As a professor of Critical Thinking at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, CA, my entire academic life I have been constantly receiving similar feedback on my observations and opinions, something along the line of, “I have not really thought of it that way before.” Jimmy’s intention is to develop critical thinking skills, look at things a different way and to question everything. I speak and write of all aspects of life, from Buddhism to twerking, from the spiritual to the profane, from meditation to pornography. It all makes for great conversation and analysis.

So sit back, read and/or listen, and question me as we learn in the tensions of life.

The Art of Reflection

Reflection: Such an important part of the human experience. I believe it is through the process of reflecting back on our lives, seeing what we have done, that works to help propel us forward and see what is coming ahead.

This is why near the end of each semester I ask my students to reflect back over the course of the previous months and provide me with the “Top Ten” things they have learned during that period.  These “Top Ten” items can be a theory, a concept, a particular course discussion, interactions, literally anything they may have learned and found helpful, beneficial, important or just interesting…anything at all.  Most students do not really have ten such items (can you remember even two things you learned in a particular course? Didn’t think so) yet most have a least a few legit experiences that academically wooed them in some fashion.

So now, as I near the end of my semester abroad in London, I am challenging myself with this same type of reflection.  My “Top Five,” as it were. With journeys to Spain and Italy still ahead, I’m certain there will be more experiences to be reflected upon. Yet in the nearly 3 months I have been here I have learned a few things, from the humorous and the mundane to the more serious and personal.

First off…

5.  I like to have ample water at the base of my loo. I know this sounds odd but everywhere I travel in Europe the toilets have about a cupful of water at the bottom of the john.  I really cannot explain why, but I appreciate a good water barrier between my “contents” take off and landing.  In the US we have a couple of buckets worth of water making for smooth, enjoyable, delightful and rather peaceful loo experiences.  Ahhhh, the little things we take for granted. While taking a walking “loo” tour of London (it was my daughter’s boyfriends idea…I swear) I explained my loo preferences to our guide when she stated that one can tell a great deal about a culture by their toilets. Without going into detail, in America everything is bigger and more mellow, as the contents can buoyantly rest within the large and luxurious serene water currents. Hmmmmm….something to think about.  Think that’s bad? You should of heard her take on German toilets.

4.  No matter how non-judgmental and accepting we may think we are of other people and cultures, traveling reveals our prejudices and bias.  I am coming to terms with the understanding that I have this self-perceived notion that I am a very accepting person, who does not stereotype or judge others customs and practices, to be highly untrue. It is as if traveling holds up a mirror that we must see our true reflection. I am as guilty of “bias confirmation” as anyone, meaning we tend to see life they way we prefer to see it, not how it really is. We pay attention to only those select experiences that confirm our prejudices.  If my stereotype of Europeans is to be rude, my biased perception will only pick up on rude acts while filtering out acts of kindness -as these do not coincide with, nor confirm, my bias. Traveling helps us to see life, including our self, as it really is, not how we prefer to see it.

3. Britain is our parent while the United States is its rather immature adolescent child. What do I mean by this? Britain is so much more mature than we are, period. I suppose if you look back into history this makes sense. We were the teenage kid who rebelled and ran away from home.  Yes, we struggled to gain independence and get our feet on the ground -and we are doing quite well for ourselves about now, but make no mistake: Britain remains our more mature and wiser parents.  Brits can drink openly in the parks here and no one gets too drunk, acts belligerent and wants to fight outside.  Most of their street police officers do not carry guns. I also think of Britain as remarkably more secular as they have come to find out what America is only beginning to find out: You do not need the fear of punishment nor the promise of reward to be kind, decent, and civil with each other. They are polite, respectful and appropriate –the way my grandmother used to be –well, not really, but you get the point. They have matured. They have figured things out.  We are adolescents with zits on our face by comparison. One day we can only hope to be as grown up and grounded. One of my favorite comedians, Adam Carolla, frequently asks the question concerning the British, “Why are they so much better than us?” Maturity, Adam, maturity.

2. There is no doubt my calling in life is to be a college educator.  I feel as though when I teach I am completely and totally myself. Now perhaps some of my students may disagree with me on this, and believe my calling should be a prison guard or something far worse, yet I just love what I do. Having now had the opportunity to really bond with these young people as they are thousands of miles from home, is an experience like no other. They are old enough to be treated like adults, yet young enough (most of them) that they are still trying to make sense of the world around them. Like a child touching a hot stove, they are experimenting with what they can and cannot do, finding their limits, their boundaries and themselves. They are open and accepting of new ideas- I love that!  An old friend of mine, Craig, a Florida State graduate, once told me that the biggest thing he learned in college was how to drink correctly -and we was not joking- to learn that there is a time and place for everything, how much you can handle and so on.  This is not to say everything is professorial flowers and fairy dust…not by a long shot. This has been one of the most difficult semesters I have ever taught and I am as ready for this semester to be over as any of my students. It is just the good so outweighs any bad, leading me to….

1. I do not know how to grow old. Well, I do know how to grow old year wise -I am doing a splendid job with that, thank you.  I guess I mean more like acting old, or even older. I have always had this notion that as you age certain “things” must follow.  Things like you must dress differently, as in wearing your pants somewhat higher over the belly. Or that you must hate the contemporary music that the kids like. You must be disgusted with new fads and youthful practices as you gain an overall more discriminating and mature palate in life for the finer things.  You should be content with simply smoking your pipe (tobacco, of course) while reading the New Yorker in your living room chair on a Saturday Night. Nope. Does not work for me. My calling to teach college is due to the fact I really love being around young people. I have a lot of friends my age, who are great and I must confess it is quite nice to be able to use the full range of my vocabulary, but the exuberance and energy of youth is electrifying and cannot be compared. A student, Jessica, recently wrote me and said, “I learned this semester that a professor can be genuinely cool.” And the great part is I am just being me. I don’t care about cool. I believe all people are cool when they are completely themselves, no matter the personality or traits.

A couple of years ago another student, Patricia, who observed me at an end-of-class get together at Johnny’s Tacos interacting with students, asked, “So, tell me the truth. As you interact with these guys is that really you or are you just bro-ing it down?”

I had never heard the term “bro-ing it down” before but I knew exactly what she meant.

I was not “bro-ing it down.” That was me.

And as I soon head back for the States, I will continue to reflect on life and all that I learn from it.  From loo’s to life’s calling to “bro-ing it down,” this thing called life can  be such a kickass adventure.

Reflection. Just do it.

Cheers.

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Jimmy’s Got A Gun: Thoughts On The Right To Bear Arms

A funny thing happens when you get out of your fishbowl and can experience life outside the water for a bit.

Expanding personal experiences has a way of changing you.

As many of you know I have been living abroad in Europe since late August.  It has been my observation that although many parts of Europe are very westernized, you can still detect very distinct cultural differences when contrasted with the United States. Whether it be driving on the “wrong” side of the street or treating the local bars like we treat our bathroom experience -everyone must go at least once every day to maintain health- there are some cultural variances from the US to be sure.  One area of very strong distinction is a rather fundamental one: The attitudes towards and use of guns.

I never really thought much about guns and have not carried strong positions either for or against their use or ownership. I have reacted to anti-gun advocates who seem to pop up after a school shooting, yet this has far more to do with condemning anyone who would use a tragedy to seize an opportunity to promote an agenda –not to mention living in a country of re-actors as opposed to pro-actors, the latter being my preferred set of people. Yet now I can reflect outside the bowl on the dry, primarily gun-less, lands of Europe.

One could argue America is built on a philosophy of gun rights.  The right to bear arms is as fundamental to American cultural practices as hot dogs and apple pie, and to many perhaps a much tastier and sweeter experience.  When I came to find out that even British POLICE OFFICERS (sorry for screaming, yet this is a biggie) do not carry firearms, I was stunned. Speaking of stunned, not even stun guns….only pepper spray.

Of course this does not apply to all police officers, just the rank and file ones that you and I are most likely to run into on the streets. You know, the ones who roam the blocks, eat crumpets and do the most community policing.

I asked myself how in the world can a police officer do his or her job, even if it is in the less dangerous positions, without a gun?

The truth is that they can…and, in Britain’s case, they do.

This has caused me to reflect long and hard about my personal philosophy concerning guns.  For a large metropolitan city like London, it is exceedingly safe with low crime.  Somewhat contrary to what my intuition might suggest, the criminals are not running amok taunting the unarmed police officers; not having firearms actually works well for public safety in the UK.

I have come realize that I was born into a gun-obsessed culture. Guns are an integral part of the US cultural landscape and are woven into our basic social narrative from a young age. Little boys and girls are birthed into a type of gun mania. Although I never allowed my children to play with fake guns, as soon as they were old enough to point their index finger out with their thumb up and yell, “bang!” they did. Why? Certainly we are not born into this world with a genetic knowledge about guns, rather they are so pervasive through all forms of media that many children are enthralled with them as we marinate them in a violent stew of gun use since day one.

One would be hard pressed to find, let’s say, a tribal African child playing with said pretend gun, in fact, it would probably be impossible.

And so this cultural sheep wandered right into the pen of violent gun culture. As soon as we started having children I went out and purchased a short barrel shotgun for my families protection -due to living in the very dangerous and violent streets of suburban Santa Clarita. Of course, statistically speaking, this shotgun has a far greater chance of doing great injury and harm to myself or family members than it ever will protecting them, but what is sound logic and reason when we have a second amendment ethos with which we must contend?

“I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” declareth the National Rifle Association. They just better hope they are not one day prying it from their child’s cold, dead hands -which is the far more likely probability.

So now I am rethinking my gun culture. In many respects the gun cat is out of the gun bag in the US, thus following a UK model would likely not work…at first.

“But Jimmy, what about guns to protect us from a potentially tyrannical government and attacks from foreign invaders?”  Well, frankly, if we were to be attacked, nuked or taken over with tanks and heavy artillery, I hardly believe my lil old shotgun will fare well in that battle. This would be like suggesting we should not ban aspirin because Ebola is coming -a mere band-aid for a gushing wound. Good luck with that.

Another major factor in my rethinking of the role of guns in society is the seemingly great rise in police officer shootings of innocent victims.  It seems there are new stories everyday of mentally ill, homeless, and otherwise innocent individuals getting shot by police officers who seem to be looking for any excuse to use their guns.  Perhaps there is no greater example of law enforcements lustful infatuation with their Smith and Wesson then when a manhunt was underway for a 6 foot something, 200 something lb., African American man named Christopher Dorner in Los Angeles in February of 2013.  Eager to use their firearms, police officers unloaded over a dozen rounds of ammo into the car of two innocent victims…both 5’ tall, diminutive female Hispanics, who they mistakingly believed to be Dorner.

Forget the disparity in gender, color, stature, or ethnicity: The vehicle they shot at was neither the make or color of Dorner’s.

Whoops, their bad. Another example of men thinking with their gun and not their brain.

Many (I did not say all) police officers are assholes anyway, and what can be worse than an asshole with a gun? And to my dearly beloved traffic cops, why in the world do you even have a job? Let alone a gun.

But Jimmy, many more police officers are also being shot at these days.” I agree. This gun stuff does seem to be working well for either side now, does it?

I realize statistics are just numbers waiting for an argument, though did I mention the fact that the US has 10.3 gun deaths per year per 100,000 people while the UK’s number is a mere .25? Wow. Only Japan and Hong Kong have less.

So, let me play a little cause and effect game if my math is correct. In the country with guns there is over 10 times more homicidal gun violence than the country (essentially) without guns. So guns are…NOT good for society? I think this to be simple logic a child can perform. I realize we can all perform statistical gymnastics in any manner to obtain our agenda and objective…yet I have no agenda and objective. I just want a better and more civil society and gun proliferation does not seem to be working.

As I observe UK law enforcement, they are quite friendly, helpful and seem to not possess US arrogant bastard type “attitude.” For example, I found myself one day on the bus to Belsize Park when I approached 4 officers to inquire as to if this was the correct stop for my destination. Each of them eagerly assisted and interrupted each other to explain to me the various exits and directions- nice as hell.  Imagine how I felt when I saw a police car nearly hit two jaywalkers when he slowed down, waved and yelled, “Sorree!!” (By the way, London has no jaywalking laws…perhaps another Brit tidbit that would work well in the US of A).

That shotgun has been sitting in my closet collecting dust for about 27 years now. I shot it once, at a can in the desert.  The attack on my family never came, thank FCBE. But if it did, I would have been ready.

But maybe being ready is not worth the costly price we all must pay. And if the UK is any example, it is not.

It is soon time to get back in the water. And this time the water will have one more inhabitant quite critical of its current gun state of affairs.

“Want A Friend? Be A Friend.” Or, “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Or, “Jimmy’s About To Get All Buddha On Your Ass.”

I have just returned from Edinburgh, Scotland where my friends Laure and her fiancé Vincent, both hailing from Paris, hosted and toasted me for a couple of days.

It is nice to have international friends in international places, for all parties involved, because, as a loving father once said, “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

Allow me to explain.

It all began with Laure’s plan to pick me up at the Edinburgh/Waverly train station at 11:30pm on a Thursday night as I arrived to my Scotland destination by way of London’s King’s Cross station. However, like most of life, things did not go as planned.

An undisclosed “incident” happened on a train in front of ours and we just flat out stopped…for about 2 hours. Of course I contacted Laure, via Facebook, to let her know that I would not be there at the time planned. Long story short, she kept vigilant about keeping up with the situation online so she could time her 35 minute bus ride to the train accordingly. As I arrived, about 1:30am, greeted by Laure’s smiling, welcoming and friendly face, one could never tell by her demeanor she was completely put out and her life disrupted by this American -and now had to take another 35 minute bus ride home just hours before dawn.

I stayed with her and Vincent until Sunday morning. During this time, I was wined and dined, not to mention given first class tours of the city, including Castles, forests and, of course, a Scotch Whisky distillery (the Scots dropped the “e” from their Whiskey as to distinguish themselves…see what you learn when you drink?). In short, I was treated like a Scottish king as I slept in my own room with internet, a down comforter and a teddy bear dressed up like Obi Won something or other from Star Wars.

It cost me nothing.

I suppose there may be a bit of personal payback involved for a trip Laure took way back in 2008 to California when she stayed with us for a few weeks. Yet, then again, when she handed me the keys to her condo in Paris and left for a few nights in 2011, literally giving up her entire home for me, I believed that “debt” to be completely paid: Karmic transaction complete.

Laure and Vincent are, what Rene’s father would call, “good people.” Yet, I keep meeting “good people.” Why?

I have had a fairly pervasive theme in my life lately, namely the idea of what goes around comes around, reaping what you sow, or the energy you send out to the universe will “Karma-cly” metabolize the energy you receive back in (as a side note, the notion of Karma for some is about what awaits each of us in the next life via reincarnation…I am using the term in a more liberal Buddhist sense). Perhaps it is the act of travel that allows the curtain shielding this universal truth from sight to be pulled back and revealed. This reality of Karma is always present -yet it is frequently hidden by the rote scheduling and banality of our daily existence.

Just as an aspirin will cure a headache or water will quench your thirst, travel exposes life’s truths in a way no other medium could possibly reveal.

Travel brings about both vulnerability and strength. To travel as a stranger in a strange land, at least for this sojourner, brings about powerful feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. I typically live in a world full of control, my surroundings quite familiar and my routine as set as they get. Yet it is vulnerability, brought about by a break from routine and the known, that precedes every victory in life. Be it the prizefighter who is the object of incoming strikes and blows from unknown locations moments prior to victory or the marathon runner whose cramping legs seemed impossible to overcome just prior to crossing the finish line, we come to understand that we only become stronger when we subject ourselves to both risk, even calculated risk, and vulnerability.

It is the one who fears and avoids vulnerability at all costs that never grows and expands: Just as muscle needs to be brutally torn and stretched in order for it to grow bigger and stronger, so our psyche needs to be splayed and challenged in order to expand our minds and be introduced to life’s often clandestine and clouded, yet beautiful, offerings.

Yet there is another major benefit to vulnerability, via travel, as well. When we become vulnerable we come to realize that self-sufficiency will not be enough -we must reach out to others in humility and trust.  It is a difficult for this self-sufficient man to admit, but needing others is a good thing…a really, really good thing. When we need others it connects us to humanity in general and we learn people can be really, really good.

Then when we reach out to others who are in need and vulnerable, we are sending out that cosmic energy that will return back to us in our most tender and susceptible moments.  I read somewhere that is better to give than to receive, but make no mistake- both are necessary in life and both offer us sweet rewards.

So as I expand and “vulnerable-ize” myself, I allow Laure and Vincent to give and add some currency to their universal cosmic bank account –perhaps I should have charged them for my stay? (Even Buddha can’t get in the way of good, capitalist principles!)

Want a Friend

As a wise man once said, “Want a friend? Be a friend.” It will result in more than just companionship and international friendships; it will open up a world of discovery and some new found cosmic kindness -this time by way of Laure and Vincent.

 

The London Professors: When Communication and Psychology Collide

episodewhateverPlease join the podcast for a discussion with fellow London and Human Sexuality Professor, Dr. Ken Guttman, as we discuss sex (duh!), education, studying abroad, and what students should call us…amidst many other topics.  Though you cannot tell, his eyes are beautifu, believe mel. Help me Jordan!

 

The Lovely Trickles Of Life

There are some major challenges many of us take on in life.  In my experience none has been so daunting as taking on the challenge of parenthood some 26 year ago.  I suppose it would not be quite as daunting for those who care little for wanting to be a present parent who strives for excellence, yet this is not the case for neither Rene’ nor I: We wanted to be as good as we could be…still do.  This is not to say we were excellent parents, it is only to say we tried to be excellent parents, it was important to us –and I suppose our children’s therapists will have the final say about that.

Now, 4 adult children later, we are starting to see trickle in, ever so slowly, the fruits of our labor, the product of our efforts. These trickles generate from a circular and flowing life spring, identified by many a philosophy or religion as karma, cosmic justice, or simply reaping what you sow.

I have heard it said that you can determine  -in the majority of cases- whether a parent was good or bad parent based on whether their adult children like them or not (key word being ADULT as every 13 year old girl on the planet is obliged to hate their parents for a sizable amount of time).  Chances are if your adult children want to either avoid or even do physical damage to you, well, probably not such a good job in the nurturing department. If, on the other hand, your adult children still want to hang with you and even serve you, job well done. And, of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this.

That being said, as I share the following it is in no way presented as a self-aggrandizing means of arrogance or boasting in the parental department -quite the opposite. It is shared with my readers from a man who is not getting any younger, not getting any stronger (though, dammit, I am still gonna try!) and finds himself more dependent on life’s little crutches, be it reading glasses or hand rails, while starkly realizing his dependence upon the assistance of others is only going to increase in the upcoming years.

It comes from a humble and thankful place. It comes from a needy place. It comes from a place where trickles of love, kindness and assurance are not wanted, they are truly needed.

So last night when my daughter Rose, who is “babysitting” me during my nearly 3 month stay in London, observed that it was a ridiculous £4 to do a load of laundry at the local launderette, continued to promptly fling a 10 lb. sack of my sweaty socks and underwear on her back to take on her 30 minute bus ride home, where she could more inexpensively do my laundry herself, well, I felt a trickle of family love and kindness.

When I received the following short and sweet Viber message yesterday from my daughter Tess who is currently studying in New Zealand: Dad, thanks for quizzing me on every book I finished reading when I was little. Short, sweet, and touching -and I felt an oh-so-slight, yet ironically strong, trickle of love and appreciation.

When my son Jordan recently recognized me in a social media update another trickle of assurance was felt: Jimmy is on his way to live abroad in London for a few months and to potentially follow in his sons footsteps by doing some continental hitchhiking afterwards. He gets to step out of his comfort zone and meet a new part of himself, maybe even get to a Rainbow Gathering. At the same time he’s got a cool blog and podcast he has been consistent with updating for well over a year now, something I have been trying to do since the seventh grade.

Of course, I must mention, that the cool blog and podcasts would have never have been possible without his brilliant technological trickles of assistance.

And, of course, when my youngest Stevie says he want to be rich by age 30 and he  will be able to take care of his mom and dad with no worries, even though I will not hold my breath -I still feel the trickle of happiness and love.

These observations are written by a man who is watching his 81 year-old father, hardly able to get out of bed anymore, negotiate his final time on this earth. Observing his growing frailty acts as a mirror for my own life as this may be my fate and destiny as well – should I have the good fortune of many years on this earth.  I consider that perhaps enduring the suffering of growing old is an equitable trade off for a mere few more breaths.

Why? The trickles make it worth it.

My observations are written by a humbled man who is still desperately searching for his own identity in his post parenting days. It is written by a man whose affinity for the good things in life –travel, dance, good food and good wine- does not mask the realities of what awaits each of us in the long haul.

And, in the end, it is the family and friends we all love that hold it all together for us and with us. May I be so fortunate as to feel the trickles for many years to come.

The trickles are far worth the daunting challenge of parenthood.

photoJordan, Rene’, Stevie, my 83 year old Uncle Les, Rosie, her man Nathan, Tessa, and me.

 

 

Some People Find Happiness, Jesus or Themselves: I Found Ro

I found Ro. That’s right. You heard me. I found him. And I feel damn good about it.

Let me explain.

I am currently in Paris, France.  (It seems weird to add “France” to the word “Paris” as the city has a unique way of standing on it’s own with no need for identifying its larger boundary -as opposed to Perris, California I suppose).

This time around I am with a group of about 20 twenty-somethings yet, ironically, in the context I find myself I am merely a fellow traveller along with them. I am not their “boss” or leader – I am, in many ways, a type of peer with them. I strangely feel like Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School” or Will Ferrel in “Old School” as I travel on a pretour trip through Europe before I begin teaching for the semester in London (do I have to add England?). In any case, here I am while our leader and guide is all of 25.

Though the old man of the group, I feel in many ways I am as vulnerable and as very much a travelling “newbie” as they are.  This came to light this morning.

We arrived last night and I had some dinner with some French friends (and 5 twenty somethings, btw) and actually had a rather pleasant first night after not sleeping for nearly 35 hours.

It was when I awoke this morning and decided to go visit my French friend Ro, who lives on the outskirts of Paris –only a mere 40 minute train ride from where I am staying- that I realized my traveling vulnerabilities.  As I found myself straying from my twenty something tour package and opting to venture out on my own, I was in essentially the same place I was about 3 years ago when I visited Paris for the first time- alone, in a strange city, with a strange language, with strange geography of which I knew absolutely nothing about.

I experienced some moderate anxiety concerning my traveling to see Ro.  What if I get lost? How can I communicate with anyone?  I then realized I am in a big city with civilized human beings and a train system that is very internationally friendly. What is the worst that can happen? I am forced to eat bread and cheese until an English speaking French person can give me a hand? It is not like I am in the deserts of the Sudan – not knowing how I will survive Ebola and have to decide which insects to eat for survival.

Thus I put on my big boy traveling panties and off I went.

I safely made it to my final train exit when things got a little tricky. The directions provided went like this: “Exit on the right through the tunnel.”  Wait…did that mean the several tunnels that encounter each stop immediately when you get off the train…meaning I would have to go the far right immediate exit? Or did it mean enter any tunnel and when you exit the train station to go to the right? So, like any good grammatical contextual analyzer, I decide to read on and see if it offered any additional clues:

“Then pass the glass building while following the street on the left.”

Fine. I will exit the train station and look for a glass building and just head that direction.

I looked left. A glass building! Well, kind of. It was definitely more glass than your average Paris building but could it really be considered a “glass building?”

I could only guess what a “glass building” meant to a Frenchman in comparison and contrast with what it means to me…a California surfer-type with little interest in building design yet has seen his fair share of Los Angeles glass buildings.

Just look for a glass building, Jimmy, do not freeze with directional analysis paralysis,” I informed my meta-self. “Just go with your gut.

The problem was that only in Paris are most buildings made of 100 year-old bricks and cement with very few windows –as if windows were designed as an afterthought by engineers who decided that a small view may be a good idea, for some much needed ventilation at the very least. I determined that if you find any building that has more than a few glass panels in Paris it could be considered a “glass building.”

Yet still, was I looking for a building with a few extra windows or the damn Crystal Cathedral?

So I followed this glass building with suspicion. Again, I did what any good contextual analyzer would do, I read on for the next clue.

“Turn right at the bakery,” it read.

Great. Every corner in Paris is a bakery with mouthwatering carbohydrates and fattening cheeses. However, I became wary of the suspicious “glass building” I was following as it appeared to lead me to a residential area hence, no bakery. So I walked back to where I came out of the train station and went the other way. And, alas, I saw THE glass building. There was no mistaking this one –glass from bottom to top.

I guess glass buildings are like porn –hard to describe though you know it when you see it.

Now where was the damn bakery? I walked a couple of blocks not knowing at which bakery to turn right at. So I looked for more clues:

“Just past the hotel,” it read.

I do not know the word hotel in French though I saw a logo on a building that seemed “hotel-ish” and, lo and behold, a bakery just beyond it.

I am freaking Columbo mixed with Sherlock Holmes with a dusting of Hardy Boys,” I thought with smug satisfaction.

Not really. But I was pretty proud of me as I continued to successfully avoid the potential of Paris Ebola.

But my work was not done. Not even close. I had to meander a few more turns and buzz a door that had the number 11 on it, walk in, go up the stairwell on the left to the second floor and knock on the first door on the left.

I did all of this successfully…or so I thought.

When the door opened it was an old Frenchmen with a filthy apartment who did not speak a lick of English.

“Ro? Is Ro here? Do you know Ro?”

“Beswee boo doo doo oiu oo0 Dubai,” I heard…or something like that.

It is so strange how when two people do not know each others language keep talking to each other as if repetition will bring sudden linguistic enlightenment.

“Ro,” I repeated. “Ro. Is he here. Where is he? Do you know Ro. Ro. Ro Ro.”

My nonverbal skills kicked into full gear. It is at times like this I wish I was a feminine woman –trained in the art of nonverbal subtleties- searching for some universal nonverbal common ground and understanding.

He appeared a very kind man as he knocked on the neighbor’s door and a woman answered. He then again said, “Beswee boo doo doo oiu oo0 Dubai,” to the woman. I spelled out Ro’s name on a sheet of paper he provided and she smiled and pointed up another floor.

“Thank  y ..ahhh…Merci,” I proudly told her, quite proud I could finally use one of the three words I know in French.

As it turns out those weird French people consider the first floor the ZERO floor and our third floor is their second floor.

I went up and knocked –on the third floor door, not the second, as some things Americans just have flat out right- and out walked Ro.

I did it. I survived the rough jungles of Paris.

I am that good.

An hour of conversation later, I departed and just went back the same way I came.

So this 51 year-old did what any 20 something admittedly could do much better –navigate through a strange city with a strange language with strange people- yet I feel so accomplished and satisfied as if I told my 51 year-old neurons to quit carving that neural rut. I told my neurons to live a little, to carve new paths.

Damn, I want to make my neurons my bitch.

I feel younger already. Watch out twenty somethings –you have a match. Why?

Because I found Ro.

 

The Israel-Palestinian Conflict: Peace-ing Together My Argument

Several friends and acquaintances have asked my opinion on the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, in particular the current conflict between Palestine and Israel.  I have been extremely reluctant to share my thoughts on this matter as the emotions and tensions that accompany this long history are so strong as to be often out of the realm of reason and sound logic (ironically both sides seem to want to break it down very simplistically); rather the positions of both sides are held with such a zealous, religious-like fervor it makes objective, critical thinking over the matter next to impossible for those involved, or so it would seem.
Having spent several weeks in Israel a little over a decade ago, I felt through first-hand experience the thick tension in the air -of course the armed military with machine guns on nearly every corner did not help this perception.
Like the situation itself, this blog has been one of the most frustrating and difficult ones I have ever written for reasons that will become clear as you read on.
Please know I am not out to change anyone’s mind (even if I could) or read “preachy” responses to this blog as both sides minds are as closed as a Sherman Oaks delicatessen on a Friday evening during Shabbat.
To begin, a few opening observations:
Many in this country have been taught that righteous people support Israel while unrighteous people support Palestine.
This troubles me greatly. By assigning religious connotations to political positions we are concocting a toxic elixir of rationalized and unrepentant hate mixed with staunch fervency topped off with a dangerous heaping of eternal justification.
I do not speak for God (FCBE) yet if I could I’m sure her sentiment would be something along the lines of, “Could you all please, please leave me out of this?”
Insofar as religion in general, I read somewhere that the common man believe religion to be true while the wise man considers it to be false. The rulers, however, find it to be useful…perhaps this is partly in play here.
I have no Jewish or gentile dog in this fight; I have no allegiance to a particular ideology that demands I take a position one way or the other.  Of course I was raised with a Christian theology that says good people support Israel and bad people support Palestine; even threatened with eternal damnation if I didn’t.  Yet, as I became older and realized I have my own reasoning brain -along with the fact that same book said to stone to death homosexuals and adulteresses while condoning the slaying of “heathens” – I am currently an independent Middle Eastern free-agent that is in no need to sign on with either side.
Finding objective, impartial information concerning this matter is nearly impossible.
I haven’t seen positions held this strong since practicing the The Kamasutra as a younger man in my 20’s (let’s see you think of a better one, Jews and gentiles).
Reasonable and informed opinions and arguments begin with some credible information and research. What I quickly came to find out is the concept of  “credible information” on the internet concerning this conflict is rich with the latter and nearly non-existent with the former. In other words, there is no shortage of information and research, however there is a gaping shortage of information that is NOT rife with a prejudiced and immutable point of view, not to mention an agenda ridden with propaganda.
Each side vehemently argues they are not being properly portrayed in the media.
Well, since Jews have very little influence over the media in America (read sarcasm) I can  understand this side of the argument.  And since we have a pro-Palestinian socialist currently in the White house (again, read sarcasm) I can see this point of view as well. Just stop. If anyone is ever going to take a position on an issue over what they see in the mainstream media, that position is worth as much as, well, uh, something with little to no value anyway. Does misinformation exist? Of course. And it is equally dispersed on each side of the argument.
Now, this is the part of the blog where I have some important editorial decisions to make.  If I start to get into the details of the conflict, I will be clearly shot down because I will not have my facts straight, as both sides have their own convenient set of facts. If I begin to explain what I believe to be fair and legitimate positions and concerns for both sides, I will open up a Pandora’s box of history and issues that centuries of discussion could not answer -thus this pathetic, pitiful thousand word blog stands no chance.
So what’s the point of blogging about this at all?
Through writing on this issue, I realized what my position is, and has been, all along. Often times through writing we realize what our soul has been trying to express all along.
Perhaps my occasional lighter tone is masking my deep and intense frustration with this entire conflict. Good, innocent people are dying. Not Israeli or Palestinian people. Just people. Good, innocent people. I know, I know, I know…these are all like the kids fighting on the playground who claim, “Well he hit me first.” My question, does it even matter at this point who hit who first? Should both sides just keep killing each other so both sides are completely wiped out?
It seems many of those individuals who are emotionally, and perhaps culturally, invested in this conflict are far more concerned about being right over being empathic. They seem to care about the why the bombs over the tragedy of bombs.  They appear to care more about principle rather than the carnage.
I have never been about being on the right side of an issue, rather I have always been about being on the people side of the issue, which actually makes me the worst person in the world to have an opinion on this matter. As I started to write this blog, I realized it is not my place (and by my place I mean MY PLACE, Jimmy Urbanovich specifically)  to have a position over the rights and wrongs, the heroes and the villains, or the morally more acceptable side. In the words of Johnny Cash, if you want someone to take a side, “it ain’t me babe.”
I realize this position of taking no position appears idealistic as I am on the side of peace. Do I realize that sometimes war is a necessary evil on earth that sometimes must take place? Yes, I do. Which explains why I am not in the military business nor desire any position which would force my hand on involvement in war.
Can’t we all just get along? No, apparently we can’t. But that sure as hell should not keep us all from trying.
A facebook friend of mine, Gizella, posted this meme the other day that really helped me put my own thoughts in perspective:
Israelblogpic
Ah. So Simple. So well stated. So completely captures my sentiment.
Perhaps surprisingly, I found this blog, written by an Evangelical Christian who hails from a Jewish heritage and, like myself, felt pressured to tow the Christian-Israeli line, to be very closely aligned with my conclusions and my thinking.  I respect all people who can think for themselves and not believe all things influential people and books in their life tell them to believe.
So go ahead. Tell me how misguided and wrong I am. How ignorant and out of touch I am. I am certain both sides would tell me they are on the side of peace as well. But, hey, I’m not the one dropping the bombs now, am I?
I will stick with my side.
Peace to all.
Peace to the Palestinians.
Peace to the Israelis.
Peace on earth.
Peace out.