Sunday, November 26, 2006

Profiles in Slack

I was hoping for more “K stories,” but instead it turns out I’ve probably just got PMS, epilepsy, advancing age, hypoglycemia, Lyme disease, a herxheimer reaction, a supernatural illness, diabetes, and a malfunctioning i-pod. Actually, I do have diabetes -- the rare type 1.5, which means adult onset type I. If you must have one form of diabetes, it’s probably the best one, because you don’t accumulate a lifetime of damage from having had it as a child. And type II can be very tricky to control. It’s much easier to do so with insulin than with pills. At least it is for me. So long as I maintain a fanatically strict schedule, I am able to keep my blood sugar in a very tight range. I’ll bet my average blood sugar is actually lower now than before I was diagnosed.

Having said that, diabetes is a mysterious disease that affects different people differently. Since all of the hormones interact, if you mess with one, you’re messing with the rest. It even affects your sense of hunger, so I’m often hungry when I can’t eat, but not hungry when I need to. Exercise is amazingly beneficial, both on a short and long term basis. Many diabetics are in denial about this. I’m lucky, because I’ve hardly missed a workout since I was nine years old, so I’m used to the regimen.

The only exception was an approximately two year period between around 18 and 20, after I had graduated high school and discovered beer. It is fair to say that I was more or less inebriated every single day during that period of time, as were each and every one of my friends. Strange, but there was not a single person in my immediate circle who regarded this as noteworthy, troubling, or undesirable in any way. To the contrary, we were all convinced that we had discovered the whole point of life. There was just nothing in the “normal world” that appealed to me at all, and I explicitly wanted to avoid entering that world until it was absolutely forced upon me.

Eventually I did begin to sprout a bit of a beer gut, but didn’t really notice it until I was at a party just about exactly 30 years ago, in November of 1976, probably the day after gorging myself on Thanksgiving. A girl said -- and these words are burned in my memory -- “you have the biggest belly I’ve ever seen for such a small butt.”

That was it. I joined the Jack LaLanne gym on January 2, 1977. Interestingly, that was so long ago that the gym wasn’t even integrated. Rather, it was open for men on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, and for women on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Hey, they’re only women! Three days is enough for them!

You probably cannot imagine the innocent mentality that reigned at the time. It had never crossed anyone’s mind that a sweaty gym might be a good place to woo women or that letting them work out only three days a week might be a good way to meet Gloria Allred in court. Nor was it a narcissistic den of self-obsessed, strutting popinjays. Most of the men just wore old gray sweatpants and shirt, sometimes with the sleeves cut off at the shoulder. There were a few body builders, who were their own subculture. And I’m sure the place must have been crawling with gays, but I was too naive to really know anything about that. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but things were different back then. Like everyone else, I enjoyed Paul Lind on the Hollywood Squares, but that was the extent of my knowledge of homosexuality. You might see Charles Nelson Reilly or Liberace on Johnny Carson, but....

Hey, why am I writing this anyway? I suppose to demonstrate that when the divine withdraws, it withdraws, and that this is what you’re left with... just bad Lileks. And if the divine didn’t withdraw from time to time, you would no doubt begin taking it for granted, as if it is at your beck and call, which of course it isn’t. But when it isn’t present, I’m not going to pretend I can write about it in the same way. I suppose I could, but only from the outside in.

Which is actually a good idea for a topic. That is, what does one do when this happens? Or is there anything you can do? Must you simply wait in faith, or can you move things along and speed up the process? In the past, before I blogged every day, I would simply “close up shop” for however long the season lasted. Rather than fighting it, I would turn my attention to more worldly demands, such as catching up on my yard work, cleaning out the gutters, or checking for skin cancer.

In the course of writing my book, I was very much aware of cycles of input and output, planting and harvest. However, I was of the belief that I had to await inspiration in order to write. Unlike today, I was completely undisciplined in my writing, so that the book was mostly written in short spurts often separated by months at a time. I never even considered myself to be a writer per se. Rather, I was just seeking the clarity to translate a vision onto paper. Sometimes the vision was there, sometimes it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, I didn’t even try to fake it.

Speaking of faking it, did I ever tell you the story of how I fooled my way into graduate school? When we were last reduced to discussing my autobobography, I believe we left off with the unlikely story of how I ended up with a degree in film in December of 1981. At the time, I was still working as a retail clerk, with no earthly idea of what I wanted to do for a living. I knew I didn’t have the personality or the motivation to do anything with my film degree, so where did that leave me? I was at a crossroads, with a choice of several cul de sacs before me.

I was reading the sports section when I saw an ad for Pepperdine University -- for a masters degree in clinical psychology. To this day, I don’t remember exactly what prompted me to dial the number, as it was completely unlike me to show any kind of initiative. But I did, and they told me to fill out an application and send it in. It was literally the first time in my life that it had ever crossed my mind to attend graduate school or to study psychology.

So I sent in the application, and amazingly, I was accepted. But only provisionally. This was because I had just completed my BA degree a few days before, so my transcripts weren’t ready to be sent over. In the mean time I could start classes, and as soon as my transcripts arrived, they would undergo the formality of officially accepting me into the program.

So I started classes in January of 1982, and really enjoyed them. As it so happens, my very first teacher was Dr. Laura Schlessinger -- yes, “Dr. Laura,” back before she was in radio. She was actually an excellent teacher, obviously quite bright and charismatic.

This particular class was in psychopathology. It must have been after the third or fourth week, when Dr. Schlessinger gave the class a writing assignment. Even though none of us had ever seen a patient, we were to write up a detailed clinical case. It could be about someone we knew, or about a character in film or literature, but we had to outline etiology, psychodynamics, diagnosis, treatment, the whole nine yards.

Bear in mind that my classmates had an obvious advantage over me, since they were all psychology undergraduates, whereas I had mainly studied Coors and similar beverages. But this is where something otherworldly intervened to turn my cul de sac into a path. The week after we turned in our papers, Dr. Schlessinger expressed how disappointed she was with the class -- she was kind of snarky even back then -- and handed all of the papers back, so they could be redone. With one exception. She also handed each member of the class a copy of my paper, so they could have a model of how the assignment should be done. To say this was unexpected doesn’t quite capture the feeling. I’m guessing I felt a little like that con man played by Leonardo DiCaprio, the first time he was behind the wheel of a jumbo jet with no actual idea of how to fly it. "Pride" wouldn't be the right word, would it?

Meanwhile, my transcripts finally arrived at Pepperdine, and my fate was sealed. I still have the letter hanging on my office wall. It is dated February 28, 1982.

Dear Robert:

Your completed application for admission has been evaluated and I sincerely regret to inform you that we have been unable to find a place for you in our program. Your academic preparation as indicated by your grades does not meet our requirements.

We sincerely hope that you will be able to make other plans that will help you accomplish an objective that will be to your best interests.

Very truly yours,
Robert Fraley
Dean of Admissions

Damn. Busted! I knew it was too good to be true. I knew that once they saw that I’d actually flunked out of business school they’d give me the boot. Who was I fooling? I can't really fly a 747. I'm just surprised they didn't arrest me for impersonating a graduate student.

Nevertheless, in what I assumed would be my last day of graduate school, I sadly showed the letter to Dr. Laura. She rapidly eyeballed it, looked at me, and said, “don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”


“Don’t worry. You have too much talent.”


“I’ll handle it.”

To this day, I have no idea what she did, but we never spoke of it again. A week later I received another letter from Dean Fraley, almost apologizing for the previous letter and letting me back into the program.

So, what’s the moral of the story for the kids out there? Never study. Never make plans. Just float aimlessly on the slack plane and trust in Dobbs.


HV said...

Bob, when I mentioned the supernatural, I didn't intend to suggest that you have a supernatural illness, if that is what you are referring to. My comment was about kundalini yoga and the cultivation of extraordinary experiences in general as spiritual paths. And that they may (or may not) have something to do with the supernatural. I have heard people who dabbled in kundalini say they encountered scary paranormal phenomena. Regarding your symptoms, I have no clue, but they certainly don't sound to be supernatural.

Ben USN (Ret) said...

Ha ha ha!
I really must join the Church of SubGenius(TM), because I know I'm a Yeti, I'm sick of the Pinks, and "Bob" told me to, through sublimiminal suggestive pipe smoke clouds.
Plus, I might get to meet Church luminaffiniaries such as Bruce Campbell and Paul Reuben!

Gagdad Bob said...


I know, I'm just having fun. I realize I don't have a supernatural illness but a subnatural one, as I undergo the final transfiguration into the embodiment of pure slack.

Ben usn (ret) said...

You know Bob:
In my honest/humble (take your pick) opinion (such that it is), this IS (sorry about the caps, it was a RLM AKA a random leftist moment) a k moment you are having.

Der Fledermaus Kompt said...

Bob, the account of your entrance into graduate school amply shows that you have been in good hands for a long time now.
All I can say is "carpe diem"--you are a chosen instrument of _______.
Qualifications for the job: sincerity, humility, persistence, and trust.
You have these in abundance.

Ben usn (ret) said...

Good points, Der Fledermaus Kompt!
I never would've imagined that I would be talking to Der Fledermaus Kompt at One Cosmos.
It's a small world after all (TM).

Ben usn (ret) said...

I realized, as I read Bob's humoreus and funnybone-resonating pre-ruptured life (with Dr. Laura, who knew?), that I halfway mis-misunderstood what Bob was saying yesterday.
I thought he was asking about any similar spritual symptoms, but I missed the k stories part, which, in my experiences may or may not have anything to do with kundalini.
Probably not, since I never heard of it before yesterday.
So, without further adoo, here is a k story.
Wait...I'll be right back (BRB).
Oscar Von Spock want to make the snow yellow.
Maybe it's a Zappa thing...I dunno.

Joan of Argghh! said...

I loved this post! Even in your slack, you're imparting more than you know.

I imagine, no, I know, that at times we are merely the conduit of the energy that the Cosmos is trying to infuse into the ordinary horizontal. Many times, I was never the "recipient" as much as I was the vehicle. Also, never meaning to make light of your experience, Bob, I was so imbued with peace, no matter what else was happening, I learned I was not in control of those events, moments, or feelings. (And when they were just hormones or age or what have you, I found I had to actively seek the peace if I wanted to maintain some sort semblance of balance!)

Still, when the Other wishes to impart 0 into the horizontal, well, maybe I should cooperate with the program and realize it's not about me anyway. After all, when He really needs to say something, any ass will suffice when Balaam--the horizontal--won't cooperate.

Oh, and the troll comment from yesterday was insincere and baiting, almost cloying and evil. At least that was my impression. Glad to see he was mostly igonored.

hoarhey said...

Thanks Bob,
I've been waiting for the Dr. Laura story ever since you alluded to it a few months ago.
She must have recognized the ass kickin' truth teller hidden behind the party animal exterior. Psycologically speeking you seem to be kindred spirits, do you still maintain contact with her?

ben usn (ret) said...

Ok, where was I?
Right, an O to k story.
I joined the US Navy a few days after my 17th birthday.
I went to the Marines and Army first, but they were out to lunch,
and the Navy recruiter who brought his lunch in a bag saw me trying the locked doors of the Marines and Army,
noticed my disappointment and was kind enough to offer his help.
You see, what I really wanted to do was join the Navy, and I just didn't know it...yet.
Not until the friendly, caring recruiter reached my inner Sailor, that is.
After hearing about my dream of joining the Marine Corps or the Army, he said "That's great, but you don't want to dig foxholes all the time, do you?
I tell you what, those recruiters won't be back for awhile, so why not see what the Navy has to offer? Are you hungry? Want a coke or coffee?"
Sounded good to me.
I was hooked after hearing how I would see many exotic countries around the world, for free!
That recruiter was the best salesman I ever met, and he made me feel smart and mature, even showing me respect that I hadn't earned.
But he was also honest. "I'm not going to lie to you, Ben", he said.
"The Navy isn't a cakewalk, you see, and alot of guys aren't tough enough to hack it, but I can tell that you have the right stuff!"
Welll...if you put it that way.
And he was honest, I must say.
Sure, like all boys, I only heard what I wanted to hear, but he didn't lie to me.
He might have omitted a few little things, such as hand scrubbing the deck of the head (restroom), or painting the mast, but these were things that built character, I later learned, and that wasn't going to be my main job.
So I signed on the dotted line, and was eager to begin!

To be cont...

Ben usn (ret) said...

Each generation of Boot Camp is easier, just as each generation of Americans have easier lives, mentally and physically speaking.
Bootcamp in the 70's meant that the Company Commanders/Drill Instructors could still legally cuss at you, which didn't bother me, but it was kind of funny, making it very difficult to hide smiles from the CC.
You don't want to be noticed by the CC, because that meant extra push-ups, running, sit-ups or any other kind of physical torture the CC could dream up.
To make it more interesting, our CC was a big believer in punishing the entire company when one guy screwed up.
The problem was, we had alot of screw-ups, i.e. really stupid recruits and smart alecs.
The smart alecs were worse, because they had to enlist to avoid jail time for some crime (thank God that is no longer a policy).
We had an unusually high number of car thieves, drug dealers, burglers and anger management poster boys in our company.
Which meant pretty much non-stop punishment.
About halfway through Boot Camp an Officer wanted to see me.
I was about to protest and say they had the wrong guy, when the Officer offered me a chair.
No one offers you a chair in Boot Camp, so I'm really puzzled.
The Officer says I had high scores on my tests, and offers me a chance to go to the Naval Academy and become an Officer.
Sounds good right?
One little catch: I
had to commit to 9 years of service.
I had already regretted my decision to join, realizing in my youthful wisdom that Boot Camp sucks, and it was not fair, so I was quick to turn down that generous offer.
I didn't want anymore surprises, not for 9 years.
It was also a really stupid choice in retrospect, but 20/20 hindsight is like that.
After Boot Camp, and Operations Specialist "A" school, I reported aboard my first ship, trying to remember if I saluted the Jack or the Ensign and was that before or after I salute the Officer of the Deck?
Now the fun starts!


tillUrDizzy said...


Between Bob and the Sanity Squad, and who knows what others I don't visit... time to start your own blog.

Arthur Dent said...

My theory, which I learned from a troupe of mimes, is that many people flock to careers either because 1. Mom of Dad does it so why not me, or 2. Those 'seeking' people seek to overcome some important perceived lack in their life. Great for those driving trucks less so for brain surgeons and judges.

Randomness is often a good thing. 1 and 2 above are far from random but I guess often result in a good thing.

Bob I like your blog and POV.

I wonder how many psychiatrists and psychologists figure things out by figuring things out for others.

ximeze said...

OK Ben,

Hope you have lots of time for the keyboard today 'cause I'm already waiting for the next chapter - feels like waiting on the dock for packet carrying the next instalment of.....

Is Oscar still getting Tday leftovers? Beaky ate the turkey today, but tossed everything else. "Want toast!"

Ben usn (ret) said...

Ximeze and tillerdizzy, thank you.
Storytelling isn't my forte, but Bob wanted a K storym so I figured I would write one for the Bobber!
Note: I did not pay these guys to say this, honest.

A troup of mimes, Arthur Dent?
I'm speechless.

Ximeze- A big high...talon to Beaky! Finishing off the big bird, he da bird!
I wish Oscar was more finicky. He eats virtually anything (and things I don't want to know about).
His previous owner called him "fat bastard" and now I know why. :^)

Ben usn (ret) said...

And so the fun indeed did start.
The Messenger of the watch showed me my new home.
A berthing space, with 45 other guys crammed in.
The head had 2 urinals and 2 stalls.
There was 2 sinks with aluminum "mirrors" that distort your face, sort of like carnival mirrors, and 2 shower stalls, one that only sprayed cold water, I later learned.
I also became familiar with the mysterious phrase "Fire in the hole!"
When someone flushed, they would say this, to warn guys in the showers that boiling, hot, steaming water was imminent!
Some guys "forget" to say it, and I assure you, they were cursed.
The racks ("beds") were stacked 3 high, and being the new guy without any rank of importance,
I was assigned the top rack.
Goody, I get to climb to bed.
This just keeps getting better and better.
But nothing was going to ruin my anticipation of exotic countries for free.
Those were great pics that recruiter had, of lush green islands, volcanoes, jungles in the
Phillippines Thailand beaches, the outback...
"Hey you!" I heard.
"Huh? What?" I say, as I'm getting ready to hit the rack (sleep).
I want you and Seaman Smitty to clean up the head and berthing area.
The Officer of the day (OOD) will be down to inspect in 1 hour."
You ever get that feeling when it dawns on you that you are screwed?
That was what I was feeling.

ben usn (ret) said...

The Uss Henderson was stationed in Long Beach, Ca., a city that had seen much better days.
Not a place to take a vacation in.
What I saw was a dark, sleazy kind of city, with biker bars, rednecks, Sailors, and some Marines.
That was the redlight party zone,
where all the bars juke boxes playing southern rock, classic rock, country Rock, and Honky Tonk.
Pool tables of course was a staple.
One bar was famous for free, shelled peanuts.
Free food always draws in Sailors.
The clientelle was a rough bunch of longshoremen, dry-dock workers, and of course bikers, rednecks and Sailors.
Hustlers didn't do well with that kind of diversity.
It was relatively peaceful, believe it or not, with only a few fights every night.
None involving weapons, except for the occasional pool stick.
Most of the women were pretty tough also.
This was a huge part of my destiny,
but I didn't know that, yet.
"So, Smitty, what does the Henderson do?" My fellow cleaning slave was friendly enough, and I was curious.
"The Henderson is a fram Destroyer, comissioned in 1945.
The ship used to hunt submarines and surface warships, and protect the Aircraft Carrier or merchant ships from enemy aircraft and ships.
Now the ship's mission is to train Naval and Coast Guard Reservists.
That's why we only have a skeleton crew. Just enough men to maitain the ship and keep her 1200 pound boilers running.
And train Reservists."
"OK", said I, "when is our next Westpac (western Pacific) deployment?"
Once again those pictures of exotic and really cool countries danced in my head. I could hardly wait to see those places, for free!
"We aren't going to deploy. Like I said, we train Reservists. We only sail within a few hundred miles from the coast.
Besides, the snipes (engineers) have a hard enough time keeping those old boilers on line.
This ship breaks down alot".
As this sank in, I decided I didn't like Smitty all that much anymore.
How could this be? Where was the justice? It just wasn't fair.
Dreams dashed away while I scrubbed the sh*tters.
Well, that's what everyone called them. It was unofficially official.
I could taste the irony, an self-pity was clung to me like an ocean fog.
Lesson number one: Reality has a mean left hook.
And Reality wasn't finished.
The party was about to go into overdrive.
How much Reality can a man take?

Van said...

Ben, for storytelling not being your forte, you're doing a good job of hooking me.

As someone else suggested, might be time to trade in your 'Other' handle for a shiny blue linked Blogger profile & post the whole story - I'll definitly read it!

ben usn (ret) said...

Thank you, Van.
You know, I'm having a O--k moment
today, while describing my early k moments.
Actually, I'm shocked and have much to absorb.
I cannot begin a blog until I get a real computer (this webtv can't hack the memory needed).
I will follow your gracious advice once I do get a computer.
The Holy Admiral compels me to get underway. :^)
Be careful what you wish for, ecause you will get His will.
It never matches my will, for some reason. Heh!

Bob, I don't want to be rude and take up your computer memory without your
your explicit approval.
I'm usually pithy, but I cannot edit this story that's leaking out and making a mess of my "routine". :^)

Gagdad Bob said...


Of course, by all means continue!

Anonymous said...

My son the sailor informed me of the Navy motto: "If it moves, salute it, if it dont, paint it".

DK said...

Small world, I almost went to Pepperdine because in the circle I grew up in it was expected that I go to a CoC affiliated christan school. In the end I stayed on the east coast but a few friends of mine ventured out to Malibu to flunk out on the beach.

Random aside, I actually know a guy who teaches part time at Pepperdine and is a minister at the church that Weird Al attends.

Bob, I think this story kinda demonstrates that, no matter how "in control" we think we are, we aren't.

AuricTech said...

For those who are interested, Wikipedia has an article about USS Henderson.

juliec said...

Please, keep the story coming. You may have been in the Navy when my stepdad was (I doubt you served with him, but his name was Walter Alan Murphy. He always went by Alan), and it's interesting to read not only about your first k moment, but also what Navy life was like. I never learned much about it when I had the chance; now it's too late to hear it from him.

Lisa said...

OK, Ben, I'm hooked, line and sink her! Please continue....

Anonymous said...

"... when the divine withdraws ..."

Job said, "what I fear befalls me."

Moreover Elihu answered,
"...But none says,'Where is God my Maker, ..."

-the other Bob

Gagdad Bob said...


Several years ago my wife did some work for Premier Radio Network, which syndicates Dr. Laura. She mentioned the story to her, but she didn't remember it! Probably because she was just a blind "instrument" of higher powers.... (just kidding there... I think... )