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It’s all around me. It stays there, a literally mounting pile of little insignificant things I’ve yet found the focus to deal with. Meanwhile, I binge watch shows, get reeled into Twitter with the promise of the occasional retweet, or wade ankle-deep into a new idea. Deflection with a payout. Yet the mail, receipts, notes, and other stuff from my pockets just gather on my dresser, the bookcase, my desk.

And this morning I realized why. There’s a letter to my landlord I must write about stuff she should take care of. Calls I should make, even to friends I value that I want to call but somehow don’t. Even fun stuff I don’t do. Because the clutter is everywhere. It gnaws away at my psyche, like visual nagging that somehow feels passive aggressive.But that first step is the hardest. It’s acknowledgement of a problem, a weakness, a flaw. So the modest piles remain.

And I get why now. All my life, there has been subtle resistance to responsibility. As a kid it was “forgetting” to unload the dishwasher. As a young adult, it was driving to the landlord’s condo to leave the rent check under the mat because I didn’t have the cushion to mail it with it getting there after the first but before the fifth. And worst of all, it was the potential girlfriend that I never called back. Yes, it was probably not going to be a match made in heaven. But there might have been something worthwhile, but it was far easier not to try. Or say goodbye.

Clutter was daunting when I was a child, but I could write it off as defiance. More recently it has merely been an effective and comfortable excuse.
Yet now that I’ve burst its bubble, it’s an issue that can be tackled incrementally through small goals not towering obstacles. And I’ve diffused the emotional charge. It doesn’t represent a flaw that I subconsciously reinforce through inaction. It’s just stuff that has to be put away, thrown away, or filed. It won’t bite. It will just take a little time, time that is available as long as I choose to do it.

Now comes the harder part: using this newfound freedom to execute responsibilities throughout other facets of my life. They may not be as tangible, but they surround me nonetheless. And oddly enough, they may only need to live as long as they remain unscratched off in my organizer. And I’ll eventually have a lot of physical and mental elbow room as I more forward.

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Bruce Gray was in the perfect position at the perfect time. With the secrets he learned by pointing his Truth Ray at people behind the scenes, he never had a problem working his way into virtually any event, and newsrooms were no different. This time he was off to the right, in the dark, with a clipboard in his left hand hiding the ray guy underneath it in the right.

The last couple of seconds were counted down silently, with gestures from a man with a headset on.

“I am MT Heded and this is Erin B. Tweenthyiers,” the tall dark man said as the blond beside him smiled broadly on demand. “You’re watching Pox News. This hour we’re looking into the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which marries the business interests of 11 nations – Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei – with those of the United States.”

“I smell jobs, plenty of jobs,” said Erin buoyantly. “Isn’t it exciting when the world comes together for everyone’s benefit?”

Then she took a quick in-breath. Ray had fired up a medium dose, good for 90 seconds of truth with absolutely no recollection. The instantaneous effect was immediately evident.

“I know that they don’t usually want us to read up on things we talk about, but on this I did. The TPP should be called the Trans-Pacific Plundering agreement. Because that’s what partner countries are allowing corporations to do, calling out regulatory forces as barriers to maximum profits. Then the TPP itself holds member nations to the verdicts of their corporate tribunals and demands that governments make up the lost profits that ‘excessive’ regulation cuts into.”

“That’s very interesting, Erin. Now here’s a word from Pampers, the Golden Years Edition,” MT said looking straight ahead until they were clear. “What the hell was that?”

“Golden Years? Seriously? Can’t they see what’s ‘golden’ here?” Erin said, oblivious.

“Erin, that was damn close to tipping our hand,” MT said sternly. “Luckily the eyeballs of our principle viewers gloss over when they hear ‘regulatory.’ And confessing that we’re not supposed to learn about what we’re talking about?”

“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is. And it’s a secret.”

“Erin. A moment please,” said a voice in Erin’s hidden earpiece.

“Oh hi Bill,” she said, examining some of her hair. “What’s up?”

“You imbecile! You can’t discredit the TPP because the billionaires behind our sponsors will make tens of billions more if this goes through.”

“So. How many billions does anybody need? Even half of one would be fine with me.”

“Well, you’re not going to get there doing stunts like this. We hired you because you’re cute, articulate, and good at reading a teleprompter. That’s all we need from you. No thinking necessary, got it? Now stick with the script.”

“Okay.”

The fingers went down in front of her.

“And we’re back. With the TPP, all the barriers to free trade will be a thing of the past. America will finally experience the free market at its finest,” Erin read. But then she turned her head. “Doesn’t Obama want this? I thought we were supposed to detest anything Obama supports. How do we get around that? Nobody’s given me the proper phrases yet.”

Then something popped in her head again, and she swiveled around to the teleprompter. “Today at the US Capitol, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell spoke on behalf of Fast Track, the mechanism where, in the interest in expediency, the TPP agreement could be confirmed in the Senate on a simple up or down vote with no filibusters or amendments.”

Then they cut to the McConnell, as droll as ever. While Erin waited for her next cue, Bruce adjusted his Truth Ray to the lightest setting, good for 30 seconds of truth. But in this instance, the “victim” does have recall over what he or she has just said.

“Senate majority leader Harry Reid has promised to fight Fast Track, but we fully expect him to cave,” Erin said ending with a slight cock of her head from the incoming jolt. “I see what you mean, MT, McConnell really does look like a turtle. But he sure lies real well, I’ll give him that. He’s a stud when it comes to hogwash. Does anybody really buy-” and she snapped back and finished her sentence as best she could, putting her years of damage control to the test. Usually it was in reaction to a guest or live report, not from her own mouth. “Buy that Mitch McConnell is soft on free trade? I think he’s leading the pack.”

“Up next, was Michelle Obama’s hashtag sign really a pre-plug for Steve Spielberg, whom some say already has the rights to the life stories of the abducted girls in Nigeria?” MT teased as they went to a hard break.

When the little red light went off and the lights dimmed slightly, Bill was right there in front of Erin. She didn’t have a clue why she said what she did, but still needed an explanation fast.

“Worst PMS ever,” she said with her best nauseous face, walking to her off-camera chair for a quick makeup brush-up.

“Bring some Midol to the set, STAT!” someone shouted.

It was New Years Eve eve, and I had just one passenger left: a short run across town in Oakland that required a 45-minute logjam getting to the Bay Bridge from San Francisco’s Sea Cliff neighborhood.

Then that passenger was transferred to another driver, and I would no longer be subjected to the prolonged frustrations of getting to the Bay Bridge along with those that would use dying lanes to cut in front of hundreds. I would, though, have at least four hours added to my shift by bringing a passenger to southeast of Placerville in the Sierra foothills.

I didn’t mind. Places I haven’t been are always an adventure, and my passenger proved to be very good company. He had just finished his third dose of chemotherapy with another three to go in the coming weeks. It was a brain tumor that had previously been arrested years before.

In his late ’60s, he had been a successful lawyer, a partner in a firm that fought insurance companies. He was a particularly formidable foe, in that for years he had worded for insurance companies. He knew their angles, the framework of their methods of getting what they wanted which always ended with individuals missing out on what they deserved.

Then one day in 2009 he drove off the road. A brain seizure left him going straight when Highway 50 curved gently to the left. He went down a 20-foot embankment and hit a tree that probably kept him from visiting a business without using the designated entrances.

He didn’t wake up for eight hours. And when he was conscious he found out that he’d never drive again. The threat of seizures ended his driving privileges. And he loved to drive; he had had plenty of cars that were guaranteed to deliver copious amounts of adrenaline if asked. There was his split-window ’63 Corvette. A Sunbeam Tiger, a tiny sports car with a big V-8 wedged into it like a Shelby Cobra only smaller. And less manageable. His last high-performance car was an all-wheel-drive, turbocharged Dodge Stealth. It ruptured an oil line in Garberville, in redwoods country along the Eel River, a good 70 miles from anyone with the expertise and parts to fix it.

A lawyer without a driver’s license, or the means for a perpetual chauffeur, is like a pool hustler missing a hand. He retired, and his firm of 50 that he shared with a half-dozen partners imploded. Being right in the middle of a relocation, holding an expiring lease, probably helped make the decision easier.

Outside of the subject of cars, we talked about a lot. He used to ski at Stow, Vermont and raced at the same time on the mountain as Billy Kidd, one of America’s first skiing sensations on the international scene. We reminisced about skiing’s heroes of old, Franz Klammer, Pirmin Zurbriggen, and Herman Maier, and the amazement of witnessing their skills on ESPN back when they readily broadcast World Cup ski racing.

We talked about politics, with much in common. He was liberal too, in most ways except regarding gun restrictions. He was wary of the corporate control of the Republican Party, and didn’t want to see AK-47s banned because he saw that as being his last defense against a government that he saw that, in the wrong hands, would be more than willing to take away any remaining freedoms by force.

I understood his sentiment. And I voiced my take. As a liberal and a pacifist, I loath AK-47s and what they represent in our society: a pathway to indiscriminate killing. But on the other hand, I do understand the “second amendment” cries, particularly in light of my passenger’s perspective. But I do not see any logical reason for clips that can carry 30 rounds or more. The only place I can see these weapons used is on a shooting range, and limiting clips to 15 rounds isn’t that much of a hardship. Forcing gun enthusiasts to take a few seconds to change clips is a reasonable restriction, when the alternative is more people being killed on deadly days which are happening more and more frequently. And then I also floated the notion of putting serial numbers inside every single shell, which was an angle he hadn’t considered that made total sense to him.

Of course the NRA wouldn’t allow that to happen. That begs the question of what possible downside could there be for that action. And of course there is only one: ammo and gun manufacturers might see a slight decrease in sales. It’s a pity that change for the better always is clipped by the needs of a few to make just a tiny bit more money. The social benefits of being able to trace the original owners of every bullet don’t stand a chance against bloated profits these days.

When we finally got to the two-lane roads, the drive took on an entertaining rhythm. Like a slalom skier on a bunny slope, we dipped and swung through the night. Within a couple miles of his home, he started to tell me of a particularly senseless tragedy involving the roadway ahead.

Bad judgement and worse luck combined for fatal consequences. A 17-year-old boy was rip-roaring drunk at a party about a mile from his house. The good news: at least he didn’t drive home. The bad news: he attempted to walk home alone, dressed entirely in black. A couple hundred yards from his bedroom he passed out. He ended up in the middle of the road at a corner. A driver came down the hill as the road dipped then swung uphill to the right, and the darkened shape caught him by surprise.

Right then we came to the scene, with a wreath and weathered pictures, bows, and flowers attached to a tree across the road from the spot where a young life ended. It had happened a year ago. And no one ever gets a chance to forget.

Lirfab – def: term derived from the acronym “loving reassurance from an amorphous benevolence.” Lirfab is a characteristic attributed to impossible coincidences that could inspire the conclusion that they were orchestrated just for you as a reminder that there are forces beyond physics that choose to show you that they are on your side as a sign of encouragement and love.

—————————————

I came up with the lirfab concept on Memorial Day this year, and since then I’ve experienced a myriad of astounding coincidences well beyond a roll of the dice. Some were nature driven, such as going outside after a long stint on the computer and having two vees of 100 geese fly directly overhead. I chose that moment to go outside, pushed there by pent up political angst. I hadn’t heard geese all day, yet while outside I could hear them far far away. I scanned for them to the southeast, and saw their full approach and pass-over which took a couple of minutes. If I had stayed at my desk I would’ve heard the honking but missed the fly-by.

As coincidences go, that one wasn’t over the top (except literally). But another one was a couple of months ago. On my way to Reno with a passenger, I saw a little floating blimp to the left of my field of vision, tethered to the ground as an advertisement for homemade pies. To my right was the tiny image of a jet flying west. After a quick check of the roadway, I looked up to see the jet seemingly pierce the blimp. What are the odds of witnessing that while doing 60 mph? A second or two earlier or later and they wouldn’t have intersected. If I was in the other lane, I might have missed it.

Rather than being merely a source of entertainment, I’ve come to view these moments as something greater. What exactly I’m not entirely sure; I don’t have any religion’s framework of God or divinity to help explain them. With all the cacophony of doctrines — and their limitations due to dogmas bent on self preservation — I’ve found it hard to commit to a specific religion or view. But there does seem to be something about the synergistic connection of all life, humanity, and a tiny hint of predestination. Maybe karma has more clout than I’d guess. But there’s something in play, something larger than our human egos. And the most noncommittal way I can express this is in the term “amorphous benevolence.” It could be a divine individual force as in God, Allah, or Buddha. It could be the collective consciousness, something that came from humanity, present and past combined. Amorphous benevolence covers all the bases. And in my view, an actual God would be rather sympathetic to my conundrum, and forgiving of its lack of commitment.

On the way to Reno I was able to see the harpooning of the blimp as imminent. There was a tiny opportunity for anticipating that lirfab moment. Tonight, there was none. And more parameters had to be in perfect alignment, including the phase of the moon.

Stopped at a traffic light in Oakland, I just turned my head to the left at exactly the right instant and got a bullhorn blast from this amorphous benevolence (as in God, if you please). Nothing subtle or ambiguous about this one. It was a stunning, once-in-a-lifetime moment. And I was immediately thankful a single breath later.

The moon was in the tiniest of crescents, a little enlarged as it closed in on the western horizon. At the instant I caught sight of it, a jet that had just taken off from Oakland Airport a half-dozen miles south pierced its image. But because of the phase of the moon, this wasn’t an angular silhouette passing before a ball of bluish white. It passed before the shaded part, and was turning away from me. How could I tell? The white lights at the wingtips were clearly visible, as were the green and red lights, against the backdrop of my cherished night orb. The arc of the turn continued once only sky was behind it, and it was pointed straight away from me as I reacted to the cars around me and pulled away at the green light. The next I saw of the jet a block later it was heading south, probably past Treasure Island by then.

In less than two minutes traffic ground to a halt at the merger of 980 and 580, and I had an opportunity to review the odds of this improbable alignment. Phase of the moon: optimum. Angle of my viewing position at the key moment: stationary at a signal within 40 degrees of the alignment with no tall buildings to block my view. Angle of the aircraft: optimal in that there would be probably only 30 degrees of its 140-degree turn where the rear-facing white lights would be brilliantly visible.

And if I didn’t turn my head at the right instant, I would’ve missed it.

Thanks, amorphous benevolence/God/Goddess/collective consciousness! I heard you loud and clear. Your grace has touched me, and I am again in gratitude up to my eyebrows. I don’t know why or how, or what you want me to do with this minor miracle, but if I end up feeling a little bit special just now that’s human nature. Yet this isn’t just for me, it’s reassurance for all of us collectively. In my heart I know that these things are out there for almost everyone to witness and draw the same conclusions. I just hope that they are lucky enough to notice, value, and draw strength from these opportunities as I have been led to do.

Happy Lirfab, everybody! May yours come soon, and be just as undeniable and jaw-dropping. They say the watched pot never boils, but things may already be popping around you, just waiting for that moment of acknowledgment that will hit you deeply, calmly, and with clarity. Grace happens! Be awake for it.

On my Facebook timeline, I found a post from a friend being circulated around originating from Fox News. The headline is, “Obama wants Marines to wear ‘girly’ hats.” Predictably, the comments from his post are aghast as folks take this characterization as absolute fact.

This is a classic example of Fox News, the New York Post, and likely the right-wing spin masters like Karl Rove and Frank Luntz, taking a minor story reframed by a humorous right-wing military blog and reporting it as fact.

Let’s start with the kernel of truth. The manufacturer of women’s dress Marine hats is going out of business. A replacement may require a redesign.

From there, the blog said that: “Thanks to a plan by President Obama to create a ‘unisex’ look for the Corps, officials are swapping out the Marines’ iconic caps – known as covers – with a new version that some have derided as so ‘girly’ that they would make the French blush.”

This section was reprinted virtually word for word in both Fox and Post coverage. With wording like that it was a dog-whistle grand slam in riling up the gullible, flag-waving masses. First, it pins Obama to emasculating the Marines, something manly men couldn’t stand for and were more than willing to believe because that fit the narrative that has been crafted for them over the last few years.

Second, notice that the word “plan” is used. This causes those looking for a commie plot to jump on whatever sliver of conspiracy theory could be imagined.

Then we have “girly” and “French blush.” Why not just say gay? I guess that generates very uncomfortable images in some men’s heads…

With the scope of the circulation fueled through Facebook, the Marines had to address it, deny that the president would have any part in the decision making process of hat design, and state flatly that: “The Marine Corps has zero intention of changing the male cover.”

Here was yet another chance for conservatives to encounter a thought process which could lead to seeing just how and why they’ve been played by Fox and the billionaires who pull the strings. They joined the outrage, pumped up by homophobia and subtle racism. Then they found out it wasn’t true but didn’t question anything about it. Do they think that all these disproven lies are just mistakes in reporting? How can they not see the pattern seems to be driven by specific motivation, targeting a particular reaction? And if they were to see that part of the underbelly of the beast, why can’t they connect the dots and see how their patriotism, conservatism, and even faith has been used against them to pad the agenda of billionaires?

Clueless and happily taken in yet again, these Nero Cons hear that whistle and jump through every conceptual hoop presented. Why? Because pride keeps them in line. Religion keeps them superior. And Rush keeps them in outrage, imprinting phrases designed to prevent actual thought, like “death tax.”

Last week’s ploy was ultimately another dog whistle moment for Fox that died quickly when truth spoiled the party, but the lie did its duty. It was destined to be discredited but not tainted, yet another shooting star in the murky sky of Fox’s fact-free universe.

A pair of moons

The second moon bathed the hills to my west, sweeping by on my way from San Francisco to Fortuna, just south of Eureka, 250 miles north. As I got to the two-lane road north of Willits, the moonlight caught anything white: houses, RV’s, boats, even car covers.

At the open plain around Laytonville the fields and trees were well defined, and further north in the narrow valleys the hanging smoke from modest pockets of civilization hung nearly motionless. The mostly dry riverbed of the Eel River caught my eye often. My glimpses were brief, of course, in the midst of the 400-plus corners the route entailed.

The redwoods stood out everywhere, scraggly spires 60 feet taller than the trees around them. Rather than being limited to the usual tunnel vision of night, the lack of lights in my mirrors opened up my field of vision to the subtleties of gray and shadow. Every ridge was cast in silhouette, with stars slicing through trees slowly.

The first moon appeared only briefly, between Polk St. and Van Ness on Bush St in SF. A weathered woman with unwashed hair and a bright-eyed smirk spotted an approaching three-wheeler with a parking enforcer at the wheel. She spun around and gave the city worker a quick moon, pulling down her terrycloth sweats. At least her butt was clean; the rest of her flesh looked pretty gritty….

From the moment I reached the San Francisco County line on the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog was dense and consistent. There would be no trace of sun for six hours, until I reached that spot again. My destination, the VA hospital at Fort Miley above the Cliff House, would be in perpetual and chilling gray all day.

My last passenger would be a woman in the women’s naval corps during Korea. Her health had taken a turn a few years back, and now she was frail with hands so unsteady that she needed to rest one hand on the other’s wrist while she used the joy stick to guide her motorized wheelchair. It was one of the deluxe models, with six wheels – the big ones being the two in the center so it could pivot in place. It could recline, raise her up, and dip at the front for when she needed to get off of it.

Her eyes were bright and belied her physical status. We would have a lot to talk about en route, but first we headed south near where 280 and 19th Avenue merge to drop off my only other passenger, a dialysis patient that I see a lot of. He was trying to ween himself off of his wheelchair, and chose to use the steps rather than the lift to get off. His daughter who greeted him, herself in her 50s, was as always apprehensive about his risky choice. But getting back to a vertical routine for him was important on many levels, and she had to go with it.

After a surprisingly quick traverse of 19th Avenue heading north to Yountville and the VA’s retirement home in the Napa Valley, we were getting onto the Golden Gate in seemingly relentless monochrome. I told her that half way across that would all change, and sure enough it did.

A small pocket of clarity appeared to our lower right, providing a momentary glimpse of part of Angel Island bathed in gold with a sliver of bay behind it. It quickly disappeared. Scarce tourists huddled together on the walkway. Hopefully they hadn’t given up too soon, because they were only 100 yards from an incredible show.

Just before reaching the north tower, the world opened up in staggering fashion. To our left, the fog was being pushed along the steep contours of the northern mouth of the bay. It curved around a nearly vertical ridge and thrust out at us, dissipating quickly like a ghost in the night.

Beyond the tower, we were able to look steeply up at the fog tumbling down ferociously towards us, it’s very crest lit by the low sun. My passenger had her chair in full recline, so she had the optimum vantage point and enough glass above her to see it all.

As we approached the ridge cut in half leading to the Waldo Tunnel, the fog was even faster as it thrust downward, staying less than 30 feet from the dried grass and scrub brush it rushed over. When it reached that cut in the hills it swirled up again, twisting and expanding, looking like cotton candy in its moment of creation. Seconds later we were again in the thick of it – literally.

It was easy to pick out the one tourist on the road. He slowed down to 40 while all the Marin County commuters kept it at 60 heading for the tunnel.

Halfway through it the fog was gone, with sunlit homes along a high ridge in Sausalito visible through the end of it. The two curves at the other side prevented any wandering eyes for me, and the by crest and the overpass to Wolfback Ridge Road all traces of fog were nearly gone. The ridges were too high, and the fog hadn’t welled up behind them enough to get to that point near the crest where clumps get caught in the wind and get thrown over the side.

It had been a whirlwind of motion and awe that lasted about a minute. But I can close my eyes right now and relive that moment when white frosting flowed over dark shadow, lunging towards us like a child ready to reach for his daddy.