Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Humbug

There was a time when this night was a big deal around this household. Not this year. I haven't even bought any candy at all; I'm not sure what our plans are for the evening yet, but I am positive that I am not answering the door tonight for any reason. The newly carved pumpkins will be brought inside the front door tonight early, before dark. And there will be nary a light in any room facing the street until at least 9:30 PM.
Halloween is another occasion that has become a Shopping Event, one of those things that drive the American consumer culture. And as such, it lost its charm a long time ago. I didn't notice as much when I lived in Webster Court, both because my kid was trick-or-treating and because I lived on the second floor of my building at the time and didn't get any traffic. But since moving to the West Side seven years ago, I have grown to dislike this day, and the values often exhibited, very much. I can't stand the sight of cars following kids up and down the streets, to take the most egregious example. If it is your kid's neighborhood, then get out and walk around with them. If it isn't your kid's neighborhood--what the hell are you doing here? If your home neighborhood is so sketchy that you don't want to let your kids walking around it on the one night of the year when it's expected that little kids have the run of the neighborhood--well, you need to seriously consider why you are living where you do. And not all "nicer" neighborhoods have a lot of candy to give out. My street is mostly retirees; there are often only one or two houses on my block that have the lights on.
And the few years that I did, I was usually ticked off by 6:30 PM. In the last few years, I've seen kids make rude remarks about the particular brands of candy I've given out (and I don't give out the loser crap like Zagnuts and Clark bars; it's 3 Musketeers, Milky Ways, Twix--the good stuff) and I've gotten dirty looks and comments about how much I give out. One particularly beautiful young man cursed when I only gave him three of the littler bars, and another unhappy little cretin vowed to come back later that night and destroy our pumpkins (he didn't, but still...). And all the pleasantries weren't limited to the children; I've had more than one parent or grandparent question my generosity at length over the years, too.
We are a sick and diseased society when you can go to a different neighborhood than the one you live in and give the residents a hard time because they don't give your little urchins enough free candy. And this is one manifestation of our sickness I have no problem opting out of this year.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

One Man's Sample Ballot

I've actually given a lot of thought about whether I am going to even vote or this year. I've written about this before, and I really don't buy into that "If you didn't vote, you can't bitch about how things are" bit. As I get older, the Carlin Solution looks more and more attractive to me. If enough people refuse to vote--if we get a turnout of something 4% of the electorate in a national election, something that makes it clear that everyone is boycotting this broken process--then maybe meaningful change will take place. I'm not naive enough to think that's going happen, and I do know that voting can make a legitimate difference on a local level, if not necessarily national. I learned about both voting and the perils of straight party-line votes in the early 1990's, when I was married. My then-wife both never failed to vote and always voted Republican regardless of candidate, and thus we in this area were saddle with an absolutely corrupt moron named George Kolba in the county legislature for years because he won his initial election by one vote.
To be fair to my ex-wife, she is much more of an informed voter, from what I hear, with at least an occasional vote for the Blues and at least marginally informed on many issues facing the world. It is a source of never-ending distress to me that I take the time and make the effort to be seriously informed on much of what is happening in the world today--and that my vote counts exactly the same as the ignorant racist blowhard down the street that hasn't read anything in his life and thinks "those people" are responsible for all the world's ills. But for the time being, at least this year, I am going to trudge to the local school--a polling place I dislike, by the way; I liked when my polling place was the old Catholic school a few blocks in the other direction--and fill out my ballot, which might or might not get scanned correctly when I shove it through the slot. I am not a fan of electronic voting or vote-counting; I think the chances for manipulation and cheating increase exponentially without paper ballots or voting machines like those that worked just fine in New York for the length of my life up to a few years ago. There is a small but vocal movement out there to return to paper balloting, and I think that's going to become a bigger issue in years to come.
Well, anyway, as either a public service or an ego trip of monumental proportions, depending on your views, this is how my ballot is going to look when it goes into the machine:
US Congress--Richard Hanna, Republican, is running unopposed. Hanna is not the worst of his party, not by a long shot--and yet I cannot move past the gap between his public talk about what a dumb idea the government shutdown was a year ago and his continuing to vote party line during all the votes to end it. It goes in with this line blank, because it's the only way I can express my displeasure with him.
Governor-- I was planning on voting for Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, because I cannot abide the Spoiled Little Bastard and normally there is no way I would ever vote for a Tea Party nitwit like Rob Astorino. But this weekend's Ebola stance by Cuomo is giving me pause; distasteful as the idea is, Astorino actually has a (very small) chance of winning. I probably won't make up my mind until I am actually filling out the ballot.
Attorney General-- Eric Schneiderman hasn't done a half-bad job in his first term. I'm voting for him.
Comptroller--Thomas DiNapoli hasn't done a half-bad job, in a very challenging time; he even has challenged Cuomo at times, even though they're in the same party. I'm voting for him.
State Senate--I've voted for Senator Libous for a long time, even though he is Republican. He has generally been effective; he is not a knee-jerk reactionary like many on his side of the aisle; and his office is generally very responsive to constituents, even of the other party, and has actually been helpful more times than I can count. His opponent is Andrea Starzak, who has held a few offices in the area without any particular distinction and whom I have no illusions about whether she'll be any good or not (the latter, in case you were wondering). But Libous' greed--calling it what it is, corruption--has been an open secret for decades, and it isn't even a secret any longer; he's under federal indictment for it. He also is battling cancer, and isn't likely to be around much longer in any case. I am voting for Starzak.
State Assembly--Democrat Donna Lupardo is running unopposed. Before she got elected to the Assembly, I ran into Lupardo professionally on several community committees, and wasn't sure she'd be good in this job. But she has been, and I'd vote for her regardless.
Sheriff--It's ironic that earlier this week, I accompanied someone to the Sheriff's office to get an ID. Sixteen years ago, almost to the day, I myself had to go up there for the same reason, after getting robbed of my wallet with all my forms of ID in it, and David Harder himself, then just a candidate for the office, waited on me behind the counter. He won that election and has been sheriff since... I don't think he's been a disaster as sheriff, but I do think 1) he's getting too old for the job in any case, 2) I think he's become too rigid in his views on the drug epidemic in this area and how to combat it, and 3) the acquisition of surplus army equipment, even dirt cheap, bothers me a great deal and is illustrative of the mindset I'd rather not see in this particular office. I've met Chris Bracco and know a lot of the people working for him. I think he means well, and I like some of his ideas and prospective approaches. I am worried that some of his pet projects and ideas are misguided--his views on combating heroin use around here are better than Harder's, but he still, frankly, doesn't know what he's talking about and, if he gets his way, is just going to piss away money and resources down a blind alley...On balance, Bracco is the better candidate, and that's the way I am going to fill out the ballot.
Family Court Judge--The area is adding a Family Court judge, to cope with the overflowing dockets, so there are two slots open. Incumbent Pete Charnetsky is up for reelection, and the guy he narrowly defeated for the job a decade ago (has it really been that long?), Rick Miller, is also running, as are Mark Young and Daniel Reynolds. Charnetsky tends to be a sucker for a sob story in Family Court, but that's better than a hard-ass, and I can't think of any really egregious bad decisions he's made in his time (between being in recovery, the job I have, my own experiences--although Charnetsky has not been my judge in any case of mine--and listening to my attorney brother talk about some of the cases he's been involved in, I know a lot more than Family Court and what goes on there than most people do). I've known Miller since both of us were teens, and he's been a great Village of Johnson City judge for a long, long time now. I don't know Young, but his commercials and campaign literature piss me off. I don't know Reynolds personally, but I haven't been terribly impressed with him either as Minority Leader in the county legislature or his performance as attorney for a few people I know that have had him as their lawyer. I'm voting for Charnetsky and Miller.
County Legislator--Even before the events of the last few weeks, Tony Fiala rubbed me the wrong way--he has a world-class sense of entitlement because his mother has been a political office-holder all his life, and he's gotten opportunities for career advancement and enhancement that he manifestly has not deserved. His performance as Democratic Party Chairman was disastrous; the party lost the county executive's office, a legislative majority, a City Council supermajority, and finally the Binghamton mayor's chair. And then, to top it off, a few weeks ago he hit a bicyclist while driving drunk, left the scene of the accident--and got a small fine and a stern admonition not to do it again...Children of privilege need to be retired from offices they have come to believe are hereditary. I don't know Republican challenger Karl Berhardsen from Adam, and I don't need to. I'm voting for him anyway.
City Court Judge--There are five candidates running for three positions. Bill Pelella has been a good judge for ten years, and presides over the one judicial/legal strategy that actually does some good in combating and treating addiction--City Drug Court. He also is a friend of mine, someone I've coached softball with and watched our daughters play softball and basketball with--and unlike many people who hold office, his kids are great kids, not messed up, spoiled children of privilege. And in addition to all the other virtues, as a judge, he is eminently fair and much more compassionate than any other judge I've ever seen while he's wearing the robes (the only other one I've seen that comes close to him is Miller). I've met Daniel Seiden as well, and both my brother and my own attorney refer to him positively; that's enough for me. I don't know a whole lot about the other three candidates, other than what my brother and some others have told me that know them personally. I am not going to vote for Carol Colonoscopy or whatever the hell her name is; everyone that knows her says she is the worst kind of judge, forever power-tripping and seriously deficient on knowing the law. Mike Baker
and Chris Root are the remaining candidates; there seem to be some concerns expressed about Root's qualifications by other lawyers. There was a time when I would have considered that a positive, but I've seen first-hand over the time I've had the job I've had how much of a problem that a judge that doesn't know what he is doing can cause, so I will probably vote for Baker.
Statewide Referenda--I am voting yes to the redistricting, no to the amendment giving preferential treatment to veterans on civil service exams (I am not going to go off on this subject his morning, but you choose to serve in the armed forces now, not get drafted. If that's want you want to do with your life, that's fine with me. However, it's not, or at least shouldn't be, a free pass and an advantage for whatever you want to do with yourself the rest of your life; your armed forces stint was entered into willingly, and isn't a ticket into every other career you want to go into. And don't give me this horseshit about "serving our country;" there hasn't been a single military adventure since Gulf War I that has not turned into a occupying, repressive war of conquest. Fuck...that...shit;the atrocities and bullshit consequences there and here wouldn't happen if the grunts with the guns weren't acquiescent to the ringleaders. You don't get preferential treatment for the rest of your life for aiding and abetting the travesties around the world that have been "The War on Terror", not in my mind), and yes to the proposition for high-tech equipment going to school districts.
Like it, agree or disagree with it--but read it. And I'm aware I'm not the last word in information, and that I'm not always right about everything--but if you know more about who's running for what after reading this, then that's all I really want out of this. Information is empowering, and democracy only works when we have some idea of what and who we're voting for.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Celebrations

Tonight, I will be having my celebration for my sixteen years at my home group. It will be, as almost every celebration has been in the last decade, a rather low-key affair; either my sponsor or one of my sponsees (Aldo is coming back from Virginia today, and may not be able to get back by seven o'clock) will say a few words, I will stand up and say a few words, and then the meeting will proceed as regularly scheduled.
I've come to believe that this is the best way to mark clean time in the rooms, for a number of reasons, hardly any of which I am going to write about this morning. But one that I've become increasingly more aware of as time goes by is that people new to recovery, while deeply impressed that someone has been clean for a long, long time, really can't identify much with some middle-aged guy whose last hit was a decade and a half ago. I don't like to take up much of the meeting in any circumstance, but for a guy (or woman) that has a few weeks clean at most to hear for an hour about someone who hasn't felt an urge to use in many years often causes feelings of  alienation. I do believe in noting the milestone, to be sure--but to spend most or all of a meeting "celebrating" ultimately defeats the primary purpose of the fellowship, I have come to believe. That is just my opinion, I hasten to add; many people around the fellowship feel differently, and they are not necessarily wrong. It's one of those areas where there is no "right" answer, I suppose.
I've only had one really gaudy, over-the-top celebration in all my time here. There was a now-folded meeting that used to be a speaker meeting, and egos being what are they in recovery, for a time it was the glamour, "in" group of the area. I was going to it every week at that time in my life because it fit well into my schedule, and then I become friendly with many of the people in the group and joined it for about a year. I don't remember if it was actually a requirement or a guideline of the group, but I do know that every celebrant, it seemed, had a parade of speakers talking on their behalf, and as hard as it is for me to say so out loud now, I was one of the worst offenders--I figured it was my five-year anniversary, and nice round numbers ought to be a big deal, so what the hell, let's pretty much ask everyone I know to speak for me. I think there were nine speakers, including my sponsor (Aldo then as now)--and I could tell he was not happy when he finally got up to say something. The meeting ran long (with ten people, including me, talking in that setting, how could it not), and the next day, Aldo was still upset, and talked about how the biggest thing I had demonstrated was the size of my ego. I've never forgotten that talk, and over the years, I've really come to share his views. I hardly ever go to celebrations at groups that I know feature multiple speakers anymore, and my own celebrations have been very low-key for many years now--I might be wrong, but I don't think I've done anything other than have my sponsor (or a sponsee, some years) present me with my medallion since that year. And even though others have different views, I really have come to believe that, contrary to what is often heard, these massive spectacle celebrations are not about the newcomer; they are about the celebrant and/or the celebrant's sponsor or support group and often serve other purposes than merely showing newcomers that a long period of clean time is possible. And Aldo made a point years ago that I don't think gets aired enough; for the person that doesn't have a large support group, that couldn't make a spectacle out of their celebration even if they wanted to, these type of celebrations are an ordeal. And the contrast, often within the same home group, between those with seven speakers and a zillion cards and balloons and those with maybe one or two people with not even a card is jarring.
This will be the first time celebrating at my current home group, which I joined in the spring. One of the reasons I like my home group is that its celebration policy is very low-key; I don't think I've seen any home group member have more than their sponsor speak on their behalf, and a couple of members with considerable time and experience have been very conscientious about saying a few words and getting on with the meeting. Which is going to be my approach as well; I will be shocked if we are not moving onto the regular format by 7:35. I could easily take up most of the meeting; after all, I've been here for many years, worked a 12-and-12, have a lot of experience, and certainly haven't forgotten my war story, either. But that's not why we have meetings or celebrations. Simple expressions of gratitude and some thoughts on how the process has worked in my life over the last year are more attractive than taking the meeting hostage and indulging my still-considerable, at times, ego. And what I say and how I conduct myself the other 51 weeks of the year says a lot more about me, my recovery, and my program to the people that go to the meeting every week than any grandiosity I could put out there tonight.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sixteen Years Clean

Most people can't pinpoint an exact moment that their life changed course completely, but I can. Sixteen years ago today--12:07 AM, according to the police report--my active addiction came to an end, after a rather protracted and ugly fracas at a hotel that no longer exists. I remember every detail of that evening with crystal clarity. I wish I could tell you I remember everything that's happened since then, too, but as that night and morning recede into the distance, I tend to remember detail less and less.
But that's a good thing in many ways, too, because not as many "memorable" things have happened since that morning. I remember the first time I heard someone say in a meeting that "boring is good" and thinking that they were out of their mind--but it was a view I came to share rather quickly. I not only lead a pretty "boring" life compared to the one I used to lead, but I've become very grateful for it being so, and have come to be very uncomfortable with most forms of dramatic intrusions upon it. Maybe boring isn't the right term, as it gives an impression that I sit here twiddling my thumbs or glued to the television set most of the time--let's call it "stable." And stability is, without a doubt, a positive development. I've seen the effects of long-term stability in my own and, more importantly, my children's lives, and they are nearly uniformly positive. And my values have changed considerably, nearly completely, since that morning in 1998, and continue to evolve, which is a sign that the growth process is ongoing and that "recovery" is something that doesn't have a definite end point.
There have been times where that hasn't exactly been a comforting thought. A decade ago, when the stability was already more or less established and the problems stemming from active addiction had long ago receded, I couldn't really imagine still being involved in the recovery community to any extent. But as time has passed, I have really seen that my personal recovery isn't the point. The fellowship is much larger, and much younger, than it ever has been; there are literally hundreds more people trying to get clean now than there were in 1998-99. And the point is not so much that I have put the past behind me; the point is that I have something to offer those that are trying to get clean and fashion a recovery now.
We really do only keep what we have by giving it away. And that means being present in the fellowship, being available to those with less time in on whatever level is necessary, sharing the details of my journey, the ups and the downs as well. Because the hardest thing for people in recovery to come to believe is not what any of us thought when we came in the door. The hardest thing that we come to terms with over the time we are here is that the drugs are only a symptom of our actual problem, that change has to take place on a spiritual and intellectual level, not just behavioral. Because none of our behaviors are hard-wired; they are the result of our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, coping skills and value systems, knowledge levels and ignorance levels, feelings and ways to process them. Addiction is the end result of the way we think, feel, and believe.
Not the driver of those things.
I've come to a better understanding of that in the last couple of years than I did the first fourteen I was here. I haven't struggled with keeping the drugs down for a long time, but I've gone through some painful experiences the last couple of years that really made me examine and re-examine my basic beliefs and the values I hold. There's always something else to work on, it seems. I've had to face the consequences of decisions I've made, look very closely at my motivations in many areas, and take some input from sources I did not want to take input from regarding how I appear to others. I've become deeply, painfully aware of how my actions have affected and affect other people, and relearned some real basic lessons that I had allowed to fade into the mists of the past--most obviously you can't make yourself feel and look better by pointing out where other people are worse than you are. I've become aware that my judgement skills, while very good and sharp in some areas, aren't what I thought they were in other areas. Recovery fellowships are full of people who have become masters of manipulation, and even though most of us have functional bullshit antennae, sometimes you run into, and taken advantage of by, people who are really good at manipulation. It's not a badge of shame, but it is, no pun, sobering to realize that even after all this time, I can still get played and taken advantage of. It extracted a bit of a price, to be sure, but it wasn't the end of the world, either, and won't be.
And part of the "giving away" that I was referring to before is letting those new to recovery know that emotional setbacks and mistakes in judgement do not necessarily have to lead to relapses and our entire lives falling apart. We do not have to go to pieces to kill uncomfortable feelings, and we don't have to bail out on being clean because we have images to protect, and we don't have to pretend that devastating pain doesn't hurt. And there comes a great strength from knowing that I can survive just about anything now without having to get high or drunk. I haven't talked much about God and my beliefs about God in this post much, but a big part of the last sixteen years has been finding a concept of God that I can actually not only believe in, but come to trust in and rely upon to get through my life--and not only in bad times, but in good, as well. Living by principles is not just something to do when stuff starts going south; if I do it regularly, a whole lot less goes south to begin with. And when it does, it's a lot easier to deal with and get out of.
I woke up thinking, of all things, Bob Dylan today. One of my favorite songs is Changing of the Guards, and it popped into my head before I brushed my teeth this morning because the first line of the song is "Sixteen years/sixteen banners united over the fields." As it does on every anniversary, I am profoundly grateful for those that have been there for the entire journey, those have started later than I did but who have kept moving along the journey, and those who are no longer here but helped me along the way. But I also remember to pray for and recall those who have struggled more than I have, that have not been able to keep it down, who have fallen time and again and on occasion have stayed down for the count. We always hear at meetings that we need to "keep coming back," but for many, that's no longer possible, because their addiction has cost them their lives.
Mine has not. Sixteen years ago, I was on the edge; I was a physical wreck (nearly two weeks after my arrest, when I had been in the evaluation unit at Tully Hill for a couple of days, a doctor came in my room with an EKG in his hand expressing surprise that I was still walking around), at a weight I hadn't been at since the sixth grade. And my physical problems weren't the worst problem I had; the altercation that resulted in my arrest came about because I was desperately trying to come up with the money I owed one drug dealer whose patience with my delinquency had come to an end. He was coming to that hotel with bad intentions toward me--and he was only one of several dealers that I owed a considerable sum to. There is no doubt in my mind that if I had not gotten arrested that night, I would have been stabbed, shot, or beaten half or fully to death within a week's time by one of those people; when you owe them money, you don't get annoying phone calls, you get assaulted and killed. That didn't turn out to be my fate through no design of my own, and for that I am eternally grateful beyond belief.
But I also am aware that I took the chance I was given and ran with it. We're not guaranteed first chances, much less second or fifth or tenth. If there is one thing that breaks my heart, it is seeing people who do not take advantage of the opportunities they are given. Recovery is often referred to as a "miracle," and the dictionary definition of "miracle' is "an event or occurrence that apparently contradicts known scientific laws." There is no real reason I should be here today with sixteen years clean; that I am is because I was blessed with a miracle opportunity all those years ago.
I sure as hell cannot expect another one to be afforded me. I've done enough over the years to have lost the desire to get high. I can't imagine a circumstance where I would want to ever again, and that is the miracle that I want to share the most on this occasion. The never-ending obsession with getting high does end for some of us, if we work our programs to the best of our ability. No, life isn't perfect, and I am not perfect, and I don't get a pass on bad things happening on occasion. But I have been able to lose the obsession to get high, so much so that it isn't even a consideration now, even when some really painful stuff is going down.
And I know that as long as I keep working that program of recovery, it will stay off the table, something that is part of my past but not my present. Smoking crack was, when all the broth was boiled off, a coping strategy. I have learned different and better ways of coping with life. The way to cope with life's problems is not by finding ways to ultimately end it. I've been clean now for almost a third of my life, and it has been, by far, the best third of it.
I'm not going anywhere.

Monday, October 27, 2014

More Ebola Nonsense

Now we have to quarantine nurses in tents?
Well, to be fair, we didn't do that; New Jersey's oafish governor, the morally defective Chris Christie, did that to a nurse that might or might not have been exposed to someone with the virus when she got off a plane at Newark airport, with no shower and bathing facilities and a bucket for toilet facilities (replaced by, after initial and instant outrage, a portable toilet). There's another nurse on the New York side of the Hudson that the Spoiled Little Bastard has ridden to news headlines for three consecutive days. After three days of vacillation and reversals that reminded me of my old beagle coming across a field that a flock of wild turkeys had crossed ten minutes prior, Cuomo has finally (at least until this morning) decided to allow the New York nurse to undergo quarantine inside her own home.
Why this was a difficult choice, I have no idea. Even Rick Frigging Perry understood that if the person being quarantined did in fact turn out to have the virus, the house they lived in was going to have to decontaminated anyway, and that the people being quarantined did nothing wrong other than be in the vicinity of sick people. But Cuomo, days away from an election that he desperately needs a crushing landslide victory in to pump up his own fevered hopes of residing in the White House come 2017 (and increasingly unlikely to get it, even against opposition that seems comically inept), tried to ride the sails of public opinion rather than principle (or even common sense) over a dizzying weekend, going from unconcern to panic to reasonable response in a 48-hour span. And in a way, I am glad he did, because it exposed his lack of any core values other than stoking his own ambitions in a way that even toddlers can figure out.
But even Cuomo is a secondary issue. There are two schools of thought out there about what would happen if humanity ever had to face a true existential threat--alien invasion, horrible epidemic, runaway (as opposed to gathering) climate change, and the like. There is a persistent minority that believes that somehow we would pull together to face our fears and work toward the common goal, and cite as evidence the outpouring of care and concern that inevitably follows natural disasters, and the cooperation among survivors in those situations. While this is often the case, it's not really relevant to a true existential threat--in those cases, either the worst is over (for the survivors) or there's no direct threat to themselves (for outsiders). But the history of humanity couldn't be clearer--when it's all falling apart, people revert to predatory, selfish, and cold-hearted behavior. The panic we are experiencing over Ebola--which, as apocalyptic scenarios go, is extremely low-grade and unlikely, but horrific enough to flip the freak-out button in many of us--is the latest manifestation of this. Human beings are, when the intellectual, big-brain, "superior development" veneer is stripped away, just another animal--and the results are not pretty. We are capable of, and indeed are demonstrating, astonishing indifference and inhumanity to one another if we sense a threat, however remote, to our very existence.
I don't approve of it, but I understand it. What I don't care for--indeed, what moves me to rage--is the cynicism and calculation that those who are not directly affected or threatened exhibit. There isn't a politician in any place affected by the tiny instance of Ebola exposure in this country that doesn't have enough information to hand to respond responsibly--and they knowingly fan the flames of ignorance and fear for short-term, selfish gain. These are the guys that hold the positions they do precisely because we are entrusting them with keeping their shit together when crisis occurs. It's their job not to panic, not to ride waves of fear like a surfer, not to profit off mass panic and ignorance. And these are the guys that are truly dangerous. The bozos in Congress wanting to ban flights and seal borders and guys like Christie and Cuomo (even Perry, as much as I despise him, has done a better job dealing with a very small but real instance of actual Ebola infection and largely left the political posturing to others) are more of a problem than any actual threat from the virus itself. You're more likely to get hit by a meteor than you are to die from Ebola, and it's time that everyone stop engaging in these macabre phantasms about subways becoming vectors of the apocalypse.
And for God's sake, do not forget about these responses the next time you head to a polling place in an election some of these guys are contesting. For New Yorkers, it's only eight days in the future, and there were already plenty of reasons not to vote for Cuomo. But for the others--take names.
Postscript: Both proved just how much of an asshole each is today with their spin on their backtracking on the quarantine orders. Christie resorted to lying about the facts of the initial quarantine, and then said the nurse didn't have Ebola anyway, so everyone should just shut up and leave him alone. Cuomo, typically, went even worse, blustering that "I disagree with the CDC. And at the end of the day, I'm the governor of this state." Well...fuck you. Just fuck you. And then, for an added bonus, he "joked" that anyone in future quarantines could spend the time reading his book.
Yes, he really did.
I may just vote for Astorino after all.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Changes Coming Late in Life

Yesterday, I went to a morning meeting and attended an NA function in the evening, and heard a few people that I've known for a long time talk at varying length. I've also been, for the last couple of weeks, doing a little more self-examination than I normally do due to my clean date coming up in a couple of days and reflecting on the journey I've been on. I haven't exactly been groping around in the dark, but all my feelings weren't quite in focus until I was home last night, either.
Without getting in too much detail, since I am pressed for time this morning, I have been struck by how many of us that have been around for many years in the program can, after a very long time in neutral about some aspects of our lives, make sudden progress that can be measured in figurative miles. There was a guy at the morning meeting that has made huge changes in his demeanor and sense of responsibility in the last two years--after being here for nearly two decades. One of the speakers last night was quite open about how much he has changed in the last two years. I know I have evolved considerably over the past couple of years, with a great deal of acceleration on the personal growth front in the last six months. A couple of women I saw and spoke with yesterday have covered an amazing amount of ground in the last couple of years themselves. None of us are newcomers; all of us had multiple black keytags for many years.
And yet the process of change, of growth, really took off only recently. It's like watching a tree suddenly, after being twenty feet tall in your backyard for a decade, suddenly shoot up another ten feet in a summer. And sitting in the chair last night thinking about what I had heard yesterday, I was struck by two common factors: 1) the changes in all cases were catalyzed by relationships, either the evolution of ones or the learning from ones that didn't work out so well--or both, and 2) the commitment, even in the time periods when we were stuck in the same place for a long time, to remaining part of the process--attending meetings, sponsoring, being sponsored, service work writ small and large.
Newcomers are usually both caught up in their situations and tend to have an idealized view of those of us with time, and both of these realities tend to obscure the very real pain those of us with significant time go through as we attempt to work our way through the inner core of our disease of addiction. It's a reminder that, as ludicrous as it may seem to those that struggle with keeping down drugs on a daily basis still, the use of drugs is but a symptom of the disease of addiction, which, as I often tell those not in recovery as a means of a shorthand understanding of it, is the ultimate OCD. The obsession with ourselves, and the fears and denial--and as one of the speakers last night emphasized, of refusal to change--that accompany it is something that we struggle with on a deep, endemic level. I used to harbor these fantasies that there would come a time when I would be able to lay aside this sort of stuff forever, that I would be done with the need to continue working on aspects of myself. I think I know better now, and am actually glad that I didn't come to a resigned acceptance of some aspects of my character as it had evolved in the first half of my life.
And as I have also come to appreciate and know over the last decade and a half, I'm not all that special. A lot of people go over the ground and walk a similar path to the one I do. And that as tempting as it is to believe that some people are never going to change about some things--that's not true. If we persevere on the journey, eventually we can burst through some terrain that seems impenetrable for a long, long time. And it makes the view, once we get through the mess, even more breathtaking and enjoyable.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Officially Sanctioned Looting

On occasion, I have written impassioned screeds in this space talking about the various ways that Corporate America has found ingenious methods to mine our pockets for ridiculous "services"-- for example, charging a dollar for a minute or two of air to fill your tire at most gas stations. But at least when we are dealing with a corporate entity, there is a tacit understanding that the entity exists for the purpose of making money, and thus, even if it on grossly unfair terms, there is an element of "let the buyer beware" that cannot be dodged--after all, you have a choice in the matter. So as exercised as I get about blatant ripoffs, that anger is tempered by the realization that I can always attempt to get what I need elsewhere--and in many cases, that's been a successful quest. Hess, to take one example, still doesn't charge for air, and that is why when a tire looks low, I will risk downtown traffic to get to Hess to put air in the tire.
And before I get to the main point of this post--whoever is in charge of setting the traffic lights in the City of Binghamton needs to have a job evaluation, pronto. When I got to work Monday morning, the traffic signals at the intersections of Main Street and Chapin and Murray Streets, respectively, were blinking--which usually means power was briefly interrupted at some point in the previous day or two. Sure enough, by 10 AM the lights were back to normal--but they weren't normal, because standard practice for years has been that the lights turn red and green at the same time, and that the intersection of Oak and Main a block down from Murray was also synchronized with them, meaning that traffic flowed more or less smoothly, even at the hours when the high school, which is located at the intersection of Oak and Murray, is admitting and dismissing the students. For the last week, there is now a sixteen-second gap between the time the light at Murray/Main and the light at Chapin/Main turns green--and the Oak/Main light is synchronized with neither. The end result is that for most of the time between 7:45 AM and 7 PM, traffic on Main Street going east absolutely slows to a crawl, and at peak times (lunch, when school lets out), westbound traffic is badly snarled as well. And then, in its infinite wisdom, the City decided that not only /Riverside Drive had to be reconstructed this year (defensible, because it was awfully torn up) and it has been closed to traffic for two months between the Chenango River and Lourdes Hospital, but also the intersection of Clinton Street and Front Street needed to be completely overhauled as well. And the Interstate 86 project is in Year Three, which has badly disrupted traffic on Prospect Street... the problem, you ask? There are four streets in Binghamton which go from the Johnson City line to the Chenango River--Riverside, Main, Clinton, and Prospect. That's right; three of them have been undergoing major construction, and they just altered the traffic pattern on the fourth so that traffic slows to a crawl during most of the daylight hours. It can now take fifteen minutes to get from Johnson City to across the Chenango, no matter which route you take. Even getting on the highway is not an option, because the exit just across the river that used to allow access to downtown (and the South Side, too) has been closed for a year due to the 86 project. It's infuriating to know that people in charge of this stuff have the foresight of earthworms--and more infuriating to know that they get paid a hell of a lot more money than I do for the sort of nitwittery that a myopic six-year old can see coming from the next county.
And that isn't even what I was worked up about when I sat down... there were two egregious examples of governmental looting--there is no other word for it--that came to my attention this week. One made the news, and the guilty culprit was again the City of Binghamton. There was some feature on the news about problems with parking meters downtown, and the inordinate amount of tickets that seem to be given out, even at broken meters. And the City trotted out their traffic control officer, one William Lescault, to talk to the media. I've had my own run-ins with this wonderful human being ( http://steve-stevesomma.blogspot.com/2010/10/its-principle.html ), and he hasn't gotten any warmer and fuzzier in the intervening four years. He actually said that the way to ascertain whether or not the meter is broken is to put your money in it and see if the time comes up. If it doesn't--if in fact, it is broken--you are still liable for getting ticketed for parking at an invalid spot. According to this paragon of civic service, you are supposed to move your car to a meter that will accept your money--in other words, you are supposed to keep shoving money in meters until you find a working one. Do you get your money back from the broken one? Hell, no... the logic behind this is stunning, and so is the contempt for the driver. I guess the City is under no obligation to remove or fix the fucking broken meter, but we're responsible for feeding it like it was a slot machine, without recompense? And we can be ticketed for doing our best to follow the damn law on top of it?... Lescault is one of the biggest assholes I have ever met in my life, and there is no doubt he runs the Traffic Division. I know a few BPD people, and they reliably assure me that even other cops hate this guy, too, because this is typical of how he interacts with the world. But personalities aside--can you imagine having the balls to charge people for something that doesn't work and then tell them, essentially, TFB? Even Corporate America can't get away with that when it's that brazen (unless you're Comcast or IBM, but that's a different post). And while it's tempting to say, "Well, it's only a quarter"--well, multiply that by forty or fifty times a day, and then how many weekdays in a year, and the City of Binghamton is collecting two thousand dollars a year from defective meters, not to mention nabbing a few $50 parking tickets as well. I'd love to be given three grand a year for nothing, wouldn't you?
The second was not public information, but a friend of mine recounting what happened to her mother at our old friend, the state Department of Motor Vehicles. When my father was alive and his business was in full bloom, he had the sort of contempt for DMV that most of the NHL had for Sean Avery when he was active. And my father was far from alone; I remember reading some newspaper columnist in the 1980's that including the New York DMV on a list of "known Soviet satellite states."  There was a concerted effort locally about ten years ago to make the DMV more consumer-friendly, and I have not had a problem there in a long time personally. On the other hand, I hardly ever have to go there, either, and haven't been there at all in the time of the Spoiled Little Bastard, so it is certainly possible that the Bad Old Days have returned. Anyhow... as relatives will often do, my friend's mother purchased a car from her sister or some other relation at a sweetheart deal cost, and went to the DMV to register the car. The clerk blanched when she saw the low price for the sale, proceeded to arbitrarily look up the "book value" of the model, make, and year in some trade publication, and informed my friend's mother that she was going to have to pay the sales tax based on that figure before she could get the car registered. Ummm... this is beyond belief. What's to stop a clerk from picking a number out of the air? Why not just stick a gun in your ribs and demand a few hundred dollars? I'm not one of these "free market" evangelists by any means, but for God's sake, if someone wants to sell a car for less than book value, who the fuck is some jackass that works for DMV to decide that the transaction is fraudulent? For all she knows, the car has no windows or a hole in the radiator or any of a hundred other things that need to be fixed before the car is roadworthy, The car could be a gift, or the paying of some other debt, or whatever else you can think of. For a clerk to just say, "I've decided you need to pay this much" is, frankly, robbery. It's no different from the Cossacks riding into town and ransacking your house. If this is the kind of shit that New York has to do to make its budget work, than fuck the budget--run a deficit. I wasn't going to vote for Cuomo under any circumstances anyway, but this hardened my desire to see that this little prick gets sent into retirement by any means necessary as soon as possible.
Because if this isn't an assumption of arrogance that used to be seen only in hereditary despotic royalty, nothing is.