A blog about nothing.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Neoplatonists (followers of the classic school of thought emerging in the 3rd century AD and deriving from the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato who lived 6 centuries before) describe two routes to God, or Self-realization, an Eastern term which means basically the same thing. They call them the via positiva and the via negativa. You don't have to speak Latin to guess what these two terms mean. 

If you follow the positive way, you believe in a God that possesses all the positive attributes in the universe. God is powerful, knowledgeable, present everywhere, just and good, and so on. While those along the other pathway stress God's unknowability. For how can the mind, which is merely a creation representing a fragment of the cosmos, fathom what is ever-present and omnipotent? Can one lift a massive rock while standing upon it? Can the fish ever know what it is like to be divorced from its natural aqueous habitat and live in the open air? Not unless it is prepared to die, and then only for a time. So the via negativa represents a death of the lower self, a death of the personality, of the mind - sacrificed for the sake of the divine.
The Neoplatonic view is is similar to the central tenet of Hinduism, which posits an unmanifest God, or Brahman, on the one hand, and the manifest world on the other. Spirit and matter. Purusha and prakriti, to give them Sanskrit names. Consciousness, and all that is perceived by the senses. The relatively real is the fleeting world we interact with each day, while the unchanging reality behind the veil as it were, pervading all and giving all life and force, is none other than the Absolute. The individual personality, or jiva, which is seated somewhere in between the real and unreal, being both spirit and matter, is free to adopt either the way of the mind and senses or their transcendence, often without calling these paths by their Christian names or knowing anything about Hinduism. 

Show me an individual and we can describe him or her as someone whose attention is outward directed, someone who lives in and for the perceived world, or as someone who is an introverted type with awareness directed within. But though seemingly so different if not diametrically opposed, these two paths converge at the end. Those on the positive way say yes to everything, like the philosopher Nietzsche, and like most people you meet, possibly even you. They want to experience life, indulge the senses, engage in strenuous and heroic action; they eat, drink and be merry; or like I have said about my twenties, "imbibe deeply of the cup of youth." Finally, these persons of action exhaust themselves, or perhaps they are ultimately unfulfilled by a life of striving, and by the accomplishments that are its fruits. And then they become like the Hindus who say "neti, neti," a mantra used among those following the via negativa. God is not this, nor that. God is nothing in particular, though immanent in everything, yet somehow transcending all, including human comprehension; God is something unknowable, but with whom the individual striving to know God is identical. And so this individual, fed up with a life of action, chooses instead to stay put and simply be. An emphasis on doing has become a focus on being.

Society stigmatizes those who do not go along with the program, who do not live a life of harried action but instead resign themselves to a life of quiet reflection. Complacent, they are called. Good for nothings. Old before their time. But must we grow hoary and decrepit with age before we finally stop and smell the roses? How much wiser to embark on the path while in the full bloom of vigorous youth! In any event, you can pinpoint the ones fixed on the via positiva by their intolerance for "old souls" and their use of such derogatory terms. They are too busy exploring creation to award much time to the Creator. It's okay. If you feel the need to live a busy life chalk-full with associations and activities, by all means do so. But do not ridicule those who have given it all up. Life is a dream, and though it seems so real in the living, is ultimately as evanescent as the fantastic visions that take place in your mind during the quiet hours of the night. Yes, God is in the dream. Because God is everywhere. Including in you. Because God is you. 

The natural progression seems to be from a life of the senses to a life of the spirit. As to when the transition takes place, variations occur. Some holy personages adopted the via negativa earlier on in life than others. At the tender age of 15 the sage Ramana Maharshi gave up the childish pastimes of his youth and sat fixedly in meditation, his mind turned in on itself in awareness of the Absolute. Christ disappeared from society at 13 and after decades of solitary travels returned at 30 with a message for humanity, which is Love. Buddha was nearly 30 when he left his kingdom to seek God in the temple of his heart. There are many other examples. Some sages spent their whole life indulging the senses and overturning all expectations and stereotypes. Osho was one such personality, who amassed a small fortune including a fleet of fancy cars during his five-plus decades on earth. He played a different game. And yet he found time for meditation, even going so far as to observe a vow of silence that lasted for years. Osho also quoted Ramana Maharshi, whom he seemed to revere; this would seem to indicate that the way of the Maharshi, that is the via negativa, is the definitive road to divinity, or at least its penultimate step.

So you see, the age at which we turn from the unreal to the real, that is from the relatively real world of changing forms and sensory indulgence to the abiding reality of consciousness on which those forms appear, and which is with you whether waking, dreaming or in deep sleep, varies with each individual. And some people are action-oriented up until the time they breathe their last. What does it matter? It's all God. God is found in your heart; God is on the crucifix, in the mosque and temple; God dwells in every brothel and crack house; God be found in the hospital and holy site, in the elderly home and neonatal nursery, the jungles of Africa, the frigid realm of Alaska, everywhere on Earth and in distant galaxies, and in the dark energy in between, in the multiverses which the scientists say exists, and as Sting sings, in every breathe you take and move you make, God is watching through you because God is you. 

And though these vias, the negative and the positive, the self-denial and the self-indulgent, represent the two main paths of life, on each road there are an infinite number of variations, as many as there are individuals to experience them. And that is as it should be, precisely because that's how it is and therefore it could not be any other way. But remember, whatever the road you take, the destination is the same for all roads lead back to you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


So I signed up to be a Little League baseball coach. My thinking was as follows. One, I grew up playing baseball. Two, I am a grown man approaching middle age (yikes!), and I don't have kids of my own. Ergo, coaching would be my opportunity to "get involved" and "give back" and "help others." Et cetera. So I volunteered to coach the 11 and 12-year-olds since that was around when I started playing organized baseball myself; and Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills, which happens to be where I hit my first home run as a Cardinal third baseman, off Jason Goldberg, who later became my best friend, would be the site of the games. 

The President of the League quickly got back to me. It turns out that Scott and I played varsity baseball together for a time during my senior (his sophomore) year of high school. We were fellow Beverly Hills Normans. In addition, the introductory clinic would be taught by Boomer Welles, younger brother of Robby Welles, also a teammate of mine, for three years on the All-Stars, from ages 13 to 15. I remember Boomer as a kid (8 years younger than his brother and I, he was a precocious 5 and quickly became our mascot). Our 13-year-old team made League history, progressing as far as the Regionals in Arizona before blowing the tournament on late-night pick-up games of hallway baseball and numerous trips to the vending machine for fatty snacks and sugary sodas at the Holiday Inn, Phoenix, while our oblivious parents slept or did whatever parents do in hotel rooms. But our record still stands. No BH All-Star team before or since has been named Southern California champs. Only us. When we lost the tournament Boomer cried. Now Boomer weighs 250 pounds and played Division One college baseball himself, hit .340 his senior year. I like to think we inspired him. How he looked up to his big brother!

So Scott connects me with the league's coordinator, who tells me the only coaching position available is for the 13-year-olds, or Juniors, in league parlance. And the plot thickens. Yes the playing field, at La Cienega Park, is twice as far from my house as Roxbury Park is. Five extra miles in rush hour traffic is like heading to Siberia. And yes the Junior playing field is about 150% the dimensions of Little League, the Junior pitcher's mound being 60 inches away from the plate as compared to Little Leagues' distance of 45 feet; the base-paths being 90 feet to Little League's 60; and the outfield fence standing 300 feet away for 13-year-olds, but only 200-feet if you're 12. A big step to make in a year, but that's when kids do much of their growing. I grew 6 inches when I was 13. 

But I haven't grown much since I was 13. Nor have I thrown a baseball much since graduating high school in 1991. That's 25 years ago, more than half my life. I don't even own a glove. Would I still be able to throw? To hit grounders? To do what coaches do? Stifled by self-doubt, I nevertheless signed up. My new team would be the Red Sox. I'd join two existing coaches, Duke and Chris, who told me they had coached the year before and were welcoming back some of the same kids (Juniors includes 14-year-olds as well). So I'd be the third wheel. No matter. Less pressure. 

Before the first day of practice I decided to stop by the sporting goods store and purchase a glove. It would set me back $35, and I'd likely never use it after the season, but I wanted to be a hands-on coach, ignoring the fact that the third coach or even the second in command is largely forgotten and often relegated to keeping score and lugging equipment around, possibly serving as chauffeur to away games, which can be as far as Venice or Culver City. Or far for me. In fact, many of the Little League teams I played for didn't even have a second coach, much less a third. If so I've forgotten their names. So was I just added on as last minute or are three coaches routine? If so, then supersize me doesn't just apply to McDonald's anymore. Kids are getting bigger too. Some I'm sure would tower over me. I also don't like dirt. Kids like dirt. And adults who continue to play kids' games, like the Major Leaguers who I sometimes watch, are inured to dirt. They may even like it, at the very least view it in light of million-dollar salaries as a necessary evil. My Red Sox would meet every Tuesday for practice from 6:30 to 8 pm. Games would be held each Wednesday evening and Sunday. So the commitment would be three days a week, two hours or so each day. At an hour of the day when I am getting ready for bed. As the third wheel. In the dirt. Farther away from home than I care to travel, by a factor of 2. 

But oh how I tried to bring the experience to life! I caught myself thinking of it in poetic terms, glamorizing it. Because at 43 it has been 30 years to the summer since I was a 13-year-old on a team that wasn't expected to do much but ended up making history. The summer of '86 was my summer of '69. It was the summer of my life. And had the girl I once got pregnant not had an abortion, our child would have been 13 this summer. So I'd be coaching the son I'll never have. How fitting! How touching! And surely the kids, these boys under my care, would grow to love me. Yes, at first I wouldn't be able to catch a ball, and after not doing so in 25 years, running bases would be awkward. I might even slip and fall. And get laughed at. So if they looked to me as a mentor they'd better look away. But there is muscle memory, and playing baseball is like riding a bike. In no time I'd be the man for the task. I'd be their leader, mentor, friend, maybe even hero, and surely a sort of surrogate father to all these sons of strangers, maybe even some old high school buddies, who like me are old enough to have teens themselves. It would be the high school reunion I've never had, because I don't like going back in life.

But still it doesn't feel right. Despite the superlatives, the metaphors, the signs I'm reading into this experience, the excitement of once again being one of Don Henley's Boys of Summer, I cannot convince myself that any of it is really worth it. And with practice a few hours away, judgement time was getting ever closer. I knew (yesterday) that if I showed up at practice I'd be in for the season. Showing up is committing, and I don't like to quit. So I hop on my bike and visit Sports Authority, the athletic outlet on Sepulveda Blvd I've patronized for decades. Would you know that the store is practically empty! They had no adult baseball gloves, and little of anything else. I asked one of the employees if they were going out of business. No, he said, they were just in the process of transitioning to a discount-type store, a Big Lots for sporting goods. I said I hoped in the future they'd carry gloves. Maybe, he said, and directed me down the street to Sports Chalet. 

On my bike again moving down Olympic Blvd to Barrington in stifling heat and screaming traffic, I got fed up. Times are changing (it's what they do), and if the store that I had bought so much equipment - including baseball gloves while I myself was in high school - no longer carried what I needed, then maybe it was a sign that coaching baseball was not for me. So when I got back home I wrote the coaches saying that I couldn't participate, because "something unexpected" came up, though I didn't say what. Such a snag is insignificant to many, and would be to my fellow coaches-to-be, I was pretty sure. But it wasn't to me. The writing on the wall was unmistakable. 

After writing the email, I picked up my old school yearbook and looked at those photographs of 18-year-old me in my tight uniform and cap, sneering at the camera like all young bucks do. I don't even look like the old (young) me. And I don't really relate to that guy either. Now if the league was for running, or bike riding, or reading, all the stuff I do now, maybe I'd be in for the long haul (3 months is the coaching commitment). But running and writing and reading and riding are solitary pursuits, which suit the solitary guy I've become. Maybe I've always been that guy. Maybe playing sports as a youngster was acting out of character. My father had to make me try out for baseball, and my mother did the same come soccer season. I sometimes think of what I'd have ended up doing had I not been on the playing field all those hours as a kid. Maybe I'd have become a rock star. Maybe some of the kids I almost coached are made to play by their parents, and maybe they'd be better off doing something else. Maybe that way coaches are actually doing them a disservice by promoting behavior that the hearts of such kids aren't really into. Maybe I'm overthinking it. 

Maybe if I got to coach with a friend, rather than with strangers, maybe then I'd really have some fun. But come to think of it, when I was in my second year of college I had the chance to coach alongside my best friend. Jason begged me to join him on the field. We'd have such a blast, he told me. It'd be just like high school. This was the pitch from the pitcher who had surrendered my first ever home run, and second too, if you're counting. How could I not hit it out of the park. So I showed up. After attending one game as co-coach, and after being hit in the collar bone while playing catch, I knew I had lost my touch. Because getting hit in the collar bone hurts, and I don't like dirt. And who wants to be a third wheel anyway. But that summer of '86 sure was fun.

Friday, February 19, 2016


Whatever you call water, the substance is the same. Whether you say water or agua, eau or aqua (that's Latin), or acqua (Italian), or Wasser or any of the many other words for this most precious liquid that exist in the world's 6,500 spoken languages, the substance is the same, as are its characteristics, which include wetness. Everybody knows this, and no one would dare dispute the fact. My water is not better than your agua because it has more letters, just as yours isn't better than mine because it has two a's and I'm partial to a's, since there are also two in my first name. 

But linguistics can make for a lot of confusion, especially in theological discussions, when students use fancy terms which though they appear so different and originate thousands of miles and many centuries apart, are actually quite the same. I say this because I recently learned a new word: panentheism. Not to be confused with pantheism, the belief that God is coextensive with and identical to the physical world (nature), panentheists believe that God transcends nature even as he dwells within it. Okay, so God is nature and so much more, which evidently is conveyed in that extra syllable. The "en." 

Panentheism derives from ancient Greek and means "all-in-God." So did the Greeks originate the view? No. Panentheism appears throughout the world. It is called by many names, and in certain cultures, such as the Hindu, predates the Greek belief by hundreds if not thousands of years. The Hindu scriptures are rife with references to God being both immanent (indwelling) and transcendent (somehow also all-encompassing). The Advaita Vedantists are most known for subscribing to this view. But Christian mystics did as well, in addition to Kabbalists, Buddhists, Muslims, and members of the Baha'i faith, as well as many others - and here I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention Baruch Spinoza, philosopher and discoverer of the intimidating calculus (since it is this subject I'm currently reading about). Excuse me the great inventor was actually Leibniz, who I might add was a promiscuous borrower from Spinoza on the subject of the Almighty. Spinoza was a simple lens-grinder who clearly was not himself myopic, considering his panoramic view of the Absolute.

But tell a panentheist that you are a vedantist and she will turn off or prepare to debate, failing to realize that you are in the same family: you just go by different names. I myself believe that God is everything that can be perceived by the senses, yet also the consciousness that perceives as well. And so much more. But if after I had explained to you my view, you called me a panthentheist I'd have taken umbrage, or at least thrown up my hands in exasperation. That is, until I read the article in this month's Atlantic magazine about Annie Dillard, the famous and somewhat reclusive author who calls herself by the term formerly so unfamiliar to me. And now I can say: Annie, count me in. Apparently I'm not the only one embracing the old dame.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


I don't understand why anybody would ever want to become President. Talking politics over brunch with my aunts a few months back and the upcoming primaries came up. My Aunt Laura is a pretty staunch Republican, though not as conservative as are many of the Orange County residents among whom she plays golf and has tea. As a Republican she would support any nominee from that party over either Clinton or Sanders, both Democrats. She'd even vote for Trump, though he's such a blowhard. But hey, that's entertainment. We reasoned that the election would come down to the two individuals who were beholden to nobody. It should have been that way. With no special interests groups to appease, Trump and Sanders could at least in theory be free to serve the interests of the American people. Or their own. Likely his own. Because putting a businessman in politics assures only one thing: his goal will be to profit. Not that Trump will win anyway. Right?

Aunt Laura dislikes our current Commander in Chief. Ask her and she's happy to unravel a litany of his foibles, from dis-empowering the blacks, to polarizing Congress, to Obamacare. I am nonpartisan because I'm non-confrontational. I have never voted and likely never will. So I don't take sides. I go in for these discussions only in the interest of knowledge. Food for thought. Because it's better than the grilled veggie salad they serve at CPK, which lamentably is the only vegan item on the menu. Laura thinks that Obama has helped to create a culture of entitlement, that the poor are kept down by government hand-outs. Welfare? Food-stamps? Yes and yes, but I'm not sure on the details. Instead I asked Laura, Who isn't entitled? Whoever has bought something on credit - be it clothes, car, or condominium - and a mortgage and lease are so many synonyms for credit, has effectively been given a hand-out. An "enjoy now" and pay later, or never. Because the economy crashes, and civilians with it, and loans are defaulted upon, and bankruptcy ensues. I speak from personal experience. Fresh out of college I tried to fund a writing career with at one point 13 credit cards; I quickly plunged into $30,000 worth of debt, paid one credit card off with another until I was left paying interest on interest to the tune of minimum monthly payments of $1000 - until my back was on the verge of breaking and I signed it all away. That's entitlement too. I argue that we do away with credit altogether, and buy only what we can afford. How simple life would become, and overnight.

I'm not running for office, so my opinion doesn't matter much. But so many Presidents are remembered for what they did wrong, not what they got right. Perhaps because mistakes are so unforgettable. Obama will be remembered for the travesty that many think health care has become, and an Iran nuclear deal which may backfire or will be nullified by the next person elected to office. Ted Cruz said the first thing he'd do as President would be to reverse every one of Obama's executive decisions. So sad. And before Obama, Bush will be remembered for the war that never should have been. Clinton for a sex scandal. My aunt thought Reagan was the last "really good" President. But I pointed out that under him the deficit spiraled out of control. And some circles name "The Gipper" as the Anti-Christ himself. Consider that when you count the letters in the name Ronald Wilson Reagan you get 666. Coincidence? Hmmm. My aunt also thinks that class differences and animosities started bubbling to the surface in the 80s, which falls neatly within the confines of Reagan's term of office (1981-1989). Was he to blame for the culture of excess we are still paying for?

And how these poor men age! Obama looks 20 years older today than he was when he was sworn in 7 years ago. Laura dreads an America where Sanders rules. Socialism is such a loaded term. Ask the average person and they haven't a clue what it means, though Communism often comes to mind. I believed for a time in Sanders the revolutionary, and his message was embraced by the disenchanted youth. But even if he had won, his policy, whatever it actually was, wouldn't last. That's not defeatist, it's just a fact borne out by history. Because the next person will cross it all away. That's the bane of the partisan system. No checks and balances. Just two sides that can never get along. Politics is like institutionalized medicine. You go into the system trying to change it, but in the end the system changes you, and not for the better.

So why run for President? Money. That's how Clinton has become so rich. And ego. Pure and simple. Because all that campaigning is exhausting, a drain on (if you are Clinton other people's) finances, and time-consuming. And nobody really thinks they're going to change the system when like so many Cruzes the men (and women) who succeed in office promptly reverse all that has come before. 

So if you want to influence people, I say go into entertainment. Be a star. Madonna and Taylor Swift have molded the minds of more little girls (and gay boys) than all the contemporary Presidents combined. And couples take their cue from the tabloid goings-on of Kanye and Kim, sad as this may be. And music and acting seem fun, unlike whatever Presidents spend their days doing, like shaking the sweaty hands of sheikhs and signing documents nobody reads. And even the hardest livers of performing arts seem to age gracefully, with the exception of Keith Richards perhaps. Below is Johnny Depp from last Grammy's. Depp is 52. He took a break from playing Donald Trump to jam with Alice Cooper. In other words why be a Donald Trump when you can play him any day? Then go home and take off the make-up and boob suit, put on another mask, and star in the next blockbuster kiddy film. Which may only need your voice. That's where the smart money's at. That's doing it in style. It's no coincidence that Dep is also the name for hair gel. Doing it in style. I hope you live your life the same, and watch the debates not for information but for comic relief. There is a place in every life for a little gallows humor

Monday, February 15, 2016


This Saturday past I went to my brother's Valentine's Day party. He holds one every year, or has for the past half dozen years. He calls them "Cupid's Stupid." Since about 97% of attendees are homosexual, whenever I go to these things (this time was my third time in attendance) I am gay by association. I got to talking with one of my brother's friends. I have seen Rick so many times, at these parties and on other occasions, that I call him my friend too. Rick knows everyone, which gave me the opportunity of meeting many more party goers than I otherwise would, being the wallflower that I sometimes am, but not always. Just when there are no interested/interesting girls to chat up, and there weren't at this year's Cupid's Stupid. But I don't discriminate, and I'm not looking for love, so let the conversation flow. 

Rick got to talking about his first sexual experience, with a boy who was his best friend. It happened when they were 14. And mutual fondling (think masturbation, only the penis you are holding is not your own) evolved to oral gratification which led to some weirdness and the friendship's ultimate demise. Rick's former best friend is now married, to a woman, with whom he has kids. He and Rick have long since lost touch. Substitute he for she and you have what could double for a heterosexual boy's first romantic fling. The only difference is Rick is still gay, at least in name. He is single. But for an unpleasant surprise a couple weeks back, he almost wasn't. That's when he met and got together with what he thought was an attractive man. They went back to his place and started fondling when the man, Rick found out, had a vagina. He was still a she, going through the transition from girl to guy, which involved hormone replacement therapy, and to-be-scheduled surgery, for the removal of what guys I grew up with would call her "love tool." In other words she was a girl who liked guys becoming a guy who liked guys. A straight girl turned gay guy. Really, I cannot wrap my head around this. It seems a lot of work and money to wind up right back where you are, only with a penis. Penises are highly overrated. For instance, they get caught between your legs when you sit, and testicles make it hard to run naked. I suppose they are like boobs that way. So why not keep the one (boobs) rather than ditch 'em for the other (balls)? I love boobs. If I had a pair I'd stroke them all the time. Now I see our girl-turned-guy's point. 

At the party there was also this hostess who went by the name of Venus. She had been a he who now had a vagina, according to my brother, who saw Venus naked. She said she spent $200,000 in plastic surgery to become her bombshell self, and she looked like Lisa Kudrow with a face-lift and double D tits. Pretty fly. Had I not known about her original sex I'd have chatted her up, if I were the type to like my broads all done up. I'm more of the au naturale type. 

As for Rick, he's still reeling from his aborted encounter with the guy who was still a girl. He has a lot of great stories. I think we all have at least one great story to tell. And I bet the story about your first time, with its excitement, newness, awkwardness and weirdness, would make for great telling. The first time is something others can relate to, whether you are gay or straight. We're not all that different. There could be a book in there. I'll round up 100 gay guys and as many straights and compare their accounts of their forays into the romantic arena. Sound titillating? Something for me to think about. Since I have no romantic forays of my own. I attended the party with my mother.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Be kind to everyone. 

That's 323 pages less than the best-seller by that name. You're welcome. Now get 'er done.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


So Saturday night I fell off the wagon. It happened like this. I got hungry before bedtime and craved something different. Usually I go for fresh fruit but I wanted something salty, and not vegetables. Something unusual. Off the beaten path, at least for me. There was an old bag of whole grain wasabe chips lying around in the cupboard, but the last thing a vegan needs from a treat is more fiber, and the bag boasted 4 grams per serving. I consume at least 100 g fiber each day without any help from highly processed grains, thank you very much. 

I had run 10 miles that day, and as my rumbling stomach attested, I needed some extra calories. This is a challenge familiar to any endurance runner. How to replenish all that spent energy? Virtually any plant source will come packed with fiber, excepting oils and I didn't want a shot of olive oil, thank you very much. Often I go to concentrated calories in the form of fats. Which is to say avocados. Though high in fiber (9 g per fruit), an avocado has a lot more calories than the same size sweet fruit (a pear, say) because fat is over twice as caloric as carbohydrates. But I had already eaten three avocados that day, and there are pitfalls to overdoing any one calorie type. I had seen this with my several year long love affair with medjool dates. Dates are made up mainly of simple sugars, without much water or fiber, and eating too many dates can screw with glucose levels in the blood. I found this out after my 20-date-a-day date habit put my blood sugar slightly out of range, a doctor visit proclaimed. Prediabetes is not for me. Sometimes I cheat on peanut butter, but I find it really hard to digest; the high arginine content can cause cold sores; and too much fat in the diet poses problems of its own. It can set you up for gallstones. And fat is broken down by a metabolic process known as beta-oxidation which produces lots of free radicals. Free radicals are associated with aging and inflammation. Also not for me. 

By the process of elimination I arrived at the last macronutrient, protein. It is hard for a vegan to get a concentrated source of protein, since the usual go-tos like legumes and green vegetables have a lot of carbohydrates, which I don't need more of, and fiber, which as I said before I'm not lacking. Recently a friend had asked me when I had last eaten meat. Since becoming a vegan in 2009, after being raised a vegetarian, I have eaten animal products on occasion. Usually a spot of dairy, or maybe a little fish. The last time I ate pizza or beef, which was what my friend wanted to know, was after my first marathon, in Los Angeles in 2011, when I had eaten pizza and shawarma, in a ludicrous attempt to reward myself for my 3 hour effort with the edible equivalent of toxic waste. I felt like shit for days afterwards. 

But paradoxically it was this thought that reminded me of the canned tuna lying around in my cupboard. It lay to one side of those whole grain chips, and it seemed to call to me. At 140 calories per can, and pure protein (35 grams), without any fiber, the solid white albacore represented a bodybuilder's delight. I knew the tuna would go straight to my forearms, as flesh food so often does. In my teens I ate tuna straight out of the can and watched my body weight rocket up 30 pounds in 3 months, most of it muscle. So I ate the tuna straight out of the can, "just like the good ole days." The next night, Sunday, I did the same. My muscles would thank me, right?

Well, Monday morning I awoke groggy and flat. As if I had been run-over by a truck, and I've been run-over by a truck, so I know. I sat on the toilet and it smelled as if I were sitting behind a truck that transports those porta-potties, if the porta-potty were leaking, and if the truck then ran over me. Damn. Even the family pooch came in and sniffed around, as if to say, "What stinks?" That day on my run several times I caught a whiff of what I had eaten the night before, and what had come out of my backside on the toilet - because canned tuna smells oddly the same going in as it does coming out - and wondered whether the stench was emanating from the trashcans I passed or from tuna residue still clinging to my beard. My legs felt like lead. I felt like one of the forsaken, the damned. My zest for life instantly sapped. And would you believe I woke up Sunday morning with a cold sore on my lower lip?! I have never gotten a cold sore, not ever. But like the vast majority of others, I am apparently a carrier of the HSV-1 virus. And now I am a sufferer. This is freakish. I haven't even kissed a girl for over a year. For me to break out the day after eating flesh for the first time in a long while may be a coincidence. Or maybe not. There is shit in the sea, it gets into the meat, and it makes our mouths get herpes. It's that simple.

But my arms were so vascular. Like railroad tracks had been laid along my forearms. 

The price for a little extra muscular density is too heavy for me to pay. My little foray into flesh foods once again convinced me of the many reasons I abstain from these foods in favor of plants. It is not merely because plants are healthful, not just because they are environmentally friendly, not simply that eating flesh foods makes me stinky and sluggish. It is because I cannot function on animal protein. Flesh plunges me into a depression! And to think that the energetic lull I am only now escaping is for most people, indeed for 97% of the population who call themselves omnivores, par for the course. And so I say to you, the masses: I know your pain. You are struggling and you don't even know why. I do, because I have walked a mile in your shoes - in fact I ran 5 with tuna in my gut - and it was so disagreeable that I'm throwing those shoes away, forever. Figuratively, because I never run with shoes anyway. 

What I'm saying is that if you have never known what it feels like not to eat meat, I suggest you give it a try. That is if you want to feel free. Forget about things like weight loss, lowered blood pressure, increased energy levels, better health. Those are all side effects. The main thing is that you will feel free, for the first time in your life, FREE!

But go vegan for at least a week, since that's how long it takes for those flesh foods to leave your tummy. Which means another couple stinky days on the toilet for me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


A lot of books have been written explaining the many benefits of a plant-based diet. Plant foods are healthy, environmentally-friendly, and easy to prepare, not to mention delicious. But few authors have taken the time to explain the effects of transitioning from animal protein to plant foods, I mean at the individual level. These effects are many and can come as quite a surprise if they are not anticipated.

1. You can expect to poop more. The transition time of plant foods is much shorter than it is with meat, eggs, and dairy, so consuming more fruits, vegetables, beans and seeds will double and in some cases triple your bowel output, both in terms of quantity and frequency. If you are used to going every three days, expect to go on a daily basis. Meat eaters who commonly move their bowels daily can look forward to going twice or thrice per diem. As a result you will feel much lighter, and your tummy much flatter.

2. You can expect to pee a lot more. Because plant food is so high in water - consider that one large apple contains almost a cup of water, while a chicken breast is practically dehydrated - the extra water you are now eating has to come out somehow. Some of it is mixed with soluble fiber and eliminated as feces, it is true. But a lot more is processed by your kidneys and becomes pee. If you are used to sleeping through the night without visiting the toilet, expect to get up once or twice each night to go. If you find this inconvenient, drink less water during the day, or avoid juicy fruit after 4 pm. You will find that eating more fruits and vegetables reduces thirst, and so your consumption of liquids will fall. Follow your thirst. It's better to eat hydration than to drink it. Because of the extra water intake, your pee will be clear rather than the color of anti-freeze, and less protein in your diet (a result of subbing beans in for breasts) means less urea in your pee, which will make your urine odor-free. And your sweat won't be so concentrated. Your saliva will become more liquid too. Your sweetheart will appreciate this.

3. Your odor will change. I'm talking not just about the smell of your pee but also about the smell of your pits, pubes, sweat and hair. You will become less gamey, less musky, less musty, or whatever it is your sweetheart calls you as a euphemism for you stink. Without rancid meat getting caught between your teeth, your breath will become naturally sweet. And your fecal matter will lose much of what you considered to be its characteristic stench; number two will take on the fragrance of fresh cut grass. If you don't believe me, smell the pungent odor of cat feces and compare to the zesty aroma of deer or rabbit scat. Carnivorous feces are about the worst-smelling things on the planet, whereas the dropping of herbivores are odor-free. This now includes you and your droppings. Welcome to the club.

There are many more changes you can expect to result from giving up animal products in favor of plant foods. These include increased energy, a decrease in violent tendencies, a reduction in libido to more containable levels, which is good, because we are not meant to make like dogs in heat. Speaking of which, you will also notice a decrease in your basal body temperature, which will make you feel cooler individually as the planet grows warmer; and if everybody follows your lead and "beats the meat" then the planet will cool as well, since the plant-eater's carbon footprint is way low. Oh and you will also notice a major transformation in the content of your dreams. If in the small hours you are customarily bombarded by horrific images, expect a lighter, mellower tone to your nocturnal reveries. Think less The Shining, and more Silver Linings Playbook. Because like all clouds, every sprout has one - a silver lining, that is. Happy dreaming, eating, peeing, and you get the idea.

Saturday, February 6, 2016


I recently touched base with my childhood friend Pete who asked if I'd be running this year's LA Marathon. The race is set to take place on Valentine's Day. As usual, it starts at 7 AM from Dodger Stadium and makes its way through Hollywood, Beverly Hills, West LA and Brentwood before finishing off at Santa Monica beach, on Ocean Ave above Pico. My reply was simply, "No, no marathon."

I chose not to explain my reason for not signing up. Having run the race 3 of the last 5 years isn't necessarily an indication that I'll ever run it again, and I very well will not. Don't get me wrong, endurance races can be loads of fun, and LA takes you through our entire glorious city. When else can you run in the middle of the Sunset Strip and not worry about getting slammed by a car? 

But there are many deterrents. At $200 (the late registration fee) the race is pricey. That's 100 store-bought coffees and I prefer to make my own. Participants must visit the Staples Center in one of the two days leading up to the event, in order to pick up their race packets and make the compulsory walk through the Expo. This gives merchandisers an opportunity to showcase their wares. It is consumer heaven. If you're not a consumer, it's a nightmare. At the expo for my first marathon, I sprang for a new sports watch and shirt with my race number printed on the front. I never even ran the race. Pulled out at the last minute with a sore back. Last time I ran the LA Marathon, in 2014, I waited in line for nearly 2 hours before picking up my bib. I dislike waiting for anything.

Because the race is point to point, participants can either be dropped off at the start and picked up at the finish, usually by a friend or family member, or if you're on your own (like me in 2014) you park by the finish line in Santa Monica, take a bus to downtown, then run back to your car. Shuttles begin transporting passengers to the start line at 3:30 am. Parking is available in Santa Monica for $10 to $20 per car, only the nearest available lot is about a mile away, so you must allow time to walk. When you finally get to Dodgers stadium you have nothing to do but wait around for 2 hours, eat, drink, and visit the porta-potties. Prepare to wait in line again, because race jitters are common to everyone, and everyone goes potty. 

If like me you haven't run a marathon in the last year, you must find your way to the unseeded corrals way at the back of the pack, where you line up several hundred yards from the starting line - along with 20,000 plus other participants - and wait an hour or so for the race to begin. When I started in the unseeded corral (each of my first two times running the race) I didn't make it to the actual starting line until 10 minutes after the start gun had gone off. Then I had to jostle with other runners for a couple miles before I had any breathing room. Lots of stepping on toes. Sound like fun?

To summarize. Pay a chunk of change, battle traffic on a Saturday and wait an hour in line for your packet, then wake up at 2 am on race day, drive to Santa Monica, park, walk a mile to the shuttle stop, take a bus to Dodger Stadium, wait alone in the cold, line up with thousands of other strangers in a closed-off corral where you cannot find a restroom - and when the gun finally goes off drudge to the start line. All this effort and you haven't even begun running the race, which will last another 3 to 5 hours - if you're one of the faster ones. Where I come from this is called "all in a day's work," except you're the one forking over the money. This was fun in 2011, in a first experience sort of way. I ran my first marathon in 3:16. And again in 2013, improving my time by 13 minutes was an accomplishment worth the effort. And in 2014 I felt like a real runner, being able to start in the seeded corral and running the race barefoot (in a personal best 2:49) caught more than one look. But running the LA marathon again would be overkill. Yes, I am able to run. I've trained the appropriate miles (averaging 40 a week) to complete the race and even enjoy it. My philosophy is not use a race to motivate you to train, but train hard enough to be ready to race on any day. And over the last year since recovering from a broken bone I've kept it. But I certainly wouldn't beat my best time. Hell, I'd be lucky to break 3 hours. And the race has lost its novelty for me. After having run the race with shoes and without, in rain, clouds, and shine, for a finish of over 3 hours and under 3 hours, starting from the unseeded corral as well as with the big boys up front, for time as well as just for fun, and firstly to finish, I can bid the race a hardy adieu, at least for now. Been there done that, as they say, and I so hate cliches. Plus did I mention it'll be 80 plus degrees in the heat? I detest running in hot weather. In this backwards world you might think this another reason for me to sign the f#% up. I say never say never, and maybe next year.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Based on a German legend, Faust is a play written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The German polymath wrote the piece in two parts over the course of 60 years. And there is much in the story to be appreciated, and not just for the disenchanted scholar. The plot is simple enough. Faust is a hoary man of letters of indeterminate age who has for decades buried himself amidst his books in a relentless quest for truth. At the story's start he has grown tired of his life of the mind, the study first of philosophy then of law and medicine and theology yielding nothing in the way of truth. Faust wishes to know the unknowable, the concept of which is merely a shadow compared with the real thing. Though his students love and respect him and the townspeople admire his great learning, even his own pupils despair when they visit his study, which is in the words of one, "awfully cramped, and one can't see a bit of green, a single tree," within which "I can no longer hear or see or think." Sounds like the average 9 to 5 if you ask me. Despairing that his life is doomed to failure, he contemplates ending his existence but desists from drinking poison when he hears an old song that reminds him of his youth and all its joys. 

At the same time, in heaven, God and the Devil are making their pact. Faust is one of the Lord's favorites, and the Almighty recognizes his faithful servant, who though serving "blindly and ineptly," He soon shall lead "into clarity." But if Mephistopheles, who is the Devil himself, can divert Faust and "drag him along" his downward path, then Satan can have the scholar's soul. This sets the stage for the central drama, featuring Satan as servant who leads Faust into a life of the senses to see if he can make the scholar forget his commitment to truth and all he once held so sacred. 

But even before the two meet, Faust is aware of the simple fact that "There's nothing you can gain refreshment from except what has its source in your own soul." This is why book knowledge can never satisfy. Faust knows this, but what causes him to despair is that having devoted so much of his life to learning, he has yet to explore his own inner essence. And it is only in living that we find out who we truly are. Faust recognizes that "Two souls reside within my breast, and each is eager for a separation: in throes of coarse desire, one grips the earth with all its senses; the other struggles from the dust to rise to high ancestral spheres." But he despairs, saying "I am too old to live for pleasure only, too young to be without desire." He is caught in between the sybarite and the sage, and is paralyzed in his indecision. For him, "existence is a burden, death to be welcomed, and this life detested."

Enter Beelzebub himself (another of Satan's aliases) to the rescue. He will show Faust wonders the scholar has beheld in no book, and provide marvels that mortals have never seen. So Faust decides he has nothing to lose and takes the Devil up on his wager. "If I should ever say to any moment: Tarry, remain! you are so fair! then you may lay your fetter  on me, then I will gladly be destroyed!" Which means he will be the Devil's eternal slave. And so Mephistopheles becomes Faust's slave in life. His right-hand man, his mentor, partner in crime, and main guy all in one. 

First off, Faust wishes to be eternally youthful. But Mephistopheles is not God. Instead of working magic, he gives a handy piece of advice we'd all do well to follow: "Go out at once into the country and set to hoeing and to digging; confine yourself - and your thoughts too - within the narrowest spheres; subsist on food that's plain and simple, live with your cattle as their peer, and don't disdain to fertilize in person fields that you will reap. Take my word for it," the Devil finishes, "there's no better way to remain young until you're eighty." 

But he does furnish Faust with a magic potion that works like an aphrodisiac, allowing Faust to see in every woman a Helen of Troy, which is to say a hottie. And Faust promptly falls for the first girl he beholds, a young ingenue named Margarete, who also goes by Gretchen. With the Devil's help he woos her, and to evade her overbearing mother provides Margarete with a potion of his own which will induce sleep in the old woman so the two can be together. The potion works only too well. The two are able to enjoy some alone time; they make love and conceive of a child - but Gretchen's mother dies in her sleep. The young girl's protective brother challenges Faust to a duel and with the Devil as decoy Faust slays the young man. Here the tale moves a little too fast for me. Gretchen somehow is accused of her mother's death, then drowns her newborn baby and is sentenced herself to die. When Faust comes to free her with the Devil by his side, she is disgusted by Satan and will not budge from her prison cell. This is the last we see of poor Gretchen, who we are told is saved by angels at the end of Part I. 

Part II is all over the place. It is mainly an homage to classic Greek epic poetry. Goethe makes references to Helen and Paris and Virgil and others,  I'm sure, though these allusions went over my head. In the course of the action Faust, with Mephisto attending to his every whim, is the hero of several more adventures. And privy to more than one revelation. And there are many witty exchanges. Mephistopheles mocks Faust for his secluded life of the mind. Faust has defined "God, and the world, and all that moves therein, and what goes on in human minds and hearts" without any real knowledge of these matters. But in living Faust realizes the mystery of all mysteries, God, who "encompassing all, sustaining all, holds and sustains you, and me, and Himself." He tells Margarete, who tries to convert him to her Christian faith, that his religion is more all encompassing still: "Imbue your heart with this immensity, and when you wholly feel beatitude, then call it what you will - Happiness! Heart! Love! God! Name is but sound and smoke that damp celestial ardor." 

And so Faust strives, with a very poetic symbol of his undying effort: the rainbow, which "forms its changing-unchanged arch, now clearly drawn, now evanescent, and casts cool, fragrant showers all about it. Of human striving it's a perfect symbol - ponder this well to understand more clearly that what we have as life is many hued reflection." He goes on to invent paper currency (which is ridiculously believed to be interchangeable with gold - moderns take note!), and is participant in the making of a brain in a bottle. The brain's name is Homunculus (so this is where "The Man with Two Brains" came up with the idea, and "Frankenstein," and "Rocky Horror Picture Show" besides). The brain observes humanity which he had hoped by adopting a body to become a member of,  but he is not impressed, for "nothing I have seen as yet encourages me to become a part of it." A bit of comic relief.

Faust falls in love a second time, this time with Helen of Troy, and together they give birth to a child. He loses them both and despairs for a time, until new challenges beckon. He helps an emperor win a battle and as a reward is given the opportunity to encircle the sea with land and thus provide homes for multitudes of people. Faust, we are told, feels awe in a world made to stifle feeling, and in being stirred profoundly, senses the Infinite. He dies with the satisfaction of being a savior to humanity, wishing at last for the moment to tarry - which means he loses the bet - yet knowing "traces of my days on earth will survive into eternity." Which for him is a victory bigger still. 

Faust finds through actions and in ceaselessly striving for the good of his fellows that very love which "is a beacon no crowd can obscure, no matter the distance; it gleams bright and clear, always seems near, always is true." His most poignant observation being this: "There is no past or future in an hour like this, the present moment only is our bliss. Though life be but a moment, our duty is to be."

After Faust's lifeless body falls to the ground, the angels come down from heaven and in a deus-ex-machina sort of way save his soul and escort him to heaven, where he reunites with his beloved Gretchen and they live happily ever after. All in 300 pages. And in between there are many delightful quotes besides. On spirit and matter, man and wife, and lots else. But you'll have to read the play yourself to find these out. 

In the meantime, try not to be among "those creatures, striving to be peers of gods, yet doomed never to change one bit"; be not like those who aspire "ceaselessly, burning with nostalgic hunger for the Unattainable." 

Instead, observe yourself, be content with what you are and have, and above all else, be happy! For as one Proteus (whose name means shape-shifter) says near the end: "Once you have become a human being you've reached the end of everything."

But are you human really?

Monday, February 1, 2016


If you could take a pill that would help you study and get better grades, would you? Off-label use of “smart drugs” – pharmaceuticals meant to treat disorders like ADHD, narcolepsy, and Alzheimer’s – are becoming increasingly popular among college students hoping to get ahead, by helping them to stay focused and alert for longer periods of time. But is this cheating? Should their use as cognitive enhancers be approved by the FDA, the medical community, and society at large? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? 
In short, should college students be allowed to take smart drugs? 
This was the prompt for a debate sponsored by Intelligence Squared, which took place in November.  Prior to the debate 30% of those polled were in favor of the motion - that is, they felt students should be allowed to pop a smart pill to study longer and harder - and afterwards 60% supported the motion. So those arguing in favor made a strong case for smart pills. You can view the debate here
Last night I dined with a couple friends - who happen to be a couple themselves - and the topic of "better living through medicine" came up. The gentleman revealed that after blood work had revealed low levels of testosterone he had taken this sex hormone at his doctor's advising and watched his levels rise, along with his strength, sex drive and virility. His partner is now pregnant. He also watched his hair fall out, an unfortunate side effect of too much testosterone, which is converted to 5-DHT and makes the hair thin, and the prostate grow big and possibly become cancerous. But at 36 he's too young to worry about his prostate, and besides he's no longer taking the pill, much to the disappointment of his better half, who was really enjoying sex three times a day. Better living through medicine indeed. 
He asked if I endorsed the practice of prescribing medications not for the treatment of disease but the enhancement of performance. Because really, low levels of testosterone aren't necessarily bad for one's health. I know many individuals, many of them competitive endurance athletes, who have this condition and do just fine without supplementation. My answer was that we should leave nature to its own devices. I remembered that time out of college that as a screenwriter working on the next blockbuster I had been visited by an inopportune case of writer's block which I had taken crystal meth, or speed, to remedy. Sure enough three weeks later I had produced a finished script. During my binge I was living life at a high level, requiring little food or sleep; I felt witty, sharp, and super-focused. Fifteen years later, the screenplay remains on my bookshelf gathering dust. 
My friends were aghast. "Isn't that drug bad for you?" they asked. Sure it is. Street drugs are sometimes made with common household cleaning products. And legal drugs, including those whose effects mimic crystal meth's, contain a number of inactive ingredients which can be toxic. But yes, I have had friends who took too much speed, and wound up barefoot and homeless in Hollywood, turning tricks for their next fix. 
"But to me, there is little difference between speed on the one hand, and Adderall or Ritalin on the other." 
The former is illegal, while the latter can be obtained by prescription and is in wider and wider use. It is this class of amphetamine drugs which the Intelligence Squared debate was centered around. Yes they are given to children who cannot sit still to make them behave and pay attention, but they are also being passed around like candy by college kids,who use them at parties to "drink more and feel free," in the words of a former friend and classmate, himself an avid Adderall user, who when he stopped using fell into a depression and left medicine altogether. 
It is these stories that get left out of the debates, or if they are mentioned do not prove convincing enough to sway the majority vote. then my female friend copped to having taken Adderall for the last 20 years, "for my ADD." Because without her medication she would leave the burner on. That is simply absent-mindedness, nothing that requires treatment with a toxic and addictive medication.  And I thought about her behavior, which in the 2 years that I've known her I've always thought somewhat neurotic; she has been in her boyfriend's words, "OCD about her OCD." I cannot help but feel that Adderall is a big contributor. It makes you overly analytical and feel highly efficient, but you are ultimately inefficient, as are those who truly have OCD. 
I experienced this in medical school when my classmates handed me a few pills to try. I was able to sit at my desk longer, but whether I learned more during that time is debatable. If you look at kids, they don't focus on anything that does not engage them, or that bores them; but if something, a game, or a book, or a person, seizes their attention and rivets them, they focus with pinpoint precision. Adults are the same way. We should not make ourselves focus on things which otherwise would put us to sleep. This is unnatural. Always after a day taking Adderall I'd spend the night tossing and turning and revolving concepts in my mind. It was exhausting, and in the morning I'd feel just that - exhausted. Good sleep is when memory consolidation occurs; without it and all the learning in the world simply will not stick. And as is the case with street speed, the come down from prescription amphetamines is a real bitch. Like, a hang-over that last three days.
It is not only smart drugs that are the problem. Anti-depressants are another of society's banes. I had a girlfriend who began taking Prozac midway through our 2.5-year romance, and she became an entirely different human being. After the drug's effects kicked in (it takes a couple weeks for blood levels of serotonin to increase) she totally changed. She was no longer there. It was as if her soul had been sucked from her and replaced with a stranger's, or no soul at all. It was like the movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. She became sort of blank, like an automaton. No feeling or personality. Just a warm body. Sure we bickered less, but just because you don't bicker with a tree stump doesn't mean you'll want to sit by one all day every day. Maybe by the time Shannon started taking anti-depressants she just wasn't all that into me anymore. Maybe we had fallen out of love, in which case Prozac kept her in a dead-end romance one year extra. Maybe we were climbing a dying vine.

By that time, like my friendly pair of parents-to-be, we too had conceived of a child. It happened this way. We had broken up, over what I cannot remember, then got back together and make-up sex lasted a few pumps too long. When the store-bought urine dip stick turned up pink, it was let's buy a house and play at being a family. But I got cold feet. We were so ill-prepared. All my life was about planning and preparation, applying to schools, studying for exams, training for sporting events. Shouldn't arguably the biggest decision of our lives involve a little more forethought? It was as if we were rolling the dice. It seemed like such an ordinary life, so commonplace, to get married because we were to have a kid, even though we were juggling school and jobs and were such kids ourselves. Shannon was 26 and I just shy of 30. And so we didn't keep that baby. Ordinary proved too extraordinary for me.

I know that, like the couple in question, lots of people jump into marriage and childbearing, in a "if it happens it happens" sort of way. If not for such impetuosity, maybe far fewer kids would be born. In an overpopulated world, would that be a bad thing? I know that as recently as the first week of November, M and B (let's call them) were broken up, and M, who recently celebrated her 38th bday, was crying about the possibility of never getting the chance of becoming a mother. Fast forward to today, 12 weeks later, and the two are pregnant, have bought a house, and are set to move in together and raise their family. B's still trying to find steady work, and M, who teaches yoga, finds that with 30 extra pounds those contortionist poses are not so much fun. I want to know what happened between then (when they were broken up and she not yet pregnant) and now. In 12 weeks she has managed to become 10 weeks into motherhood. Explain that. But I didn't ask. Somehow the conversation turned to guns and politics, issues I'm not very interested in, and of course their wedding and baby date. And so it is. I'm not that close with them that I'd feel comfortable probing the depths of their emotional tie with pointed questions and the occasional insight. I'm not their therapist. Food for thought no less.
Since becoming pregnant my Adderall-using friend M has kicked her habit - because Adderall is contraindicated in pregnancy, being associated with birth defects; and she still functions at what she feels to be a high level. After all she recently found her family-to-be a house. Not an easy task in this market, or maybe it is. I'm no realtor. If pregnancy serves no other purpose but to re-open her eyes to a drug-free life, then she has much to be thankful for. And with the twins she'll be having come August, after marrying in July, so much more besides.