, but piercing ... you know ... like fingernails on a blackboard from a half-a-block away. It just kept... A-A-A-H-H! A-A-A-A-H-H-H!"
Fanning's eyes slammed shut as he screamed, and his face went ashen. He squinted so relentlessly and clutched at his brow so furiously that, for a moment, he looked as if his entire face was being sucked into his eyes.
Philip Weston viewed the stricken man with alarm. Fanning had been so calm, so lucid, that Weston had nearly forgotten the seizures. He reached out, almost instinctively, for an unprecedented second time. Much to his surprise, the tortured man's writhing subsided at the touch. Weston felt an ominous tremor run through his own body, and he was forced to fight back a wave of nausea as he removed his hand.
Appearing even more drained and vacant than after the previous seizure, Fanning whispered rapidly.
“Stevens...Stevens and I used to talk. It bothered him sometimes. 'You and I both know it's the only way,' I'd tell him. 'They're doing it! You think they're worrying?' He'd close his eyes and say, 'Yeah, I know.'“
"Uh, excuse me, Mr. Fanning. I take it you and Mr. Stevens work together. Just what sort of work....”
“I'm sorry, Dr. Weston, that's classified military information. Besides, Stevens doesn't work anymore, doctor. He's dead.”
“Oh, I'm... I'm sorry,” said Weston, slightly mortified.
"How long ago were these conversations to which you were just alluding?”
"Stevens died nearly ten weeks ago ... Just about the time.... "
Fanning suddenly beat at his scalp with his clenched fists. “IT KNOWS!” he shrieked.
The pad and pencil dropped from Weston's hand, and his mouth gaped open as he stared at his patient. Fanning jumped up from the couch and stood babbling, his eyes fluttering spasmodically. The cotton wad had dislodged from Fanning's left ear and had fallen to the floor. Blood spilled out of his ear. It ran down his shirt and onto the carpet. Fanning continued his crazed, stumbling monologue.
“I watched him die. 'No host!' he screamed. I saw him...out the window... screaming....”
Fanning's eyes darted around the psychiatrist's office. Frantically, they searched and searched, seeking but not seeing. Then he moved. Weston felt pinned to his chair. Despite his confusion and alarm, he had been piecing together small fragments of sense that he had gleaned from the poor creature's ravings.
“AAAAHH! AHH! AHH!” shrieked Fanning. He threw his head back in agony. “It knows...“ he whimpered, blood gushing now from his nose as well as his ears. “Stevens ... Stevens must have succeeded, but he never had ti ... AAAIIIEEE!”
Fanning dropped to his knees. Only then did he notice the blood pooling on the carpet. Like a phantasm from some Vietnam vet's nightmare, his blood-spattered, tear-drenched face grimaced convulsively then suddenly relaxed.
“Stevens...I understand! No host ... can't live ... “
Philip Weston saw the man move, and he understood his intent. Hurling himself from his chair, he moved to intercept Fanning's flight.
Fanning screamed. Then, with miraculous agility, he coiled and lunged through the window, screaming, "Yes! Y-E-E-S-S-S! N-O-O-O-O-!”
Weston had reached the spot in time to grab at Fanning's leg as he disappeared, but not in time to save him. His hand had merely grazed the man's leg, but in that instant, he had heard Fanning's triumphant "Yes" transformed into a “No” of despair. In that same instant, as his fingertips grazed the dying, flying man, he, too, felt it!
A million chalkboards and a billion fingernails screaked through what had been his brain. Weston peered wildly around the room. Chainsaws ripped his cranium, choking and chomping their way through the bone. He flicked his tongue over his suddenly moist upper lip and perceived the peculiar, salty taste of blood that had already begun to trickle from his nose.
“Janet!" he shrieked into the intercom. “Call the Paramedics!" Instantly, the heroic examples of his two tragic predecessors, Stevens and Fanning, entered his mind, and he realized his deadly error. He tried to scream, "Don't come in…Don't let them come in," but he could not lift his hand to press the button of the intercom. As he lay, aware that his consciousness was rapidly waning, he realized that he was perhaps the only man still alive with the knowledge and power to destroy the deadly virulence, but even as the thought insinuated itself upon his mind, he knew it was already too late ... much too late....
 ©1985 Tim McMullen
All Rights Reserved

Another Short Story From the Past For the Present


Anteater
A short story by Tim McMullen

As he reached out, he envisioned the scattered fragments of appendages; however, when he turned the sponge over, he saw nothing but a mere black speck on the blue surface. He held the sponge under the stream of the faucet and watched the remains swirl down the sink drain.
Tom Jenkins had always felt uncomfortable when he killed an insect. A sad, queasy feeling tremored from his stomach to his throat, and he often apologized aloud.
“Sorry, buddy,” he would say, “but you just wouldn't listen to reason!”
In fact, he often did try to reason with them; that is, he gave them a chance by trying to herd them out of the room. Spiders were the easiest: He just picked them up by their web or got them to crawl on a kleenex, and then he walked them outside. And flies could usually be coaxed out the door merely by his waving his hands and blocking their flight.
“No, really! Thomas tries to rehabilitate them and give them a college education,” his ex-wife would chortle to friends as she lashed out to swat a fly or squish a spider.
Now he just stood there with the water streaming down the drain. After turning off the water and wringing out the sponge, he heard the drone of the clock radio from the bedroom. He used the radio's “snooze bar” mechanism to indicate the time in ten-minute increments.
“And now, here's Joanna with an environmental update….”
“The President,” the radio bubbled in buoyant feminine tones, “obviously elated over his latest tactical triumph, said,
'Industry must be given a chance to fulfill their responsibilities without a bunch of uninfor….’”
“Must be 6:20,” Jenkins mumbled to himself, and he hurried off to tap the button.
Ten minutes later, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, he reflexively caught his nose between his thumb and forefinger and pinched his nostrils closed.
“Damn! The stench of that dump is getting worse,” he muttered.
When he and Anita had moved into this new housing complex, they had been unaware that a dump was situated nearby, if you could call over four miles away “nearby.” Then, about three years ago, he and his neighbors had begun to notice a pungent though not unpleasant odor, a smell resembling strong orange blossoms, wafting sporadically through the air. Eventually, someone had linked the smell to the dump, and the mystery had been solved. The smell was no longer orange blossoms, however. Tom experienced a sudden olfactory deja vu: he remembered a blast of dank, musty air gasping past him as he opened the ragged, rotted, wooden door of an old shed on his grandmother's farm. He had never gagged before, and he staggered; a sour, fetid stench flared his nostrils, and he fled from the shed and the sight of the dead cat's rotting carcass.
This morning, the malodorous miasma from the dump was a cross between that decomposing cat and one of those portable chemical toilets after it's been sitting in the hot sun for several days. He'd have to call Ted from the Tenant's Association about the outcome of their last meeting. He almost wished that he had been there. They had really pressured him to join them in their campaign against the refuse reclamation operation.
“C'mon, Tom, you're the perfect person,” Ted Rainer, the association president, had pleaded.
“Yeah, Tom,” added Jill Benton, peering out through glasses whose lenses grotesquely magnified her mottled hazel eyes. “You're a lawyer. You can talk to the people from the government and make 'em understand how bad it is.”
“Yes…yes…well, I'd like to help,” he had stammered, “but I… I…just don't have the time right now.”
It was true. His caseload was quite heavy right now, and it would be hard for him to squeeze the extra time, but that wasn't the real reason. The fact was that he just wasn't a joiner. Besides, what did he know about it? People took it for granted, “Oh, you're a lawyer? Well, can you tell me about…my dog, my aunt, my boss, my doctor, my leg, my food, my car, my landlord, my fishing pole, my dump?” Tom laughed at his list. He was only a junior public defender. What did he know about dumps or dog food? Nevertheless, the stench from the refuse disposal site was getting more odious; there was certainly no doubt about that. Maybe he really should call Ted and find out how things were going.
The traffic report clicked on as he cut a swath through the lather on his right cheek. He listened for a moment to the banter of the deejay and the copter pilot. Reassured that there were no major pileups on the freeway, he walked briskly to the bedroom.
“…that although the bill had passed unanimously during last year's reelection campaign, a majority of the committee's members, after some aggressive lobbying from industry, reversed its vote and killed the bill. “
“Business as usual, I see,” Tom Jenkins observed cynically. “Somebody unhappy about something, I'll bet.” His hands dripping water and his face full of lather, he nudged the snooze alarm with an elbow and went back to the bathroom.
That sad, queasy sensation swept over him again as he gazed from the sink to the windowsill. A line of black writhed back and forth in random movement.
“Jeez! Where the hell did you come from?” he muttered.
He reached out instinctively with his hand to sweep the inch-thick line of ants into the sink. Then, thinking better of it, he grabbed a washcloth from the rack in the shower, soaked it in the tub faucet, and then went for them.
In a second or two he had cleared the windowsill. It was easy to spot the doomed vermin as they broke rank and scampered across the muted pink tile and the dusty rose calico of the wallpaper. As he rinsed the little, brittle, black bodies into the sink, he pondered whether it was more merciful to wash them down with hot water or cold water. If they were still alive, would the hot water scald them? Maybe, with cold water, they could survive in the pipes? The thought pleased him. He didn't necessarily want them dead ...he just wanted them out of his house!
“This is ridiculous, fellas!” he said, wiping the final remnants from the basin. “What the hell has gotten into them?” he wondered aloud as he rinsed the remaining lather from his face.
He was sitting on the side of bed putting on his left shoe when the radio sounded again:
“We're in your corner,” sang the jingle, “We're on your side...”
“Uh-huh,” Tom grunted sarcastically.
“We know what you need, and we make it with pride!” the chorus tittered.
“Well, this is what I need!” he said, reaching over and pushing the bar to silence the ad.
His liberal, socioeconomic sensibilities had been slightly appalled when these giant corporate conglomerates had first begun to advertise.
“Another fine product from your friends at 'Whateveritis'” or “Remember us? We're 'Whoeverweare!’
“Talk about 'antitrust,'“ he had quipped to George Sherman while watching an ad on security's little T.V. during a recess. “How can one company own tractors, chewing gum, textiles, sanitary napkins, canned fruit, plastic containers ...?”
By this time, however, he was no longer alarmed at their diversity; nevertheless, the absurd incongruities were still amusing. Pretty soon the whole country would be run by an oil company, a soft drink conglomerate, and an insurance company.
With his “Haveaniceday” coffee mug in his right hand and his suit coat draped over his left, he glanced at himself in the full length mirror on the back of the closet door. He was meeting with the department head to talk about a promotion, so he had dressed carefully. Some of the guys in the department were too casual… some were downright slovenly. If this promotion didn't come through, he had actually contemplated going over to the D.A.'s office. At least those fellows took their appearance seriously. He set the cup on the dresser and slipped on the coat. This was his blue Brooks Bros.; he had bought it two years ago and had used it only for special occasions like today. The coat hung well, and it still looked new.
With eyes closed slightly, he waggled his head back and forth at the neck, craning it forward and tipping it back. A little stiff, but not too bad. Stepping closer, he examined his face. Although he'd been careful, he did find a bit of dried shaving cream just behind his right ear. As he picked at the crusty, white flecks, he noticed that the hair around his ears was beginning to edge closer; it had only been two weeks since his last haircut, but it just might be time for another. Finally satisfied with his inspection, he picked up his coffee cup, flipped off the bedroom light, and walked down the narrow hall.
With his finger still on the hall light switch, he edged sideways into the kitchen; then, he flicked the hall light, pulled the door shut, and turned.
“H-O-O-O-L-L-Y-Y SHIT!” he sang out loudly.
The cup fell from his hand and bounced across the floor; the coffee splashed, but Tom barely noticed it. The entire kitchen was black. The light from the overhead kitchen lamp was muted, but the morning sun filtered through the drawn curtains. His first impulse was to turn and run; instead, he vaulted the window and threw the curtains open. Pulling away, he clapped his palms together and then examined them in the roseate light of the window.
Ants. Although legs and heads had been mashed together on his palms, the remains of the carcasses were identifiable, and some were still moving. One large black ant flailed his forelegs frantically in an apparent effort to drag his crushed body out of danger. His demonstrative antennae fluttered wildly in some secret ant semaphore. Feeling slightly nauseated, Tom wiped his palms on his suit pants.
Now the walls caught his attention. The kitchen was a writhing mass of ants. They were everywhere and on everything. The refrigerator and the stove, once white, were no longer distinguishable from what had been yellow walls and cabinets: Everything was black and moving.
Already, he could feel them on his legs and in his shoes. He kicked at the floor with his foot as if to cut a path through the ants, but to little effect. He ran to the window and tried to slam it closed. Instantly, his hands were again covered in the wriggling, tickling things. He felt them flooding up his sleeves. Thrashing furiously and beating at his arms, he sprang to the service porch and looked for a way to fight them off. The porch, if anything, was even deeper in ants. After a moment of heightened alarm, he grabbed a broom and a giant can of insect spray. Both objects were covered in ants.
Pulling the lid off the can, he aimed the nozzle at the windowsill, and holding it only a few inches from the ants, he sprayed.
At first, the mist blew a space in the advancing horde, and he actually saw a few of them swim for a moment and then stop moving. Instantly, however, the empty space was filled with new recruits. Rather than deterring them, the dead bodies merely served as steppingstones over the poison-drenched sill, and the monsters swarmed in by the thousands. Dropping the empty can, Tom Jenkins swatted at his neck and arms; and then, he brushed at his face with both hands as if washing with ant lather.
He grabbed at the black, ant-covered broom; whirling around, he swept at the floor in wild, exaggerated movements. He found that by brushing back and forth as rapidly as he was able, he could keep clear about a three-foot circle. If he could hold his own for just a minute, he reasoned, the ants would get wind of the danger and halt their advance. Now that he had overcome his initial shock, he entered the battle in earnest. He got a rhythm going.
One/two/three/four/five/six/strokes at the floor, then one/two at the cabinets. One/two/three/four/five/six—one/two—one/two/three/four/five/six—one/two! He gained confidence every moment; the ants were faltering. He increased his circle of unoccupied territory to nearly four feet, and one of the cupboard doors was nearly clear.
Stepping backward to increase his attack, he inadvertently placed his foot on the dropped coffee mug, and the jolt sent him sprawling. Instantly, he felt a terrible pain, and he realized that he had cracked his head against the corner of the stove. He felt the warm ooze at the side of his head, and he slumped to the floor.
NO! he screamed, but when he opened his mouth, he felt the dirty little things crawling allover his lips and tongue. He spat, “Phah! Phah!” and sealed his lips tightly. He could feel several of the ants wriggling between his lips as he crushed them closed.
Only half-conscious, he made feeble attempts to stop the ants' advance. Like the cup and the appliances, he was now completely submerged in the crawling sea of ants. As they poured into his ear canal, they made a sound like horses on sandpaper roller skates. He opened his eyes for an instant then blinked them closed, but it was too late. Ants streamed across his eyeballs, and the room grew dark. He tried blinking rapidly—he rubbed at his eyes with his fists—but the ants were too much.
His head throbbed mercilessly, and it felt sticky somewhere. One of the advance guard entered his left nostril; Jenkins snorted furiously, but more ants followed instantly. He could feel their progress: waving their little legs and antennae about, they lurched forward, tentatively, into his nasal passages. Breathing had become almost impossible. He snuffed, and then gagged as several ants were sucked up into his sinuses. He opened his mouth to gasp for breath and then involuntarily swallowed a mouthful of the crawling invaders.
No longer able to move, he felt them scurrying across his eyeballs, scrambling into his nose and down his throat, scrabbling deep into his ear. Then, through the sound of their continuous onslaught and his own stertorous breathing, he heard the click of the radio.
“Next up...an alarming report on honey-bees, but first….”
“We're in your corner,” sang the jingle, “We're on your si....”
©1985 Tim McMullen
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Such a Simple Thing" Happy Valentine's Day!


I submit this year's Valentine song with a video that is a bit of a departure. It uses brief snippets of rudimentary green screen/color keying, but more significantly, it uses text to tell a some of the story of our April Fools' Day wedding announcement, our wedding day affixed to our Annual Half-a-Dozen Crazy Cousin's Easter Feaster Weekend Celebration, and our subsequent "honeymoon" in Hawaii.  Most of the images are from an album that no one else has seen, and I am guessing neither Carolyn nor I have seen for at least twenty years or so.

As I have explained elsewhere, Carolyn and I met in 1969, when I was newly married and transferred from Whittier College to Chico State so that my bride could continue at Chico, and I could complete my B.A. and teaching credential. The first day I was there, my wife, Jan, was scheduled to perform music at a concert with Dan, Carolyn’s boyfriend and soon-to-be husband. Carolyn and I sat on a bed in a dorm room and talked while Jan and Dan rehearsed. Two years later, Jan and I graduated and returned to Whittier. Three years after that, following a very amicable divorce, I submitted my resignation and retired from teaching, packed my car with my instruments and travel essentials, and set off to try to make a living playing music. While visiting Santa Rosa to see if my brother Tucker wanted to join me in this venture, I made a visit to my ex-wife, who was back in Chico, and, while there, became reacquainted with Carolyn who was also at the end of her marriage. After a few weeks, I said to Carolyn, "I am returning to Southern California to get a job. I would love to have you join me." She came for a visit in December of 1974, staying with me at my cousin’s house in Laguna. Four months later, she came down for good, and we have been together ever since.

Having both been married before, and having no religious notion attached to the ceremony, we could find no reason to remarry. From the day that she moved in, because of our love and personal commitment, we were more married than most couples, regardless of ceremony. It was nearly eight years later when Carolyn was taking a paralegal class in probate law (and I was sitting in) that we realized the ridiculous discrimination and undue burdens placed on committed couples who were not legally married. This is one of the reasons that I have been so outspoken for so long about the rights of same-sex couples to the legal benefits and protections of marriage.

On the spot, we simultaneously arrived at the conclusion that the most expeditious thing to do would be to get married. We didn’t want to make a big thing of it, however, since we had already been together eight years. We had always considered April as our anniversary month, but we never really had a set date. We naturally realized that April 1st would be the perfect day for our marriage. We decided to get married by a local justice, but the Whittier Court only did marriages on Fridays. We had to wait just over a year for April 1st to land on a Friday. It was quite fortuitous, really, because, had we missed that day but stuck to our plan, we might have had to wait as much as six more years for the right day to roll around.

We asked our friend’s Dick and Betty Harris to be witnesses, and we told no one else. Carolyn created a very clever wedding announcement that was sent to arrive on April 1st. That announcement is the opening of this video accompanied by the beginning of my song, “April Fools.” Our cousin, Beverly McMullen, not really sure what to make of the note, came to the Whittier Municipal Court and took a few pictures of the event. Those pictures are also included in the video.

We then traveled to Big Bear, California, to share our wedding weekend with our cousins, Sam and Becky (McMullen) LaRocca, in their parent’s cabin. The pictures that Becky took are also included in the video. Finally, we traveled to Hawaii for our “official” honeymoon, thanks, in part, to a  wedding gift from my parents. A few of those pictures are here as well.

We hope that you have a Fun and Happy Valentine’s Day!


Such a Simple Thing

Such a simple thing
As your hand in mine
Becomes the perfect
Valentine

Or this wedding ring
As our lives entwine
Another perfect
Valentine

And this song I sing
Seeks in every line
Another perfect
Valentine

A token of our love
A pledge forever more
With thanks for what we’ve had
And joy for what’s in store

Such a simple thing
Warm, sweet eyes that shine
Another perfect
Valentine
  
For the love we bring
Is the love we find
Another perfect
Valentine

A token of our love
A pledge forever more
With thanks for what we’ve had
And joy for what’s in store 

If fate were such that at its end,
They offered one more chance,
My one request, Dear Carolyn,
Again to join you in that dance
              
Such a simple thing
As your hand in mine
Becomes the perfect
Valentine

For you soothe life’s sting
With a love so fine
My thanks to you
Dear Valentine

And this song I sing
Seeks in every line
Another perfect
Valentine

©2013 Tim McMullen
All Rights Reserved