Saturday, March 31, 2018

Who The Hell Are These People?

In seeking out what's responsible for the degeneration of American culture over the last 70 years, one finds many culprits to choose from. Pro wrestling, Joe McCarthy, cage fighting, Richard Nixon, Ayn Rand, country music, Milton Friedman, Texas, charter schools, Donald Trump, punk rock, Henry Kissinger, a congress of anti-social misfits, Clint Eastwood, Richard Nixon, and Dick Cheney all come readily to mind, among many other things! But of all the insults of an essentially injurious age, perhaps the worst, from the standpoint of pure nausea, is our vast array of "TV personalities."

Like many people I only use television to watch movies now, and have for decades. The reason is primarily these supposed human beings who are thrust on us by television networks night and day, week after week, year after year - people who in a sane world could only appear before the public in mug-shots, or in the case notes of baffled psychiatrists. Yet they are, to a very great degree, the people who set the tone of the era. American culture used to be created by the people themselves, but in our media obsessed age, through their incessant domination of communication, TV personalities largely create our culture - if you could still call it a culture.

I'll start with a single example, Joan Rivers! How in God's name did such an obnoxious, caterwauling, pea-brained, tattling, twit find her way onto national television? Did her agent make some station manager an offer he couldn't refuse?

It would be one thing, of course, if she was an exception, but just FORGETABOUTIT!!!

Let's have a look at a few of the wonderful people who've graced our public stage over the last half century. (I'm in my mid-fifties now, so some of these luminaries may be unfamiliar to younger people. If so, they should be deeply grateful!

Let's take another, Willard Scott! Where in hell did they find this simpering, jello-brained, hayseed? Or the film, and theater, critic Gene Shalit! Who lifted the rock? I guess they thought his absurd mutton-chop mustache and his mangrove swamp of hair made him resemble a circus clown, but without the charisma, and that that was a good thing! I can't see any other explanation, because he knew less about film, or any other art form for that matter, than Pavlov's dog! He wasn't a film critic. Like that other odious cream puff, Roger Ebert, he was a cheerleader! Neither of them ever saw a movie they didn't like!

JACKASS 14. . . "A stellar cast give scintillating performances in this never to be forgotten Hollywood classic, blah, blah, blah. . ."

Or take that vain, preening, beetle brained, closet Nazi, Geraldo Rivera. How could he have been hired to clean the bathrooms of television stations, much less to host his own show? And what kind of a society are we likely to have if we let people like that have a national podium from which to confound us with their addled babble? Then there's Regis Philbin, who should have been named, Egregious Filbin, it would have been so much more appropriate!

Even a partial list of such people would be shocking - and no, you can't tell me that someone like Geraldo Rivera is there because of insatiable public demand! I'm not buying it. He's there to facilitate a collective American IQ drop of another five points, because an educated public isn't in the interests of the ultra-rich, who now own this country.

So just for the hell of it let's go ahead and have a look at that partial list: Joan Rivers, Geraldo Rivera, Regis Philbin, Gene Shalit, Willard Scott, Pat Boone, Kaitie Couric, Bob Barker, Ed McMahon, Laurence Welk, Matt Lauer, Maury Povitch, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Al Roker, Andy Williams, Anita Bryant, Kim Kardashian, Howard Stern, Bill O’Reilly, Jay Leno, Barbara Walters, Martha Stewart, Paris Hilton, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Roger Ebert, Jerry Springer, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Sajak. . .

You'd have to hunt far and wide to find people who could cast such a blight on the intelligence and sensibilities of the public! And of course we all know this, we all complain about it. It's a truism. Yet for all the uproarious farce, it's not funny. These people, combined with a relentless attack on public education, have contributed greatly to the decline of American intelligence and moral character in our lifetime. Why do we tolerate it? The excuse, of course, is ratings, and by extension that holy of hollies, profits. But I'm sorry, there simply is no excuse. There is no excuse for allowing such people to turn us into a nation of morons. If we continue to give clowns the podium, they will eventually turn us all into clowns.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Friday, March 23, 2018

Lucy, The Dog

We got Lucy unexpectedly, when the director of the mental health clinic where my wife worked went crazy, as they all seemed to do eventually. She (the director of the clinic) had to leave the island to go back where she came from, and one of the things she turned to my wife and I for was to take her dog, which was a year-old, and had been left alone in the house most of the time since birth. I was hesitant to take Lucy. We have a small apartment, and I'd never had a small-breed dog before. In my experience they were yappy little things, high strung, not really worthy of the noble title "Dog."

Well, I was wrong. Lucy, who was with us for 12 years, turned out to be truly amazing! I know that it's trite, and perhaps even a touch unseemly, to go bragging on your own little dog. But if anything in life has buttressed my belief in some essential goodness in the cosmic scheme of things, it has been Lucy. Two things about her became immediately obvious. One, that like a lot of dogs she was absolutely loyal, and two, she had tremendous intelligence. Yet there was more to it than that. She was half Lasha Apso. These were the dogs that guarded the interiors of Tibetan monasteries, and according to Tibetan lore the souls of Buddhist monks reside in Lasha Apsos, awaiting their entrance into Nirvana, and coming to fully discover Lucy's temperament I found the thought a little disconcerting. It was simply too appropriate.

There's a spirit in some dogs that, lets face it, puts we human beings to shame. They are courageous, forbearing of our faults, and endlessly loving. Unless sick or wounded they are ever optimistic; their spirits never falter. I've heard people put this down to stupidity, but Lucy knew well the sadder aspects of life. She had been unwittingly abandoned for her first year, and had been desperately alone. No, her good nature wasn't due to stupidity. I'm convinced it was due to gratitude, and moreover, to wisdom.

I once heard the facetious prayer, "God, please help me to be the man that my dog thinks I am." That seems to be something towards which we all should aspire, to live up to our dog's good opinion of us. They never give up on us, no matter how far we fall short of their hopes and expectations. No matter how shabby our behavior, they always believe we can do better!

Lucy was a beautiful dog. Her hair was of gold, copper, and platinum - the platinum mostly on top of her head. Several people ask me if we dyed it that color. This caught me off guard. I'm not the type of person to dye my dog's hair. When we walked her downtown people would stop and say, "Oh my God, what a beautiful dog!" Kids would beg us to let them pet her, and after awhile total strangers called out with great enthusiasm as she passed, "Hey, there's Lucy!" This also caught me off guard. As far as I recall nobody's ever made such a fuss over me, personally. I can't remember anyone calling out as I passed by, Hey, there's that Hightower Guy!" It was an experience to which I'm not accustomed.

But all of that was, at least to me, not very important - though it did serve to make me aware of how very important external beauty is to some people, and I don't even mean that as criticism, really. The darned dog was just that adorable.

In 2005, I came down with a serious and mysterious illness, and lucy took it upon herself to became my nurse. She always knew which of the sores (that are one of the worst aspects of this illness) needed treatment most, and she whined at me until I did it. She chose to spend countless hours cheering me up, even though she really just wanted to go to the park.

She never barked without a good reason, and had an instinct to seek out high places from which she could view everything going on, and report back to us if anything was amiss. She was an omnivorous food critic, with very selective tastes. Thai red curry was one of her favorite dishes, but we couldn't let her eat it because dogs aren't supposed to eat Thai red curry. She didn't know that.

There was a time she was with my wife at the park and a woman was walking two rotweillers that slipped the leash, so lucy (all ten pounds of her) ran right at them and stood them off until the woman got control of them again. She didn't hesitated for an instant, and it was lucky she wasn't bitten in two.

In the days when I occasionally drank hard liquor she once took a sip from my glass of scotch on the rocks. She savored it a moment, looked at me a little patronizingly and never touched it again. That was just one of many ways in which she was smarter than I am.

When she got older, and sick herself, she couldn't jump up on our bed anymore, so I had to lift her up. I called this the advent of Pooh, because one of her many nicknames was Luscious Pooh. (Her most official nickname being Luscious P. Codwagon, I don't know why.) She felt awkward, and touchingly, a little embarrassed about needing help to get up on the bed. So often, before I picked her up, she'd stick her head over the top of the mattress, judging the distance, to decide if she could jump, then her head would go down again. Then up again, then down again. I never saw anything as cute as that little head going up and down, like a little periscope.

Whenever I decided to leave the house, just as I would make the decision, even before I stirred from my chair, Lucy would come running and stand by the door, boyant, expectant. "Can I come too dad?" her whole being seemed to say. She knew, almost before I did. How is that even possible? They say the eyes are the windows of the soul. What do we see in Lucy's eyes? Gentleness, patience, loyalty, love, hope and a very keen awareness. I wish that's what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

Goodbye Lucy.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ode to Belladonna, Chapter Twelve

In the palace of Constantine, not much more than a stone’s throw from the house where she was born, Theodora perched on her golden throne, while members of her entourage bustled quickly in and out, the sound of their movements amplified in the vast chamber into a constant, sweeping murmur. Empress in all but name now, awaiting only the imminent death of the august, diseased, and addled Emperor Justin, her figure was of such grave command it was as if her presence there was a simple consummation of fate – the mere culmination of the inevitable.
The former Empress, Euphemia, the deceased wife of Justin and the daughter of some minor official in the provinces (whom because of her given name Lupecina Theodora referred to as "that old bitch") still had enough of the old Roman hauteur to refuse her nephew Sabbatus' marriage to a courtesan, and when she had spoken of Theodora at all had chosen words far less dignified than "courtesan." Yet Euphemia never occupied the throne with a fraction of the possession of Theodora, and an awareness of this gave Theodora much satisfaction. When Euphemia had been alive, Theodora hated her with a red-hot passion, praying daily that God might find some plausible excuse for her swift ascension to heaven – and Theodora's prayers had been answered with alacrity – a sign to her of the strength of her faith, and of her favor with Grace.
This reflection on Euphemia was just one in a endless succession of thoughts and visions, schemes and prayers that passed through her mind then. Another was to contrive some plan to save the Monophysites from persecution – for when she had been in the Levant trying through marriage to escape her fate onstage (as well as the then unwelcome attentions of Sabbatius) she had reached through them a final, unshakeable, vision of Jesus that gave her the confidence and audacity to carve her way through the world.
This understanding was not of Him as God as Man (for she could never accept any mortal man as a God!) but as God Ascendant, as a man who became God only through leaving the world, and she relished the day that He would fall upon the earth to scour it with fire, cleansing the soul of man that it might be fit for paradise!
As for Euphemia, she had never been anything but a tiresome, prattling, old idiot; only slightly less foolish than her husband, and even less attractive ... but still Theodora had chafed under her insults and contempt. More than anything Theodora wanted to discard the vestiges of stigma from those years of humiliation hidden so adroitly, even from her sisters – humiliation disguised as acquiescence, jubilation, or simple revelry, but remembered keenly with rage and shame. Immediately upon her return to Constantinople, armed with her newfound understanding of Jesus, she had opened her campaign for power and revenge upon her enemies through the conquest of that peculiar, pathetic, and sad genius/half-wit, Sabbatius. It was to be a campaign against all who looked down on her, who had spat on her, who had humiliated her. She would rise now like a phoenix from the ashes and burn them in her flame.
There were many other questions paramount in her mind then too – the rise of Benedict (a monastic in Italy who she saw as a threat) and then, above all, the question of that old lecher, Asterius, who had hounded her family for so long.
As she thought of him the cavernous throne room brought back memories of her cave near the seawall, a cave that was home to her then even as her home became the home of Asterius while he "courted" her mother and his entourage drank and laughed. Now, having cast off her journey through the world, Theodora was content to sit in that great room so much like her cave, and sink into its dim light, its coolness, its oblivion of translucent stone, where her skin grew pale, akin to stone against her dark hair and eyes so lustrous, even more so now with the aid of belladonna. From the past her mind wound slowly to the future, the present being only a hinge, a mechanism, to shape the world according to her desires. And what were these desires of Theodora's, reclining on her gilded throne? Out of what usury and bitterness and pain had sprung these desires that she left the seam of her imperial gown slightly parted, allowing vistas deadly to even the most influential supplicant were they to let their eyes stray for there for even a moment? If the wicked game of sexual usury and cruelty had been played upon her, then she would raise the stakes.
Thus her mind spanned the future and the past, returning again and again to her bower by the sea to observe the pelicans in their mesmerizing dance, and to the caves where she had played with the bear cubs that would be torn apart, or to her mother’s house where Asterius had forced himself on them each and every one in turn.
Her mind revolved round and round these things until she could never stop thinking of them, and into these incarnations of things past came again the day he refused their petition in the Circus Maximus, the vision of his face turning away from them as from so much garbage and as she sat she swayed slightly from side to side as if impelled by a nonexistent wind, or in the hypnotizing throes of opium, or the unconscious impulse of a soldier swaying towards mortality, and a single tear rolled down her cheek. For to Theodora the vision of the world was rendered dark, and only through illusion within illusions could she hope to win the battle with a world turned against her. Only in a break from reality, an acceptance of illusion could she deprive the world of its sting and its losses the power to break her – and so transformed she would master its treacherous game – turn shame to power and power to vindication.
Roll on you goddamned godforsaken world, she thought, and I will roll with you – not in fatality but in judgment of those who have judged me – and I will stand before God in truth and say I only did what I had to do to survive – for I did not make the world but merely found myself in it with such a damned excess of life in me that I cannot bring it to an end... but I hate it here!

So through some strange set of miracles – the miracle of her mother and of her mother’s mirror, the miracle of the pelicans and of the broad flat sea, and of the leopards and bears she tended that found their way into her dance; she had become mistress of illusions, until finally mastering that greatest of all illusions, the illusion of life itself. She traversed its mystery without recoil even as she herself was lost, for had it not been God who made that test?
Even as a child Theodora had thus begun to reason, and as the woman who had been that child did this reason wax and resonate. Fortified by the bishops of the Levant in the mechanism of the present moment which was her soul, an act of God – she forged the fire of her mind that would revenge herself or die.
As she sat, her fingers (long and just touched now with the olive hue of the Levant) played an eager tattoo upon the dual, lion headed arms of the throne, and finally stirring, she called for her most trusted minister, and presently the eunuch, Narces ...stocky, bald and saturnine yet exuding some elusive power, came before her. Being of consummate skill in everything he undertook, from espionage to the raising of captive orchids, he was the head of her already detested secret police – the person she called upon for anything of either exceptional delicacy or exceptional cruelty.
From his large earlobes dangled golden earrings heavy with lustrous yellow gemstones that swayed ponderously when he walked, and beside him came the almost equally trusted old man whom one might have recognized as the old peddler from the hippodrome who Theodora had cheated the ruby from so long before, and whom she had come to respect for the knowledge he had gathered in his long journeys over the world. As she promised she had repaid him ten-fold and more in lifting him to minister.
“My dear Narces,” Theodora murmured, “I've heard Asterious’ wedding is tomorrow, is this true?"
“It is my lady.”
“What a glorious time of year for a wedding, and to think they chose the season of my upcoming wedding to hold their own! Do you think they meant to honor me?”
“I think, mistress, that they were hoping you wouldn’t hear of their wedding at all.”
“How charming!” Theodora exclaimed. “And they say he has made a very auspicious match. I am told that although her family is provincial, it's of highest rank.”
“That's what I gather, Mistress.”
“And is it also true that his former wife, the one he's kept locked away in his country estate recently passed on after falling from a balcony on their estate?
“Yes, mistress, I am sorry to say It is true.”
“How convenient for him. Well I think it's time that Aste-rious and I had a little heart-to-heart talk. Why not bring him around at, say, four this afternoon?” I’ve been looking forward our chat for some time now.”
“Yes ...he will be easy enough to find, I think, the day before his wedding.”
“I’ll want you on hand.”
“Of course, Mistress.”

That afternoon fifty imperial guards were seen trudging up a quiet street near the Forum of Theodosus to a villa with a spacious yard, lined with wisteria bushes, and as they passed, bystanders faded away through backstreets and alleys. These guards looked nothing like the soldiers of Caesar’s day with their light armament and leather tunics, but instead were draped in heavy chain-mail from head to knees, and heavily armed, with broadsword, shield, bow and arrow, pikes, and darts. They veritably bristled with weapons.
A loud party of several hundred men was taking place within, and the guard formed up quietly without to take them unaware. Almost before their presence had been noted, they splintered the door with a ram and rushed in, emerging with the screaming Asterius in their midst, not one of whose party had either the presence of mind or the loyalty to resist.

That afternoon Theodora retreated to her suite in the palace with stained glass windows, peaked in the gothic style, depicting scenes from the saints that let in a muted, colored, light. Sitting at her ebony vanity, flanked by vast armoires filled with the finest clothes from three continents, she arranged her make-up, and rather than dressing in any of these, instead she wore the costume she had often worn in her former life onstage, revealing her breasts and everything between the thighs and waist. Over this she draped a red-silk gown, tying its delicate sash. Then with a strange, inscrutable expression, she called for her personal guard – four of the most dangerous men in Constantinople – who escorted her through the labyrinth of the upper-palace, down numerous flights of stairs, through several heavily pad-locked doors, into yet another labyrinth of corridors, until finally arriving at a massive oak door. After a knock and a password the door opened to a great, dark chamber, lit by torches, and out of the recession into that dim-lit vastness came the grinding of steel and ringing of chains, the sound of subdued groaning and crying, and that of soft, almost whispered, pleading.
Familiar with this place Theodora made her way straight to the place where Asterious depended from the wall – each of his limbs chained to four heavy pins set in the massive stones.
“Theodora,” he said as she entered, “please ...”
Before he could say anything more she let her gown fall, revealing the costume of her life onstage. The expression of terror on his face gradually transformed as he looked at her to confusion, and slowly then into a slight smirk of triumph and sheer animal pride.
Theodora then took up a tambourine, her body beginning to sway from her head downwards into her broad hips like waves on the ocean. Asterious was fixated, and as the dance progressed she came closer to him, touching him with her breasts and her swaying hips, while all the while staring into his eyes; and as the dance progressed so did his state of arousal, until he was breathing heavily and making small moans of desire.
At that moment Narces stepped forward with a short, silver blade, and in one swift motion severed Asterius’s sexual organs, followed immediately by another man with a red-hot iron and cotton gauze, who over the screams of Asterious, cauterized the wound to staunch the bleeding. Then Narces poured a dose of some bubbling, heavy opiate down his throat.
So swift and effective was this dose at arresting the shock, that Asterious remained lucid while Theodora instructed him in his new duties as one of the palace eunuchs, first among which was as a sexual concubine to barbarian delegations.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Darkness is closing in on the periphery of things;
The life-giving sun itself descends - not westward,
But outward, into the distance, towards oblivion.

We are on the brink of some great departure;
It can be felt in the restlessness of our feet,
In the unseasonable declination of the light.

Behold! Over the water a blood moon is rising;
From afar may be heard the long clarion blast,
And the wind is consumed in charcoal and ash.

Somewhere awakens an all-consuming Nemesis,
It's breath stale with the reek of blood,
Its eyes alight with the fever of the hunt.

You, who read the bloody portent of the runes,
Who hear the banshee keening in the night,
You, who know surging rivers, and the tidal flood,

Onward, through the impenetrable darkness!
Through the shriek and howl of the Moirai!
You, torch bearers, the path lies before you!

You, who with eyes open see the shadow,
Who have the courage to face the darkness,
You who bear the lamp alone, may find Elysium

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower
* Image source unknown