Sunday, October 19, 2008

I Coulda Been a Contendah

Flip owes me money.

Last night, I peeled off a tiny one-inch band-aid, wadded it up and flung it into a waste basket about 15 feet away. I didn't think it could possibly go in from that distance, considering its puniness, but I had to try because that's what I do.

I have a little-known talent. I can toss things into receptacles from across any room and nearly every time, make a basket. I am the Queen of Net. Flip has called me Wilt-the-Stilt for years. I'm sure he's jealous as he is over 6'3" and cannot do this, while I appear to be 5'1" but am really a tall person traveling incognito.

He said, "If you make it, I'll give you $100."

"Good," I said. I added a dab of saliva to the band-aid and threw it.

Ping! It went in. We both heard it hit the bottom of the waste basket.

I walked over to make sure, and there it was. I fished it out and showed it to Flip.

"You owe me $100," I said.

"It's probably just something that looks like a band-aid," he muttered. I hate it when he welches on bets with me.

"You wouldn't say that if I were a big mean burly guy with skull-and-crossbones tattooed across my chest, would you? Or the man at the grocery store today."

We saw a certifiable giant. His belt was exactly at my eye level, and he made Flip look short.

After he checked out ahead of us, I asked the clerk, "How tall do you think he is?"

"I asked him once," he said. "He's 7'2" and played basketball in college. He's not very friendly."

I already knew that. I had smiled at the guy when he caught me staring and he glowered at me. Men don't usually do that unless they know me.

I told Flip that he didn't have to pay me off instantly because it was his birthday and that wouldn't seem right. But that was yesterday. Birthday's over. I want my money.

I will need it for basketball boot camp. I am going to send my resume to the Globetrotters, who will absolutely want me on their team.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

To Spend or Not to Spend,

That is the Question.

Golden Gate Bridge officials have voted to hang stainless steel nets from the sides of the world-famous span in an effort to stop people from jumping to their deaths.

Mental health experts have long argued that a barrier would prevent impulsive suicides.

The exquisitely graceful bridge, a California icon with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, has lured people intent on ending their lives since it was completed in 1937. More than 1,200 have plunged to their deaths; the exact number is unknown because most events were unwitnessed. Thirty-eight people leaped last year and 19 so far this year, according to bridge officials.

The bridge may be the most popular suicide spot in the world. Many have traveled to San Francisco specifically for that purpose, taking a bus or taxi to the site or rental cars, which police find abandoned in the parking lot. Currents beneath the bridge are very strong, and some jumpers have undoubtedly been washed out to sea. The water may be as cold as 47 °F (8 °C) and great white sharks, which congregate around the nearby Farallon Islands, are often seen under the bridge.

Opponents believe that a barrier will not prevent people from killing themselves and that they would be better served by additional funding for mental health treatment.

Besides, there is another perfectly good launching pad, the Bay Bridge, right across town. It lacks the mystique of the Golden Gate Bridge, perhaps, but once they're dead, does this matter?

Board members said the steel nets, which would hang 20 feet below the bridge and extend about 20 feet from each side, would prevent suicides without harming the bridge's appearance. "This is a vote to save lives," said one board member.

The project will cost about $50 million. The lone dissenter on the board said he was worried about cost. "I want to ensure if we build it, we're not indebting our children," he said.

I cannot imagine a more horrible death than jumping from the bridge as I am convinced that most experience a change of heart on the way down. The deck is 245 feet above the water and after a fall of approximately four seconds, jumpers hit the water at about 88 miles per hour (142 km/h.)

The issue of suicide is extremely disturbing to me because I deeply want to be here forever to see how it all turns out. I don't know what the right and humane answer is. Perhaps there isn't one.

Am I my brother's keeper? Are we all our brothers' keepers? Should we be? Should there be safety nets to formalize this arrangement? Is it then but a short step to legislation which forces us to be our brother's keeper even though it takes away certain freedoms in the process?

The Catholic Church considers suicide a mortal sin, a violation of the fifth commandment, “Thou shall not kill.” I consider it a waste, perhaps an insult to God by throwing this gift of life back in His or Her teeth. But still, I would not condemn a soul for doing so because it is clear that such a person is in torment and deserves our compassion.

Fifty million dollars could perform a lot of real live miracles. Many people could eat or take their children to the doctor with that money so they could live. While I sympathize with those who want to end their lives, I think our greater concern as a society should be with those who are intent on living. I don't want to be heartless, but in today's painful economy there is simply more bang to the buck in helping those who treasure life enough to hang on tooth and claw through adversity, not those who have already given up on themselves and the future.

Besides, if we can build a society in which more people enjoy greater mental health, fewer will come to regard death as their best option.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Life in the Fast Lane

This is Fleet Week in San Francisco. The main event is performances Saturday and Sunday by the Blue Angels, the US Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron, executing utterly amazing maneuvers with their warplanes.

They begin to practice two days before, which means that we are treated to constant ear-splitting, heart-stopping noise for about six hours today and tomorrow, longer on the weekend. It sounds as if we are under siege.

It transports me to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 as I imagine how the people in those buildings must have felt. I also think about cities being bombed during World War II, Honolulu, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, London, Dresden, and about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Darfur, all the many human habitats destroyed to make a point, to subject one people to the will of another.

It gets old.

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder without having been bombed in any of those places because I feel a cellular connection to people everywhere.

With all respect to our brave service men and women and nothing but the greatest admiration for the fliers who put on these fantastic shows, I wonder how much the fuel costs to astonish people around the country nearly every day of the year. It seems like a flagrant waste of money that could be spent on something more beneficial, like health and education.

Two years ago, we went to the show and I admit that I was thrilled to be there.

Last year, we took our frightened cat in the car and drove considerably south of the city, out of the airplane traffic patterns, and walked on the beach. I feel for all the petrified cats and dogs and babies who are subjected to four days of fighter planes roaring close to the ground, causing structures to tremble and windows to rattle, with no conception of what is happening.

I'm thinking we'll go back to that beach which does not require a passport or even a full tank of gas and ride it out until Sunday night.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

in which a gentle opinion is expressed

Senator McCain, I am not your friend, you slimy snake-oil salesman, no matter how many times you claimed I was.

I especially enjoyed hearing you contemptuously refer to Senator Obama as "that one." Nice. You're a real class act.

If you had an iota of humility, I could almost sympathize with you as the underdog because you lack Barack Obama's intelligence, dignity, wit, and the fact that he embodies both substance and charisma. But you insisted on hurling the same mudpies over and over even though they missed their mark every time.

You should use some of your wife's inherited money to perfect your golf game and leave governing to those with the energy, education and creativity to bring meaningful change to this country instead of endorsing the same old policies that have driven it into the ground while claiming to be a maverick.

I am not impressed.

McCain thinks that health care is a responsibility. Obama believes it is a right which belongs to every American. So do I, and the sooner, the better.

I wonder if it was a capricious programming error that the presidential debate, with McCain as last speaker, was followed by a Viva Viagra commercial in which a guy in an organ grinder monkey's suit carries his wife over the threshold of their bedroom.

"You never carried me over a threshold," I pouted. "I bet we aren't really even married."

"Well, if you could get me a suit like that, I might," said Flip.

"It will never happen. Besides, they lie. Nobody could get lucky in that suit."