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THRAX

Maximinus Thrax Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus Augustus, (Emperor Maximinus I), Emperor of Rome 235-238 because he was Born in Thrace (hence the name Thrax) he was the first emperor never to enter Rome.

Contemporary sources, including Historia Augusta, depicted Maximinus Thrax as a man of immense size, with large eyebrows, nose, and jaw (a symptom of acromegaly). His thumb was so large that he often allegedly wore a bracelet of his wife on it as a ring. The historian Herodian noted:

“He was definitely a man of such frightening appearance and colossal size, that there is no possible comparison at all with any of the best-trained Greek athletes or the most fierce of all barbarians.”

According to historian Cordus, he stood approximately 8 foot 6 inches(2.5 m) tall but exhibited normal proportions. Cordus also notes that Maximinus was so strong that he could pull a fully loaded ox cart on his own.

Three years after his rise to power his soldiers assassinated him, his son, and his chief ministers. Their heads were cut off, placed on poles, and carried to Rome.

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN EL DORADO HILLS:

The weather broke colder this weekend. The temperature dropped from the mid-seventies to the mid-fifties. Not cold by the measure of those places that enjoy (or suffer) real winters, but enough to make these old bones prefer indoors with a warm cup of coffee to walking outdoors no matter how good the exercise may be for them. Nevertheless, on Sunday, instead of my usual stroll around the lakes, I rambled a bit through SDS park near my house. The paths in the park mostly circle the community playing fields and pool. One path, however, branches off through the woods and along the creek. It, for some reason, is called, New York Park. I rarely take that path because it contains signs that say, “Beware of Mountain Lions.” Next to bears, I fear mountain lions most.

Recently, I posted on Facebook a short piece I had written a few years ago about the 1950s Rock group Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. In 1956 or 1957, I attended a concert featuring the group in Brooklyn’s old Fox Theater with a young lady friend. We were both teenagers 16 or 17 at the time. We have not seen each other for over 60 years so imagine my surprise when that Facebook post received a “Like”  from her.

Now, I believe Facebook is one of the most pernicious things to have been foisted on humanity since the invention of warfare, nevertheless, for the anziani like me, something like this can make our day — perhaps even our whole week.
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Facebook Addiction.

I spent Monday helping Naida move some things around her house and disposing of some of Bill’s old clothing at Goodwill. While erecting a bookcase in her office, I noticed an amazing collection of books set in or about California during the period in which she set her great California Gold Country Trilogy. Many of the books she used for research. She pointed out a few places where she adapted the information for use in her novels. She also told me that while writing the books and even after they were published she received a number of original diaries written by people who lived in the area at the time in which the novels were set, including one that was so fantastic and dramatic that I still cannot get it out of my mind.

While the story contained in that diary (now lost) that she told me about while we took a coffee break is too long and mysterious to relate in its entirety here, some of the background is quite interesting. It all had something to do with the gold discovery at John Sutter’s Mill in 1748. Marshall was not the first to discover gold in California. Several others had done so before him. There was even an anemic and brief gold rush when gold was discovered In Southern California about 20 years before — in the San Gabriel Mountains I believe. About a year before Marshall’s find, a Mormon family had found gold in what is now the City of Folsom. They busily packed the gold dust and nuggets they had located in the local creeks into barrels. They intended eventually use the treasure to found the Temple City of the Mormons in the golden hills somewhere near where I currently reside. Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your view of the Latter Day Saints, Brigham Young, their leader, took sick with rocky mountain spotted fever somewhere near the desolate shores of the Great Salt Lake in what is now the State of Utah and declared to all that God had decided he would build his New Jerusalem there rather than in California. The Mormon gold digging family tried to dissuade the leader of their church by pointing out the golden hills were indeed golden, the great valley contained some of the richest farmlands on earth and the native people were willing slaves. But, despite their arguments, their entreaties fell on deaf ears. So, about the time Marshall and his cronies were setting about publicizing their find, they packed up their treasure and returned over the hills to found their blessed City on the Mountain or in this case the desert.

Marshall found the gold at John Sutter’s the mill site in early January of that fateful year but did not announce it publicly until May. What he and his cronies — among which was the writer of one of the diaries Naida obtained — spent those almost five months searching for additional rich sites, securing the land, obtaining the supplies miners would need, establishing the campsites the miners would require as they traveled from San Francisco to the future diggings in the foothills and so on. In other words, it was intended to be a vast real estate scheme in the grand California tradition.

To put everything in context, it is probably important to recognize that San Francisco in March of that year when Sam Brannon — who may or may not have been one of the conspirators — prematurely ran down the City’s main street shouting that gold had been discovered, only about 350 persons of European descent and about 800 of African, Asian and Latino heritage lived in the City by the Bay. The Europeans who reaped most of the benefits of the scheme, as they usually do, were for the most part little more than thugs. Within the next five years or so, over 80,000 people flooded into the City in pursuit of the riches that ultimately mostly ended up in the hands and pockets of the thugs and conspirators. After all, in good old American business theory, the greedy grubby miners could be viewed as little more than unpaid workers and small independent contractors who paid to the conspirators for supplies, food, drink, and rent almost every penny of value they received from anything they dug up.

And what of Marshall? He was by some reports a very dislikable man, contentious, perhaps violent and a bit deranged who, after all this, died broke. But not before, along with some friends, Folsom, Ord (of Fort Ord fame), and others had dinner as guests in the home of William L. Leidesdorf. Leidesdorf, a black man from St Croix, a shipowner, and accountant, was the wealthiest man in San Francisco at the time (he is also considered the founder of San Francisco). He owned the land upon which the Mormons discovered their gold. He, in partnership with John Sutter, had acted as agent for the sale of the gold discovered in the area charging a 50% commission for their efforts while trying to keep the existence of the discoveries quiet. During that very dinner, according to the now lost diary, the host died under mysterious circumstances. Shortly thereafter Leidesdorf’s mother living in St Croix and his only heir received almost $800,000 (out of over $2,000,000 promised, the remainder of which she never received) in today’s money for renouncing her interest in her son’s estate that had been left to her by him and worth more than $50 million today’s value. When the estate was finally probated the land containing most of the value in that estate passed into the hands of the guest whose name the city eventually built thereon now bears his name. But, that is all another story.
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Leidesdorf                                          Folsom

Today, the skies and clear, the temperature in the mid-sixties. I continue to kick the can down the road as to not only what I shall be doing next month and to where I may be traveling but for the rest of my life as well. There are some days that that bothers me a lot and some nights it actually makes me thrash about in despair for a few minutes before I fall asleep.

As for my projected travels, while I agree with Josiah Bancroft’s dictum “Never let a rigid itinerary discourage you from an unexpected adventure,” I prefer to dispense with the “itinerary” altogether and get right on with the “unexpected adventure.”

Today, I saw my first ornamental fruit tree in bloom. Spring has arrived, appropriately on Valentine’s Day.
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I never liked Valentine’s Day. In grammar school, before they began requiring everyone to receive a Valentine’s Day card, I rarely got any even though my mom made me bring one for each kid in the class. I wasn’t a bully, just the quiet weird kid who sat in the corner and read history textbooks. The bullies all received Valentine’s Day cards. Everyone likes winners. Come to think of it, there were (and still are) very few holidays I liked, As a kid, I liked Fourth of July. The volunteer fire department in the little town I grew up in always put on a bitchin fireworks display. Memorial Day was pretty good also. A bunch of families would gather together at a place called Peach Lake in Westchester County, New York. The men would eat raw clams all day, drink beer from kegs and get drunk. The women would get angry because the men were all drunk and then the arguments would start. In a way, it was a little like Fourth of July, lots of fireworks. One day, my father drove the car into the stream that fed the lake — my brother and me sitting in the back seat thought it was great fun — my mother, not so much.

Another week has gone by, more trees have burst into bloom and the daffodils have pushed through the earth and splashed some of the local gardens with streaks of buttery yellow. I have not felt well this week, fatigue and listlessness. It could be the change of seasons. It often affects me like this. Well, not to worry, it is whatever it is.

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On Saturday, I helped Naida move more things out of the house, drove HRM to various skate parks, read late into the night and struggled with my fury over the latest massacre of innocents in school by right-wing fanatics with an assault rifle.

 

B. PONDEROUS PONDERINGS AND MEANDERING EPHEMERA:

Like most people I guess, I have lived more than one life — in my case three. We all live our own timelines of course, from birth to death and whatever might happen in between. I seemed to have lived my life in about five year or so increments usually ending in some life altering collapse, usually self-inflicted. After that, there would be about three years or so of wandering in between each phase as I tried to put my life back together.

My second life was the almost 15,000 books I have read in the past 75 years or so, most of them fiction — and most of the fiction fantasy — the farther from the mundane the better. I do not read words. Only images run past my eyes.

My third life is my dreams. Often they impinge on my waking memory and I believe things occurred in my life that never happened. For example, for years I believed there was a seacoast town I would periodically visit. I knew the people, the shops, streets and so on. One morning, I thought it would be pleasant to visit the place for a day or two. I searched for how to get to it and discovered it did not exist. It made me wonder not whether I was crazy or not but what else it was that I remember that also may be fantasy. On the other hand, I could be stuck in an ontological cul de sac or is it an epistemological dead end. There is no question, however, that I live in a metaphysical planned unit development with Descartes my neighbor on one side, Schrodinger on the other and Timothy Leary showing up once a week with a philosophical leaf blower strapped to his back.

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Bill.

I went to see Bill on Thursday having received an email from Naida asking me to come to visit him as soon as possible and containing the following:

“I have been sitting with Bill next to his bed. His coughing woke me at 5 a.m. He asked me what my name was. I told him and, when asked what I’ve done all day, explained that I am his wife and I’ve been taking care of him. He said he’d been put away into in some attic. I told him he’s downstairs. He said he wants to see out the window. I explained that the sun wouldn’t come up for a couple of hours. He said, ‘OK. When it’s light I want to see out the window.’ He also said, ‘I feel weird like I’ve been separated from all civilization’— followed by his characteristic sarcastic ‘huh’ of a laugh.”

I found Bill lying in bed. He appeared relatively upbeat. While Naida was out of the room scurrying about with the two full-time caregivers and the visiting nurse, I sat with him and held his hand. Later, Naida brought us some cookies and milk. As we drank the milk and ate the cookies, Bill turned to me and said, “You know, I always thought I was going to die with a shot glass full of whiskey in my hand, now it looks like instead, I will go out holding a glass of warm milk and a soggy cookie.”

We mostly sat in silence but now and then we talked about old times or about our respective maladies. After a few hours, the skies began to darken and I left promising to return again tomorrow or Saturday on my way to San Francisco to return the cane Peter left behind at my sister’s house.

On my way home, I wondered about how brave people die and why we do not throw up monuments to all those who face the endless dark with grace and humor.

I have not gone swimming in the pool since I returned from Mendocino. It is not that it has been too cold. It is more than I have felt too cold. I walk and lift weights but I feel especially tired and lethargic. Is it a harbinger or merely a result of sleeplessness? My nights are spent in repetitive dream states both exciting and disturbing. I wake often and now and then fear going back to sleep. I have a disturbing feeling in my stomach — heavy like constipation but it does not move.

 

Moe.

Moe has died. I received this from Ruth today:

“I’m not sure how far the grapevine has already reached, so you may already know that, alas, Moe passed away yesterday afternoon.”

“His last round of difficulties began a few days after Thanksgiving with overwhelming inability to breathe. Luckily the property manager stopped in as he was gasping and called 911. I didn’t find out about any of this until the following Monday, by which time Moe was able to talk on the phone. He made it out of the hospital into rehab a few days after that, and Jeoff and I visited him on Saturday 12/15 where we ran into Olga and Marshall. He was to go home, with help, the next Thursday–which was the day I flew to Vancouver, where I still am. Apparently, he did go home but then had another no-breathing episode which put him back in the hospital. He was in a ventilator, but they were unable to wean him from it and he seemed to lose brain function, at which point friends and family did what they (and I) were sure he would have wanted.”

“All I have heard so far is there will be a memorial but not immediately.”

“Please notify anyone you think may not already know and would want to.”

“And I wish you a happier year next year.”

More than an acquaintance and less than a companion, Moe was someone whose life and mine have intertwined or another one way for over 40 years. Rest in peace Moe.

Is it my age or the time of the year that is bringing such sorrow and loss? I do hope it will be a happier year next year.

HRM’s winter vacation is drawing to a close. I do not see him too often. He is at the age where he drifts in and out of the house, a sly smile on his face as though he has just discovered something that the rest of us could not possibly know or understand.

 

Bill.

I was too ill on Friday to drive to Sacramento and visit Bill but on Saturday, feeling a bit better, I set off again. I first stopped at Raley’s and bought some cookies, candies, and dates for them. Remembering Bill’s quip about milk and booze, I purchased a small bottle of Jack Daniels.

When I got to the house, I found Bill fairly comatose and Naida understandably distressed. When I showed Naida the whiskey and explained my reasons, Bill, who we had thought was asleep, let out an explosive laugh and whispered something that sounded like, “I don’t believe it.” Naida found a shot glass and we put it into his hand, filled it with the Jack and helped guide it to his lips. He drank it down, gave the expected cough and went back to sleep. It was probably my imagination but I thought I saw a bit of a smile play across his lips.

Back in EDH, I drove HRM and his friends here and there, read a bit, and spent more time than I would like in bed feeling a bit under the weather. On New Year’s Eve, we all retired early. The next morning I drove HRM and his friend, Tyson, to the Skate Board Park. From there I called Naida to see how Bill was doing. She told me that he had died in the middle of the night just as the old year also passed. She was understandably quite distressed. During her ramblings about his last hours, the many things that need doing now and reminisces she mentioned something about Bill that I had not known before.

Apparently, many years before Bill, Naida and many other parents in the neighborhood were upset with Little League because its rules and regulations excluded many children from participating, so Bill created and for several years managed a youth baseball league open to everyone, boys, girls, and those too young or too un-athletic to thrive in the Little League. The kids loved it. Naida added that throughout the years since they would run into people who had played in that league who would tell them how much it meant to them and how much they enjoyed it.

I spent the rest of the day moping around the house.

2017 was an awful year. It began awful and ended even more so. It began with “Not My President” taking the oath of office and me in treatment for throat cancer and ended with the death of friends, fear of cancer’s return and “Not My President” still in office. I hope for all our sakes we do not experience its like again.

 

2018.

January 2, 2018, began with clear cold sunlight slashing through the windows. Dick had already left for work and Hayden was still asleep in his room. I puttered around a bit hoping that H would wake up soon so that I could take him and his friend Tyson to the Skate Park. After all, this is the first day of the rest of my life and I am determined to make it a good one. A great day is not required, pleasant will do —even better than average would be acceptable but I will try for great. I think I will do the laundry today.

As that great American philosopher Scarlett O’Hara opined, “Tomorrow is another day.” I certainly hope so.

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I am at that point in my life where, I suppose like many people, I begin to contemplate that ineffable question, “Who am I?” — Or perhaps “Why?”— then again maybe not. Who cares?

Lets cut to the chase. I have always thought of myself as… Well, in a quantum world “always” does not exist or matter. So let me instead begin with — As I write this, I think of myself as an ascetic hedonist. That makes no sense you may say. How can one be both ascetic and a hedonist at the same time? (I guess, a person who gets pleasure out of self-flagellation can be described that way. But, that is beyond what I can handle right now.)

Anyway, let me explain the image I have about myself by using an analogy. I picture myself as a hermit living in a remote cave in the middle of a great desert somewhere. Every morning I get up just before sunrise, go out to some miserable rocky place, contort myself into an unpleasant and uncomfortable pose and contemplate or hum or something else all day.

I would contemplate life’s meaning, real meaning like, “Why was I doing this in the first place?” “Am I just a sick human being?” “What happens after this, whatever this is ?”

If I may digress from my digression, let me discuss my problem with what some large groups of people say comes after this, whatever this is?

There are, for example, a large group of people who believe that if you are male and an efficient killer after you die you get to be locked up forever with a bunch of young virgin women who probably will not remain virgins for long. Everyone else, other than other killers locked up like you, gets to sit on the outside doing nothing apparently except wondering what you guys are doing inside. I think I would prefer to be with the outsiders, at least we probably get to shrug our shoulders and roll our eyes now and then.

Another large group seems to believe that if in your life you get to avoid people who disagree with you, or force them to agree with you, or kill them if they don’t or they get too close to you, you then get to spend all eternity staring at some self-important serial killer surrounded by armed hermaphrodite thugs and listening to Gregorian Chant. Those not so lucky get to spend their time boiled in flaming vats of sulfur and oil. Now I have nothing against Gregorian Chant, but I think I prefer being boiled in sulfur and oil if I could not hear something else now and then — even country and western. Well, maybe not that.

Then, there are those that believe if you do nothing but not hard enough or if you do something during life, after you die you return as a maggot. If you’re lucky, you get eaten by a crow before you do anything and if you come back again, say a thousand times, doing nothing you may get to be good enough at doing nothing other than thinking about yourself so that after you die you then get to come back as… well, nothing, forever. What’s the point?

There are also those who believe that, if you spend your life running around killing people and you get to be so good at it that other people make up songs about how efficient you were at mayhem, or they erect statues to you, you then get to spend all eternity with homicidal maniacs like yourself in a sunny place with a lot of grass playing something like football and drinking warm beer. Everyone else gets to live in a cold dreary place weeping and crying forever, except for one or two who get to push rocks up hills or have their liver torn out every day by hawks. Given the choice of eternal football and warm beer or weeping and crying in a cold dreary place, I’ll take the latter. It seems more like life, doesn’t it?

Well, enough of that. Let’s get back on topic, “Who am I?”

On the Hedonist side, I would want my cave to have a nice bed, internet connection, food delivery, maid service, a sauna and of course hot water. Even at a minimum, I could tolerate a well-padded sleeping bag as long as all the other things were included especially hot water preferably in a tub or a pool and in my espresso.

Once a week, I would travel to nearby podunk town, go to a loud crowded bar (if loud and crowded were unavailable any bar would do) order a beer, take it to a table in a far corner or the far edge of the bar and sit quietly nursing my beer and watching everything or if there is no one but an old drunk sitting at the other end of the bar then staring at my beer wishing I were back in my cave tucked warmly in my bed. Later, I would return to my cave and, after a warm bath and a joint, crawl into bed, spend a few moments of what is euphemistically called self-love and then drift off to sleep contemplating the pleasures of crouching on the stony ground pondering “what’s it all about?”

What’s it all about? Well, it’s not existentialism. After all, I think I have meaning even if you don’t. It’s not about, oh,… say solipsism. When you think about it, when you’re deaf dumb and blind crawling face down through a sea of mud and you strike something else, it is not just you alone, is it? There are other isms too, a lot of them, but I think they all end up in more or less the same place— usually not someplace I want to end up. As for a Supreme Being who actually cares for you, I think we’ve disposed of that above.

So what is there? There’s you and there’s me. We may never meet or be the same, but I think that’s the way it should be, don’t you?

And that is who I think I am —then again, maybe not.

 

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It is interesting that in the iconography of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) death is most often imagined as a demon; “Lucifer Light Bringer” being the arch-demon.

Lucifer Light Bringer was a demigod (angel) who like Prometheus (another demigod) committed the universally unforgivable sin of gods everywhere for bringing knowledge to the human race. For this they were to be punished for all eternity; Prometheus by being chained to a rock and having his liver clawed out daily by an eagle; and Lucifer by having his light put out and being forced to live with that monstrous big boobed bitch Lilith while spending the rest eternity dipping the souls of the damned, head down into barrels of boiling piss.

It seems that what the gods intend us to learn is that on earth as it is in heaven, no good deed goes unpunished.

This is probably why so many of our Abrahamic brethren suffer so:

The Jews with their unreasonable sense of guilt, probably for inventing the insane god that they did. But cheer up my circumcised brethren, the pagan gods were no better, except that they were superior at multi-tasking; being able to drink wine and laugh, while roasting humanity on the rotisseries of life.

The Christians with their utter terror of their totally insane and vindictive god

Muslims with their hatred of anyone not forced to suffer like them under the not so benevolent hand of Allah.

The history of the Catholic Church and Christianity can be summed up as the battle between those who believe that god intended the spoils of life to go to those whose lives most demonstrate a willingness to do almost anything to achieve success in this life (e.g. Augustine and Jerome who believed, it is not the good you do that makes one blessed but the strength of your blind fervor.) and those who now and then actually do a good deed or two. Unfortunately, that dank cesspool referred to as the Catholic hierarchy all too often gave lip-service to the latter but idolized the former.

The Gnostics understood the truth behind the symbolism when they maintained that the Abrahamic god was the prince of evil and that Lucifer Light Bringer and Prometheus were the avatars of the God of Light destined to ultimately end the dread reign of this spawn of Loki.

Of course there are always exceptions, Maimonides, Hillel, Francis of Assisi, Rumi are some. I would like to add one of my favorites Omar Khayyam to the list. After all he did say that the primary goal of life is “…a loaf of bread, a glass of wine and thou beneath the bough…” but that is going too far I think.

By the way, what is it about Islam and alcohol (they invented the word for god’s sake)? After all, their history is filled with alcoholic poets and drunken califs and sultans.

Did you know, that there once was an Ottoman sultan so distressed that his supply of favorite wine in his cellar was running out, he allowed himself to be persuaded to begin a war to conquer the country (Cyprus) that made his beloved vintage, after the Cypriots, egged on by the Pope (of course), threatened to sell no more of their wine to the islamic heathens.

The good Christian nations, fearing that these vines would be lost to the true church should the sultan achieve his goal, united, as they had almost never been able to before in history for anything, and kicked the Sultan’s ass at the battle of Lepanto, beginning the slow steady decline of the Ottoman Empire and of Islamic civilization that continues today.

It was just about at this same time, back in old Europe, recently recovered from the plague, that a few priests, among them Luther, Calvin and Wycliffe, decided to take the lunatic god at his word. Recognizing that the fruits of life seemed to inure to those most willing to climb over the corpses of anyone who stood in their way, these divines declared that since that is what usually happens in life anyway, it therefore must be the will of God.They also maintained that such success must be some indication of favor from the Most High and therefore as long as he (and it most assuredly must be a he) took the psychotic god into his heart, he would also be first among the elect when he, to the relief of his victims, finally died.

After all, God must be displeased (as he was displeased with the children of Israel once they stopped winning their wars of extermination) with the miserable of the earth and the poor as he was with the Southern Eastern European migrants to the US during the last century and the South American and Africans of the past few decades, since he made their lives so unbearably wretched.

Our fundamentalist brethren,( and if truth be known, the Catholic hierarchy) cheer this insight to this day.

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