We brought out the worst in each other

I stand by my original comment.

“From when I asked you what was the reason for your final, fatal estrangement?”

Yeah, when I told you we brought out the worst in each other.

“Yeah, I remember when you said that, but I have to confess, I never really got that.”

I fucking shot the guy, twice.

“OK, but it seems clear you had no intent to actually kill him.”

I took a gun and shot my oldest amigo twice, once in the thigh, once in the kneecap. In the kneecap, because it’s supposed to be excruciatingly painful to be shot in the knee. I would say the worst in each of us had been brought out by that point.

“Not so, I beg to differ, not the worst, he didn’t bring out the worst in you (though you may well have brought out the worst in him). The worst would have caused you to shoot to kill, you would have blown his brains out or shot him twice in the gut, so he’d die slowly and in great agony like in the Westerns when somebody gets gut shot

Well, sure, killing him would have been worse, in a strict sense the worst, but goddamn it, I shot a guy I’ve been friends with since we were ten years old. I would say we brought out the worst in each other, or, at the least, very bad things.

“As you admit, not the worst, bad, sure, very bad, but by your own admission, not the worst.”

Well, as Shakespeare has some poor devil say in King Lear, “as long as you can say it’s the worst, it’s not the worst.”

“Ah, you mean:

  • Edgar[aside] O gods! Who is’t can say ‘I am at the worst’?
    I am worse than e’er I was.
  • Old ManTis poor mad Tom.
  • Edgar[aside] And worse I may be yet. The worst is not
    So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’ “

Yes, I lack your eidetic, photogenic memory.

“You mean my lightning fast google fingers.”

Yes, I’m sure that is what I mean.

“But anyway, I’m interested in hearing more of this ‘we brought out the worst in each other’ business.”

Well, shooting my old friend was about as bad as it got, and, of course, I only winged the guy, or crippled him I guess is more accurate, so I guess nothing really bad happened between us…

“No need to be snide, Clyde. Precision in language is important, as you know, being an officer of the court. Bringing out ‘bad enough’ in each other is far from bringing out the ‘worst'”

Is there a point to this exercise in semantics?

“Are you referring to lexical or conceptual semantics?”

Plain old school yard semantics.

“It’s just that you are in the habit of making wild claims you later are unable to back up, I’m trying to help you communicate more clearly and not contradict yourself.”

So to avoid contradiction, for you, I need to make it clear that we brought out very bad, dark, violent things in each other, that while shooting him was, admittedly, bad, and I spent two years on probation (talk about a good lawyer), we did not actually bring out the absolute ‘worst’ in each other, unless you consider that perhaps the worst I could do was shoot somebody I’ve known for years twice, deliberately, to cause maximum pain.

“No need to be so snippy about it, I’m just making a point.”

Snippy, you say, could you give me the lexical semantic etymology of that term of art?

“Snippy is a colloquial phrase, as you well know. It means short-tempered, snarky, bitten off with an overtone of hostility, as in snipping, or perhaps, nipping. I don’t think it’s fair to take it out on me if you habitually seek a pass, a poetic license, for speaking with imprecision.”

I made the point that we stopped being friends for good once I finally understood that we were in an eternal struggle, that there was no chance of coming to any understanding, that we were locked in a zero sum game for who had the right to be more disappointed by the other, whose anger and hostility was more justified. Our rotting cadaver of a friendship had by then become toxic, septic, it had to be put out of its misery for everyone’s good. My shorthand for all that, and my abiding belief, when pressed for a summary of the reason we are no longer friends, after almost half a century, is that we brought out the worst in each other. We had no empathy towards each other, to put it as mildly, and unsnippily as I can.

“Well, there’s no reason to be so fucking snide…”

Argumentative, your Honor!

“I’m not the one making floridly exaggerated claims.”

Floridly, you say, as in floridly psychotic, complete with the fragrant bouquet of hallucinations and addled brain full of false beliefs?

“Whatever… you know, for someone as smart as you are it’s kind of sad that you can’t have a simple intellectual disagreement with somebody without getting all bent out of shape and taking it out on the other person, charging me with being argumentative. You know argument is sport with me, and I can as easily argue your side of the debate as the side I am staunchly defending against you. Why do you take it so personally?”

I only take it personally, I suppose, because I am personally being subjected to this hectoring lecture on precision in language, over a heinous and painful thing I personally did to an old friend after years of escalating hostility. I personally have to defend myself against your sporty, fun ‘I get such a kick out of being contrary!’ inquisition, or maybe prosecution is more accurate, I have to check to see if my poetic license has expired or not.

“Jesus, you really are a fucking hard-ass. You can certainly dish out the punishment but you seem incapable of taking even a gentle push to make yourself more clear.”

The only way I could be more clear, at this point, is by going home, getting my legally possessed gun (great lawyer!) and pointing it at your fucking knee.

“Oh, you talk a good game, tough guy, but this would be a second offense and you’d do prison time.”

Not necessarily, not if I killed you and buried your body here, at this scenic spot where your carcass would never be found.

(He pulls a gun out of his backpack and clicks off the safety).

“You talk a good game, pal, but now that you’ve threatened to kill me, this would be self-defense, standing my ground in reasonable, or at least articulable, fear of deadly assault, here in the great state of Florida.”

We’re in Mississippi, friend.

“Same shit, different state motto”

Well, you might as well shoot me, but, not in the knee, please, for the love of God.

“Don’t worry about that, there is only one reason to shoot somebody, and it’s not to make him limp for the rest of his miserable life.”

Your clearheadedness is an inspiration to everybody in the Laughing Academy, sir.

“Oh, I’m the crazy one? On your knees, motherfucker.”

You shouldn’t use the ‘f-word’.

“Are you fucking mocking me?!”

Oy, I wouldn’t dream of it!

Solving the registration issue for kids making GIFs on phones

A friend has been home-schooling her talented eight year-old granddaughter during the pandemic and asked me to help her with an art project. We met briefly, in a park, during the height of the pandemic, where I showed them how to do it, explaining the general principle of stop-motion animation, but it was a quick and uninspiring demonstration.

There was also the difficult to solve problem of how to line up the frames properly so that they’d make an effective phone gif. If the frame is not completely steady from frame to frame, the moves will be out of registration and not produce a watchable gif. I had to basically invent a rig to keep the frames steady when I launched a non-profit kids’ animation workshop almost a decade ago, but even with that rig there are technical hurdles to getting perfectly registered frames.

Now that we are all vaccinated I can go in person and work directly with the young artist, help her go wild with her eight year-old creativity. In the meantime, I promised my friend I’d send her a little kit to let the girl start making gifs herself.

The challenge remained, how to give them a foolproof way to properly register the frames so the gifs would work. Particularly for someone using a cellphone camera and without the steady little rig I’d put together over the course of months of trial and error.

I solved it late last night. Check out the gif below and see if you can see my fix.

What are we doing today, baby?

As universally hated Lyin’ Ted Cruz and now eleven other brave Republican Trump supporters in the Senate (the most highly placed members of the Sedition Caucus) call for an emergency special commission to immediately audit undisputed votes in an election certified in every state (and recounted a few times in several) that only Trump the Kraken insists was rigged, stolen, corrupt, fraudulent, a lie, a big fat complete Communist con job, #StoptheSteal! I wonder “what am I going to write about today?”

I certainly ain’t writing about Lyin’ Ted, the despicable guy with the unsexy wife, whose father killed JFK and whose ancestors, people are saying, nailed up Jesus. Fuck him and his vile, seditious crew (note, this may be the first time the wildly unpopular Cruz is the leader of any crew, way to go Ted).

I’m also not going to mention the provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, vetoed by Trump in the first Trump veto overrode by the Senate (never too late to do the right thing, I suppose), that makes it criminal for federal law enforcement agents to cover their name tags while performing their duties or otherwise operating as unmarked, unaccountable thugs [1]. Who’d have thought such a measure was needed in our nation of law?

This was likely one provision of the military budget bill that outraged the easily angered Trump — if former Attorney General Barr says it’s perfectly legal and reasonable to use chemical irritants, batons and a horseback charge by mounted federal law enforcement, with covered name tags, to break up peaceful protests (Washington D.C.) or to have heavily armed, generically uniformed goon squads jump out of unmarked rented vans and grab dangerous anarchist, God-hating protesters off the streets, force them into unmarked vehicles, without identifying themselves as law enforcement (as federal agents did in Portland) who is the goddamned Congress to usurp the massive powers conferred by Article Two?  Fuck that noise, everyone knows Trump wishes he’d been a real dictator, instead of a Twitter dictator. Today is Sunday, a day of rest.

So, like, what do you want to talk about?

Is this an example of you talking to yourself?

Hah, no, it’s an example of you talking to yourself.

You got me there, comrade.

You’ve been noted, around the house, because, during this tyrannical COVID lockdown you no longer live alone in your apartment where passersby in the hall and in the airshaft have no inkling you’re not muttering to somebody else, that you are, in fact, carrying out grunted conversations with yourself…

Nay, that would be YOO, muchacho.

Hah, OK, you got me there! Anyway, she mentioned these grunts I seem to make as being pretty regular, constant, apparently. From the other room she hears the conversational-sounding grunts, she says.

Hmmm, we always imagined that these internal conversations were in your head, my head, our heads.

Well, that’s imagination for ya!

By the way, I admired your restraint above in not mentioning fucking Acting head Homeland Security stooge Chad Wolf, declaring that unrestricted federal military force was necessary in Portland because violent anarchist terrorists were out of control (he used the term “violent anarchists” 60 times in a short speech when he got to Portland), including those hundred or more bitches, the mothers of these violent anarchists, who came out to form a peaceful barrier between unmarked assault-attired federal officers and their fellow citizens. And, you know, got gassed, the wall of mothers.

OK, OK, calm down. “‘No reason to get excited,’ the thief he kindly spoke.”

Yeah, I suppose that’s true. Good to have you here to calm me down sometimes.

Yes, yes indeed, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Neither would I. By the way, it was determined by the government office that determines these things that fucking Chad Wolf had been in the “acting” role longer than was legal and that his authority was now being exercised contrary to American law.

Look, you know better than most people, when you’re dealing with childish, irrational assholes with authority accountable only to somebody exactly like them, you just have to cut them infinite slack.

I know, I know…

So?

Fuckface likes “acting” loyalists in charge of everything. “I like ‘acting’,” he said nonchalantly, with his characteristic frankness. They don’t have to be vetted or confirmed, their lack of credentials for the job is immaterial, they are accountable only to his moods, can be used as needed and discarded like the disposable toilet paper they are, you can fire them at will and nobody will even care!

Basta, bastardo!

Right! I did cook a nice variation on Divya Alter’s delicious mixed vegetables in cashew curry sauce an hour so so ago. Came out really delicious, creamy, with a nice mushroom accent.

Let’s not talk about that, you ruined lunch, you heartless fuck.

OK, well, anyway, it was nice talking to you, as always, I have to get on with some random creative pursuit now.

There seems no way to stop it these days.

True dat.

Have a nice day, man.

You too, bubba! Nice talking to ya.

[1]

OK, obviously not “criminal” but Congress stated that federal authorities must “visibly display” their name tags when operating in public. Clearly there is a great deal of play in the word “must”.

Trailer for Kayla (attempted post)

A quick peek at a how-to watercolor video I made for a very bright and creative kid, locked down in NJ.

Got to hand it to the cleverly, obsessively monetizing little fucks … only a hundred bucks or so (they’ve already reminded me my “shopping cart” contains items for which I have not yet authorized credit card payment) to show you this colorful 11 second video clip. Why not? This is America, after all!

Here, have a quick GIF instead (it’s free!)

Persistent little bastards.

The Book of Friedman

Friedman, a man with a problematic singing voice, was, at one time, a prodigious writer of highly personal songs that were often hard to listen to, sung in that difficult voice of his. A central tragedy of the poor devil’s life — to write with sensitivity for an instrument so ill-suited to music. The singer-songwriter had a good sense of pitch, it was not a matter of tone-deafness, in the strict sense. For all his skill on guitar and piano, for all of his original musical ideas, his singing was more than anything a certain lack of grace.

When he was found dead, naked in a chair last summer in his home in Santa Fe, his older brother was contacted by a Medical Examiner. “Just like on TV,” he said. The two brothers flew down to New Mexico to clear his cluttered house and settle his tangled business affairs. They lived for two weeks as guests of Friedman’s ex, a generous woman he finally rejected when he felt she’d been insufficiently supportive when he was inconsolable over the death of his mother, at almost a hundred. “She was his rock,” said his older brother, after their mother died, “he was lost without her.”

The older brother was dogged by guilt, he’d finally had it with his demanding, eternally unhappy youngest brother and had laid into him at one point. The younger brother had never spoken to him again. It had been three years. Then the call from the Medical Examiner asking what to do with the dead body. The middle brother, always a practical man, had avoided a fatal falling out with the youngest by always keeping him at arm’s distance. When an annoying email arrived, screen after screen of tortuous arguments, the middle brother immediately hit delete. He took the same approach to the clutter in the dead brother’s house. Several cartons of contractor bags, a quick look and toss the stuff.

Among the things tossed, to my great regret, were a series of letters between Friedman and the father he always complained didn’t respect him. A box of letters between father and son. They felt like voyeurs after beginning to read them and quickly tossed the collection. As a longtime student of Friedman, and someone who knew his father pretty well too, I feel the loss of these unknown letters keenly. Goddamn, I would have loved to read those letters! There was a book full of pathos and insight in that back and forth, 100%.

Another book, saved by the older brother, exists. It is the hard-covered once blank book where all of the lyrics (and probably the chords) to all of Friedman’s songs were inscribed. The definitive record of a life in music that was almost lived. If only he’d had the voice to sing them. It occurred to me recently to ask the brother if I can borrow this book for a while, to read his collected songs and use them to reconstruct his painful, illuminating life. The endlessly repeating tragedy of his life is the greatest cautionary tale I know.

Many years ago, and I mean decades now, Friedman accused me of using my friends as lab rats in my psychological dissections. I suppose he had a point, the long serving, giant lab rat, though I plead science and the expansion of human knowledge as a redeeming rationale for my experiments (as all the great monsters of history have). We are raised, many of us (and probably all of us who are subject to bouts of misery), deliberately blinded to what we are actually up against in this life. It takes determination, and openess, as well as a certain amount of blind luck, to eventually begin to see the crucial clues that are zealously hidden from us. Friends as lab rats, a small price to pay sometimes, to learn the things we need to learn to live less miserable lives.

(Cold? I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t put the narrator in the most sympathetic light. Start again.)

In telling the story of the talented, miserable, demanding, aggressively unhappy Friedman, I will try to illuminate the two paths open to each of us. We can struggle, in the darkness, to be right, always, to justify, everything, to prevail, at any cost. We can struggle to grasp what is intolerable in our lives, work to see and understand what particularly triggers our misery, seek to suffer less and inflict less pain in the world. I am, clearly, biased toward the second way. Friedman is the greatest example I know, though far from the only one, of the first way — the way of righteous anger and eternal victimhood and fatal disappointment.

Yes, we also have a president now who fits that description– a selfish, childish person who is always the victim, always right to be angry, a fundamentally unhappy person who, although already very wealthy, can never get enough. Forget him, if you can, as I tell you the story of Friedman, the youngest of three boys, an envious sibling who never got enough respect from dad or love from mom.

“OK, let me get this straight, sir,” says nobody in particular “you propose to tell the story of a remorseless, graceless asshole, with no insight into his own misery, told without sympathy, the tale of a putz famous for sweeping others into the ‘putzbin of history’ for betrayals real and imagined.”

I wouldn’t use that as my elevator pitch, no.

“Get on with it, then, why should anybody give a rat’s tutu about this so-called book proposal?”

Insight, man. Hard to come by. Look at it as I pieced it together. At one time this guy was my closest friend. Over the years I came to see, more and more unmistakably, that he was, in elemental ways, an unredeemable version of the worst of my father. Both were smart, articulate, capable of waging fierce arguments to the death, both were supremely sensitive in their own feelings and often monstrously insensitive to the feelings of others. My long wrestling match with Friedman turned out to be an attempt to get a grip on the dilemma with my own father.

“OK, so far you ain’t selling jack, son.”

Says the voice of the internalized victimizer. Look, I’ve been putting together clues for many years now. The Book of Friedman might be the most straightforward way to put them between two covers in the context of a story with a start, middle and end. Much easier to write than draft two of the 1,200 pages I’ve written as I came to see my father’s tragic point of view through his too late clear eyes.

“If you say so…” then there is the pregnant pause, more potent in its power to undermine than any words could be, “we’ll see if this idea comes to anything more than dozens of other big ideas you’ve hatched over the course of the long misadventure that has been your life here, dreamer.”

Which leaves me with this toothache of a thought: What is left of our lives here, beyond what we leave behind?