LEGAL GRANDEUR

[From the San Francisco Examiner, January 1969, by Jim Bishop.]

The judge leaned forward in his black robes, a crow in a lofty cage, and asked the defendant to rise.  Dominick Ursola, 62, laborer, nudged by his lawyer, stood slowly, a small man with a drooping mustache and shoes caked with old concrete.

“How do you plead?” Judge Brown asked.  Dominick looked to his lawyer.  “Guilty of simple assault,” the counsel said quietly.

The assistant prosecutor, a small man with harried hands, got to his feet and said that the charge—with the court’s permission—had been reduced from felonious assault to simple assault, provided that the defendant would enter a plea of guilty.

“I’m not so sure the court acted properly in this case,” the judge said.  “Mr. Ursola is a dangerous man to be at large.  In any case, I will hear testimony.”

The first was Johnny, 14, big for his age.  What had happened to the best of his recollection?  Well, he and some other kids had seen the old man in the lots rooting around the garbage for salvageable items—metal and wire, he guessed—and the court ordered it stricken.

Anyway, Johnny and some kids thought they would tease the old man.  They didn’t mean any harm.  What had they done?  “Well, we chucked a few stones at him.”  And then what happened?  The old man lost his temper and began to throw rocks at the children, yelling something in a foreign language.  Had anyone been hit?

Johnny showed the judge the back of his head.  He had been hit, and the hospital had taken three stitches in it.  Next witness was Mrs. Cadis, Johnny’s mother.  She said her boy had come home screaming, crying. When she saw the blood, she had almost fainted.  A man like Ursola shouldn’t be allowed in a free society.  This too was stricken from the record.

The defense placed Dominick Ursola on the stand.  He stared almost tearfully at the judge and hung his head.  His lawyer asked the simple, precise questions of the identification.  Then he said:  “Did it happen the way the boy said it did?”  Dominick nodded.  The clerk asked him to speak up.  “Yes,” he said.  “Yes.”

It was adduced that Mr. Ursola worked as a laborer for a building contractor.  He had no skill and he earned $2 an hour.  His wife—he pointed to her—had diabetes and he couldn’t afford the medication nor the doctor.  So, in his spare time, he salvaged refuse and garbage.

When both sides rested the case, Judge Brown frowned.  “I’m going to make an example of you, Ursola.  You might have killed this child.  The fact that he was wrong in throwing the stones does not mitigate your guilt in losing your temper.  Before I pass sentence, has counsel anything to say?”  The lawyer mumbled.  “What?” the judge said.  “What did you say?”  The lawyer turned away and mumbled.  “Will you speak up?” the judge said, getting red in the face.  “I did,” the lawyer said, smiling.  “Is it possible that the court’s hearing is defective?”

The judge almost got to his feet.  “That’s enough out of you!” he roared.  “One more remark like that and I’ll hold you in contempt.”

Counsel shook his head.  “Judges are human,” he said softly.  “They can go deaf and dumb.”       The judge rapped his gavel so hard he almost broke it.  “I will see you in chambers!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.

You see,” the lawyer said sweetly, “how easy it is to cause a fine judicial mind to lose its temper?  How much easier for a troubled old man with boys throwing rocks at him.”

The judge sat back, his breath heaving.  He maintained the attitude for some time.  “Sentence suspended,” he said.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

BEING AND NOTHINGNESS

The man was talking about his wife’s slide into death.  It wasn’t the fact of her ultimate death he minded so much as having to deal with the fact that before she died she had “become someone else.  She’s not herself anymore.”

It’s that “self” thing.  Our consciousness.  I like being aware.  I really like being aware.  I like feeling the wind in my face.  I like pondering questions, big and small.  I like rubbing up against my wife’s still-supple skin.  I like looking at Michelangelo’s David and marveling at the man’s genius to be able to “see” that bit of statuary in a solid block of marble.  I like pushing a basketball into an upward arc . . . and knowing, like Steph Curry, that that ball is going to swish sweetly through a slender mesh of silk netting.

It is that awareness—and the connectedness that comes with it—that makes life worth living.  Losing that awareness and connectedness will be a bitter pill to swallow, indeed.  Nothingness is a bitch.  It is the biggest bitch.

Listen, then, to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyric, from the brilliant Hamilton song “My Shot,” which speaks to this topic:  “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.  When’s it gonna get me?  In my sleep? Seven feet ahead of me?  If I see it comin’ do I run or do I let it be?  Is it like a beat without a melody?  See, I never thought I’d live past twenty.  Where I come from some get half as many.  Ask anybody why we livin’ fast and we / Laugh, reach for a flask, we have to make this moment last, that’s plenty.”  “I am not throwin’ away my shot!”  Lots of hope and awareness in that pithy diatribe.

I will admit, flat out, that—after I’ve had my shot—I like the idea of some kind of awareness after our hearts beat their last.  I think that it would be the coolest thing ever to continue to have awareness, consciousness and connectedness after death.  It would be nice to know, for a certainty, which was wheat and which was chaff.  But the evidence suggests otherwise.  Dust to dust.  We are alive, then we aren’t.  I’m willing to be convinced otherwise—here or there—but nothing’s done that tenuous little job thus far.

I am getting of an age where the awareness of death crops up more and more often.  There are more funerals than weddings in my life now.  I think I’ve gotten to the point where I can accept that it’s going to happen.  But I reserve the right to rail against the concept and, in the meantime, try to wring every last bit of joy and wonder at the magnificence of what we have here while the ticker’s still ticking.

It’s easy—in light of idiot leaders and malevolent power mongers—to think that life is less than perfect, less than glorious.  But listen to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and try and tell me that life sucks.  Listen to the sound of a piece of ash striking a horsehide-covered baseball crisply on the sweet spot.  That is a glorious sound, too.  When a baby chortles for no known or obvious reason, relish that sound, which is like no other.

For all its failures, life is still PDG, pretty damned good.  Just stay vested in the moment, the “eternal now” and, for heaven’s sake . . . listen!

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

I LIKE LAUGHTER

I like to laugh.  I like to chuckle and chortle.  I really like to giggle and guffaw.  Robin Williams always got me to the point of guffaw, and that was as good as good gets.

I enjoy the off-beat silliness of Steven Wright, who says he’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Or—my fave—“If you’ve got the time, pretty much any place is walking distance.”

We prized George Carlin because he mixed an in-depth reader’s intelligence with a screwball sense of what might prick our pride and insult our read on any topic.  He wanted to make you think . . . and laugh.

Of acute interest to me is that our sense of humor is apparently pre-human in its origins.  Yep, when researchers at the University of Portsmouth (United Kingdom) tickled two dozen primates—gorillas, chimps, orangutans, bonobos . . . and three human babies—the sounds that issued forth were eerily (and totally) comparable to human laughter.

What that means is this: laughter dates back 10 to 16 million years.  It was there for that ancestor common both to humans and to great apes.

The lead researcher, Marina Davila Ross told the London Daily Telegraph that “Our results on laughter indicate its pre-human basis” and that our laughter was “hard-wired into humans.”  She said that, just as it is for humans, the animals’ laughter “seemed like an expression of joy.”

Why wouldn’t it be?  We know that laughter has powerful healing capabilities.  We know that laughter relaxes us, that laughter lowers blood pressure, that laughter enhances happiness.

My wife is from Georgia, so I have a passing familiarity with Southernisms, many of which are truly delightful.  For example, you kinda have to be from the South to understand that the word “fixin” can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adverb.  See if you can figure out which is which in these three examples.  “I was fixin to go over to Betty Lou’s.”  “We had a huge Christmas dinner, with all the fixins.”  “When are you gonna get to fixin my car?”

Okay, so you need a joke or two.  Funniest one so far this year concerns my tennis group partner Jeff, who came to group last Thursday in a dour mood.  I asked him what was wrong.  “It’s my sex life, Rich.  My wife’s cut me back to once a week.”  Naturally, I tried to console him.  “It’s not so bad, Jeff.  I mean, hey, she’s cut some of us off completely!

This one goes back a couple of years.  Eighty-year-old passes his physical with high marks and the doc asks him why he’s in such good health.  “Go turkey hunting every morning.  Chase them birds up and down the hills.”  Okay, says the doc, but there must be some genetic component.  How old was your father when he died?  “Who says he’s dead?”  You’re 80 and you dad’s still alive.  How old is he?  “Dad’s 100.  Went hunting with me this morning.”

What about your dad’s dad.  How old was he when he died?  “Who says grandpa’s dead?”  Goodness, how old is he?  “He’s almost 120.”  I suppose you’re going to tell me that he went turkey hunting with you this morning, too?  “Naw, he got married.”  Married?  Now why would a fellow that old want to get married?  “Who says he wanted to?”

Go forth and giggle.  Or guffaw.  Your choice.  Be healthy.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

A LITTLE PORN TALK

There was once a popular afternoon radio DJ on KSFO-San Francisco by the name of Dan Sorkin.  Ever the iconoclast, he would often say that he never learned anything of importance until he turned thirty.  What epiphany did he come up with then?  “I discovered that women want it just as much as men!”

The elusive-yet-ever-popular “it,” of course, was sex, the bane of Puritanical thinking and the easiest fallback for religious humor.  (“Why are Southern Baptists so down on sex?”  “Because it leads inevitably to dancing.”  Rim shot.)

A recent piece in New York magazine reported on an extensive survey of our porn-watching habits.  As intriguing as porn is, in and of itself, how we view pornography is almost as enlightening.

There is, for example, the contention that free and easy access to on-line porn has cast a pall across our actual, real-life sexuality, diminishing its power and reality in some way.  There is also, the moral question:  Are these young women being subjugated to a life that degrades their existence?  Some actresses seem to be enjoying their time under the lights beyond all expectation, while others are only a leash and collar away from obvious exploitation.  (Then again—let’s be honest here—a few actually sport the leash and collar with alacrity.  No accounting for taste.)

Author Maureen O’Connor writes, “Pornography is more than a mere causal agent in the way we screw.  It has also become a laboratory of the sexual imagination—and as such, it offers insight into a collective sexual consciousness that is in a state of high-speed evolution.”  She talks about narrative memes that go beyond the “pussy-slapping and ball-squeezing which could theoretically be included in some crazily updated version of The Joy of Sex.”  She cites scene-setting, erotic situations and role-playing as reinventions of sexual stimuli for all of us.

The study provides an overview of where we’ve been, noting emphasis shifts over the last decade from the once-trending popularity of MILFs (sexy mature women) to squirting, from the prevalence of “amateurs” to the “casting couch interview,” from the year of the ass to “lesbian scissoring.”  Not quite sure why that last one was popular, but there you are.  Incest porn has always been popular; it titillates.  Female viewers are largely drawn to lesbian massage videos.  (Ms. O’Connor points at one drawback to this:  “Ever since massage porn became ubiquitous in my porn, I have been unable to endure professional, nonerotic massages.”  That is a sad and serious loss.)

“Yoga” is another popular porn subject area.  Here, wardrobe memes “yoga pants,” “ripped yoga pants” and “tight yoga pants” are enticing subject lines.

One interesting facet was this clear fact:  The typical “Barbie” type was not the most popular body type sought after by male viewers.  No fake-boob blondes.  Really.  The most popular female performers were slender, five-foot-five brunettes with B-cups (and, curiously, 48 pounds lighter than the average female).

You might think that gay-male porn would be the sole province of the fellas, but nearly forty percent of viewers are women, especially those over 45 years of age.  Then there’s this sad fact:  Kim Kardashian’s sex tape has been viewed 144 million times.  Go figure.

In the end, understanding internet pornography gives us a relatively accurate assessment of our sexual interests and proclivities.  That information might also provide a healthy means of exploring our own sexuality.  Last benefit?  The definitive discovery that women want it just as much as men.  Nice to know that guys are not alone in an otherwise cold, cruel world.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

EDITORIAL PROCESS

The greatest compliment I’ve ever had about my writing came from famed winemaker Milenko “Mike” Grgich.  At an elegant dinner party in the Napa Valley one evening he said, “It’s hard for me to read your work.  I have to pay close attention to each word because I know that every one of them is there for a reason.”  I don’t easily blush, but blush I did.

That’s why we re-write and edit ourselves.  Every word should be there for a reason and, if we remove all the words that do not belong, the ones that are left will have punch.  They will resonate and they will be remembered.

It continues to fascinate me how you can start a piece with one focus and, through the editorial process, swing from one place or viewpoint to another.  The advent of the computer changed the way we write, freeing up our creative instincts in the process.  Before the keyboard, you had to type a piece three or four times, as you went through the re-writes necessary to sand an article, column or book chapter smooth.  That monotony led to error creep.   But with a computer, you just crank the piece out with no judgmental notions hanging over you, set it aside for a week or more, than come back to the editing process as if it weren’t even your work.  Editing and re-writing became instantly more efficient, more effective.  You didn’t need as much time because you didn’t have to re-type the whole piece each and every time.  The creative process became immensely less encumbered.

It’s also instructive to see the wending way the editorial process takes to get from point beginning to point end.  The example I offer below comes from the New Yorker Magazine’s Cartoon Caption Contest, which I faithfully enter every week.  I should have won several times by now (according to my lights), but there you are.  Last week’s cartoon showed a couple of horn-capped Hun honchos on horseback followed by a long line of paired, suit-wearing office workers with briefcases.

My first caption was “. . . and they’re really good on the drill field.”  I then changed “really” to “particularly.”  A slight improvement.

The next iteration was “True, they’re much better on the drill field.”  Followed by “True, they really score points on the drill field.”  “Score” was then replaced by “rack up.”  A little more punch than the slighter, simpler “score.”  I then changed “drill field” to “in the drill competition.”  Kind of funny, but still not quite edgy enough.  Somehow I had to work something a little more dangerous—the motto of the cartoon character Darkwing Duck was echoing in my brain:  “Let’s get dangerous!”—into the equation.

Aha.  There it was.  The life or death element.  That might do the trick.  Thus, here is the entry I finally sent into the competition:  “True, they rack up way more points in drill competition than in actual combat.”  Yup, that ought to win it for me.  At last!

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

COW COMFORT

I have a theory:  I believe that it is impossible to gaze upon a herd of cows, grazing on a green-grassed hillside, and think of nuclear holocaust at the same time.  Check it out the next time you’re driving in the country and happen upon a herd.

I was reminded of this when I read a Wall Street Journal report on dairymen trying to find ways to increase milk production.  Turns out that, by relieving cows of stress, milk production can be raised to markedly higher levels than ever before.

When I was a child, my aged grandfather, Manuel Barboza, taught me how to milk a cow.  He had a ten acre plot in Niles, California (since subsumed by the town of Fremont).  There was hay and corn, cows and chickens, and quite a number of fruit trees.  The apricots, freshly fallen from the tree, remain the most memorable.  They were soft and juicy and intensely flavorful.

Milking a cow, it turned out, was all in the wrist.  You squeezed your fingers tightly, yes, but it was that little wrist twist at the end that got the most milk squirting plink-plink into that stainless-steel pail.  My grandfather was a short, squat man, with small hands and short, stubby fingers.  But when you shook his hand, you knew that he could crush your hand in a second if he chose to do so.  When I swing a baseball bat today, I wish my hands and wrists were as strong as his were.  Just don’t have a cow handy.

Back to the modern day dairy.  Classical (and Country) music, back scratchers and water beds.  I’m not kidding!  That’s what these guys are employing to calm their cows and boost milk production nearly 40 percent above what it was two decades ago.  American cows now produce more than ten metric tons of milk each year, among the world leaders.

Cows used to be milked twice a day.  By hand.  Now automatic milking machines—that cows can literally “walk into” on their own—handle the task three times a day . . . when the cows feel ready to be milked.  If the barn is too warm, automatic misters cool the lasses.  “Cow comfort is one of the main deriving forces of our existence,” says Mike McCloskey, the head of a 100-member cooperative.  “We have to keep them fine-tuned.  They can’t get stressed.”

So, music sets an ambience.  Tests show that cows who listen to talk radio—particularly when it’s political talk radio—producer significantly less milk!  Too much stress.  Automatic back-scratchers are a big hit with the cows, as are water beds.  Water beds!  Apparently, cows that sleep half the day produce more milk, and their tender knees don’t like hard concrete floors.  Who knew?

Actually, it makes all the sense in the world.  Workers in a comfortable environment perform better than those in a high stress environment.  Reduce health risks, raise productivity.  Common sense.  Ask any skyscraper window cleaner, cop or coal miner.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

BENEFICENCE

That’s the word for the day.  Beneficence.  “The fact or quality of being kind or doing good.  Charity.”  Also, “A charitable act or generous gift.”  So says Webster’s New World Dictionary.

Don’t you feel better, just intoning the word and taking in its meaning and the ramifications thereof?  I do.  Just let it wash over you and infuse your soul, perhaps even the meaning of the rest of your life.

There is a quality—it’s there in the background, but remains nonetheless real—to unrequired beneficence that radiates, inwardly and outwardly.  When you give something of yourself—be it personal or a possession or simply a monetary gift—you take on and wear a feeling of wellness and wholeness that is ineffable.  Transcendent.

I don’t know how else to say it.  So just say it, out loud or just to yourself.  “Beneficence.”  Good word.  Better feeling.

You’re welcome.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle