Welcome to Trumplandia, DC’s New Power Game

Trumplandia | The New Game in Washington that Dems are Wise to Play

Wake up, DC Democrats, get over yourselves and play the Trump game – or else.

We woke up the day after Election Day 2016 to a new reality. The unthinkable has happened. On that point, most of us can agree. We just lived through the biggest election shocker of all time. Now I’m waiting for the Dems in DC to get smart, get over themselves and play the Trump game. If they don’t, they miss a golden opportunity.

The game is called Trumplandia and the rules of it can be found in Trump’s book Art of the Deal, and in all those seasons of The Apprentice that I bet few Dems in DC have bothered to watch.

Here’s a Cliff’s Notes version of Trump’s negotiation tactics to get you started. Here’s one I think you should pay close attention to:

Trump Rule: Think Big

“I like thinking big. I always have. To me it’s very simple: if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.”

Dems, you have a huge opportunity. Trump is coming to DC to play his game, and if you know anything about the man, you know he likes to be the judge. He likes to choose between competing proposals and strike deals.

You might get 49% of what you want. After all, Trump is not from the Republican establishment and was as hard on them as he was on you during the campaign. He was the match that set off the powder keg during the Republican primaries, and I bet you loved watching him drop like a shit bomb on the parade of Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and other name-brand Republicans. He gave them hell and for that you should be thankful, if not gleeful.

If you don’t come to the table and negotiate with the man, you get nothing, and neither do any of the Americans who believe in your policies and values. Plus, you leave him no one to play ball with except the hard right of political Washington.

But remember your position. He doesn’t need you, you need him and he knows that. The Republicans have the clout to ram through just about anything they want.

Trump Rule: Use Your Leverage.

“The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.”

You can start today and negotiate. You are going to have to let Trump pay back the people who helped him during the campaign. Hold your nose, note your objections and give in. Don’t kick up too much fuss. But after that, everything else is potentially on the table. Trump wants to hear what you have to say, and hear what Republicans have to say, and strike some sort of deal. That’s how he’s operated for decades and there’s no reason to think it’ll be much different now that he’s president.

That’s the art of the deal, to position yourself as middleman. Remember Bill Clinton’s tactic of triangulation between Republicans and Democrats in Congress? You triangulate between Trump and the Republican Party.

Trump Rule: Maximize the Options.

“I never get too attached to one deal or one approach…I keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out, no matter how promising they seem at first.”

Trump might just be able to get you some of what you wouldn’t have a chance of getting otherwise, no matter who is president, because of his position with Republicans. He has spoken in favor of reproductive rights so you know you can protect those. He promised infrastructure spending, and hey, that’s your arena. You can have a say in how the money is spent. You can insist on continuing Obama’s legacy of driving down the national deficit and insist that tax cuts don’t add a penny to the national debt. That message needs to spun out today and repeated a million times so you position yourself and have a shot at winning the next election as the more fiscally conservative party. There’s a lot you can accomplish if you get down off your high horse and dirty your feet.

But only if you play Trumplandia.

Be the squirrel collecting his nuts. Get on his good side – believe it or not he has one. And remember that the day is probably coming when Republicans turn on him and get some payback, even by impeaching him. He’ll be looking for a friend and you can be positioned to accept him where he really belongs, if you only consider the policy views he’s expressed over the years. Trump is a shade of blue-red and it’ll show over time. He can be persuaded away from the extremes. He might even say sorry for some of that crap he said about immigrants, women and minorities.

Be ready.

And please, please remember this:

“In most cases I’m very easy to get along with. I’m very good to people who are good to me. But when people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”

Stinkfist | A Firsthand Account | Power of Synchronicity


Stinkfist | A Firsthand Account | Power of Synchronicity

Synchronicity. Not the mega-selling album by The Police. It’s the theory that some coincidences are not purely coincidental, some events are not random. The wizard behind the curtain pulls some strings and voila! You get the outcome you need.

It’s happened to me. Or maybe “for me” is a better way of phrasing it. When synchronicity happens you get the feeling that something is conspiring for you, what Rob Brezsny calls “pronoia.” The world isn’t out to get you. It’s out to help you.

That’s what happened the night I met Stinkfist.

First we must set the scene.

I worked at a cybercafe immediately after college. Couldn’t find a regular job in the profession I trained for (journalism), so I worked at a cybercafe babysitting 20 game-ready computers hooked up to a high-speed data line and serving snacks to the losers who whittled away their lives playing online games and sneaking peeks at smut. This was back in the days when most people still connected to the Internet via AOL dial-up and used an Internet browser called Netscape. A hot new game, Half-Life, was the most popular around.

Yup, dinosaur era. Like, turn of the century.

So I joke that the patrons were a bunch of losers because I fit right in. Hell, I was King Loser because I had a college degree and could only get a minimum wage job within walking distance of my little apartment near the university.

Patrick was another employee of the Loser’s Club. You’d never guess by looking at him that he used to be a Marine. Crazy curly dark brown hair nearly covered his ears like a school kid’s art project. He stood a foot short of NBA guard height, which is to say he was maybe 5’6”. Wire-thin and sinewy. Dressed in a style all his own, what I call Thrift Store Chic: a mishmash of patterns and colors that somehow worked together and definitely made him stand out in a crowd. Almost Hipster style but with more thought put into it, more panache. He was the lead singer in a local band called Kit Kat Klub, making music crossed between The B-52s and Talking Heads. A wonderful, eccentric, fast-talking man and trained killer. His job in the Marines was to hunt down and eliminate snipers. Serious shit. But that was like a previous life for Patrick. The killer had hung up his six guns.

After closing the cybercafe one weekday night we decided to go out for a drink at a neighborhood bar called The Library. Basically a tight square room with pool tables, old wood floors, and an L-shaped bar against the back wall. The smell of sweat and draft beer permeated the joint. And cigarette smoke, lots of smoke. Overhead fans stirred the brew. Not the sort of place to have air conditioning running on a hot summer night in Cincinnati, the city aglow in the light of a full moon.

So we hit the bar and have a few beers, play some pool, talk shit. Just a couple of guys sucking some enjoyment out of life. Patrick and I had good camaraderie. We were complete opposites in many ways, but found common ground by easily engaging with people we didn’t know.

The night was a slow one at The Library, two dozen-or-so people casually drinking, about a third of them playing pool. Jukebox playing. The clanking of pool balls knocking around. We played doubles against anyone willing to give us a try. That’s how we met Stinkfist.

“I remember coming back toward the table and thinking to myself, “This ain’t good.” Stinkfist is really starting to run his mouth, and Patrick isn’t taking shit from anyone. He didn’t start it, but he isn’t backing down.”

Young white guy. Didn’t look quite old enough to legally drink, but that’s probably why he was there. About Patrick’s height, which is to say a few inches short of par. Two features of the guy stood out.

One, his dirty blond hair was burred short, almost a skin job.stinkfist

Two, he had British teeth. Looked like a miniature Stone Henge inside his mouth. Wore faded Levis and a charcoal gray T-shirt with the word “Stinkfist” emblazoned across the front. For those of you who don’t know, “Stinkfist” is the first song on one of the best heavy metal albums of its era, “Aenima” by Tool. Back then Tool was not that widely known outside the metal world.

To complete the picture, imagine the guy whose wallet is connected by a chain to his belt loop, but he doesn’t have enough money to really worry about it getting stolen. Yeah, that guy.

Stinkfist was a real piece of work. Loud. Crude. And getting louder and cruder the drunker he got. He wasn’t shit-faced, but sobriety was a shore growing distant. He was there with two young females most dudes wouldn’t look at twice. They had all crawled out of the city to join the college kids for a night of fun and cheap beer.

Whatever. All good.

The night goes on and Stinkfist is proving that he’s not as good at pool as he thinks he is. He and Patrick have a testy back-and-forth going over the table. Patrick and I aren’t the best pool players, but we aren’t chumps. Which means in that small pond we dominate the table. Lose a game and you are waiting in line a while to go another round.

Stinkfist raises a stink about everything. “Hey, you didn’t call that shot.” “You bumped the table.” “Why you talkin’ to me while I’m trying to shoot?” Fucking endless. I forget what set him off when he decided to attack Patrick. I want to say closing time was a few ticks of the clock away and we were looking forward to sampling the weed waiting for us across the street at my apartment. We’d had our fun. I have a picture in my head of Patrick and I winning one last time and giving up the table to the losers, Stinkfist and his hoes. I might have walked away to pay my tab or something.

I remember coming back toward the table and thinking to myself, “This ain’t good.” Stinkfist is really starting to run his mouth, and Patrick isn’t taking shit from anyone. He didn’t start it, but he isn’t backing down. I think Stinkfist was used to people backing down. Could see it in his eyes. Stupidity. Like, almost short-bus stupid, mixed with volatility and anger. The kind of guy who would sucker punch a grandma.

Patrick decides to wait for me outside. Stinkfist is getting under his skin and he doesn’t want to fight the kid. I tell him I’ll be right out.

Patrick walks out and I am twenty seconds behind him. I think I was saying goodbye to someone I knew. Stinkfist is pacing near a pool table, cursing to himself, working himself up like a pot about to boil. Suddenly he tears his shirt off and dashes for the door. It was one of those doors like an emergency exit that opens by pushing on a big metal bar. It made a loud clack whenever pushed hard. Stinkfist slammed it on the way out.

I run around the pool tables and get to the door about five seconds after Stinkfist’s dramatic exit. I hear a loud crash of glass bottles on asphalt. I’m expecting the worst.

Outside, Stinkfist is on his back struggling atop broken glass. Patrick is on top of him in a position known as side control. Other than a full mount, it’s the most dominating position to be in when a fight hits the ground. At that point Patrick could do anything he wanted. Stinkfist is just trying to cover himself. Patrick hasn’t thrown a punch, but he can start whenever he wants to and Stinkfist can’t do a damn thing about it.

stinkfist_anal“Patrick!” I holler. “Let’s get out of here.”

“I’ll teach this fucking punk,” Patrick yells. Everyone from the bar has poured out to see the show, forming a half-ring around the action. Patrick’s killer instincts have kicked in. He told me later that as he stood outside waiting he knew Stinkfist was coming, and as soon as the little putz flew out the door in a rage, Patrick Judo flipped him into a pile of trash cans at the edge of the sidewalk and pounced.

Kid was at his mercy.

Stinkfist’s girls are yelling. The streets are empty for the most part except for the spectators. Patrick is one second away from making a terrible decision. He really wants to destroy the punk. But sanity kicks in and he gets up. I steer him away. Stinkfist is slow to rise. He still has a lot of fight in him, but he is laying shirtless in a pile of broken glass. I have about twenty seconds tops to get Patrick away from the scene. My gut tells me Stinkfist is only warming up. He just needs time to collect his bearings before Round Two begins.

That’s when I see the semi.

It’s rolling slowly down the street—2:00 in the fucking morning on a city street and there is a semi. I’d lived in that neighborhood for years and had seen local fast food joints get deliveries from semis late at night, but those trucks had logos on them. This rig was plain white and towing a full-size trailer, riding like it’s fully loaded. Perfect opportunity. I have to get Patrick away and know just how to do it.

“Come on man, the weed is waiting. It’ll mellow you out. This fucker ain’t worth it.”

“That semi passed by at precisely the right moment, creating a barrier between Patrick and Stink Boy. Where it came from and where it was going is a mystery. It didn’t belong at that place and time, a complete anomaly. Sent from Heaven.”

Patrick is in the gray zone between fight or walk away. His jets have cooled a little but can flare hot again in a heartbeat. Finally he relents and I lead him across the street just ahead of the semi. Now the semi is passing between us and the scene on the other side of the street. Stinkfist is off the ground and his females are being drama mammas. He has been humiliated but is too stupid to realize he should take his losses and walk away.

The entrance to my building is a nondescript glass door set between a row of storefronts. I unlock it, get Patrick inside and up a few stairs. My apartment is on the second floor. Turn around, flip the bolt, and the semi has just passed. Stinkfist is across the street, about sixty feet away, looking around for Patrick. Hands clenched in fists. Breathing heavy. Scraped up. Sweating. Ready for a fight. If Patrick and I had entered my building two seconds later, he would have seen us and come running. It would have been bad. But I felt something serendipitous at work. I felt the universe helping me defuse the situation.

I felt synchronicity.

That semi passed by at precisely the right moment, creating a barrier between Patrick and Stink Boy. Where it came from and where it was going is a mystery. It didn’t belong at that place and time, a complete anomaly. Sent from Heaven.

It would be easy to call the passing of that semi coincidence, but sometimes coincidence is meaningful. You can feel when it happens. It’s like standing close to high voltage. You don’t see the powerful current of electricity passing through the wire, but it’s there. Go ahead, touch it and know for yourself. To see synchronicity at work in your life, do the right thing and watch how events unfold in a way that helps you achieve a desired outcome.

It will be all the convincing you need.

Football Teams of Today Are Like the Gods of Yesteryear

Imagine for a moment that a cataclysm happens tomorrow and most records of our civilization are wiped out. Five-thousand years later the archaeologists of the next civilization study our stadiums, monuments, and statues for clues to what our civilization was like, specifically, what we worshiped.

They might conclude that we worshiped lions, bears, eagles, ravens, jaguars, rams, tigers…

And cowboys?

I got the idea for this post after watching Monday Night Football. Redskins vs. Cowboys. The game took place in a stadium with 100,000 people in it. The largest churches are a fraction of that size. The stadium has screens that are 60 yards wide. It is littered monuments dedicated to their most notable “warriors.” It’s fair to say that archaeologists of the future would assume that a society that put such incredible resources into their Cowboys actually worshiped them as gods.

It’s not such a stretch of imagination.

Now consider how we view civilizations from 5,000 years ago. We say that they worshiped this god or that god or many gods. We consider them primitive, misled. We assume they actually fell on their knees enthralled and enraptured by their gods.

But what if their “gods” are akin to our football teams?

Again, use your imagination to picture walking into a city in ancient Mesopotamia. At the city gates are grand and massive statues dedicated to their “gods.” You see bears, eagles, jaguars — or live animals leashed like mascots. Some are half-human depictions. Some wear uniforms and carry weapons. The scene could be confused for a football rally.

You walk through the city and hear the excited conversations of citizens. You see related paraphernalia in shop windows, colorful clothing, posters on house doors, flags waving along avenues. Groups of citizens shout chants and sing songs. City leaders make speeches praising their lions and tigers and bears.

Oh my!

Point is, I think we have made some wrong assumptions. We dig up statues dedicated to gods of old and assume that the people viewed them the same way we view God. We find tablets with a few words inscribed on them and draw conclusions about entire populations. We say the people of old worshiped these so-called gods, and some certainly did. But my hunch is those assumptions are mostly wrong.

Some people worship Ray Lewis as a football god. This statue of him might outlast our civilization

What we fail to realize is that the gods of old are similar to our football teams of today. They were cultural markers. They were rallying cries for a civilization. They were focal points for bringing people together and creating a sense of cohesion, same as our sports teams bring us together today. Some citizens might have believed that the gods of their culture actually existed, but I think what the majority of people believed is similar to what we mean today when we say “Joe Montana is a god,” or, “Ray Lewis is a god.”

When tribute was given to the gods of a particular city or country, the tribute was really to the people and their culture. The same idea carries over to today. If you move to Wisconsin, for example, you will be a Packers fan, to some extent, whether you want to or not. At least, you will not dare to speak against them in a public setting or you risk getting beat down. Because if you speak out against the Packers, you actually speak against Wisconsinites. The Packers are very closely associated Wisconsin itself.

View today’s sports teams and the frenzy that surround them from a distance and it would be easy to assume they are gods, the players their earthly emissaries, and the fans their worshipers.

In many ways sports have replaced religion. They shape values. They create myths and legends. They focus attention and resources.

So the next time you hear the claim that ancient peoples worshiped gods that were obviously figments of their imagination, realize that “gods” to them might be more like what football teams are to us.

The Magic Mushroom Ride of My Life

Magic mushrooms talk to you. The tan and orange fungus with a stem and cap is like a leprechaun, and when swallowed it spends the next few hours – sometimes days – fucking with your head by telling you things about yourself, your life, the world, the universe, like:

You are a spiritual being having a physical experience.

The world is your classroom.

Humans are not alone in the universe.

Magic Mushrooms, fresh

That is a sampling of what the mushrooms said to me on a night when I rode the magic carpet of psychedelic experience. It made me aware of myself and my environment in ways I’d never known. It spoke and I listened, and it made predictions that came true. Then all hell broke loose and the experience turned sinister. First, to set the scene.

My friend Matt lived in an apartment with a crack house on one side and a heroin den on the other, on a side street close to Bogart’s music hall in the Corryville neighborhood of Cincinnati, a seething mix of university students, urban high school kids, low-income locals, visitors, homeless, opportunists and criminals. A lot of bad shit went down in that neighborhood, and Matt lived in the middle of it. The craziness didn’t usually bother us. We were used to it.

The night we took the mushrooms at his place, the gore-and-screams band GWAR was playing at Bogarts. And, as they say, the freaks were out. Our friend Steve joined us. It looked like we had a normal night of listening to music and hanging out ahead of us, except, of course, we were eating magic mushrooms. Matt at first didn’t want to trip with us, but we badgered him, and like the good friend and addict he was, he ate half a cap to make us shut up.

Bad idea. Never pressure anyone into taking psychedelics. It’s asking for trouble.

Matt’s living room had a couch, portable radio, a table or two, guitar gear, some junk, and not much else except his dog, a black lab mix named Rufus. We listened to music and talked as the ‘shrooms kicked in. At first your body tingles and you feel electric but chill. The fun stuff in the mushroom, called psilocybin, travels from the stomach to the bloodstream and throughout the body, and everything that had been gray is touched with color. Senses sharpen. Perceptions deepen. Body relaxes. Then the psilocybin settles into the brain, and the conversation with the leprechaun begins.

That night it manifested as something trying to get my attention. Matt and Steve were engaged in a heated conversation, as they were liable to do, both strong-willed and stubborn. If they disagreed about something they could go on for hours about it. At some point I tuned out and just enjoyed the exhilaration of the drug. That’s when I noticed Rufus.

Something is up with the dog, said the leprechaun. I noticed Rufus acting sort of like he wanted to go out to crap in the yard, but more excited and even confused. I wondered if he was picking up strange vibes off the three humans juicing their brains, but there was nothing out of the ordinary going on, nothing to set him off like that. We were listening to an LA Guns CD, Vicious Circle, for the first time, and I heard undertones in the music that affected me deeply. But Rufus was used to hard rock and people doing drugs,

Then reality decided to take a high dive from an orbiting space shuttle. Rufus started frantically running circles around us in the living room. We were on the floor. I was laying on my back. Steve and Matt were going on about something. Rufus ran circles counterclockwise. He flew over the couch, the chairs, the junk. He sprang off a chair and did an impossible somersault in the air.

Did I really see that, I asked myself. Did Rufus just do a flip with a twist like a gymnast and bounce hard off the carpet, fly up and continue running in circles?

I looked at Steve and Matt like, didn’t you see that? But they were oblivious, and somehow I knew it was supposed to be that way. When Rufus took another flying leap and they didn’t notice, we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Welcome to Mushroomville, the land of oompa loompas and leprechauns and all sorts of magical stuff.

I’ve known people who hallucinated whole scenes while tripping on LSD or mushrooms, but for me the effects had more to do with color, sound, sense of time, and opening connections inside myself. Never had I hallucinated something like a dog flipping out. What I saw was real. If someone completely sober was in the room, they would have seen Rufus doing flips, two humans paying no attention, and one human (me) with eyes as wide and bright as cream pies.

The mushroom, compared to other hallucinogens, is more of an internal trip. It talks to you about how you see yourself and the world, about what you do and why, about where you have come from in your life and where you are going, about what you believe. Done in a controlled setting it can be therapeutic, but in an uncontrolled setting it can be a bad trip. The mushroom opened me to really feel what was going on around me. Steve, an experienced tripper, was having a ball, while Matt, even though he ate a fraction of the amount of mushroom that Steve and I ate, was trippin’ hard. That fungus was potent. Something strange was in the air from the beginning, and I sensed it before the dog freaked out.

Earlier in the night as the ‘shrooms kicked in, we had the radio on and were talking. Steve and I had a sense for each other like complete opposites do. Enhanced by the mushroom it was as if we were reading each others thoughts. There came a pause in our conversation, and the leprechaun in my head said, “Steve is going to suggest to change the radio station, and you should tell him to turn it to your favorite station. He will then say, “Why were we listening to that crap, anyway?””

A moment later it happened exactly as predicted, down to the exact words. It is one of many instances that night and others when I heard in my head exactly what was about to be said or done, and is why I say that the mushroom talks to you. Because it does. What it told me about why Rufus flipped out is going to sound like some crazy shit, so be ready. To this day I’m not sure what exactly happened, but in later events I had some confirmation of the way I interpreted it. I’ll get to that.

Matt finally noticed Rufus but reacted like it was nothing. However, I felt something in the walls and under the soles of my feet, something deeply wrong. Something very dark. We went out on the porch to change the scenery, and the feeling only increased as I watched people going by, especially the freaks going to the GWAR show. Bad vibes, bad neighborhood.

Then it struck me: something was wrong about the big house converted to apartments where Matt lived. It felt sinister. I didn’t know at the time that the neighbors were crackheads and heroin junkies – found that out later. Besides, they were nowhere in sight. The wrong I felt was like the feeling of being watched from the shadows by a killer.

The mushroom said, “The presence you feel is attacking the dog: Demonic possession.”

Told you it would sound like some crazy shit. A dog possessed? Yup, sounds crazy to me too, but the mushroom had been right about other things that night. I am open-minded about the mysteries of life, so I can accept altered reality. And from scripture I know that animals can be possessed by spirits, remembering the story about Jesus allowing the legion of demons to possess a herd of pigs after he exorcised them from a possessed man. If you had been there and seen Rufus the dog, you would agree that something was up with him. I’d known that dog for years and never seen him act like he did that night. Then for Matt and Steve to not notice was too strange.

So what do you do when your brain is soaked in psilocybin and a voice that feels like it is being beamed into your head tells you that a dog is possessed? Well, naturally, you perform an exorcism!

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, potent energy filled my body. I have been in churches when entire congregations were “possessed by the Holy Spirit.” It is unmistakable. I think people can work themselves into such a state that they make shit happen that is far outside the boundaries of “normal.” What it felt like to me was God decided to enter Matt’s apartment and do battle against the demonic presence, using me as a proxy. That is the best way I can explain what happened next.

Feeling myself filled with righteous fire, I tracked down Rufus inside the apartment and laid a hand on top of his head. I reached my other hand toward the sky and called down the Holy Spirit. With the most powerful voice that has ever come out of my mouth, I rebuked the demon. I was told later that I could be heard a block away over the street noise, and that people stopped dead in their tracks at the sound.

Steve and Matt had done for a walk this was happening. It felt like an hour passed before they came back, but I bet it was less than 15 minutes. I rebuked the demon over and over. I quoted scripture with a voice that sounded like rolling thunder. The dog’s eyes fluttered back, showing only whites. His tongue rolled loosely in his mouth. My hand stayed attached to his head as if stuck by magnetism.

Then it was over. Rufus returned to normal. I felt everything around me with incredible distinction and clarity. Before Steve and Matt walked back into the apartment, I sensed them coming. Before seeing the people gathered outside drawn by the sound of my voice, I knew they were. Most of them were confused, some had an inkling of what just happened, and a few under the influence of darkness were pissed off. How dare I!

At that moment I understood how Jesus felt when he saw the masses of the sick, diseased, infected, and waded into them, his voice crackling, his hands feeling like they’re engulfed in flames, his mind filled with the most powerful light, his eyes seeing everything as it really is. A revelation came to me:

Life is not a game!

Life is not a game!

Life is not a game!

That message was personal. At the time, I treated life like a game. It worked pretty well for me to that point because I was good at games, but when confronted by supernatural reality, that approach suddenly appeared childish, dangerous. In a sense, that night I was initiated into a deeper understanding of why I am alive and having this experience of being a spiritual being in a human body.

Beneath our reality is a template for a perfect universe. Align yourself with it and you too can make things right. You can heal. You can perform what are called miracles, which are not really “miracles” but more like a curtain parting. In order to face what is behind it, you can’t treat life like a game. There is a combination of levity and humor involved. You can’t take yourself too seriously, but you can’t be a fucking joker either. If you go about using your mind to channel perfection into this reality, this dimension, you will butt up against forces that oppose you, and they aren’t here for the laughs. If they can’t stop you by other means, they will try to destroy you, either by driving you insane or setting people and events against you.

I’m open to the idea that everything I experienced was a hallucination. The mind can manifest anything it believes, including a dog doing double flips with a twist. If you haven’t tried magic mushrooms, you night think I hallucinated it – I would think that if someone told me a story like I’m telling you. But I was there and tell you I have never been so lucid and aware in my life. Plus, a month or two later, my friend Matt met the evil presence and had his own battle with it.

What I didn’t know at the time was Matt had started using crack cocaine. He’s a good ‘ol country boy, a hard drinker, smokes two packs of Marlboros a day, but he didn’t seem like a candidate for crack addict because the drug wasn’t part of his culture. Then his work tools and material possessions started disappearing, and I wouldn’t see him for stretches of time, sometimes weeks. I should have known what was up.

One day, very agitated, he showed up unannounced at my apartment. I took my time calming him down before trying to get him to tell me what had set him off, and had to drag it out of him. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told,” he kept saying.

“Try me,” I said. “You know I’ve been through some weird shit.”

So then he tells me that he had just been at home and decided to buy crack with the $20 his grandma had given him for Christmas. His grandpa had recently passed away, and Matt felt guilty (even before getting hooked on rock) about not living up to the old man’s expectations of his grandchildren. He had battled with himself over spending the money the way his grandparents would want on food and necessities, or spending it on what he really wanted. You know which side won the argument.

So he goes looking for the $20-dollar bill in the Christmas card and can’t find it – no surprise, considering the state of his apartment. So like a good crackhead he obsessively tears the place apart searching for it, and instead keeps running across a picture of his recently-deceased grandpa. It didn’t just happen a few times, but over and over and over and over and over. Same picture. He said he would open a drawer in the living room and there it would be, then go look in the kitchen and there it would be, then go look in the bathroom and there it would be.

Even after my mushroom experience at his place, I thought maybe Matt had been unconsciously carrying the picture around, or looking time and again in the same place and forgetting that’s where he’d just seen the picture – knowing him, it wouldn’t surprise me. But what he said next turned me cold inside.

He had gone to the basement where he kept his tools and handyman supplies (he was the maintenance man for that building and several others), frantically searching for the lost money, and found it down there. The basement was right below his apartment, where I sensed something emanating from during the night of my mushroom experience. The money, he said, flew out his hand as if ripped away. Then he felt two presences in the room, God and Satan, fighting for his soul. When it was over, the money lay on the cold concrete floor. He grabbed it and drove over to my place.

I know that people can manifest things in their lives to overcome. They can create battles for their souls. Addicts’ lives are full of drama, and hallucinations even when stone-cold sober are known to happen. In a related way, shamans sometimes discover their abilities out of need because something ails them and conventional treatment doesn’t work. I know someone who became a shaman because the other choice was a short life of physical misery. In a similar way, addicts set up experiences that make them want to get better, sometimes very perilous experiences that bring them close to death. But I did not detect anything in Matt that would lead me to believe he had made his inner drama an outer one. No, I think his drama with crack led to an intervention of the supernatural kind.

I wouldn’t draw that conclusion based solely on what he told me about the battle for his soul, or even on my mushroom trip at his place. Because you see, the battle didn’t end that day; it continued for as long as Matt was hooked. He had done all sorts of other drugs, but none of them made him into a different, darker person like crack. I started to see the changes; sensed the thing beneath his apartment and the oppressiveness of the neighborhood; sensed my friend slipping away. I prayed about it and felt convicted in my heart to do something.

Soon after, I was given a beautiful, sunny day to go find my bro. He worked odd hours and could disappear for weeks at a time, but on this day I pulled up in front of his apartment and there he was on the front steps. After chillin’ for a bit, talking about whatever, I told him there really was a battle going on for his soul, and God was acting strongly to save him. It didn’t matter what he believed in, all he had to do was sincerely pray for help and it would come. Matt had seen me change from raging alcoholic to got-my-shit-together dude, and because I had been there at the bottom where he was, he respected me, and I respected him.

As we talked, I suddenly heard, “Cut that shit out right now.” I turned to see an old black man glare at me then look away as if he wasn’t talking to us, but there wasn’t anyone else around for him to talk to, and his words cut right to the heart of our conversation. Derelicts of all sorts prowled the neighborhood. This guy though could have walked right out the movie Angel Heart. He looked like bad news, and I knew he was there to try to stop me from saving my friend. The man said something else which I don’t remember and hung around in the background – it was a public area and we couldn’t stop him. His presence rattled me some, but I spoke my heart to Matthew and know he listened. It was the best I could do.

Sometime after that, Matt’s living situation changed and he got out of the neighborhood and away from crack, but was never far, if you know what I mean: A part of it and his experiences there went with him wherever he went. And with me, too.

Bob: the Homeless Guy Sent By God … Maybe

Bob was a homeless guy in my college neighborhood who seemed to be protected by God. I know how that sounds – I’m not the type to see God in everything, but my time with Bob was meaningful in so many ways, and there were so many coincidences, I can’t explain it a better way. Knowing Bob (maybe “experiencing” is a better verb) was like one of those Old Testament stories about angels who walk among us in disguise. Except Bob was an ornery, dirty, sodden heap of a man who could say the meanest things one moment and the sweetest things the next. He was no angel.

Bob had the face of a prize fighter who took too many beatings. During the course of ten years that I knew him, I saw him with bruises and abrasions more times than I can count. Blackened eyes. Busted lips. Nasty cuts. A permanent dent ran across the bridge of his nose – a nose lumpy like a garlic bulb and riddled with broken capillaries. Heavy brows sprouted wild hairs, half-concealing his eyes. Dark gray hair, oily and thick, barely hinted at the rich brown it once was.

I first heard about Bob when he was referred to as “Vietnam Dave” by people in the neighborhood, known by that name because he was a Vietnam vet, two combat tours in the Marines, and it summed up why he lived on the streets. His full name is David Robert Willis. He called himself The Duke and liked to imitate John Wayne – his shtick  Whenever Bob pulled out The Duke imitation, his next play was for the change in your pocket. It worked on me many times.

Bob, the homeless guy who changed me
This is not Bob — this guy looks way less beaten up and haggard.

That’s how we met. Bob did his impression, maybe told a raunchy joke, and asked for some change. I fished in my pocket and gave him what I had.

Bob lived in the great wide open concrete jungle surrounding the University of Cincinnati, an area peppered with fast food joints, bars, shops and convenience stores. I’d find him asleep on bus stop benches, sidewalks, door stoops. He peed wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, though unless he was staggering drunk he’d usually find a private corner. He sometimes reeked of urine. A few times I noticed long wet stains on his jeans. And more than a few times I saw him taken away in a police car. He’d disappear for weeks, sometimes months, but always returned to the fertile ground where the city and the university met.

Despite all his misfortune Bob was the luckiest man alive, if you count being alive as lucky. He walked with the Grim Reaper always at his side checking the time and saying, “For crying out loud, how many times can one person dodge me?” Bob would down a few half-pints of Wild Irish Rose – called “shorties” in street lingo – he’d buy with the change he panhandled, then go careening through multiple lanes of traffic. One memorable time I witnessed him buy a shorty, down it in one swig, smash the glass bottle on the sidewalk right next to a trash can, then hurl himself across the street through heavy traffic – and somehow find a seam between moving vehicles. We’re talking about one of the busiest roads in the city, rush hour, in front of a bus stop where buses passed twenty times an hour and impatient drivers barreled through traffic.

The convenience store clerk who sold Bob the wine told me she had seen him heedlessly part traffic like that so many times, she was convinced an angel watched over him. That day she’d sold him 20 shorties and finally cut him off. That’s why he busted the bottle: he was mad about being told no. He staggered down the street to the next convenience store.

Bob was a willful person. He didn’t have to live on the streets – he had a veteran’s pension, maybe collected disability – but chose it as part of his lifestyle. He drank away his pension checks within days after they arrived at a tavern he used as a mailing address, then the rest of the month he relied on handouts. I remember hearing about homeless guys in Paris who made the same choice to live on the streets. They could get an apartment paid for by the government. They chose not to, like Bob.

His willful dark side popped out when Bob had been drinking a lot, and Bob always drank a lot – except when he couldn’t afford it. There were plenty of rainy days and holidays when the streets were mostly empty and the people tighter with their pocket change. I’d see him wandering the streets like a plastic bag blowing in the wind, looking for someone to hit up. One day I encountered him stalking a man on the street who had refused his request for money, cursing, “Come back here you fucking nigger!” I heard him from a distance and quickly closed in.

“Bob!” I said forcefully, “what the hell do you think you are doing? Get out of here. Go!” I pointed down the street, away from the man he cursed at, a well-dressed administrator from the university on his lunch break. Probably an assistant dean. Late 20s. Athletic. Dark-skinned. Bob shambled off in the direction I pointed, and the young man, accompanied by an attractive woman his age, was happy to escape the crazy homeless dude.

I followed them from a distance as they headed back to campus, an uneasy feeling in my gut. The guy suddenly turned around to go find Bob, presumably. He’d had enough time to process the incident and get pissed off. Maybe having the young lady with him made it especially galling to be harassed by a street person. I said to him, “I saw what happened back there and think you did the right thing by walking away. Beating him up won’t do any good.”

The guy fumed, “What right does he have to say that to me? He wants money? Here, I got money!” He pulled his wallet out from his suit pants and grabbed some singles. “I’ll stuff it down his fucking pie hole!”

“You did the right thing,” I said sort of meekly. “Don’t mess it up now.” Realizing that his lunch hour was almost over, the guy put his wallet away and hurried across the street with his girl before the traffic light changed.

Another odd encounter with Bob took place on the morning of a final exam. I walked through a slim sidewalk that shortcut between rows of four-story buildings to get to campus for the exam, and heard noises back in an area where one of the businesses kept trash. There, on a smelly, shadowy, debris-strewn stretch of sidewalk, Bob swept up the mess with a broom. It was early December, a bright, cold morning when at 7:30 the sunlight still has a brittle, blue quality and your breath turns instantly to ice crystals. Why Bob swept the mess, I don’t know. Maybe he was clearing a space to sleep, or a local business hired him to do odd jobs. I think he just felt like doing a good deed.

Another time with Bob I’m pretty sure I was used by his Maker to look out for him. I gave him money sometimes but didn’t always have it to spare. My pockets were empty that day. I walk down a sidewalk across from the university and see Bob reclined on some steps against the emergency exit of a local business. He looks bad. Deep scrapes score his face. His eye resembles a bruised cherry. His head hung between his knees. He looks up at me as I walk nearby and asks if I can spare some change. I look down at the sidewalk and, kid you not, saw a wad of one-dollar bills. People walked by, avoiding the dirty, drunk man with a face like a scary mask. A strong breeze blew through the busy city street. And there was a wad of money.

Not Bob
This isn’t Bob either, but is strikingly similar to how he looked a lot of the time.

I handed it to Bob. I’ll never forget his gratitude – to him I was a savior. He grabbed my hand and pulled me in close, creating a bit of an awkward moment, but I’d seen Bob around enough by that time to be receptive to him instead of afraid or disgusted. As our faces came close together I saw he’d been crying. With misery and tenderness he asked me:

“Do you think God hates me because I’m a fag?”

I’d never seen Bob act remotely homosexual, but as soon as he asked, it made sense. Bob had his demons, and his devils, and his shame. Too many thoughts crowded my mind simultaneously for me to say exactly what was in my heart, but I managed a reply. “God doesn’t hate anyone, Bob. You are made exactly as you are supposed to be.”

I found out more about Bob’s background as the years went by and my encounters with him piled up. One night while walking home from a grocery store I saw him sitting on a park bench. With nowhere in particular to be, I plopped down next to him and gave him a cigarette. It was one of those nights when the stars can be seen through the city lights and it feels like the sky is trying to say something profound. Seeing Bob on that bench at that moment just made sense. He started talking like I was meant to be there to hear him. I know I was meant to be there.

“I helped build that building,” he told me, pointing to one of the older university buildings. “Worked on the construction crew that built it. This was after I got back from ‘Nam. Made good money. Had benefits. The school gave my daughter free tuition because I worked for them. Then during Christmas break she was driving home to where our family is from. She stayed over at a motel, and someone raped and murdered her in her room.” Bob’s voice broke like his heart when he lost his daughter. I heard his pain. Hell, I felt it too. Tears moistened his eyes. “I was never the same after that. Why bother?”

Bob lost the will to live after his daughter died. David Robert Willis became Vietnam Dave, another casualty of the war at home. He blamed himself for his daughter’s death because he reasoned that she wouldn’t have been in the situation that led to her murder if she wasn’t attending the university where he got her free tuition. After he was done talking I gave him a dollar and had to hurry home before my frozen goods melted.

One encounter with Bob sticks out among all of them. The time when he followed me into a laundromat. Sometimes Bob would see me on the street and join me like nobody’s business, just two old pals sharing a laugh. He always wanted something, and I didn’t mind. I was comfortable telling him no, or yes.

On this day what Bob was after was heat. The sauna-like warmth of the laundromat contrasted starkly with the fall chill outside. When the clerk saw Bob with me, the ‘get the hell out of here’ look froze on her face. Bob followed me over to the washers, small-talking, and spotted his paradise: an empty row of plastic chairs where he could recline against a dryer and heat up his old bones. He walked over there and noticed a bulletin board plastered with faded pictures – most of them three decades old – of patrons of the laundromat. He said excitedly, “Hey, that’s me!”

He reached for a picture and pulled it out from among the hundreds of faces. It showed a young man with deep brown wavy hair swooped up off his forehead, a ready smile, happiness in his eyes. I couldn’t believe at first it was Bob because the guy in the picture looked nothing like him, but thirty years of living on the streets had chiseled him down a layer at a time. The more I looked at the eyes of the guy in the picture, though, the more I saw Bob.

It’s how I choose to remember him. I wish I still had that picture – kept it for many years and lost it, but I still remember the smiling face of a young man with his life ahead of him, and wonder might have been different if he hadn’t known hell, first in the jungles of Vietnam, then in the jungles of America. Knowing Bob, aka The Duke, made me see the world differently. We are all just people. Appearances don’t change what we are inside. Everyone deserves our sympathy, our kindness.

Bob is the homeless guy who changed me. God bless him.

Attack of the Roaches

Have I got a roach story for you….

Ah, the simple cockroach. No other common insect sparks such disgust. Just the sight of one can send people running for their lives. Well, have I got a story (actually two) for you. If you are squeamish, you might want to grab something to barf in before reading further.


I used to work as a waiter at a Westin Hotel. Nice place. Downtown location. Busy, busy restaurant. You will be glad to know that the hotel restaurant is now closed, but I warn you, something like what I’m about to tell you could happen anywhere. First to set the scene:

The restaurant sprawled over a huge open floor plan in an atrium near the central entrance to the hotel, around 85-90 tables total. It was theater season, two weeks before Christmas, and “Cats” was playing, bringing out the high society crowd and culture vultures like children to get a photo with Santa. The hotel was two blocks from the theater and had an underground parking garage, so it seemed like EVERYONE going to the show dropped by our place beforehand. Every night for the past few weeks the restaurant had been slammed by people catching a meal before the show.

It sucked. I mean, the service staff made great money, but no amount of money is worth the shellacking we went through. There was no amount of preparation that could stave off the absolute chaos. Twenty years later I still dream about looking out at the 7, 8 or 9 tables in my service section and watching them all fill up at once. 0 to 10,000 MPH in seconds. Experienced restaurant servers might wonder how the hell one person can be expected to take care of as many 40 diners at once, who all sit down within minutes of each other and are all in a hurry to eat and get to the show, yet want a full meal with drinks, appetizers, desserts.

Welcome to the Westin.

The staff was unionized and made about a dollar-and-a-half more an hour in wages than typical restaurant servers, so the hotel hired fewer servers and expected more work out of the ones they had. Not a bad deal most of the time. The service staff were experienced and could usually handle the traffic. But on theater nights no one no matter how fast and efficient could keep up, because we just didn’t have enough workers.

So now to really paint the scene and get around to the roach part. I had four little old ladies in my section, all dressed in their best for a pleasant night at the theater – the sort of elderly ladies who give grandmas a good name. They had arrived just before the rush so I managed to get their orders taken and drinks on the table before the bomb dropped. I was taking care of like eight tables at once and knew that some diners were going to leave angry at the slow service, but as a server in that situation you have to make hard, practical decisions. It’s like if you have two children both drowning and can only save one. Which do you pick? As a server, you guessed which tables were most likely to leave the best tips and focused on delivering a good experience for them. The others got the leftovers. This happens all the time in busy restaurants and bars. I figured I’d make some bank off the old ladies so I made sure they were taken care of, no hitches.

It comes around time to bring out their dinner entrees and I’m back in the kitchen at the food line. I stack four heavy plates on a large oval tray along with drinks, a bread basket, side dishes, condiments. By this point I am hot, sweaty devil, and the previous night’s alcohol binge is catching up with me like a flu bug. The only way to survive going through hell every night is to drink very large quantities of alcohol afterward. It was taking its toll on me that moment when I heaved a 25-pound load up onto one arm and launched out into the dining room, grabbing a tray jack along the way.

little old ladies at dinner

At the ladies’ table I set up the jack and place the bread basket on the table before putting down the big oval tray. The table is in the middle of a dining area as busy as a beehive, surrounded by many dozens of customers at their tables. Just as I’m setting down the heavy tray on the jack, all four of the ladies jump back from their table at once, aghast.

Looking over my shoulder, I see them staring at something on the table. It took a second to spot it: an inch-long roach, the skinny kind with the long antennas, pinballing off the glasses, sugar caddy, and other stuff on the crowded table.

What do you as a waiter in that situation? Before I even got the tray down I could already see the reaction spreading through the dining area as people turned to get a look at the excitement. I did the best thing I could think of: grabbed a salt shaker and crushed the frantic roach right there on top of the table. One quick stomping motion, a little twist to make sure it was dead, then grab some pink Sweet ‘n Low packs and wipe up the guts as I try to make light of the situation.

It’s funny that I forget now what I did with the roach after crushing it, but I do remember that my manager walked by at that moment as if by design. He had just come from another part of the restaurant and hadn’t noticed the commotion. You can imagine the brief conversation that took place: “Uh, yeah, I just crushed a cockroach that sped out of the bread basket like an escaping prisoner, and you might want to talk to the ladies here while I quietly have a nervous breakdown.” I think I then handed him the dead roach wrapped in a bev nap and said good luck.

Mind you, at that moment I still have to serve the food and grab another round of drinks, then hurry on to the other tables that need me. In the restaurant business those moments are known as “in the weeds,” except in this case the weeds were ten feet tall and rumored to eat large animals. I think maybe the manager came along at just the right moment to prevent what happened next from occurring in the dining area.

After getting the food down on the table I left the manager and raced back to the kitchen. Drinks had to be refilled. Glasses of wine had to be grabbed at the service bar. Other tables needed me. So much to do. I arrived at the ice bin with a glass in hand, looked at the frozen cubes, so cold while I was so hot, sweat-soaked, nauseous, flushing, my pulse thumping in my skull. My vision started blacking out, and all I could think to do was to stick my head as deep into the ice as I possibly could.

Which I did.

Relief! It felt indescribably good to pack the top half of my head in that ice. I think I managed to get my whole noggin into the bin for a few seconds before someone noticed. What a sight that must have been! The manager ended up taking over all of my tables for the next ten minutes as I recovered in the back of the restaurant. And the ladies got a free meal. They left a nice tip.

Oh, and I kept that pillar-style salt shaker for years afterward as a memento.


But it doesn’t end there, because I have another roach story that, depending on your taste, might be even sicker. If you haven’t barfed yet, just wait.

A lot of my mid-20s was wasted doing what some young men spend a lot of time doing at that age: hunting for marijuana to buy. One night while on a weed hunt I went with a contact to a row house I’d walked passed hundreds of times but never really noticed. Inside, two women sat on old couches. They were watching something on television when my contact and I dropped by looking for their nephew, the weed dealer. He wasn’t there, but the women said he was supposed to be back soon and invited us to wait. So we did.

There I am sitting on a dingy couch, its floral upholstery pattern obscured under layers of funk, the television belching out reality-show inanity, the minutes dripping by, surrounded by reminders everywhere that the 1980s really happened. The sun had just gone down. I look around the dimly lit place and notice a dark mass of something about halfway up the living room wall behind the couch I am sitting on. My brain can’t quite process what I am seeing. At first I thought it could be some kind of wall art. But it moved. It writhed and wriggled like worms in a can. It was alive!

It was a mass of several hundred cockroaches that had made a nest on the wall

The central mass was about as big around as a large turtle, just thick with wiggly, crawly roaches. The heart of it was apparently where the nasty things procreated, I’m guessing by the orgy going on there. Roach on top of roach on top of roach on top of roach, all trying to fuck each other or feed their young or something. Roaches zigged and zagged into the central mass and burst out of it, with at least twenty of the gross little bitches coming and going at all times.

roach nest

Seeing something like that is like walking in on your parents having sex. For the first moment your mind just can’t fully comprehend it. Was I really seeing a roach orgy going on a few feet above and behind me?

When I felt one of the roaches crawl over the exposed skin of my hand, I knew for sure, no denying it. No “I’m just seeing things.” I was really sitting in a house with two old ladies, my buddy the weed connection, and several hundred cockroaches visible on the wall.

I didn’t go any further into the house, so I can only imagine what their kitchen looked like. But what I saw in that living was the sickest thing I’ve ever. Roaches on the ceiling. Roaches on the tables. Roaches swarming over old fast food bags and the like. Roaches running over the house’s occupants, who acted like they didn’t even notice. Didn’t. Even. Notice. That’s how used to the roaches they were. I mean, they invited us in to sit down with them without thinking that the living room was a roach motel and people off the street might be a bit, uh, appalled.

As much as I wanted some weed, it wasn’t worth waiting around in Motel Roach a moment longer. I have endured some sketchy situations in the pursuit of bud, but everyone has their limit…except the people living in that house.

Scoundrels and Thieves: Another Election Stolen. Location: Wisconsin

Following the crooked footsteps of Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, the results of the recent vote in Wisconsin are statistically impossible. Numbers don’t lie. But, it seems, they do, and it’s either bad exit polls or bad GOP election officials that are telling tall tales.

This time it’s Wisconsin. Another election stolen right before our eyes, exposed by statistical analysis.

Following the crooked footsteps of Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, the results of the recent vote in Wisconsin are statistically impossible. Numbers don’t lie. But, it seems, they do, and it’s either bad exit polls or bad GOP election officials that are telling tall tales.

Judging by history, I bet it’s the latter.

All five exit polls conducted in Wisconsin during the recent attempt to recall Republican state senators who backed Koch-funded Governor Walker show Democrats getting more votes than the official tally, sometimes by wide margins. Here’s an analysis by Richard Charnin:

According to Charnin, “Based on the True Vote Model and the exit polls, it is very likely that the District 8 and 14 recall elections were stolen. The Republicans control the state senate by a 17-16 majority, but the Democrats should be in control by 18-15.”

Any crank can spit out statistical analysis, so I’m presuming that Charnin, a trained mathematician and analytical software consultant, is an expert observer. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a freakin’ duck! The skewed election results don’t surprise me because it follows a pattern of mysterious discrepancies and GOP chicanery. Let’s remember Florida 2000:

Exit polls showed Al Gore won the Florida vote by three percent. The official result was he lost by like 0002 percent, and the Republicans on the Supreme Court crowned their man George Bush the winner in defiance of Constitutional procedure. Even though exit polls in other states matched official results closely, Florida was declared an anomaly, rather than presume Jeb Bush and friends stole three percent of the vote for his brother, Junior. Hmm, what’s more likely?

Add on 2004 when both Ohio and Florida exit polls showed John Kerry winning those states but the official result gave Bush victories, and the trend becomes obvious.

Exit polling in most other states aligned with the official results. In the two states that made all the difference and where Republicans controlled state government, however, statistical analysis proves that the official vote totals favoring Bush were impossible. Hmm.

I studied political science in college and took several courses on survey research, and the more I studied the science behind the statistics the more I realized that numbers don’t lie, people lie. Yes, people sometimes lie to pollsters, and pollsters can set up polls to show results they want. But if a thousand people are polled, and the poll is done scientifically, the accuracy of the results is within three percent no matter what. Get ten thousand people to answer survey questions — which is possible in big states like Ohio and Florida with 25 or more polling locations on election day — and the results will be within one percent accuracy. On the flip side, there’s a 1 in 20 chance that no matter how big the sample size, the results can’t be trusted. Statistics, though, are not the only evidence of voter fraud.

In 2000, Republican officials in south Florida hired some friends in the software business to write a program that could flip the results of an election undetected. The guy who wrote the program presumed it was an exercise in learning if it could be done, in order to catch Democrats trying to steal the election. He testified before the Ohio House about what he did after it became obvious to him and nearly everyone else who studied the election results that the election really was stolen … by the people he worked for!

Evidence of fraud is also all over the 2004 vote in Ohio, but the guy who was going to testify died the day before he was set to appear. He worked with then Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R, Obviously) to process the election results through third-party computer servers. It’s been well-documented that those computers, controlled by highly partisan Republicans, kicked into action the night of the election and gave back results far different than the exit polls.

Elections stolen from under our noses. I was there in Ohio in 2004 working as an exit pollster, and I counted results that favored Kerry a little more than expected. But the official result, after reworked by a “man in the middle” computer attack, favored Bush. I also worked in the national exit poll reporting center during the 2000 election, then as a field pollster in 2008 and as a field supervisor in 2010. I know how the exit polling business works from the inside out, and while far from infallible, I trust those results more than the official ones.

The duck is quacking like that annoying Aflac mascot. Will America hear it and take action to protect our electoral system?

What's Going to Happen in 2012? Just Look Around!

Even without an Armageddon the situation looks pretty bleak, and these are the conditions predicted to precede the Second Coming of religious figures from traditions around the world: the Christian Jesus, the Muslim Mahdi, the Hindu Kalki, the Buddhist Maitreya (Great Teacher) — expected by their followers to return at a time of unprecedented chaos, warfare and exploitation. That sure sounds like what is happening presently.

The predictions of the Mayans and others about world-changing events due in 2012 has spawned a baffling variety of interpretations and hype. As an author of stories about prophecy and the paranormal I’m just as interested as most people about what to expect, and which predictions paint the most accurate picture. After looking at a broad sampling of information, I’ve come to two conclusions:

Some kind of apocalypse or apocalyptic event (or events) is inevitable, even happening right now. And:

Whatever happens is likely to be different than what’s expected, or a mix of everything expected.

As I write these words in early 2011, a number of possible apocalyptic situations are playing out around the world. You don’t have to be a fiction writer to see for yourself:

Solar storm in 2012? NASA says no.

–Under the category of hype, NASA supposedly warned to expect major solar events in 2012, launching breathless reports of solar storms and pole shifts, but the assertions have been refuted as the opinion of one scientist trying to sell his idea. Lesson learned: don’t believe till there’s verification.

–All too real though is the possibility of crossing over an environmental “tipping point” triggering an apocalypse driven by hunger and desperation. The major wheat-producing regions of the world have been hardest hit by climate change, alternating between epic droughts and torrential floods; the polar ice caps are melting faster with each passing season, eventually leading to dramatic sea level rise around the globe; earthquakes are increasing in frequency and intensity, and as the world saw in Japan, nuclear catastrophe is only a few shakes away.

Need more evidence? There is an environmental apocalypse underway right now — mass animal, bird and fish die-offs; widespread sickness and destruction from oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere — but it’s too depressing to think about. Besides, on the news I see more strikes on Libya, which brings us to another possibility:

–World war is looking more likely with every missile launched and bomb dropped. Dominoes are falling: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. Unrest is spreading to Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries like Saudi Arabia and China that have so far repressed public demonstrations. Pakistan could be next, and that possibility most certainly would be disastrous for everyone because Pakistan has been pumping out nukes and a large segment of the population is radicalized. Even without a world war there are enough conflicts already raging that could turn apocalyptic. Libya for one has a stockpile of mustard gas and who knows what else, and the old regime swore to go down fighting.

Gadhaffi vows a long war in Libya.

Ruling out a solar apocalypse in 2012, there are environmental and warfare scenarios coming to a head, and we still haven’t considered the threat of a terrorist event bigger than September 11, 2001. Bin Laden is most likely long-dead, but his war lives on, and a new generation of terrorists have taken up the cause. With chaos already spreading, they are likely waiting to deliver a knockout blow at the moment when Goliath is most vulnerable. It’s been part of their strategy from the beginning.

The greatest possibility of that happening is with a devastating cyber attack. Very smart people at computer terminals around the world are, this moment, thinking about how to infiltrate or bring down systems. Our entire infrastructure is based on network computing, and as Iran learned the hard way, saboteurs get around almost any obstacle. Hackers could crash a stock market or a banking, energy, transportation or communication system — a large number of potential targets. The threat is greater than most people realize, and no Internet kill-switch is going stop the damage before it’s done.

Even without an Armageddon the situation looks pretty bleak, and these are the conditions predicted to precede the Second Coming of religious figures from traditions around the world: the Christian Jesus, the Muslim Mahdi, the Hindu Kalki, the Buddhist Maitreya (Great Teacher) — expected by their followers to return at a time of unprecedented chaos, warfare and exploitation. That sure sounds like what is happening presently. Jesus said it would be a time of “wars and rumors of wars,” increased earthquakes, signs in the sky, fear, famine, division.

Edgar Cayce, a prophet of the modern era, also foresaw tremendous changes coming like the kind expected at the end of 2012: coastlines dramatically altered, major cities under water, entire populations shifted inland. The conditions currently exist that could make these prophecies come true, but it’s not God and the Four Horsemen delivering the punishment; it’s the result of our own actions — or inaction in the face of overwhelming proof that humans have made the planet and each other sick. The universe balances everything, and humanity is badly imbalanced, making a major correction inevitable: apocalypse. It might happen to coincide with Mayan predictions about 2012, a time cycle that has already begun and was predicted to be chaotic, ending with a great deluge.

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If Cayce, Jesus and the other prophets are correct, some sort of Final Battle is also coming, though not inevitable. By studying prophecy I’ve learned that the future is a broad outline of a story driven by forces beyond the control of the characters: us, humanity living in the present day. But the details are certainly within control, and prophets forewarn in part to provide the information needed to dodge the bullet. So while the Mayans foresaw Earth under water, and Jesus predicted unprecedented disasters and wars, and Cayce warned of dramatic climate change, we still have the power to prepare for the future, to carry on, to correct ourselves by learning to live in harmony with the planet and each other. It is within our capability.

When things get bad enough, people adapt. Let’s hope it happens before too late.

Conscious Dreaming and Jared Loughner

Dreams have been great sources of wisdom, inspiration, and discovery throughout human history. Never before have I heard of a case like Loughner’s where lucid dreaming is pointed to as a possible reason for committing mass murder.

A lot of people trying to wrap their minds around the motives of Jared Loughner — the Tucson shooter who murdered six people Saturday at a Safeway and wounded many more — are puzzling over the latest information to emerge: he was a “conscious dreamer.” Before a misunderstanding starts, let’s find out what that means.

I’m writing a book about dream interpretation and am personally familiar with conscious dreaming, which is simply the ability to “wake up” during a dream and continue dreaming while conscious but asleep. In my experience, it’s a rare ability but one that can be developed by just about anyone, to experience at least a few conscious dreams. Also known as lucid dreams because of the lucid awareness of the dreamer, conscious dreaming is something like Neo in the Matrix, with the ability to create reality — or an illusion of it.

Neo stopping bullets

A friend of Loughner’s said that the shooter became increasingly disconnected with everyday reality as the dreaming world took over his life. Sounds kind of dangerous, right? Like something you wouldn’t want your kids to do. Something that could be isolating, or even forbidden (and indeed, conscious dreaming is forbidden by some fundamentalist sects, under pretense that the source is demonic). In Jared’s case though, he learned the wrong lessons in his dream world.

Instead of gaining greater appreciation for life like most people do after lucid dreaming, Loughner grew to discount it, even to deny the existence or relevance of the material world. The jarring contrast between the real world and his fantasy land where he could create anything he wanted sent him further into his imagination. He learned to fly like Superman, a friend of his reported, and probably did what most people his age would do and created a fantasy sex partner. The experience of sex — like everything in the land of lucid dreaming — is a full sensory experience, in many ways better than the real thing.

Some people react to discovering the ability to lucid dream by experiencing everything they’ve ever wanted, going anywhere they want and doing anything. The creative potential is unlimited. Want to live in your own universe? You can. But just know that living in this universe and having to learn how to get what you want from it can be more difficult the more it is avoided. That is the risk — overindulgence always has a price.

Another approach to lucid dreaming is allowing the dream to take the conscious mind into its world for a guided tour. That requires listening to and learning from everything that emerges. It also requires engagement with life and the world on a higher level while awake.

Dreams have been great sources of wisdom, inspiration, and discovery throughout human history. Never before have I heard of a case like Loughner’s where lucid dreaming is pointed to as a possible reason for committing mass murder.

The Mother Jones article I used as a reference quoted one of his friends as saying the shooter was trying to “wake people up” by being a cog in the machine, a glitch in the Matrix. Again, he failed to learn an essential lesson from lucid dreaming: everyone deserves the right to their own reality, to their own dream. If people want to be sheep, let them be sheep. If they want to sleepwalk through life unaware of the deeper layers, of the hypocrisies and abuses and contradictions, so be it. In the Matrix, the betraying character just wants to rejoin the ignorant masses, where he can eat a steak and be someone important. But to do so he has to betray his comrades and take from them what’s most valuable to everyone: their lives, and that is the worst betrayal.

Life provides the potential to “wake up” and uncover the deeper layers Loughner experienced in his dreams. But it is an individual choice, and often difficult to do. All of reality — this universe — is built from something that when examined closely enough seems to disappear. Many mystics and religious ascetics report the same sort of blurring of the lines between our world and the soil it grows from. And a few great souls have reportedly attained the ability to affect reality in this world much the same as it can be created in a lucid dream.

I suspect that the purpose is to teach us all how to be responsible creators. If one learns to lucid dream and goes about it humbly, deeper meanings are uncovered and more power is given to the dreamer to affect reality in the waking world. However, I know of a few cases where dreamers overindulged and their ability to lucid dream disappeared like a gun locked safely away. In the wrong hands….

Which is exactly what appears to have happened with Jared Loughner.

For more about lucid dreaming, the best book I’ve read on the subject is Conscious Dreamer, by Robert Moss.

Or start with these short Youtube videos:

Wag the Dog: 'tea party' as grassroots as GMO

The ‘tea party’ is simply “very conservative Republican” by another name. No more, no less than a creation of Republican operatives to tap into anger over losing the 2008 election and cling to their last shred of power.

The ‘tea party’ is simply “very conservative Republican” by another name. No more, no less than a creation of Republican operatives to tap into anger over losing the 2008 election and cling to their last shred of power.

In case the headline confuses you, GMO is the acronym used for genetically-modified crops, aka Frankencorn or Soykenstein: A useful analogy for the so-called tea party, because the “movement” that has big media fluttering and Twittering is not a naturally occurring phenomenon but an engineered ploy to raise political cash for Republican groups and re-brand conservative politics.

This media-created monster is stitched together from the remnants of the political coalition that installed George W. in power for eight years. When the lights went down on that presidency, Republican operatives grasped at the only straw left: the very anger raised by their own policies.

Tea party protesters are mad about budget deficits but were silent for eight years as their man in the White House and their leadership in Congress ran up huge bills to pay for tax cuts and ill-advised wars. Obama and the Democrats had little to do with the current fiscal mess; however, with a long way to go, they’ve had a lot to do with beginning the clean-up.

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The protesters are mad about health care reform that mimics what their own presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, signed into law in Massachusetts. Romney has since backpedaled away from his own policy so quickly that you’d think he had woken up in a frat house after a keg party lying naked next to an amorous farm animal. I swear guys I didn’t touch it!

They are mad about intrusive government and excessive powers of state after sitting by for eight years and allowing the creation of a massive security apparatus, forgetting that the America Bill Clinton left us not only balanced its budget but, it can be argued, struck a fair balance between individual rights and government power. The reason why they’re so vocal now is because their man Bush is no longer in the White House and they’re afraid of the monster he created. They’re mad about a lot of things, so what do you do if you’re the part of the operation responsible for most of it? Scream the loudest in protest to harness the anger and reap the political benefits.

A classic bait-and-switch, used effectively by the real ‘tea party’: the likes of Republican operative Dick Armey, Republican political firm Russo Marsh, and Fox News. Each is an example of the ‘friends with benefits’ relationship between protesters and their organizers.

For Armey, a savvy Texan who networks the country as a conservative organizer and message master, the ‘tea party’ is a horse to ride back to power. Armey, like Gingrich and other former Republican politicians working the political landscape, has his eye on influencing the next election. Russo Marsh is collecting millions in political contributions from tea party donors and siphoning most of it off for “expenses.” Fox News gains an organized source of anger that butters its bread: attracts loyal, angry viewers who in turn attract advertisers, which is the network’s business model. In fact, Fox News can take most of the credit for the tea party because of their saturation coverage of all things tea-bagger. They are to news what flies are to shit.

However, the so-called liberal media can take some credit, because while the tea party protesters give them something to poke fun at, news coverage also promotes the movement as real and not contrived. Very real people with very real concerns are part of the movement, but in the end they are tools for a larger agenda of obscuring what went on for eight years as America focused on wars abroad and terror at home. John Stewart gets lots of laughs when he points out the absurdities, but also gives invaluable exposure to the very people and organizations he skewers. Few people outside of Fox’s viewer circle would even know about what is essentially a fringe group that has become a big tent for anti-tax protesters, gun enthusiasts, racists, conspiracy theorists, politically active conservatives and Sarah Palin’s entourage.

What began as a groundswell of anger when the wool was pulled from the eyes of conservative, white America is a surging tidal wave that Republicans are desperately trying to ride. Otherwise they will find themselves at the bottom of a big crash when the angry masses turn on their masters.