Melancholia, Anyone?

Live with sorrows long enough and they will sometimes gather and swoop down in a wave of melancholia.   Allowing these sorrows to gather and swoop is something I have done since childhood.   It is familiar, somewhat understandable and without any terror to me at this point in my life.    I know the drill and accept it now, there is no sense fighting melancholia.   It has its seasons.  It is best just to slowly go with it, it arrives to make you consider your life a bit.

The semi-hollow body electric guitar you love to play, with that genius little looper that allows you to stomp, play, stomp, play along with your first track, stomp, add a second track, has no appeal when melancholia descends.   “Fuck it, maybe later,” you think to yourself, passing the guitar and looper on your way upstairs to tap these words.

There are cures for melancholia, of course.   You needn’t passively suffer from the blues, blues you don’t even have the energy to play or sing.   You can call a friend, if you have one.   The world is less lonely when you are talking to a friend.   You can go for a walk, or a bike ride, though your mood will accompany you, at least for the first part.   You can go shopping.  It’s what we’ve been taught since childhood, buying something new will cheer you up.  It works for millions of happy consumers everywhere, even if what you buy soon turns out to be crap.   You can read a book, watch TV (and we are in a renaissance of television at the moment), devour content in dozens of electronic forms. You can distract yourself until the cows come home, and when the cows get home, you can distract yourself some more.  It’s called entertainment, be entertained.   Yo, there are also anodynes, many of them handy, like eating something tasty, though the relief of that is momentary at best.

It doesn’t take melancholia to make you notice the brutality of the set up. We are told that statistically the odds of being killed by somebody else have never been lower in human history, unless you live in one of the many dangerous killing spots currently smoldering on the earth.  Of course, the odds of dying by your own hand, intentionally or inadvertently, have never been higher, are actually, for the first time in human history, more likely than your odds of being killed by somebody else, but that too is just a statistic, you dig.   We may, arguably, have a suicide epidemic in the greatest country, the most exceptional nation, the world has ever known.  Add the more than 72,000 overdose deaths from opioids last year to the tens of thousands accomplished by Second Amendment enthusiasts with their instrument of choice, add in drunk driving deaths, and murders by car, your goddamned vehicular homicides, and you start to get an impressive number of dead Americans.   We don’t need to talk about these motherfuckers really, they are not only losers, but dead losers.

This notion of winner and loser is a sick one I should pick at a bit here, just because this idiotic worldview is at the source of so much human misery.   You are a winner at the moment you win the lottery, a matter of pure luck, just as you are a winner when your Nazi-loving father dies and leaves you $300,000,000, another kind of lottery, albeit one you have paid dearly for by having a Nazi as a father.   Still, these are momentary victories, like every win is.  

That is the key thing: winning and losing are happening constantly in every life.  They go by other names, good luck and bad luck, providence and accursedness, good randomness vs. bad randomness.  Work is involved, of course, in preparing for victory.  I don’t discount the amount of hard work necessary to win a competition, nor do I necessarily shrink from it.   The thing I want to get across here is that winning and losing are relative and transitory, think about it even for two seconds and you will grasp that piece too.

The greatest baseball players in history, in their greatest all-time record-setting seasons, lost 60% of the time they went to bat. [1]   They were out more times than they succeeded.  An impressive majority of the time they were losers.  A 40% success rate, for Shoeless Joe Jackson, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, was a season for the ages, a .400 season.  A small handful of historically elite players have ever achieved that.   Babe Ruth, the greatest hitter of them all, by many estimations,  made it to a personal best of .393 one year.   Anyone hitting .350 today is having a season for the ages, but still– losing more than they are winning.     Winning is a relative term, unless you understand this you are a loser.   Even if you understand it, you are still a loser, as often as you are a “winner”.

We’re told there is an attitude that winners have, an ineffable quality that makes them winners.  I think of the greatest American exemplar of winning, a man who has won every contest he has been involved in (by his account, anyway), including the greatest prize for an American winner, the presidency of the United States.   Being the world’s greatest winner means that you have conquered the game, are at the top of your game, on top of the world.   No reason to be angry, or peevish, oversensitive or insanely needy — you’re a great winner and therefore happy in a way a loser will never be.  

Still, check the man out.   Five a.m. rage tweets lashing out at the unfairness of his envious, unfair persecutors,  an inability to be truthful except in rare, unscripted moments (“I could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and these gullible morons would still support me”) a life of manifest unhappiness and gnawing insecurity, behind a gaudy front of blustering compensatory over-confidence, for the world’s greatest winner.  What’s up with that?  You want to be a winner like him?  Go for it.  Start with choosing the right dad.

The winner/loser game has one measuring stick: wealth.  If you are rich you have won.  Except, of course, that there are always other motherfuckers richer than you (some have vast, interest generating hereditary wealth, going back generations), which is a goad and a motivation.   Being filthy rich is no longer enough, to be a real winner you have to be richer than Jesus Christ and his father combined.   The Greeks used to have myths about foolish humans sucked into this thing called hubris.  The insatiably greedy Midas got the gold touch, and that was the end of him.   His food turned to gold, when he wiped his ass that turned to gold.  He was done.  [2]  The Midas touch, which we think of as the gold standard of good luck, turns out to be one of the more clever curses of the gods.  I always loved the Yiddish curse:  may you be very successful in business, may you become very rich and build a mansion of a hundred rooms — and may the devil chase you from room to room.

Of course, I am a bitter man, melancholic today or not.  I tend to think of winners like the fucking Sackler family, several generations of doctors who have evolved into a clan of fabulously wealthy drug pushers under the corporate name Perdue Pharmaceuticals.   It turns out they researched which areas of this great country were most plagued by drug abuse, specifically opioid abuse.   They targeted these ravaged, hopeless areas where despair was rampant and options few, coal mining country, rust belt, foreclosed farm communities, etc., with trained doctors, nurses and pharmaceutical reps claiming that their patented product, Oxycontin, had an “exquisitely rare” chance of addiction “less than 1%” (a number they pulled out of their collective, corporate asses).   The Sacklers made billions upon billions marketing this highly addictive patent protected anodyne poison to America’s most desperate while addiction and overdose deaths predictably sky-rocketed.   Winners vs. losers, yo.

Civil suit after civil suit against Perdue Pharma resulted in nothing but wasted legal fees and shrugs all around, and anger and despair for the loved ones of those now dead from the exquisitely well-marketed opioid.   You can’t prove the lying corporation killed your boy, ma’am, nor can you make them pay you shit for his death.   It was the drug addict’s own damned fault, after all.   Nobody held a gun to his dumb head and forced him to overdose.  De minimis non curat lex, sir.

The U.S. Attorney in Virginia finally brought a criminal case against Perdue Pharma.  In 2007, after a series of negotiations (pre-dementia Rudy Giuliani was brought in to do his magic for Perdue) the parties agreed to a plea deal where the corporation, charged with a series of felonies, pleaded guilty to the single felony of “criminal misbranding” a crime that had been committed continuously for six or seven years by then.   Three executives took misdemeanor charges.  Justice was done, as well as it ever is done to extremely wealthy malefactors.

In a nation that was not insanely racing against death by trying to acquire everything in sight, and blindly worshipping those who can,  this would not appear to be a reasonable, fair or just outcome.   At the very least this gigantic corporate drug dealer, after “criminally misbranding” its deadly anodyne and profiting obscenely from its crime, with deadly consequences for hundreds of thousands (and counting), would have to lay out the cash to set up rehab and treatment centers in every area they had targeted to sell their lucrative, criminally mislabeled product.   That’s not how it works in the land of winners and losers.   We don’t punish the powerful here.   What kind of message does that send?   We punish the weak, send them to private, for-profit prisons.  They are losers anyway.  Yo, be serious!  Punishing losers equals corporate profits: win win!  

Not to say this hideous picture is all bad.  In the impoverished West Virginia town of 400 that received 9,000,000 tablets of Oxycontin one year, many were able to keep their noses just above poverty by selling the pills, which go for up to ten bucks a piece.  The free market, being free.

I am content with the things I own.  The guitar I love cost a few hundred dollars, a fraction of the price of the one the Chinese factory skillfully recreated.   I am a good enough guitarist that I “deserve” a guitar costing many times more.  I don’t need it.   Do you understand what I am saying?  Owning a $5,000 or $10,000 guitar would be lovely, sure, but I don’t need it.  Can you grasp that?   It is worthwhile to grasp a thing like that.  Otherwise, in the words of an ex’s Hindu guru, you are like a deer, dying of thirst as you chase a mirage of water.

Our failure here is a failure of imagination.   We fail to imagine the many real possibilities that would make the world a more decent and merciful place for all but the richest and most psychopathic among us.   We simply cannot imagine the great philanthropists of our age, the finest people, folks like the Sacklers, ever being held accountable for any crime they may or may not have committed.   “Criminal misbranding”, I mean, how bad a crime is that really, in the hierarchy of felonies?    It’s a fraud perpetrated deliberately year after year to the harm and death of tens of thousands, but it has to been seen in context.    The Sacklers donate wings to museums, they endow professorships, they are culturally generous with their billions.   The men who paid themselves a record $135 billion in compensation in 2009 after almost causing the second worldwide Great Depression by their systemic, highly lucrative, fraud, same deal.   Does it really help anyone to put these kind of folks in prison?  Aren’t they really too big to jail?   Seriously, am I suggesting that such fine people deserve to be held accountable for the petty crimes they may, arguably, commit?  Unimaginable, the luxury prisons we’d have to construct to house such fine people.

Our failure of imagination, in this nation where we are trained from birth to be passive consumers,  makes us replace the universe of possibilities with the world we have in front of us.   You see, there is no way, in a free country, to make sure no children are raised in dire, hopeless, life crushing poverty because…. the Free Market.   Communism obviously failed, was put out of business and taken off the map by the only form of social organization that makes sense, that truly reflects human nature, Capitalism.    

We reduce many undreamed of possibilities to our famous imagination crushing false dichotomy.   If you hate Capitalism as it is practiced today, as it has always been practiced, then you are a Communist, by definition a discredited loser.  History proves how much you suck.   Winners win, losers whine, suckers walk.  Freedom is on the march.  Democracy equals capitalism, winning equals fabulous wealth, end of the story, boys and girls.  Koch Industries, sponsors of the NY Yankees, makes products you use and are dedicated to a level playing field where everyone has an equal opportunity.   They say so in their own ad.   Nothing else to see here.  Bird Wins [3].

This is a world of losers, friends, every one of whom will die without any hope of eternal, corporate style, life.   Losers with costive imaginations, hemmed in by mass-marketed external reality.   That’s a peevish and dumb way to put it, ‘costive’ being an old-fangled word for constipated.   Imaginings are not shit, of course, though they are constantly shit on.   Neither are they all good, some in fact, would benefit from not have been shitted out at all.  

We are led to imagine that all the problems in the world caused by runaway, unregulated capitalism are the fault of illegal aliens and refugees, poor people sneaking through our porous borders to rape and murder, while bringing illegal drugs in.   Many are, quite possibly, terrorists who hate our freedom.   Imagine that!   All of our problems, caused by those ruthless, relentless fucks, millions of them, lawlessly overrunning our once great nation like cockroaches.   At one time, even now in many parts of the world, in some of the best parts, the best parts, my people get the blame.  The fucking Jews.   If Hitler had finished his important work every ignorant racist fuck in the world would now be a king, once the goddamned colored people were dealt with the same way. It’s only a matter of will, of winning.  

Happy Labor Day, my hard laboring friends.   Get out there and take advantage of your day off and your freedom to save big at malls all over this great land.   They’re practically giving the wonderful stuff away.   Go, go, go!  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to slouch over to my guitar and see what comes out.  [4]

 

 

[1] for the quibblers, sure, their On Base Percentage for those seasons, the times they walked added to the times they had base hits, means that these baseball immortals, in their greatest seasons for the ages, only lost maybe 50% of the time.   Call me pisher.  

[2]  OK, fine, the Greek myth makers gave greedy King Midas a reprieve and his story a laudable moral.   Ecstatic about his new gold touch he hugged his beloved daughter, she turned to gold and he broke down.   He begged the gods to take the curse away, and they did.  Midas lived a life of generosity when his touch stopped turning everything he loved into gold and died beloved of his people.

[3] Bird Wins was the title of a book I once tried to write.  The title referred to the flashing sign in the Chinatown Arcade on Mott Street, mercilessly announcing that the tic tac toe playing chicken had beaten its human opponent again.   The bird went first, and always played to thwart a victory.   I doubt anybody, ever, beat the goddamned chicken, though many probably tied.   Bird Wins stands in for all fixed games, rigged contests, manifest abuses of the gullible and earnest alike.  

[4]  I‘m So Tired, it turns out, by the fookin genius John Lennon.

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