The Fear of Monkeys - The Best E-Zine on the Web for Politically Conscious WritingThe Patas Monkey - Issue Sixteen
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The Patas Monkey, photo from Christian ArtusoThe Patas Monkey is distributed over semi-arid areas of West Africa, and into East Africa. The ground-dwelling patas avoids dense woodlands and lives in more open savanna and semi-deserts and, perhaps as an evolutionary response to the high adult mortality rates associated with this strongly terrestrial lifestyle, has a remarkably high reproductive rate. The patas monkey feeds on insects, gum, seeds, and tubers, a diet more characteristic of much smaller primates, and they grow to 85 cm in length, excluding the tail, which measures 75 cm. Adult males are considerably larger than adult females and some of them can reach speeds of 55 km/h, making them the fastest runner among the primates. They have several distinct alarm calls that warn members in the group of predators. Different alarm calls are given by different group members and certain alarm calls indicate particular predators. Unlike other primates, patas monkeys rarely take refuge from predators in trees. This is most likely the due to the relatively sparse tree cover in patas monkey habitats. While patas monkeys usually run away from predators, both male and female individuals have been observed to attack predators, such as jackals and wildcats.


I Used to Laugh at People


Julie Finch

I used to laugh at people who have those bumper stickers on the backs of their cars, the ones that say "Are you ready for the Rapture?" I don't laugh anymore. I'm not saying I believe in Armageddon, Christian fundamentalist style, but it's hard not to notice the world has gone mad. Jeezy peezy, it's one big global flip-out everywhere you look.

Thing is, I'm not ancient. Not a kid now, mind you. But my childhood? It was all David Cassidy and the Partridge Family and the Jackson 5 and G.I. Joe and toolin' around the neighborhood park on my bike with my pals. Unsupervised, even after dark. Just be home in time for dinner. No big whoop. C'mon, that wasn't THAT long ago. Kids today? They can't do that. They'll end up on an amber alert.

I feel sorry for 'em, kids today. I feel sorry for parents today. I feel sorry for a lot of people. A friend told me once, "You feel sorry for this person. You feel sorry for that person. 'I feel sorry for…I feel sorry for'…God!"

Yeah, Him, too. Actually, I feel sorry for God most of all. Not that I'm helping Her out any. Far from.

I'm just so terrified, is the thing. Maybe everybody's terrified. I smoke too much (both kinds), drink too much, and I'm a pathological nail clicker. But don't I earn the right, I ask myself. During the workday, I'm chained to a cubicle, cranking out advertising copy. Advertising. It's the worst. I mean, I spend entire mornings and afternoons writing about products that people don't need, and frankly, shouldn't have. Chemical-laden snack foods and a brand of chicken that if you went to their processing plant, people, you would puke so hard and fast you'd swear off any and all animal flesh forever. I did. Of course, after my tour de Chicken Torture, I had to fly back home and show up at work the next morning and hunker down at my desk and put inhumane atrocities completely out of my mind, not to mention the most putrid/wretched stench imaginable, I simply had to block that out and come up with a (according to the brand strategy document) "heartfelt yet snappy" television campaign focusing on the company's tradition of quality and value. And I did, is the thing. For this, I should go straight to hell.

I read somewhere once that most of us are pimpin' ourselves out in one way or another. Me, I'm pimpin' perfectly decent sentence construction skills to entice the modern American consumer to buy more stuff. Stuff. Just what we need more of, all of us bankrupt citizens living in a broke nation of finger pointers and responsibility dodgers competing in a greedy, soulless corporate culture that pits vampire against vampire. I'm telling you, I will not blink an eye if and when us ad types are asked to start marketing the vomitorium as the next trendy social hotspot. Let the countdown begin. (Hurl.)

Sure, maybe I'm naïve. Maybe this is all just how the great greasy wheel of capitalism's gotta roll, and I should be grateful to be one of the overemployed cogs who keeps the whole racket up and running. It is a paycheck, after all. In this day and age, that's saying something. And what's so bad about advertising, anyway? Successful businesses are the lifeblood of a thriving free market economy, and certainly there's nothing wrong with advertising per se; it helps companies capture and keep the market share they need to meet their annual objectives, to keep shareholders happy, to help families put food on the table. (Fell asleep, didja? And who would blame?) I get that. But I'm still terrified. Terrified, and disgusted. That the benchmark of success, of an individual's value, is how much coin he or she pulls down, the kind of car they drive, shoes they wear, never mind the lies they've told, the backs they've stabbed, the snarky gossip they've spread around the water cooler to get there, to get that edge. To get that ever-lovin' edge.

Then again, maybe I'm just in a bad mood. Or pre-monstral.

Still, why is money the thing? Why is power the thing? Why is brutality the thing? After all this time? Because, that's the way the world works. The way it's always worked.

But why?

Don't get me wrong: I realize I sound like a 10-year old. My oldest brother would tell me that I am just "talking a bunch of hippie shit." A real left brainer, that one. He's an ex-Wall street guy. Lived and worked in Manhattan during the 80's. I admire his ability to have matched wits with investment bankers of that caliber. Those Wall Street people are sharp, sure enough. Cream of the crop types. True, lots of them are a shade shady. But my brother's a good guy. When his married bosses would round up the boys (also married) for a night on the town with expensive call girls to celebrate the latest gazillion dollar deal, my brother was always the only one who begged off. It's reassuring to know that money can't buy everything, not even from a committed capitalist. Anyway, I'm not trying to be a hippie. I'm just asking the questions. But mostly, I'm just trying to stay sane.

I question how well I'm doing with that particular effort. I take two different anti-depressants and two different anti-anxiety drugs every day. All that, and there are still an alarming number of moments when I find myself wanting to dissolve in a puff of smoke. Moments when I am flummoxed by the simplest everyday activity---why bother, I ask myself. Sitting in traffic, one of hundreds of gassy metal boxes on the road, construction to the left and right of me--signs heralding the coming of yet one more bloated megastore--the collective exhaust of the ubiquitous 18-wheeler polluting the whole path, drivers yakking away on cell phones, car radios blaring obnoxious commercials and crude pop fare, crass bumper stickers, emaciated gray-skinned homeless people sagging against the hulking embankments of the overpass. My insides are grinding like gears. This is my city, no amber waves of grain here, no sir, and fewer trees by the day. Now, there's a bumper sticker worth its salt: "Developers don't go to hell. They build it here." Oh, and this one, my all-time favorite: "Keep honking. I'm re-loading." Only in Texas. Anyway, about the pills, I'll bet good money that you know at least one person (five if you're female) who take some kind of attitude adjustment med. Maybe you pop a few yourself because, to cop a line from a Depeche Mode song, "You've got to make this life livable." And God knows THAT'S getting harder to do every day. (Am I just being so Debbie Downer or what?)

One time, I ran out of one of my meds, and I panicked, because this particular drug gives me a bad case of the zaps (aka electrical shocks) if I don't take it according to a very strict and timely schedule. If you've never had the zaps, let me just tell you, they are horrible, debilitating. Anyway, there I was, frantic because I hadn't gone to my doc for a refill and here it is the weekend, stone out of meds, no script, so what do I do? I get on that phone. I say, "Lisa! Girl! Do you take XXXX?" She says, "Nope. I'm on YYYY. Try Glenna." So I call Glenna. "Girl! Do you take XXXX?!" Glenna says negatory, that XXXX happens to be perhaps the only current anti-depressant she doesn't shove down her throat every morning. Then she tells me to ring up Casey, because Casey has had the barrel of a gun in her mouth before (she put it there) and there's a drawer in her small one-bedroom apartment chock full of every kind of psych med that has practically ever been on the market. "She's been through 'em all," Glenna tells me flatly, "She's your best shot."

Casey did come through for me, turns out. We met up at a local Starbucks where she handed me a baggie with enough pills to carry me through the next week. I felt obliged to buy her a coffee.

We snagged a table outside. It was a beautiful fall morning, one of those ultra rare Houston stunners where the sky is a piercing, flawless blue, there's a crispness in the air, and everyone and their dog is outside, knowing they must take advantage of the weather, these kind of days numbering only in the teens year round. It's Houston, Texas, man. The blazing heat, the humidity, the pickup truck-sized mosquitoes, they'll be back faster than you can say, "Well dern, the weather man was wrong again." These cool snaps make people perky, bubbly, festive. Even ole Casey seemed to be in a relatively good mood. If it weren't for the Plan B lesbians, she'd've been having a real banner day.

"Let me tell you something Jesse," she said, blowing on her steaming Americano, "the trouble with lesbians is that there's no clear boundaries. Sure, you got your butches and femmes, and you don't want your femme hanging out with other butches, but hell, these days, who really knows who's what? Damned Plan B lesbians."

"What's a Plan B lesbian?" I said, lighting up a smoke.

"Pretty much every lesbian I've ever dated," she said. Casey, for the record, is one of the butchest lesbians I know. She's old school. The men's department at WalMart is home turf to this sister.

"Okay, and that means what?" I asked.

"So predictable. You got two lesbians start dating in a heat, it's all lovey dovey fireworks hunky dorey. Animal sex, crazy sex. So maybe they decide they're a couple, right after about the third movie date. So life goes along, and they are so happy. Just so happy. Look at the happy little couple. But after awhile, things cool off, right?"

"Things cool off for straight people, too," I said. "Course, that's right about the time they start havin' kids. Mother Nature is a sneak, is she not? Just like a woman."

"Sure. But with lesbians, well whaddya know? Suddenly, one of 'em has a new friend. And this friend, she just so happens to be single. And this friend isn't exactly an eyesore, know what I mean? Now, all of a sudden, the Plan B side of that couple starts meeting her friend to do things. Even on days when she's maybe supposed to meet her girlfriend, well, she text messages that girlfriend and tells her she's got some errands to run, she'll see her a little later than usual. And so it goes on. The ole build up to the inevitable. And then pretty soon, Plan B finds herself thinking an awful lot, a terrible lot about her single friend. But strange thing, she never tries to set her up with any of her other single friends. Doesn't even suggest it. Sure, her other half knows about the friend, but she's just a pal, right? Huh. Well, as time moves on, funnily enough, Plan B's not all that interested in sex with her girlfriend. Not so much. She finds herself staying up later and later at night to watch reruns of movies she's already seen a hundred times, or Real Stories of the Highway Patrol, or What's Up, Thailand, somethin' like 'at," Casey said, narrowing her eyes and giving me a hard look. She sipped her coffee. I took the opportunity to chime in.

"This is sounding like an episode of the L Word, just FYI."

"Realistic, more like," she fired back. "How many breakups do you know of where one of 'em isn't dating somebody within a month?" she said, then added, "Publicly. "

"Lemme think," I said. "I'm thinking, I'm thinking…shoot. I don't know."

"Yes you do. Of course you do. When Maggie and Theresa broke up last month---"

"Maggie and Theresa broke up?"

"Herstory, my friend. Five years, right down the crapper."

"I saw 'em just a lil' while back. They seemed happy enough, but you never know about people," I said.

"Huh. Puhleeze. We can't have that. No indeed. We can't have a happy lesbian couple. We got to have that lesbo drama," Casey said, giving me several looks of ever greater disgust. "I'm goin' for more cream."

I watched my old school bulldagger pal stride inside, taking notice of what I assumed to be a relatively recent tattoo on the back of her neck. Casey has a tattoo on her right forearm that used to say "Wendy." After that particular affair's demise, she had the W and Y erased, and had a small "The" inked right above it. This new one is something Chinese-y, a symbol. Probably not one of the more chipper symbols in the language, if I had to guess. I made a mental note to ask her what it means.

Casey, I decided, is depressing. Casey, I'm thinking, needs some new drugs. The fun kind. Sure, there's plenty of lesbian drama to go around (and lesbian drama, let me just clarify, is drama squared), but not everybody is doomed to a Plan B future. At least, I liked to think not. What about Marie and Toni? Seventeen years. Barbara and Angie, something like 23. Not to mention a few couples I know who are in the eight- and nine-year range. People talk about the "Magic Three," the supposed average number of years that lesbos make it work. But I wonder. Are we selective enough? Maybe if we just dated more, instead of co-habitating and calling it true love with every hot woman who turned us out, maybe our stats would be better. I don't know. Hell, I don't know anything anymore. My head is in a swizzle all the time, it seems like. And it's conversations like this that are keeping my stomach in knots. Forget Suburu. In my own private Idaho of a gay TV channel, Pepto Bismol would be my biggest sponsor. That, and hydroponic. Like I said earlier, I'm terrified, more or less all of the time. Of what I see on the 24/7 cable news channel. Newspaper headlines. Advertising. And now, apparently, Plan B lesbians.

Casey comes striding back out to our table, sits down, and reaches into her heavily starched men's shirt for her trusty tin of Skoal. Just a pinch between her cheek and gum. She sighed, scanned the crowd of urban hipsters at nearby tables, and turned her attention back to me.

"Well, doll, I didn't mean to unload on ya on such a fine Saturday mornin'" she said, "and here you've been kind enough to just let me rant and rave."

"Nah, hey," I said, "I hear ya. Women, they're somethin' else. But what do I know about relationships? Including my college sweetheart, I've only ever even had two girlfriends."

"Yeah? How long each?" Casey asks, checking out a blonde barista breezing by on her smoke break.

"College, three years, and Carla, four."

"What happened with the last one? When was this? Do I know her?"

"Well, I doubt it. She doesn't go out much. At all. I mean, she lives in her salons---she owns a few around town. Trust me, you've seen them. Anyway, her life is basically spent between her loft and her salons."

"Hmmm. How'd you meet her?" Casey asked, leaning in.

So I tell her. About how my therapist pegged Carla as a narcissist. A textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Google it when you get a chance, it'd be worth your time. Not just your garden variety egocentric pain in the ass, narcissists are the "It's all about me" people. The kind of people you can start talking to about any given subject-- tapioca pudding, global warming, the Pope --and somehow or another they will turn the conversation around to themselves. Anyway, in the beginning, it was nice. She was older, settled. A wealthy Jewish American Princess from one of Houston's prominent Jewish families. Being a blonde myself, I usually go for brunettes, but Carla was an exception. Did I mention she was chesty? Plus, she drove a Jag. It didn't hurt. (Call me a hypocrite, yes indeed.) Anyway, she put on a good show for the first eight or nine months, but after that, things got dicey. Real hot and cold.

"Aha! A narcissist!" Casey practically spat the word out. "Reminds me of Tracy. But go on."

"Yeah, utterly self absorbed, and just, mean as hell is all. Mean as hell. But you know, then again, she could be really wonderful sometimes, too. When I think of her, as a person, I always imagine listening to an old scratched up Mozart record---bursts of brilliance in between all the---mostly---hisses and noise. Mostly noise, mean as hell mostly, yep. Like, I remember this one time, I had just finished working on a TV commercial for a hospital client. It was right after 9/11, and man, it's not like the commercial was selling anything---all it was trying to do was deliver a message, of unity, that's it. You could barely even see the client's logo on the screen! Anyway, I was actually proud of it, for what it stood for. So I get the commercial burned onto a DVD, and I take it over to Carla's to play it for her, right? So there I am, all pumped up to show her, I dim the lights, get the sound just right, and push play. Anyway, when it's over, I look over at Carla---my girlfriend---for a reaction, and she was filing her damn nails. She didn't even bother to look up and she said…you know what she said?

"What'd she say?" Casey asked in a tone of voice indicating she was all too familiar with the nature of the forthcoming response.

"Sure went by fast."

"Sure went by fast?"

"Sure went by fast," I confirm.

"Did you want to strangle her, the callous bitch?" Casey asked.

"Naturally. But wait, there's more. So I'm furious, right? Flabbergasted and seething, just seething. I eject my DVD, and go to put the one she'd had in the player before back in. Know what it was? Do you KNOW what it was?"

"What was it?"

"A collection of all her guest appearances on Rise & Shine Houston, that morning news show, promoting her salon and new "signature" line of hair products. Girl! She'd been watching herself."

Casey appeared outright delighted by this. "Of course!" she said, "That's a narcissist to a freakin' T, man! That's what they do! Other people's successes, failures, highs, lows---no affect on 'em. Flat doesn't register. That is so classic. They will take and take until they drain ya dry---emotionally, financially, in every way. Good lord the woman sounds like Tracy, my ex. Girl! I feel for ya, man. A narcissist is a losing proposition to be in a relationship with. That is just one sinking boat to be in."

"Well, the Love Boat, it ain't," I said.

"More like the Titanic. Tracy is the most toxic individual I have ever met in my life. There was no pleasin' her. Course, she put up a good front at first. Poured on the charm, played up the sex kitten thing, I fell hard. The sex was amazing…and then, kaboom! The real Tracy showed her face. And her fangs. Evil, God that woman is evil. Evil is the WORD! And all kinds of crazy, too. But I couldn't get out of it, I could not. I was stuck. I kept thinking if only I do this, if only I do that, things'll go back to the way they were in the beginning."

"Yep. It got to where Carla had me so confused, I didn't know if I was comin' or goin'. She drove me crazy, I mean, really, I think that's when my consumption of Milwaukee's Best Light started wipin' out the inventory at the Valero up the street on a weekly basis. God!" "Oh see now, I was sober, imagine that. I was sober by the time I was seeing Tracy. So I don't even have an EXCUSE!"

"Hey girl, it happens," I said. By damn, it just does. To the best of us.

"We'd have these huge fights, and we wouldn't speak for days," Casey said, "and I'd convince myself that was IT, I was through with her and all her twisted narcissistic femme fatale drama bullshit, and then she'd send me a text."

"Ah, a text, of course. The 21st century missive of true love," I said.

"Sucker. I just should've written "Sucker" in big block letters across my forehead. She could always lure me back."

"Lingerie?" I asked. "Black teddy under a sheer black blouse---when she finally convinces you to meet her for cocktails?"

"Somethin' like 'at, yes," Casey said, shaking her head. "Every time, man."

"The spirit is NOT willin' but the flesh, she is weak."

"Amen, sister. A---freakin'---men to that."

As if on cue, a gorgeous Latina---one of Houston's most abundant natural resources---walks by our table. Casey and I both stare shamelessly. Once the voluptuous beauty is out of earshot, Casey, not even breaking her gaze, uttered, "Well goddamn."

"We're doomed," I said.

Casey and I, we give each other a look. Just a gesture that acknowledged the glory and the terror of what surely was the only reason either of us could give for the fact that the world is still spinning. Yep, broads. For Casey and me, the fact that we're in thrall to our own sex can throw a girl some curves, no pun intended, and we know it. Even in this day and age of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DiRossi and Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the L Word---in general, a certain progress insofar as the public consciousness is concerned, we're still bulldaggers; there's no roadmap for us. Case in point: Straight women dream of their wedding day from the time they're just girls, and the culture with all its rich history of heterosexual entitlement lays out any number of paths for them to get there. Plus the fact, most every other female in their lives is in on the game. You know how it goes: Aunt Sally has a neighbor who has a single nephew who makes a good living, let's get the two of you kids together; the singles group at the local church has events planned year round; eharmony is just waiting to set you up with a compatibility profile, and the list of co-conspirators goes on. This is not to say that marriage is the end-all and be-all of existence; I'm just saying that when the world at large validates and promotes the path to a person's own interior romantic dreams, one is that much more empowered to seek her way there. Natch. Which ain't exactly grand for us queers, because after all, straight girls don't have the market cornered on harboring hopes for the fabled Happily Ever After. Women are women; we're suckers for the fairly tale, never mind that some of us shop both sides of the Gap. Sure, there's trouble on all sides for everybody, gay and straight; there's boredom, and couples therapy, and heartbreak. Desire is an equal opportunity jester of sorts, the Great Leveler, and an eternal conundrum. I thought of Shakespeare, writing in Antony & Cleopatra, "She makes hungry where most she satisfies." Maybe Marc Antony knew he was doomed too, but why else would he bother to get up in the morning?

"Hey, you mind if I ask you something?" I said.

"What's 'at?"

"Why'd you get sober? I mean, when did you decide it was time to…"

"Do something about my drinking?" Casey said, readjusting her ball cap, lowering the brim a tad and moving her chair a bit to keep the sun out of her eyes. "Well girl, you know. I wasn't one of those people who had their first drink and then woke up an alcoholic. It took awhile, snuck up on me. Like, you know how a frog does when you put him in a pot of boiling water?"


"He jumps right out. But, if you put him in a pot of room temperature water, and then gradually ratchet up the heat, just ever so gradually, he'll let himself be boiled alive."

"No kidding?"

"Yep. That's kinda how my drinking was. Snuck up on me. Started really snowballing about ten years ago. There I was, a great tech job, making a hundred thousand a year, paying for my stripper girlfriend's new boobs, a big TV in every room, and I was miserable. Blackin' out, doin' drugs, and some other behaviors I'm not proud of. My life was hell, so, I knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody---that sorta thing---and they took me to an AA meeting."

"So, you haven't had a drink in ten years?"

"Nope. I've gotten close. Even now man, on a hot day, I have to be careful when I walk in the convenience store, and there's that big cooler of iced- down beer near the checkout. I get in and get out fast. And you know, it sounds like a trite slogan, but it really is just one day at a time."

"Man, ten years. That's something to be proud of, right there."

"You mind if I ask you something?" Casey said.

"Ga 'head."

"Why do you ask?"

"Because," I said, "I'm always interested in how people change their lives, turn things around. Because most people don't, you know? I think most people just stay where they are, they get caught up in a routine, and end up living by rote, pretty much. They settle."

"Life's too short, man," Casey said, "although I will tell you, there've been times in my life---drinking and sober---when I've thought just the opposite. That one more day was too long."

"I know what you mean. If I had to guess, I'll bet most of us have been there, just to varying degrees," I said.

"Yeah, well, it's those degrees you gotta watch out for," Casey said, then, checking her mambo man's watch, "Hey! Speakin' of AA, I gotta roll. I wanna make the noon meeting at St. Andrew's."

"Okay. Good for you. Thanks for meeting me. You saved my weekend, seriously. Thanks for the meds."

"No prob."

We hug---AA people are big on their hugs, I've noticed---and watch Casey swagger off to her truck. From the back, you'd swear she was a guy. She's the kind of gay woman who couldn't pass for straight if she tried. The kind I admire. The kind everybody should admire. It occurs to me I forgot to ask her what her new Chinese-y tattoo means. 'Warrior' would be appropriate, I think to myself. That, or Survivor.

We gay women, we do the best we can. We meet up at clubs and shake our booty, even when we're well past booty-shakin' prime. Emboldened by alcohol, we talk to Her. If she moves in a month later, well, she moves in a month later. Or maybe we decide to do it "right." We take our time, get to know each other, postpone the heated rush toward sex, and resist whatever Instant Nesting instinct may arise. Regardless of the approach, if it turns out she's Soul Mate Divinyl, we thank the Great Spirit we're safely out of the fray at last, no longer a hostage to those updates we receive in our inbox every morning. If it turns out she's nuttier than a fruitcake, maybe we distance ourselves, maybe we don't. Loneliness is a deft negotiator, whatever your sexual orientation or self-esteem level. Perhaps we do the infamous Back and Forthing, and grow accustomed to our friends frequent---and annoying---query, "So, are y'all together this week?"

Maybe we sneak around.

There is no roadmap; Google has not yet identified every square inch of this territory---the Lesbian Nation is a work in progress, building itself up and reinventing itself one girl, woman, relationship at a time. It occurs to me that all any of us can really do is try our best to get through the day---to keep a job, a seemingly heroic task in and of itself during this economy, make sure the bills get paid, avoid total freak-out mode, stay tight with our friends, and don't be a jackass in general. As for love, romantic love, well, maybe that's just gravy.

I spend the next two hours hitting the gym, running errands, picking up a Time & Newsweek, and head home to chill. Out of nothing more than sheer habit, I hit the sofa and flip on the television, alternately channel surfing and skimming my magazines. What I'm seeing/hearing concerning the state of the union, the state of the world, is beyond surreal to me: Hundreds of dead women found murdered in Mexico, their young, beautiful brown bodies dumped and left to decompose on the hard baking earth, while a devastating drug war ravages the border communities close to South Texas. The U.S. financial system in collapse, seemingly on life support. Bailouts. The mortage meltdown. Rising unemployment. More suicide bombers exploding in Iraq, taking dozens out with them. Joe the Plumber/Factory Worker/Executive/Salesman setting up house in a Sacramento, California tent city where over 300 people are huddling together, being fed by a food bank that's been set up nearby. Successful Republicans in the country suddenly shaken at the core by the threat of a sinister liberal government out to milk them of their hard earned money---the 3% Rebellion; Rush Limbaugh taking up the mantle of the soon-to-be-financially maligned, his vociferous warnings about the shredding of the Constitution and erosion of basic liberties sounding a kind of mass media battle cry for conservatives. Children disappearing, the haggard faces of their terrified parents filling TV screens and computer monitors around the clock; North Korea gearing up for a missile test; China beefing up its military; subprime swindle; the public's rage at a rapaciously greedy Wall Street; the overall plundering of the public trust; the consumer spending freeze; plummeting retail sales; an increase in sightings of the Virgin Mary in America; Ponzi schemes bilking billions from unsuspecting investors; the 10 Worst Celebrity Plastic Surgeries; Brangelina; two-for-one specials at the local liposuction clinic; a cure for baldness, and Yesterday's Teen Idols---Where Are They Now?

I switch the channel to the Cartoon Network, and hit mute. I stare out of the window at the beautiful fall day. The trees are electric green, plants still vibrant with color. Neighbors are out riding bikes, washing their cars, unloading groceries, shooting hoops. It is a fine day. And then I feel it---that unmistakable wave of nausea, the first clear warning sign I'm overdue for my daily dose, and that the zaps are not far behind. I reach into my jeans pocket where I stashed Casey's baggie of meds, and pop a pill, washing it down with the last of my now ice cold latte. It's no big whoop, really, this daily ritual. Thousands upon thousands of people in this country do the same thing; it's as American as apple pie. But how strange, I think, that this is what it's come to: We are not unlike space voyagers equipped with our backpack oxygen tanks that make life habitable on a distant planet whose atmosphere is noxious, deadly. How has it happened, I wonder, that the pace of modern life has become so harried---helped and hurried along as it is by the lightning speed of technology and voracious appetite of success, or simply survival---that many of us require one or more forms of chemical compound to get through the To Do list, even if the only action item on the friggin' thing is to simply keep breathing.

Me, I have nothing but time today, a luxurious block of afternoon and evening during which I am accountable to nobody, except the dogs. So I do the one thing I like most to do in this world: I go to the refrigerator, and crack open my first beer of the afternoon.

Later that night, or maybe it was early the next morning, I am still awake, but foggy, straddling the tightrope between consciousness and conking out. I have been smoking copious amounts of pot, successfully draining 10 bottles of light beer along the way. Light, because one must watch one's girlish figure. I have jammed on my guitar until it dawned on me that I had been spending more time staring off into space, arm suspended above the strings, than I had been actually strumming. What the hell. I take a few more drags off of a joint, and chug one remaining lukewarm beer. Unsure if I can even make it to my bedroom, I simply lay down on the sofa, and slowly drift into oblivion.

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