Drugs

I’m tired of reading about the drug crisis, even though I am relieved to see Trump is taking credit for the fight against opioid abuse.

Anyone with half a brain can figure out that all the hand-wringing and media hype is exactly that—hype. Nothing is going to change as long as there are practicing addicts. Nothing is going to change as long as there are immense profits to be made from drugs and from addiction, and by Big Pharm, pain clinics and doctors whose understanding of the Hippocratic Oath is at best spotty. We are still acting as if interdiction works, when, after billions of dollars wasted trying to eradicate and interdict other drugs (cocaine, heroin, meth, marijuana, alcohol, among them) our dependence on drugs keeps growing.

Addiction is a disease. Might as well try to outlaw cancer.

For years now I’ve been saying that the only way we will ever get a handle on the drug issue is to legalize everything. Everything… Legalize, oversee, and tax. Imagine the billions of dollars of income from taxing what are now illegal drugs. Imagine how such moneys could be used to train counselors and set up free or minimal-cost rehabs for anyone wanting to quit. Imagine, as well, how legalizing drugs would change the political systems in Central and South America, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the other Stans responsible for growing and exporting deadly drugs mostly to the US. Imagine Russia’s loss of income once the market price of dugs collapses. Putinland might go bankrupt.

We would cut the cost of caring for addicts. We would no longer see our swamped hospital emergency rooms dealing with the ravages of addiction and drug-related gang wars. We would free law enforcement from the thankless task of busting users and dealers big or small, and officers of the law could return to preventing and solving real crimes, those of hate, violence, and human abuse. We would relieve the overcrowding of prisons and free the judiciary from having to adjudicate the hundreds of thousands of drug trafficking offenses tried annually. Drugs could be made purer and therefore less dangerous. The petty crimes committed by desperate addict would end. Big pharm would be happy and might be encouraged to devote more funds to researching cures for other, equally devastating illnesses.

We could, in less than one generation, completely change the world.

The downside? There would be a massive die-off as hardcore addicts perish quickly instead of slowly from having access to limitless drugs. This might be avoided somewhat by implementing a rescue system for those who, though they might deem themselves almost beyond help, retain a glimmer of hope. Programs already in place that are both non-punitive and non-judgmental would benefit from an infusion of funds. Think education, think training, think hope and healing, not coercion, force or fear.

I’ve been on both sides of the drug issue. I know for a fact that telling an addict to stop using drugs is akin to telling a clinically depressed person to have a nice day. It doesn’t work. Legalizing drugs would.

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Frightening Words

The most frightening word I know is biopsy. The most frightening six-word sentence I know is we’ll need to do a biopsy. The sentence and the word when uttered by a medical person keep me up at night, wide-eyed in the dark, with foul thoughts competing for preeminence. My stomach gets queasy and my shoulders lock up.

Most people who know me also know that for the past seven years I’ve been dealing with bladder cancer. I’ve undergone almost twenty cystoscopies, a very nasty and dehumanizing procedure that involves a tiny camera exploring my bladder. I’ve been operated upon fourteen times, and received more than fifty rounds of brutal chemotherapy. I mention all this because this past week, I’ve had two medical tests done to determine whether my existing cancer, or perhaps a new one, was continuing its stealthy invasion.

It’s not.

I’m tempted to yell, “F*ck you, stupid cancer!” but I won’t. I’m superstitious enough to believe baiting the beast is plain stupid. Instead, I’ll just express my gratitude.

The biopsy results showed nothing amiss.

The oncologist who did the cystoscopy put his probe away and said, “Looks good!”

I said, “Are you sure?”

He laughed. I’ve asked him that question before. “Yeah. No recurrence. No tumors, no cancer. There’s some scar tissue from all the surgeries, but everything looks good. I’ll see you in three months.”

I’ve now been cancer-free nine months. That hasn’t happened before, and for the first time in weeks, I slept a full, uninterrupted seven hours.

No cancer. I can begin making plans to go to Europe this spring or summer. I can keep writing the sequels to books recently published or about to be published. I can breathe without having that small catch in my lungs that makes me hiccup in fear.

Yowzah! No cancer. Perhaps the two most reassuring words I know.

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The Vanishing Small Town

Over the past few days, developers and investors, with the blessing of the local city council, razed an entire block of my small town. Vanished are five small restaurants (Afghan, breakfast, Italian, Thai, Indian), a mom-and-pop Asian grocery store, a dentist’s office, a bodega, a bar where my band used to play, a 24-hour medical center used by people without insurance, a 7-Eleven, a fortune teller and storefront palmistry, a plumbing supply store, and a Sunoco gas station. My understanding is that the entire area will become condos, with prices starting at $750,000 and up.

A few hundred yards down the street is another strip mall slated to be torn down soon to create, yes, more condos. This is progress, I am told, and it is taking place in the very heart of this little town, essentially stripping the area of any local interest. More paved surfaces, more impermeable areas, more run-offs to pollute the diminishing streams. Traffic will be hampered for a year at the very least, and already the streets are being torn up to add more lanes, more traffic signals, and fewer parking spaces. The people I’ve spoken with who live nearby are appalled but powerless. They fought the development for years and lost. One couple is planning to move out. Both husband and wife work in the Nation’s Capital and over the last dozen or so years have seen traffic quintuple and major highways turned into toll roads.

No doubt, the governing city council saw the removal of an entire neighborhood as a good thing. After all, small restaurants and ethnic grocery stores don’t contribute all that much to city coffers, while luxury condos offer the prospects of a vastly improved tax base.

I would guess that more than two-hundred local workers lost their employment when the area was razed. These include wait staff, automobile mechanics, retail store employees, nurses at the doc-in-a-box, 7-Eleven cashiers and short-order cooks who all found themselves jobless. Virginia’s unemployment rate is low—3.8% in 2018—and the area prides itself on its fair employment practices, but my understanding is that the loss of jobs suffered by the destruction and development of a city block was not seriously addressed. Most of the workers were immigrants, and I’m not sure how many voices were raised in their support.

It used to be that most small American towns had an identity, but I think this is vanishing. Driving hundreds of miles from state to state offers the same sad scenery. Big box stores, fast-food franchises, car dealerships, Jiffy-Lubes, and Holiday Inns have replaced the businesses that once gave small towns a sense of community. I’m not sure such a sense exists in luxury condos, which are places where people live but rarely call home.

 

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Marie-Thérèse Henriette Hughette Février Sagnier

Sunday marked the 27th anniversary of my mother’s death. Marie-Thérèse Henriette Hughette Février Sagnier was an amazing woman, a liberated person long before it was fashionable, a feminist, an artist, writer, painter, an amateur actor and musician.

She was a soldier, too, and my favorite photo is of her and her new beau—my father—both wearing the uniforms of the Free French and smitten with each other. They are standing in a Dresden-like scene of total wartime devastation. Their feet are firmly planted in bombed-out rubble, and a spectral vision of a half-destroyed church is behind them. They are smiling and in love.

This icon was always in a prominent place in our family homes. I never thought to ask about it, and only recently a friend noticed that in the photo, my mother is holding a dog on a leash, a large black thing that may have been a poodle. Another mystery. When I was growing up in Paris, we never had a dog.

She was not an easy person with whom to get along. She was ambitious, anxiety-ridden, an early user of pharmaceuticals to ease her angst and force a smile. She could be critical and judgmental, traits she inherited from her own father, a man from whom she ran away when she was sixteen years old.

She had an uneasy relationship with her two daughters by an earlier marriage, one of whom wrote and published a series of books my mother found unfair, short works that roundly criticized everything about my mother’s life—her divorce from my sisters’ father, her remarriage, her decision to come with her new family to the United States. The books pained her, even as she was proud of her daughter’s rise to a moderate fame in the French literary world.

America confused her. She did not speak English when she arrived, and always struggled with the unfamiliar tongue. The newness of the country left her both amazed and wanting to go back to the familiarity of France.

She and my father returned to Paris after his retirement. Cancer took her quickly. She never complained, and on the eve of being hospitalized for the final time, she hosted a bridge party and served hors d’oeuvres she had assembled in her kitchen.

She gritted her teeth and smiled through the afternoon, and the next day was taken by ambulance to the American Hospital in Paris where, decades earlier, she’d given birth to me.

Our love and relationship were tumultuous. She wanted me to become a diplomat and serve in the Foreign Service. I didn’t. She forgave my shortcomings when my stories appeared in the Washington Post. She would call her friends and, “oh, by the way,” mention my byline in that day’s newspaper.

It made me happy to please her. Twenty-seven years later, she is still a daily presence in my life.

 

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…And if Elected I Will Not Serve.

So I’m going to put this out there right now so there’s no confusion, in case one day I am selected to run for public office.

You can see my scholastic records any time. I was a lousy student, C+ at best, though I did get a cum laude on my French Baccalaureate. Since I am being buck-naked honest, I will also reveal that I failed the Bac the first time. It was embarrassing; I majored in science and couldn’t tell you the difference between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. I still can’t. The second time arounds, I did the Bac with an emphasis on philosophy and literature. I positively shone. Mind you, majoring in philosophy means you can do one thing and one thing only, and that is teach philosophy.

I dropped out of Georgetown University to take a job as a copy boy (that’s what we were called back then) with the Washington Post. I worked from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. and loved every minute of it. No one ever asked me about the sympathetic/parasympathetic systems. nor did they test my knowledge of philosophy. But I wrote a whole bunch of articles for the Post, including several Sunday magazine covers, and one of those stories got me a contract with Harper & Row for a book.

Before anyone else does so, I will also tell you that I flunked out of typing school. I still type with three fingers, or four if I’m really excited, and I make a dozen errors per paragraph. I would suggest anyone wanting to be writer not learn to type. Since I look at my fingers and at the screen, whenever I type, I am editing as well. In other words, I write a first and second draft at the same time, which I think is pretty clever.

I did go back to school after a few years and there met a Creative Writing professor who taught me an important lesson, that being When To Let Go.

Professor C was an amazingly erudite man. He was impressed that I knew the difference between Plato and plagiarism. He had a novel in his desk drawer, a 1000-page thing he’d been working on for a dozen years. He allowed me to read a few chapters and it was an amazing experience. He wrote flawlessly. His characters were brilliant, as was his plotting. The dialogues and trilogues were so real I felt as if I’d just stepped into the pages and conversed with his people.

I took all the classes he taught. At the beginning of each semester, I asked him when he’d submit the book to a publisher, and he would say it wasn’t ready yet; he was still revising.

Some eleven years later, I ran into Professor C in a restaurant near where I worked. He had aged a bit and my first question was, what happened to your novel? There was a brief, embarrassed silence, and then the professor said it remained in the same drawer. He was still revising, but he was almost done.

If it’s possible to be intellectually sad, that’s what I was when I left the restaurant. I don’t know what happened to Professor C, but I’m willing to bet his novel is still in a drawer somewhere.

Winston Churchill once wrote, “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” This is my favorite quote on writing.

I’ve had seven books in print and letting each one go was painful. Another dozen-or-so works are in various stages of completion. Some will have legs—in a while if I keep writing them, they’ll begin to write themselves. Others, after 150 pages or so, will let me know there’s no future there. This is okay; not every project has to come to fruition. These works become like friends I rarely see, and every couple of years I’ll take an unfinished book out, reread it and see if, perhaps, it has sprung limbs while left to its own device. That hasn’t happened yet.

My second-favorite writing quote is, “Writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” This was the advice writer and activist Mary Heaton Vorse gave to a young Sinclair Lewis.

I have no intention of running for office. If elected, I will not serve. And did not learn either quote in school.

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The Very Best e-Books Titles–Part 1

A challenge for online authors is to find eye-grabbing titles that scream, “Read me!”  And so writer friends and members of an informal group that meets every so often rose to the task. Here are some eBook titles guaranteed to hit the bestsellers list.

Holy Mary and the Mauser: An Illustrated Guide to Guns for Virgins

The Christian Gun Owners Guide: Using Scripture to Pick the Right Weapon

The Illustrated Guide to Guns that Jesus Would Have Owned0116ebooks

God Wants You to Be Fat: Biblically Sanctioned Obesity for Today’s Robust Believer

Saints and Swastikas: The Illustrated Guide to Faith and Nazism

Incest, All in the Family

Masters & Johnson, The Secret Files

This Pussy Has Teeth—The Truth About Vagina Dentata

Obama: The French Connection

Trump: The Viagra Connection

Lose 20 lbs in One Night While Watching TV

Eat Pork, Lose Weight

Companion volume: 30 Sausage Recipes that Shed Pounds

The Porn Murders—The Graphic Files

Brittney and Justin, A Love Story for Our Times

Revealed at Last: The Secret Sex Lives of Rotarians

Revealed at Last: The Secret Sex Lives of Rosicrucians

Jennifer Lawrence Wants to Talk Dirty With You and Other Secrets of Degenerate  Hollywood Stars Who Date Really Boring Ordinary Guys

Candy Kills Cancer! The Sweet Truth the Medical Industrial Complex Doesn’t Want You to Know

Aliens in My Soup:  How Tiny Extraterrestrials Have Infiltrated Our Food Supply

All Sex, All Violence, All the Time

Loose Women, Tight Prose

The Velcrovian Revolution—An Alternative to the Fly

15 Ways to Painless Enhancement for Men and Women

How to Make a Six-Figure Income Helping Kindle Writers

 

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Perks

A very long time ago, when America was a bit saner than it is now, I became friends with a Senator from a Western state. He lived in my neighborhood, often went to a bar where a band I played with performed, and we discovered a common interest in Dobro guitars and Jack Daniels bourbon.

The Senator had been elected by a wide margin over his opponent. He believed in Native American rights, fair wages for all, and that the American Constitution was not a holy manuscript but a working document that should reflect and keep up with the times.

He had told his constituents that, if elected, he would serve a maximum of two terms, and then return to private life, which is exactly what he did.

We played music together and drank a lot and discussed Martin versus Gibson guitar strings and old-timey blue grass music. He was interested by the fact that I had interviewed the legendary Maybelle Carter, who wrote Wildwood Flower, played a mean autoharp, and was Johnny Cash’s mother-in-law. I was interested by a minor scandal where a member of the House of Representatives had been found in flagrante delicto with a pocket full of cash and an expensive call-girl in a New York Avenue motel.

This Representative was a Republican who announced that he was indeed a sinner and, though he would not resign from his elected post, he would go on a cold-water religious retreat to atone for his shortcomings and be reborn, he told the media, in the bosom of Jesus. My Senator friend was a Democrat; he found the situation both depressing and hilarious. Between sips of bourbon, he told me something I have never forgotten.

“You know,” he said, “All these people on the Hill, they’re gonna hang on no matter what. They’ve never had a job this good, and they never will again.” He repeated it for emphasis, “They never will again.” He drained his glass and shook his head sadly.

Over the ensuing decades, I’ve had good reason to ponder the wisdom of my friend’s words. The people we elect to serve us are basically handed a free pass.

According to the website Money $ Career, most Senators and Representatives:

  • Get almost $200,000 annual salary. Some get a lot more.
  • Receive a $3000 bonus tax deduction each year for living expenses while away from their home states and congressional districts.
  • Work from plush (and free) offices; have access to a gym, an inexpensive cafeteria, and free parking, which in downtown Washington is an incredible perk.
  • Have access to both a pension and a 401(k). Those who serve five years are guaranteed an annual pension of more than $14,000.
  • Receive federal subsidies covering 72% of the cost of their healthcare premiums.
  • Fly free. Most flights between their home states and Washington, D.C., are funded with taxpayer money. According to USA Today, Congress spent at least $14.7 million on taxpayer-funded trips in fiscal year 2016. Lawmakers can also book themselves on multiple flights without additional charges.
  • Get free death benefits. Should—Heaven forbid—a member of Congress be killed while serving out a term, the surviving family members are entitled to death benefits equivalent to one year’s salary.

These are only the most obvious financial benefits. There are dozens of others, including the overseas junkets to Majorca; the endless free meals; the weekends in the mountains or by the sea paid for by lobbyists.

Do you still wonder while the Republicans on the Hill appear to have checked their testicles (and their morals) at the door? Why they are so willing to support and endorse an administration whose dishonesty has become instantly legendary? Why they champion a man who cheats on his wife and his taxes, is a racist, and a serial liar?

Here’s your answer: They’re terrified of losing the best job they’ll ever have.

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