I got a book in the mail yesterday. I couldn’t remember why I ordered it. From Amazon. I guess it was delayed or something. The title was, “The Compassionate Brain: How Empathy Creates Intelligence,” by some guy named Gerald Huther.
Then I remembered. The word “empathy” cued me.
A while back an article appeared in the L.A. Times reporting the results of a study at the University of Wisconsin indicating that today’s students are more lacking in empathy than ever. Or more precisely: the results of this thirty year study indicate and I quote:
From 1979 to 2009, college students’ scores on empathic concern and perspective taking declined overall. There were no substantial changes in fantasy or personal distress.
Converting the changes in scores to percentiles, researchers found a 48% decrease in empathic concern and a 34% decrease in perspective taking through the years.
Ok, this does not sound so good, but I don’t really trust this kind of study. So I decided to take the test, if that’s what it’s called, given to students, something called the“Interpersonal Reactivity Index.” It has 28 questions. You can take it if you want to find out how empathic you are (as if you didn’t already know).
I found questions like:
Other people’s misfortunes do not usually disturb me a great deal. (on a scale from 0: does not describe me very well to 4: describes me very well).
Give me a break. Sure I was a pretty upset kid, but as a college student I might have marked this zero just to be perverse. I mean I would have known that I was supposed to feel from the misfortune of others and just because I was supposed to I would have said I didn’t feel anything for the misfortune of others. I mean, screw the unfortunate. I am tired of hearing about those kids in China.
I am not a scientist so maybe the test has checks on this sort of perversity that I don’t know about.
Or maybe, kids growing up today have not been told they are supposed to feel something for the misery of others. In which case, no perversity at all was involved in their marking this question zero. If so, then the kids were not being perverse. And that’s a bit scary.
Rubber Soul will always be, for me, my sophomore year (1965-66) in college album. After that, well, the Doors I guess for junior year, and Hendrix for senior year, 1968.
I held onto the vinyl for years, and lost it. Then I had a cassette version, and later the CD.
Music is tied to memory. Listening to Rubber Soul was always a bit hard; it was infused with the conflicts, confusions, vague longings, anxieties, and desires of that particular year. When I listen I can still feel some of the emotions in my chest.
That was the year I started smoking.
I listened to it so many times, just as one track was ending, the other would start up in my head, and, then, sure enough, the next song would start.
Maybe that’s why I don’t considered the digital version or remastered digital version of Rubber Soul, the real Rubber Soul.
The Real Rubber Soul was the American release. The American release started with:
I have seen a face, I can’t forget the time or place when we just met she’s just the girl for me and I want all the world to see we’ve met.
The British release starts with “Drive My Car” of all things, and doesn’t even include anywhere on it “Face.”
So these digital versions are frustrating…In my mind, I hear the next song starting but the next song turns out not to be the song I expected.
Here are the tracks on the American version
:I’ve Just Seen a Face” Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) You Won’t See Me Think for Yourself” (Harrison) The Word Michelle It’s Only Love Girl I’m Looking Through You In My Life Wait Run for Your Life
You could say these are just silly love songs of the kind Lennon later excoriated, but they’re not. They’re much darker and ambiguous than, say, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and more complex, even occasionally hostile (Think for Yourself). The songs are even in their texture on the American release. As far as I am concerned “Drive My Car” doesn’t fit that texture. Then there are the harmonies and Lennon’s inspired inhale on Girl.
The only song I just can’t stand is Michelle.
I would put it right up there. One or two in the Beatle collection. And in any case, it will always be the Number 1 Album of my sophomore year in college.
Now if they would only re-release it in the American version.
Brother Steve also mentioned in his recent comment on an entry a picture of me and others in the Occidental Mag, the one with the class notes in it.And sure enough as I thumbed through it I come across a page called “Collective Enterprise” that really is an ad for a coffee table book with pictures of Oxy people and activities for about 100 years.So there we are—me and other people I knew—in a picture right in the middle at the top of the page.
Sort of startled me.Come to think of it I actually knew all these people.Not that we formed a group or anything.I didn’t belong to any groups.But they were all people with whom I felt relatively comfortable.If I had to label us I might call us proto-nerds.Back then there were no nerds but we might have been the evolutionary precursor of the nerds.We were known as people who studied, I think, and took the whole educational game pretty seriously.Later on after Oxy I bumped into one of my class mates and she said I was a “turkey,” which meant gobbler of books.But I didn’t feel back then that I was a social outcast, as nerds are frequently portrayed to be.I was just an outsider.If we were nerds we were tormented nerds, from the inside, not because we felt persecuted by the jocks.But I don’t think of nerds as being particularly internally tormented.
I think our picture is at the top of the page because we are all seated in front of replica of the Star Ship Enterprise made out of beer kegs and cans.Thus the title of the piece, Collective Enterprise.I have no idea what I was doing that day or why I was there, but there I am. Sure, I liked Star Trek.There hadn’t been any good science fiction TV shows on for a long time.But I am surely not a Trekkie.
On the far left, that’s Jesus.He is the one who submitted the picture to the collection.He is a director for TV.He did numerous shows for the different Star Treks and recently directed an episode of Criminal Intent now on USA.Next to him is his wife to be, Gayla, though they separated a number of years back.Next there’s Todd Bergesen; he was the best English Major in my class. I couldn’t keep up with him.Then there’s JG.She and I were like friends, if you know what I mean.Then that’s me all bearded.On the left below is Jim Miller.I think he became a professor.Then there’s Dave Miller who teaches tango in Oregon somewhere in his own private Tango Studio that he made built himself..And then there’s my main man and good buddy Rex who grew up in Tulsa Oklahoma and got a PhD in Literature.
I get all wierded out looking at that picture.It was so damn long ago, and I really truly regret that I never got to know JG, in a way I might today, because I was so twisted up in my internal misery I couldn’t see too far past the tip of my nose. I am pretty sure now she was an interesting person.
Damn.Looking at that picture is too much like looking at a gravestone.
Two times a year the college I went to—Occidental College, in LA—sends out a magazine with news about the college and class notes.There are too many classes to have all the notes in each issue, so one time it is the odd numbered years and the next it is the even numbered years.I am an even numbered year having been graduated in 1968.
Finally, I wrote a note, as part of that time, I think, when I was trying as I put it, to reconnect the dots between my present and my past.Also somebody wrote a note wondering where I was along with a few other people.I don’t remember what I wrote in that first note: fifty words about something.But I wrote a couple others too and they were about getting older.I remember I wrote about how I got really alarmed when one day I was combing my hair—no, that can’t be right, I never comb my hair—anyway I found this hair, whatever I was doing, about a foot long, growing right out of the top of my ear and it had got mixed in with all the other hairs.So I wrote about this hair I remember and I wrote about having to buy tweezers to pluck the hairs that had started growing out of the top of my nose.
I got a call from the class notes lady for a class note a few weeks back because I guess the even numbered issue is about to come out, and, hell, I just stared at it and thought about what I might write, and didn’t think I could write that I felt like s…t because my father had died last year and my mother had died this year and my brother had a stroke and I caught pneumonia.For some reason, in class notes, you don’t write like: “Life is hell and I can’t figure it out at all.And every day I think about shooting myself.”I guess that is just not polite or something.Imagine a whole page of class notes with everybody just lamenting their asses off about the struggle of existing.
But then I got that picture from the classmate showing me and friends from that time.So I sat down and wrote a note something like:“My damn fecal sample tested positive and they practically ordered me to go in for that colon thing where they knock you out a little and stick the tube all the way up.This scared me to death since I figured I was dying.So there I was lying on this table with my bum sticking out in the air and I ask the nurse lady what could cause a positive.And she says, Oh this test gives all sorts of false positives.And I think, Oh Great! Sarcastically in my head.After the doctor says I have a normal colon for a 61 year old man.I guess this is good though it doesn’t sound so hot. I guess my colon is just aging along like my face except I can’t see it.Which is probably a good thing too.”
The next time the class notes come out I will be interested to see if the editor of the class notes includes mine.Because so far nobody has written anything about having something stuck up his or her colon.
Hard hats are now necessary because of objects falling from the sky.
Yesterday was the last day of class.I always get bummed in the last week of class.Maybe that’s when I most feel I have managed over ten weeks to move a pile of sand from one random spot to another.Or could be I will miss seeing the students.Each class is different, and UCSB is just big enough that chances are I won’t see a one of them again, unless they want something.
I tried to watch that movie, Borat, on DVD that I had read about.But I gave up after 30 minutes.I hadn’t laughed once.Maybe you have to see that one with an audience.I wonder what people were laughing at.The sudden realization of their own bigotry perhaps?Maybe that’s why I didn’t laugh.I am not surprised by my bigorty.This is America.I am anti-American because I am an anti-bigot.
I was mildly amused at the image of Borat taking a dump in a planter box outside some building on a street in NY, NY.Stupid rube!I was back in the 70s watching some damn, boring German film about alienated youth who seemed, for some reason, to spend a lot of time driving along the border between East and West Germany, back when the two Germanies were split up, and out of nowhere for no particular reason, one of the guys gets out of the car and goes and squats on a sand dune and takes a dump.I didn’t know what the point was, but I remember thinking that a person would have to be pretty relaxed or need to take a crap pretty bad to do it right there on camera like that, because no special effects were used in this instance.I mean this dump was not digitally enhanced.
Whatever happened to alienated youth?
Census data indicate that only 24% of all households follow the pattern of the “traditional” family: a father, a mother, plus kids, dog, cat, and so forth.Only 13% of all households feature a father, a mother who stays home and does not work, plus dog, cat and so forth. The number of single people of both sexes continues to rise, as does the number of households with an unmarried man, woman, plus kids.
I see Nissan is putting out an SUV called the Armada. Where is Sir Francis Drake when you need him.?
Back in 1963, I was a wine drinking buddy with the editors of the college humor magazine and they asked me to write something (found below) and I did.Looking back, I guess my sense of humor hasn’t changed much over the years or my troubles with self-esteem.
Farter Knows Best
This is the story of my climb to success. I hope that it will serve as example and inspiration to all the downtrodden of America. From low and unpromising origins I rose to success as is only possible in America.
When I was two years old my mother passed the nursery in which I was taking a nap and saw a white vapor, which she assumed to be smoke rising from my bed. —"Help! Help! — She cried — Baby is on fire! She then doused me with several buckets of water. So at a very early age I almost died of drowning which my father often said would, have been better both for the world and myself.
Upon a closer examination, my mother found that I, indeed, had not been on fire. The vapors remained a mystery till later in the afternoon, when she discovered their true origin. Thus my mother had strange hews to deliver to my father when he came home. Father — she said, grasping his hand and gently squeezing it — I have news — what is it beloved wife — responded my father who was a preacher. Father (we must excuse my mother’s language for she was a very plain person) Baby farts colored farts — and so my deformity was made, known to the world.
Ha! Ha! — responded father.
My father did not believe my mother until the next day at church where I again revealed my fatal fault. My father was that day giving a sermon on the innocence and worth of children, when right at the close of his sermon a yellowish vapor began to surround the first pew where I sat with my mother. The yellowish color was due to the Gerber’s carrots I had eaten.
Thus was my deformity made known to the congregation which giggled immoderately, except for the people in the first row who thought their clothes might be stained by the gas. From this day forward my father showed little affection towards me. — I wish — he would say — that the cursed infant had T.B. or cancer or something — there is just no dignity to this. — My father felt that God had turned against him, and then finally he decided that God didn’t exist. And once my mother found my father teaching me how to put cellophane bags over my head.
Father soon after left mother, and then mother left me when one day one of my farts so obscured her vision that she fell down the stairs.
My aunt with whom If- then lived was wealthy and consulted many doctors concerning my case. All to no avail. One man designed a filter, six feet long, which, was strapped to my rear part and was mounted on a tripod with rollers. But the filtering device was quite hard to clean and more than once the thing ran over me going down hills.
By high school I ha developed ‘great sphincter control. Then in order to gain some social status and dignity I went out for ball at which I found I had uncommon ability. I made quarterback. I then confided in my coach, for whom I had great respect, concerning my deformity. He told me not to drink or smoke, and to believe in God, arid that sports would make me a great American, and then he patted me on the back. I had never before met with such understanding. I felt just like one of the guys.
The first game — all was going well, and late in the second quarter we were in scoring position. I. was calling the numbers when due to excitement I lost control and a great fart escaped me. A green ""cloud (spinach) enveloped the line. The halfback, a tall boy, saw over the cloud and successfully evaded all tacklers. The referee called illegal procedure.
The coach quickly benched me. He called me a dirty smart aleck, said I would never be a good American, doubted if I believed in God, and hinted that I was homosexual.
I felt there was no justice in the world.
After high school, feeling I had no dignity anyway, I decided to join the army. In filling out the forms I did not mention my deformity and I might have passed the physical, except that I lost control, just as one of the doctors was examining my anal orifice. — Help! Help! — he screamed I’m blinded! Gasp! Yick! —Realizing he wasn’t blinded, he was amazed. —Hey—he said, thumping me on the back —Do that again — A red one escaped me. —Hey fellows! Hey fellows! Come look! 00000 . . . Ahhhhh … Look at all the pretty colors!
For a while I felt I might be accepted regardless of my defect. They locked me up and examined me. They hoped to use me as a secret weapon. They sent me out on maneuvers, but found that I had much the same faults as tear gas, i.e., I was at the mercy of the wind. Finally they rejected me.
I was terribly dejected, but the army incident had given me an idea. I decided to join a circus. Having persuaded the manager that I was not a fraud, he gave me top billing as "The Phosphorescent Farter." I dressed in a skin tight white suit with a hole cut in the crucial area. To clear up confusion I here admit that my farts are not phosphorescent, nor do they corrode metal or blind like tear gas. Regardless my climb to the top was assured. After my first appearance on "I’ve Got A Secret," I appeared on several variety shows, and I’m now scheduled for the "Ed Sullivan Show."
My climb to the top has been long and arduous, but I have reached it.All you downtrodden take me as an example, and remember there is no justice and all America loves a freak.
In my work trying to teach something to college students I have concluded there are two kinds of women: those who think all other women are backstabbing catty bitches and those who think men are ignorant, insensitive, assholes.The latter complain that “they” never call back, and when they think they have something going, they go to a party and he is making out with that their roommate, the bitch!While I am not much of a tisk-tisker, I wanted to go tisk-tisk at the tales of male disloyalty because I have taken up “loyalty” as a value that needs to be reasserted these days. I even tried to read Josiah Royce’s book on loyalty but he used the word loyalty too much.
I tisked-tisked with purity of heart, I though, until I remembered one day walking up the long hill—in college it was—to the dorm and up ahead of me is a young woman who has one of those double names like Ruth Anne and you are supposed to say both of them.Her long blond locks are flickering in the sun and she is striding along wearing a skirt—some college women did that back then—cut to just above the knees, and I find myself watching her swaying behind and her bony legs, and yell out, “Wait up!”
I know her from the student cafeteria where she had worked for a while, and I haven’t seen her for a bit.And we fall into talking and I said something that made her laugh.And she had this nice laugh, sort of burbling like, and then she said something that made Me laugh which is sort of unusually.So we walk along for a bit making each other laugh, and just as she is turning off to go wherever she is going, I say, “Hey, let’s go out some time.”
And she sort of smiles and looking at me from over her granny glasses, says, “Aren’t you with somebody.”I sort of shrug.“With? With? As if the word was ambiguous or something.What do I know from “with.”But then it came to me that I guessed I was with BJ since we were at that time regularly engaging in sexual congress.I just hadn’t thought about it that way, in the “with” way, and it came to me at the moment that she knew BJ.
Well, I said, not in the least disturbed, “You’re right.But if you don’t mind my saying so I found the idea you know of going out pleasant.”
“Thank you,” she said and went on her way.
I don’t know what the hell was with me that day or at that moment.It was as if all my nasty and unbalanced biochemicals freaked out for a minute and balanced themselves.Maybe it was something I ate or the way the stars were aligned.Or maybe I was on bennies that tended to make me feel confident.Whatever the fuck it was, I think I acted sort of like a normal guy at that moment, not one nearly dead from depression or gasping with anxiety.But if I was for a moment there relieved of my misery and somewhat normal, I can only say, by way of apology for the way college guys act, that we are sometimes forgetful.
I don’t know how I met Mike.He was a fraternity guy, but I did and somehow BJ and I ended up driving around with Mike and his wife, Pam, through the great Northwest.I had never been there before and Mike lived up there in Oregon, and BJ was going to go to college up there in Portland. So that seemed the logical place to go.
We drove around for three weeks maybe.Going from one camp ground to another and to Mike’s parent’s house and to a place by the Puget Sound.I don’t know where I got the money to do such a thing but we ate mostly hot dogs and chips and the campgrounds weren’t that expensive back then.One night we camped near Mount Rainier.This is one impressive mother-fucking mountain, sticking up out of the middle of nowhere.And it rained that night on us—which you might expect camping next to a mountain with the word Rain in it—and we woke up all sodden in our sleeping bags because we had been sleeping in the open.
I woke up in a puddle and being a hypochondriac was sure I was going to catch my death of a cold.But near by, were these sort of houses.Well they were four poles sticking up about eight feet each, with a roof like a house on top, so you could get out of the rain, but no walls.And at the back of each of these strange abodes was a huge fire place.We collected wood from all over the place and lit a rip roaring fire and just sat there all day long in front of it getting stoned and watching the flames and the coals as they cooled and crumbled.Basking in the heat of those flames on one side of your body, while cool air blew through the house with no walls, and the rain poured down—well, it was sort of a mystic experience.
I thought the Northwest was pretty Great.But this was back in 1968; I got no idea what it’s like now.I expect there are a lot more people.We stayed at a house of some friends of Mike’s wife, like a summer home I suppose you would call it, and it was on a flat bit of land and two steps out of the house, your feet were in the sand and you were looking across the Puget Sound towards an island way the fuck off over there somewhere like in Canada with wind and fog and rain and shit blowing through.
The people who owned the house had grown corn and tomatoes and they would go out along the beach and come back with clams and oysters.And one day, we trek up into the backwoods, and down a canyon and came to this crystal clear stream and caught trout and saw deer.And I got to thinking that maybe this is what the first settlers in America had seen: a fucking land of milk and honey.You could live off the damn land or near to it.Bison used to roam the woods and deer.
Of course, all this good stuff to eat seems to have over stimulated us because back in the days when passenger pigeons darkened the sky for days on end, we Americans would load up cannons with buck shot, point them towards the sky to produce a veritable deluge of dead and dying pigeons.They couldn’t eat all those, any more than that mother fucker Davy Crockett could when—he bragged to his biographer—he shot six buck in one afternoon.
Too much of a good thing seems like too much of nothing.We started out as a nation of goddamn wastrels and we continue in that tradition with a fucking vengeance.
At the end of the summer of 68 I am up in Portland where BJ is living in a big old house next to a railroad yard, and I have got to get down to LA to start school.I have no car, and I don’t remember why but there’s a guy there I know and he has a car and he is going down to LA… I think this guy’s name was John and he was preparing to go into the Peace Corp in a country called Botswana.
He was a pretty funny guy and somehow he had got warts on his penis.He is talking about his problem, and when I show doubt, having never heard of such a thing, he flops it out and the poor flaccid, sick looking sucker has, warts all over it.A good half dozen anyway.Later he goes to a doctor and they burn the fuckers off, if you can imagine, and they wrapped his cock up and all the time he gets the bandages stuck in his fly.He says he has learned his lesson because these warts are a venereal disease.
So we get in John’s car and start driving.That’s the last time I ever see BJ.It’s a pretty long way from Portland to LA.I always forget how much California there is above San Francisco. We drive from dawn and hit San Francisco about dusk.The car is a pretty late model job but it has a problem.A couple of times before Frisco, the electricity in the car cuts out as you are driving and without electricity a car just stops.So mostly we drive in the right lane in case this happens.Sometimes it cuts out for just a few seconds and before you coast to a stop, it kicks back in again and off you go.But when we stop to get something to eat we can’t get the car started again unless you lay a screw driver across both poles of the alternator and that gets the electricity going again.
For some reason John is stoned and fucking tired and a little after Frisco he says, do you mind and crawls into the back seat and goes to sleep.I say I don’t because I have some Dexedrine and the radio.I wait to hear “Take a load off fanny, take a load for free, take a load off fanny and put the load right on me.”But the central valley is so empty in spots you can’t get anything on the radio when all of a sudden something comes in like from Utah or something like that, like from outer space, and a song comes on and then disappears.Somewhere in there I get pulled over for weaving in my lane.I don’t know what the fuck cops have to do with themselves.I am weaving in my lane and there is nobody in any of the others, so what the fuck.The cop tells me to get some sleep.OK, I say and drive on.
As dawn approaches we hit the grapevine.And—what the fuck—all of sudden we have two lanes and the right hand, slow lane, is jam packed with a caravan of trucks, one after the other, filling the right lane and going about 30 miles an hour.So I get in the fast lane, and what the fuck but the electricity cuts out.I got trucks to the right and some car bearing down on me fast and I am driving a dead car.So I check the mirror and swing sharply to the right and swing right between two trucks, by inches, and like a race car driver I am swinging up a pretty steep dirt embankment, so I am out of immediate danger.But just as the car is slowing to a stop, what the fuck but the electricity goes back on and rather than waste the opportunity I floor that fucker kicking up dirt and gravel and swing back onto the road, just missing another truck, and get into the left lane, and maybe twenty minutes later as I cross the pass into LA, I suddenly realize I could have fucking killed myself.
And all the time John is asleep in the back snoring and drooling on himself.
Seems as if every woman with whom I have ever been remotely involved in a kind of intimate connection had a problem father. Could be these women were drawn to me on a superficial level as a sort of nice-guy, possibly unlike their father, but deep down they know I am a real trouble. We all suffer the compulsion to repeat and have a deep nose for the connections that allow us to do so.
BJ, the woman who delivered me of my virginity, had a problem father, I am pretty sure. She also had a brother, but she hardly ever talked about him. I got the feeling he had done something terrible like be “gay.” BJ’s father was some sort of salesman who traveled a great deal and was really successful. But BJ indicated that he was on-the-road an awful lot and she was sure I do believe that he had been untrue to her mother repeatedly.
So one day, we borrow a car—because my car wouldn’t have made it—and we drive clear out to Palm Springs to meet her parents. Well, it was sort of confusing really. Maybe I was supposed to meet the parents or maybe she wanted to talk with her mother because that was how it mostly turned out. As I step out of the car once we get there my old jeans just rip from the crotch right up the back so that my butt is sticking right out, at a time that I am not wearing underwear.
Her parents are staying in a house right next to the golf course. So no sooner do I walk in, all skinny with a beard to my Adam’s apple and my red hair sticking out, all curly, like an afro, than I have to say I need a pair of pants. I do not make an initial good impression. I borrow a pair of pants from her father, who is bigger than I am, and all he has is slacks, and I have to cinch up the belt real tight to keep them from falling off. By the time I get the pants on BJ’s father is gone and she is in deep conversation with her mother.
So I decide to get out of there and go wondering around outside and find that the house is right next to a golf course. That’s where the father had gone; he is playing in a tournament. Lacking anything else to do, I walk up right to the edge of the course near one of the holes and sit down, and to my amazement people start coming through and some of them are people I have seen on TV. Why, lo and behold, there is Bob Hope, because it turns out I am an accidental spectator at the Bob Hope Desert Classic of 1968.
I don’t know what went on back then, but there are no guards or ticket takers or whatever. I just sit there on the edge of the course with red hair sticking out all over, wearing pants than don’t fit and looking sort of like a derelict and nobody bothers me or says a word.
Around Whittier, like driving back, you can see the smog coming down like a giant curtain in front of the LA area. We don’t talk much and I guess I am a bit confused having stepped a bit into her life with a powerful and wealthy father who plays golf with Bob Hope and a betrayed mother and I feel like I have smog in my head.