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  • April 10, 2017

    Hello Darkness My Old Friend…


    I grew up in a low-light community. It wasn’t designed to be a low-light community and it wasn’t called a low-light community – it just was one. There was one street light on one corner of each block in my neighborhood of dirt roads and run-down houses. It was unfortunately, the longest block in the world.

    I knew this because I would come home on the streetcar when I was 7- or 8-years-old after going to the movies downtown and have to walk that one dark block to get home. It was a long time ago, when nobody was undone by a boy that age being out after dark by himself. I was basically a free-range kid, back before “free-range” became a term or a controversy.

    It wasn’t as though I was coming home late in the night, but in the winter, it got dark early. My problem was that I loved the horror shows – Frankenstein, Dracula, the Invisible Man, and the ever-popular Werewolf franchise. I couldn’t get my fill.

    But of all the scary movie characters, the scariest of all for me was the Mummy. The Mummy was not fast, in fact he was really slow. You could easily outrun the Mummy. But he never stopped. You could run like Hell, but you couldn’t slow down. You take a nap, you wake up, and here comes the Mummy. You run into the store for a Moon Pie and a Nehi grape soda, you barely take a bite and here comes the damn Mummy. The Mummy wasn’t fast, but he was relentless.

    My mom knew how the horror movies scared me, but she also knew how much I loved them, and she gave me the standard mom advice. “Remember, it’s just a movie.”

    I tried to remember that. I would get off the streetcar, look down that long, dark unpaved street, take a deep breath and tell myself: “It’s just a movie.” There are no such things as vampires or werewolves or mummies.

    Then I would start walking, over the creek where the alligator lived and into the darkness. At the beginning, I would be OK, but as I neared the middle point between lights, and the night got darker and more foreboding, my imagination would suddenly kick in, slap the bejesus out of my courage, and I would start running for home.

    I would always arrive flush and out-of-breath. My mom would pretend she didn’t notice, and she’d ask how was the movie, and I would tell her it was good, Mom, really good.

    That was obviously a long time ago. Now I live once again in a low-light community, and I like it. You tend to forget after years in the city what the stars look like on a clear night. Country folks take the darkness for granted. If you have lived for years in the city, you rediscover it, and there is a comfort in dark streets and the feel of the night.

    It’s not just the darkness. There is the twilight that precedes it and the dawn that ends it. I love the neon and glitter of the city. But the nightly shift from sunshine to twilight to darkness is a joy to rediscover. And this time around, I’m not even afraid.

    Mom was right. Who’s surprised?

    — George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • Lyrics, Poetry and Prose VIII

    A place to share some words of beauty, inspiration, and fun. This week we feature some songs associated with the Hotel Chelsea in New York City – a hostelry famous for the artists and cultural icons that resided there.

    Famous guests included such luminaries as Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller.  Dylan Thomas died of pneumonia in 1953 while residing there. Arthur C. Clarke wrote “2001 a Space Odyssey” and Jack Kerouac wrote “On the Road” at the Chelsea. In 1978, Nancy Spungen, a 20-year-old schizophrenic drug addict and former prostitute, was found dead in the hotel room she shared at the hotel with Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. He was later arrested, but died of a drug overdose while out on bail.

    Leonard Cohen wrote about his brief affair at the Chelsea with Janice Joplin, who had a room down the hall. Bob Dylan wrote “San Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” and Joni Mitchel wrote “Chelsea Morning” at the hotel. Click on the name of the piece to get a video or more information. You have some favorite lyrics? Please share…

    I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
    You were talking so brave and so sweet,
    Giving me head on the unmade bed,
    While the limousines wait in the street.

    Chelsea Hotel #2 (short version) Singer and Writer:Leonard Cohen

    Chelsea Hotel #1 (long version) Singer and Writer:Leonard Cohen

    Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
    Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
    My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
    Should I leave them by your gate,
    Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

    Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands Singer: Joan Baez, Writer Bob Dylan

    Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I saw
    Was the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall
    Blue, red, green and gold to welcome you, crimson crystal beads to beckon
    Oh, won’t you stay, We’ll put on the day
    Was the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall
    Oh won’t you stay, we-ll put on the day, There’s a sun show every second.

    Chelsea Morning Singer and Writer, Joni Mitchell

  • April 5, 2017

    The Badlands: Keep Your Eyes on the Road and Watch out for Falling Motorcycles

    THE BADLANDS                                                                                              — photo by George Cunningham

    There is a place between where we live and where we go to visit friends and shop, called the Badlands.

    The Badlands is what folks around here refer to as the curvy-twisty part of the 60 freeway between the San Gorgonio mountain pass where our home is located and the city of Moreno Valley, Riverside, and the rest of the Los Angeles basin. It is a challenging piece of roadway – especially when you drive it for the first time – but it is also very beautiful.

    Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard for the driver to appreciate the beauty. The passenger can look around and see a vertical landscape of hilltops and canyons, but the driver needs to keep his eyes on the road. The speed limit through the Badlands is 65, but this being California, drivers tend to push that to 75 and even 80. Although the freeway has two lanes in each direction, loaded trucks have to gear down and creep up the grade in the right-hand lane at only 35 or 40 mph.

    What this means is when you get a timid driver, poking along at the speed limit in the fast lane, impatient motorists have to use the truck lane as a passing lane – getting up enough speed to get around the slow-poke without running into the rear of a truck in low-gear. There are no exit roads through the Badlands, so when there is a big accident, traffic is stuck there for long time.

    When we first moved to Banning and people referred to the Badlands, we thought it was just a local nickname for that 10- or 12-mile stretch of twists and turns. But we were wrong.

    The Badlands covers a good-sized area of Riverside County – south and east of Redlands to north and west of Hemet and San Jacinto. The actual geographic name for the Badlands is the “Timoteo Badlands” and it has a colorful history. Back before California became part of the United States, Indian vigilantes, as a service to landowners, would chase down bandits in the Badlands and kill them. Later, after California became a state, American settlers became upset about Indians killing white people – even if the white people were bandits and robbers. The Indians ended up fleeing to the San Jacinto mountains, just west of what is now Palm Springs.

    A few decades later – from 1864 to 1868 – the teen-aged Wyatt Earp lived with his family in San Timoteo Canyon up against the Badlands. This was years before Mr. Earp took part in the famous 1881 gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Ariz.

    So the Badlands is not just scenic, it is also historic, which makes it an even more interesting place.

    But all of this is just prologue to my story. A few weeks back, a dirt bike rider, Kyle Katsandris, jumped across the Badlands stretch of freeway, then posted his stunt on YouTube. I have to admit that it was both pretty spectacular and incredibly stupid. It is obvious from the video that drivers on the freeway at the time of his jump probably didn’t even notice it. But he put them all in danger.

    No matter how skilled a dirt-bike rider is, things can always go wrong.  Engines can stall, tires can go flat, carefully laid plans can be in error. Think of Evel Knievel jumping the fountains at Caesar’s Palace on New Year’s Eve in 1967. At least Evel hurt only himself.

    Several hundred pounds of steel and human flesh suddenly falling out of the sky into the traffic lanes of the Badlands would be catastrophic.

    So now, as I drive the 60 Freeway, looking out for traffic, making all the twists and turns, trying to enjoy the scenery, I also find myself watching the sky, on the lookout for flying motorcycles. Mr. Katsandris is obviously a skilled and daring motorcyclist, but now that he has opened the door, you know that other less skilled, yet equally daring young men will attempt to duplicate his feat.

    So I find myself keeping an eye to the heavens as I navigate this challenging bit of freeway. And frankly, it makes me angry for two reasons.

    First, I shouldn’t have to worry about motorcycles falling from the sky as I drive back from the mall.

    And second, and most maddening, is that I know in my heart that part of the reason I keep looking up, is that if somebody does try to do it again, I sure-as-hell don’t want to miss it.

    – George Lee Cunningham

    POST SCRIPT: Although Mr. Katsandris made it over the freeway unhurt, he was critically injured on Sunday, April 2, when he attempted to jump over railroad tracks running through the hills in Simi Valley. The 24-year-old San Clemente biker had to jump 140 to 160 feet from one hill to another to clear the track. He was apparently injured after he overshot his landing zone.

    Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • April 4, 2017

    Lyrics, Poetry and Prose VII

    A place to share some words of beauty, inspiration, and fun. This week we feature some well-known verses about indulging in illegal drugs – which unlike those nasty smoking-cigarettes songs featured last week – is nowadays more socially acceptable. Click on the name of the piece to get a video or more information. You have some favorite lyrics? Please share…

    Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
    Down the foggy ruins of time
    Far past the frozen leaves
    The haunted frightened trees
    Out to the windy bench
    Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
    Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
    With one hand waving free
    Silhouetted by the sea
    Circled by the circus sands
    With all memory of fate
    Driven deep beneath the waves
    Let me forget about today until tomorrow

    Mr. Tambourine Man Singer and Songwriter, Bob Dylan

    Coming in from London from over the pole
    Flying in a big airliner
    Chicken flying everywhere around the plane
    Could we ever feel much finer
    Coming into Los Angeles
    Bringing in a couple of ki’s
    Don’t touch my bags if you please
    Mister customs man, yeah

    Coming into Los Angeles Singer and Songwriter, Arlo Guthrie

    Driving that train, high on cocaine,
    Casey Jones you better watch your speed
    Trouble ahead, trouble behind
    And you know that notion just crossed my mind

    Casey Jones The Grateful Dead; Songwriters: Jerome J. Garcia, Robert C. Hunter

  • March 27, 2017

    It’s Not Easy Being Green

    LA THROUGH THE HAZE                                                                            (photo by George Lee Cunningham)

    A little more than a year ago Carmela and I moved into a new home, located in a windy pass surrounded by mountains. We slowly began making the new house our own, which means among other things, buying an outdoor table for the patio. The first chance we got, we invited our cousins who live around the corner to come over and enjoy dinner and the balmy weather.

    The husband, let’s call him Butch, is retired, but he has a part-time business as an exterminator. Over dinner, he started telling us what we needed to do to keep nasty pests at bay. We responded by telling him that we are environmentalists who don’t want to add to the silent spring that Rachael Carson warned about back in 1962.

    For those not familiar with Ms. Carson, she said that when we spread poison over the land, it slowly seeps down like a silent spring to the water table below – that same water table that we all depend on for life. Carmela and I sure didn’t want to add to that problem.

    We told Butch that we understood that we had moved to an area that has its fair share of wildlife. Coyotes, bobcats, raccoons and skunks are drawn to the neighborhood by the ponds on the golf courses, garbage left outside the pest-proof bins, and domestic pets left unattended outside the safety of their homes. But, we’re weren’t ready to resort to chemical warfare to keep those critters at bay, we told him.

    Right about that moment, this giant rat shows up, strolling along the top of the backyard fence, not even a little bit fearful of we humans gathered around the table. We immediately dubbed him Fredrico.

    If we give him a name, we thought to ourselves, he will be like an outside pet.

    Except, I hate rats. I know that it’s very speciest of me, but they are creepy, disgusting animals that spread disease and multiply at an alarming rate. One of the reasons I am willing to tolerate the coyotes and bobcats is that they kill the rats and eat them.

    It’s the circle of life, Simba.

    Giving the rat a name, even a kind of cute name like Fredrico, didn’t work. Fredrico had to die, and the sooner the better. So we decided to put out poison in a specially designed box for killing rats.

    And while we were at it, there were rats in the attic that needed to be exterminated and there were places along the wall of the house where ants and insects could gain entry, that needed a small chemical barrier to block them and we had already encountered several black widow spiders in the garage. So we reluctantly agreed to a limited amount of chemicals that would allow us to live in our house pest-free.

    The pests, a judgmental term for species we don’t really want to be around, could have all the rest of the great outdoors to roam free.

    It’s not easy being green.

    The truth is, I was an environmentalist before being an environmentalist was cool. But even today, I am not one of the cool-guy environmentalists. For me, being an environmentalist comes naturally – meaning it’s not something that I learned how to do at college. I just grew up doing it.

    I didn’t litter – my mom would have slapped me so hard my fanny would have hurt for a week. We didn’t throw away plastic water bottles. We drank our water right from the tap. We picked up after ourselves, we carried our empty coke bottles back to the store for the two-cent-each deposit, and we patched our clothes when they were ripped.

    This isn’t about the good old days. There was plenty of bad stuff going on in the good old days that we tend to gloss over in the selective memories of the past. But there were also some good things about the good old days. We kind of lived with what was available. We repaired things rather than throw them away. We washed diapers and used them again. And when kids outgrew their clothes, they were handed down to younger, smaller kids.

    The point to all this is that I consider myself a free-range environmentalist, not one of the professional, short-sighted environmentalists, who are so popular today. Professional environmentalists get paid for what they do. I don’t mean to imply that they are not sincere in wanting to protect the environment. Many of them are very nice people, but their perspective is clouded by the fact that being an environmentalist is also their business.

    If you work for a big environmental organization, you earn your living pushing programs to clean up the environment, no matter what the cost may be to other people. They are no different than people who work for an oil companies who make their living producing oil that allows people – including environmentalists – to get where they want to go without walking. The truth is if you have a bunch of attorneys on your payroll, you are not going to let them sit around twiddling their thumbs. You’re going to find somebody to sue.

    Professional environmentalists seldom do a cost-benefit allowance to see if the damage they are doing to other people is worth the good they are doing by cleaning up the environment. If you want to do your own quick cost-benefit analysis, merely look at the cost per gallon of gasoline in California and in most other states.

    It’s not as though environmental groups haven’t done some good stuff. When I first came to California, on most days it was hard to tell that L.A. was bounded by mountains. Now you see the mountains almost every day. But as the environment gets cleaner and cleaner – thanks in large part to environmentalists – the cost of cleaning up the small amount of pollution remaining becomes higher and higher.

    Environmentalists, who think of themselves as more pure of heart than the rest of the population, don’t like to think about things like that.

    And so they don’t.

    – George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.