ron dellums and me

I woke up in the middle of the night to pee ... I'm 65, I do that several times every night. Being a modern guy, I checked Twitter while I was up, and saw that my cousin had tweeted that Ron Dellums had died. He noted that there was no confirmation anywhere but social media ... I took a few minutes to check for myself, saw nothing to corroborate the news, went back to bed, and turned the local news station on my radio. I fell back to sleep without hearing any more about the Congressman.

Over the past several years, I have extremely vivid dreams, several a night (waking up to pee means I go back to sleep and another dream kicks in). I usually don't know I'm dreaming until the last seconds when I wake up. In this dream, I was at a ballgame and saw the actor Erik Todd Dellums, Ron's son. I asked him if the news about his father was true, and Erik told me a long story about how his dad was fine, these stories get started, you know how it is. I was relieved, and headed back home. At that moment, I woke up to the radio reporting that Ron Dellums had indeed passed away.

People's Park

In 1969, I was living in Antioch, California, a suburb-in-name-only of San Francisco that was close as the crow flies to the big city, but far away in any useful description. I had spent my entire life in this factory town, and until my senior year of high school, there were no black people in Antioch. If you were black, you lived in Pittsburg, right next to Antioch. My parents were politically moderate. During the People's Park battles of 1969, KQED, the local PBS (then NET) station, televised some Berkeley City Council meetings. There was one councilman in particular who got my attention. As I recall, he spoke passionately on behalf of the people being attacked by the police. My parents thought he was dreadful, which only made me like him more. He was a 33-year-old ex-Marine named Ron Dellums.

Dedication of a sculpture

It would have been in the late 70s/early 80s. A friend who was a sculptor had some work installed at the Macarthur BART station. At the unveiling, Ron Dellums, by then our representative in the House, came to say a few words. I had moved to Berkeley in 1974, and was proud to be able to vote for Ron every two years. I brought my movie camera to that event to take some footage, and when I saw the Congressman, I went over to express thanks for the work he was doing in Washington. Looking like a random guy with a movie camera didn't appeal to the Secret Service guys, who closed in on me immediately, which freaked me out enough that I still remember the incident. As I recall, Ron instructed them to let me through so I could shake his hand.

Taking a leak

It was 1988. I was in my first semester as a grad student at Cal. Congressman Dellums was visiting campus ... this was during the Bush-Dukakis presidential campaign. I went to take a leak ... Old Blues will know where I mean, the bathroom off of Lower Sproul by the bookstore. I don't remember who entered first, but at some point, I realized that standing at a nearby urinal was Ron Dellums. Ron, I said, I'm so proud to have you representing me, and I respect your opinions. Tell me why I should vote for Dukakis. 

Ron, an admitted Socialist in the Democratic Party, began a conversation littered with good cussing ... no big deal, except I remember being naive enough to think, hey, the Congressman says fuck! His argument was pretty basic, Dukakis wasn't any good, but he was better than Bush, we gotta get the Republicans out of the White House. (Two years later, Dellums was one of 54 congress members who sued Bush's actions building the military presence in the Middle East, a case that became known as Dellums v. Bush.) We left the restroom together and were joined by his Secret Service men. It happened that Ron and I were headed in the same direction, so we walked up campus together as he made the case for Dukakis. He could be quite persuasive, although I was, then and now, pigheaded and so I never was convinced to vote for Dukakis. But it was a memorable few minutes for me, as the Congressman took some time to talk to a friendly constituent about an important issue.

Ron Dellums' "son"

There was this guy, a friend of a friend, who would come by our house and visit for a bit, usually looking for a couple of bucks. He was a raggedy fellow, but friendly, and we would talk for awhile. His story, as he told it, was that Ron Dellums was his father. He said he was told this by his mother, and that everyone "knew" this was true because he looked so much like Ron. Understand that Ron Dellums was a handsome man who got more distinguished looking the older he got, and that my friend, god love him, was not the handsomest man alive. Nor did he look a bit like Ron Dellums. But he was convinced that one day, Ron would admit the connection, and he would be set for life. While it was kind of loony, I loved the idea that being Ron Dellums' son was something to aspire to.

Those are my anecdotes. Dellums remained in the House from 1971 to 1998 ... every two years, we'd vote him back in. There was something called The Dellums Machine ... don't know if it amounted to anything, but during elections, we'd always get a flier on the front door on election days with Ron's endorsements. After he left the House, he was replaced by Barbara Lee, who is still going strong, having been our representative for the last 20 years. It's nice to have a representative doing you proud, and here in Berkeley, that's been the case in the House for almost 40 years. Dellums was around so long, he was able to take advantage of seniority rules to get some important roles, even serving for a while as Chair of the House Armed Services Committee. He went into lobbying, which I admit was disappointing, and later became Mayor of Oakland, which by all accounts wasn't the highlight of his career. To me, he'll always be the first person I was glad to vote for, and the only politician who would spend time talking to a guy he met at a urinal.

Ron dellums


before sunrise (richard linklater, 1995)

I was interested in seeing this again, because I've always thought of it as the weakest film in the trilogy. Not that it's bad ... far from it ... but I felt each movie was better than the one before, perhaps because the earlier movies added depth to the later ones. Returning to the first, I see that it is of a piece with the others, and if I still believe the third is better than the second is better than the first, my opinion about Before Sunrise is higher than when I first saw it and didn't know others were to come. (When I watched Before Sunset a few years after it came out, I found my appreciation of that film had grown, as well. Guess when I re-watch Before Midnight, I'll have to call it the best film of all time.)

The truth is, I didn't get any new insights into Before Sunrise by watching it again. There were no surprises I hadn't noticed before. I just find the groove Linklater establishes to be amenable to my own rambling thoughts. As always, I also have a crush on Julie Delpy.

This movie falls into another category that I am realizing over the years is more well-stocked than I ever knew: Movies I Love But I Bet My Wife Wouldn't Love. She isn't a fan of Linklater ... as she said about halfway through Dazed and Confused when I finally convinced her to watch it, "Is anything going to happen in this movie?" Saw Slacker and thought the same thing. I think the only movie of his she liked was A Scanner Darkly, and that came in part because we love the book and the movie was an excellent version.

Point is, I want to share my favorites with my beloved, but I'm crushed if she doesn't like them, too. I'm not talking about everyday favorites ... I don't take it personally if someone doesn't care for Gun Crazy (although Bonnie and Clyde might be a different story). But I can't bring myself to sit her down with the Before series, because I assume in advance she won't like it, and I really want her to. (The best/worst example of this is In the Mood for Love, one of my very favorite movies, which she would hate because "nothing happens".)

She often has the TV on during the evening and on the weekends. She has shows she likes, and movie genres she enjoys, but mostly she's looking for something she can half-watch while she knits. Mad Max: Fury Road turned up on some channel the other day, and that's only my favorite movie of the last few years. She liked it when we saw it, she is always ready to watch something again (since she's knitting, it helps that she already knows what's happening), and she loves action movies. I would have sat down and watched with her ... well, I would have stuck the Blu-ray in the player rather than watching the "TV version", but she never cares about that. But it seemed like a perfect movie for us to watch together. Instead, she surfed around until she found another action movie and watched that.

And I knew, once again, that we really don't have the same taste in movies anymore.

 


today i am 65 years old

The first time I had a birthday during the life of this blog was 2002. I was, what, 49 years old. Doesn't seem so old to me now, although it seemed ancient when I was 19. On that first-ever birthday post, I quoted Pink ... yes, I've been doing that for 16 years. Here are the lyrics I quoted, along with the song's video, which is deep ... I used it in class a couple of time.

I'm a hazard to myself
Don't let me get me
I'm my own worst enemy
It's bad when you annoy yourself
So irritating
Don't want to be my friend no more
I wanna be somebody else
-- Pink, "Don't Let Me Get Me"

 

 


on this day: the readymades and me

On this day two years ago, I wrote a post ... it was an On This Day before I started using that idea. The post was about seeing Patti Smith at Winterland on May 13, 1978 (40 years ago today!). One of the opening acts was The Readymades, and I mentioned them in that post from two years ago, as follows:

The Readymades seemed to open every show we went to in those days, at least when it wasn’t Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. Their singer was Jonathan Postal, who has had an interesting career as a photographer. It was The Readymades who headlined a show around 1980, maybe at the Longbranch, can’t remember ... I was going to see a shrink at the time, paying, I don’t know, $25/session or something like that. I went to see The Readymades for $5, slammed around in the pit, and walked out feeling great. The next time I visited the shrink was my last ... I told him I got more of my money’s worth at The Readymades show.

Hope had a hold on me ... the timeline in the above anecdote doesn't match my recollections (of course). but whenever it was, I clearly thought I'd figured out the key to happiness, therapist be damned. Hope didn't last ... not long after this, I ended up in therapy again after freaking out at my house one night. And 20+ years later, I finally went on meds, after hearing the magic words, "Bipolar II".

 


on this day: better living through chemistry

On this day in 2005, I wrote about going on psych meds ... at that time, I'd been on them for three weeks, which means I've now been on them for 13 years and 3 weeks. In that post, I quoted from my friend Jonathan Sterne, who told what I came to call "The Parable of the Pissing Cat".

He was peeing everywhere in the basement right before we were going to sell the house and we had to do something. He'd had all the tests and was healthy according to the vet. He'd acted out once before (beating up the other cat) and we were told to put him on Paxil and couldn't stomach it. We were too worried about losing the better parts of his personality. Well, nobody wants to sell a house when the basement smells like cat piss (much less LIVE in such a place!), so we took the plunge and started giving him Paxil (that was an interesting conversation with the pharmacist). He slept a lot for the first few days and then more or less was back to normal except he didn't piss outside the box anymore. His meow changed slightly, and otherwise it's like he's the same cat minus the pissing. We took him off it as an experiment once and the pissing started again at our new place, so now he's on it for life. Yes I know that's fucked up.

But the house sold in one day.

I also quoted a friend who said, "Being miserable and crazy/funny/fill in the blank is overrated."

How is it, 13 years down the road? Mostly, I don't notice I'm on the meds, which I think is a good thing. And something is still true that I wrote in 2005, about the absence of anxiety:

You need to understand: I have suffered from anxiety for so long, I thought it was normal. If I considered it in any other manner, I assumed the social pressures of modern life was the cause. But basically, I couldn't identify the problem because it was ubiquitous, and when that happens, when you have nothing with which to compare, you can't define it, and so it doesn't exist.

Now I have something for comparison. I haven't felt anxious in a coupla weeks. Not once. And the absence of anxiety is what allows me now to understand that there hadn't been a day in my memory, not a day in 51 years as far as I know, when I didn't feel anxious for part of the day.

And it's a very nice thing to have that disappear.

Which is why I say my life under medication isn't marked by what's good, but rather by the absence of bad.

In the comments section, my son wrote, "We want some money for raising our parents!"

Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird. Surrender, surrender, but don't give yourself away.

 


and when we die

Robin and I were talking about what we'll do when she retires. Talking about finances, not "Let's move to Nerja!" It was more the beginning of a long conversation than it was anything substantial, but just bringing up the topic gets you thinking.

We should be just fine, and I hope I never forget how privileged we are that I can say that. It's all thanks to her ... my pensions are limited, and my social security is small enough that I'm just waiting for her to retire so I can climb onto her benefits. But we have options, which again makes us lucky.

It's not the decision making that's important. Well, it will be eventually, but to some extent, it's about calculating what we'd get if she started Social Security at 70 as opposed to 66, and what kind of payments we'll choose from her ... heck, I don't even know what this stuff is called, the money that's been put away for her retirement.

But you soon realize that what is being discussed is about money on the surface, but the crucial fact (which can't really be exactly known) is how long we will live. For example, just off the top of my head (meaning I could be way off), if she started Social Security at 66, she'd get about $128k over the next four years. If she waited until she is 70, she'll get more by about $12k a year, but won't get that first $128k. So, again just thinking without actually working at it, if she lived to be 80, she would make close to the same amount overall no matter whether she started at 66 or 70. But if she lived past 80, that extra $12k/year would make the Start at 70 option the correct choice. So how long you expect to live matters, and who wants to think about that?

Then there's the part where who dies first matters. If it's me, her finances won't change much, because we won't be relying on my relatively small amount in the first place. But if she dies first, I'll end up with a lot less money, if I understand how it works. And it's about then that you understand you're talking about Who Dies First, and once more, who wants to think about that?

So ultimately, a conversation about retirement always ends up being about dying.

Really, it's another form of privilege that we can even have these conversations. I've already retired, and Robin will retire some time next year, while there are plenty of people who simply can't afford to retire. And while you can't predict the future, we can at least imagine a retirement that isn't an exercise in frugality. It also helps that since Robin has worked for Kaiser for 15+ years, our medical insurance will still be there.

Until we die.

 

 


in loving memory, shyrrl

Shyrrl service

I'd just gotten my PhD. There was a knock at the door. I answered it. There was our neighbor and friend Shyrrl. "Is there a doctor in the house?", she asked. Then she handed me a quilt she had made. It was an Elvis quilt. She didn't like Elvis, but she'd visited down South once, knew I liked him, and so she bought a lot of material for some later use. That became my Elvis quilt.

At today's service, there were a dozen stories like that.