Never steal a pirate's galoshes

My eyes popped open at 4:30 this morning, and sleep was over. That's hours earlier than I'd hoped, and the first thing on my mind was taking yesterday off from selling fish. What was I thinking? I can't afford days off. Funds are low and income is limited.

February's rent is ready, but after that, even one trip to the grocery would empty my wallet. And yet I took yesterday off, for I am a nincompoop.

And while I'm full of worries and blues, I took a look at what I've written for the January issue of the zine, and it sucks. It's not the worst writing I've done, because I've done a lot of bad writing, but it ain't worth the three dollars I'm asking for it. 

And then there's my mother. This morning I'm hearing her parting words at the airport last May, as I walked toward a plane taking me home. "Keep in touch," she said, but I very much haven't. I simply can't bear to, for reasons only Freud could explain (and he'd explain it all wrong). Everything's better when I'm as far out of touch as possible, but still, Mom's hammer of guilt swings over my head.

And of course, I'm kicking myself over Sarah-Katherine, as she relocated to New York City. She wanted me there, but instead I'm still here. I could take the rent money, plus sell this typewriter and my microwave and mini-fridge and whatever else I own, and maybe have money enough for a discount ticket to LaGuardia. But I'd land with empty pockets and no prospects, and I'm not even sure she'd be happy to see me.

Ah, screw it. Screw everything. Enough with the self-pity. To whatever extent my life sucks, it's entirely my own fault. Time to either get a gun and end it all, or quit my fat-ass bellyaching and make myself some toast.

I'm going for the toast, and spreading someone else's jelly from the fridge over it.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

As if I wasn't blue enough already, now I'm reading yesterday's paper, reminding myself what a shitty world this is.

Says here that Wells Fargo, the nation's 17th largest bank, is acquiring First Interstate, the 15th largest. Combined assets will be a few billion more than $100,000,000,000. About 350 branches will be closed, with thousands of people pink-slipped. Judging from the Chronicle's report, we're supposed to think this is a good thing, but it's not, of course.

Says here that National Public Radio has won a DuPont/Columbia University Journalism Award, for such shows as Morning Edition and All Things Considered. I listen to those shows sometimes, and find them about 1/3 journalism and 2/3 piffle, but what surprised me wasn't the award; it's that DuPont Chemical has apparently acquired Columbia University. 

And here's a completely fucked-up letter to the editor. Seems a book review in the paper had mentioned in passing that "soldiers on both sides [in the Vietnam War] fought and died for no good reason." The letter-writer is furious, because even decades later, he still thinks America's war on Vietnam was a just and great cause. The war was only lost, he writes, because of all the 1960s boys who lacked "the humility to accept their draft notices."

It's hard to even grasp the stupidity of that argument. It's breathtaking. Life-taking.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Ten blocks from my designated corner for fish sales, the skies began sprinkling. Six blocks off, it became a cloudburst. When I reached the Avenue it was still raining, hard, and Umberto and a few other vendors were packing up to leave. In every direction the clouds were thick and dark, the weather hopeless, and I was drenched, so to hell with it.

Another day off, without pay.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Come with me now to the semi-monthly staff meeting for Free Radio Berkeley, held in the back room at the Long Haul Infoshop. That's a pretty good zine shop that doesn't sell Pathetic Life, but I ain't mad at 'em. They only sell good zines. I've bought zines there many times, but today I was too broke.

I am not on the staff at Free Radio Berkeley, but the Long Haul is only a few blocks up the street from my place, and Josh had tipped me off that the agenda for today's meeting be a raucous ruckus. It's about theft, he said — there's been a lot of stuff stolen at the station, and people are pissed.

With the rain-out on Telegraph I had nothing better to do, so I darted through the downpour and settled into a back row seat.

Apparently past meetings have gotten out of hand, because the first thing they wanted to do was appoint a facilitator — someone to keep the discussion a discussion instead of a shouting match. And I guess my man Josh is a better man than I even knew, because someone said, "It ought to be Josh." Nobody nominated anyone else, so Josh took charge, and laid out the ground rules:

"If you have something to say, just raise your hand. I'll call on everyone in order, and you'll all be heard, but no interruptions, please. If someone says something inflammatory and you want to respond, raise your hand and wait till I point at you." Better than Robert's Rules of Order.

Free Radio Berkeley is a pirate station that broadcasts 24/7 out of a shared house. The people who live in the house have had stuff stolen during the night, several nights, and that's what they're pissed off about. One of the house residents read a list of stolen things — a pair of galoshes, a can of coffee, food from the fridge, two backpacks, three bicycles, etc.

The housemates want to start locking the house overnight. Which seems logical.

But it might make the station no longer 24/7. Which would suck.

So someone asked, why can't the overnight shows be pre-taped? 

And after much lively but polite debate, it was agreed that, for at least a while, the house will be locked from midnight to 8AM seven nights a week, and broadcasts during that time will be tape-delayed.

The overnight DJs are supposed to come in, one at a time, to meet with house residents. They want to know the strangers using their kitchen and bathroom, to assess for themselves whether each individual on-air person is someone they'd welcome into their home, reserving the right to bar anyone who doesn't pass the vibe inspection. 

Josh had promised fireworks or a fistfight, but instead of a bunch of rabble-rousing radicals screaming at each other, it was all very civilized. The United Nations could learn a thing or two from Josh and Free Radio Berkeley.

After that, Stephen Dunifer, the aging hippie and technogeek who started FRB, gave a quick rundown of the station's latest legal battles with the FCC. It was depressing, a litany of threats and ultimatums. There's nothing the federal government hates more than freedom of speech.

More optimistically, he then read a list of new pirate stations on the air or coming soon, in San Francisco, San Jose, San Leandro, West Berkeley, East Oakland, Mountain View, Fruitvale, Fremont, and Valejo. And that's just in the Bay Area. He said FRB is also helping six new stations get up and running around Los Angeles, and one in the town of Williams, Oregon.

Which reminds me again, if you believe in freedom of speech and have about $500 to buy the equipment, you too can go on the air. Mr D says it takes no great expertise, and it's safe and perfectly illegal.

If you're interested, just call or write me, and I'll let Josh know, and he'll let Stephen know, and Stephen will get back to you.

From Pathetic Life #20
Saturday, January 27, 1996

Addendum, 2023: I am pleased and kinda proud that two people contacted me way back when, for info on pirate broadcasting. I passed their names and numbers to Josh, who passed 'em to Stephen Dunifer. I'll never know what happened after that, but I certainly hope laws were broken.

Information on pirate broadcasting is quicker and easier to come by in our internet age. If you're interested, just click on FreeRadio.org.

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


  1. If you are unfamiliar with Mark Oliver Everett, sometimes known as E or as the leader of the musical group the Eels, son of physicist Hugh Everett III who developed the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, stop reading right now. Anyway, this link is about the old man who never became an old man, not the son, who, at 61, is on his way.

    Because there are quiet rumblings in the labs and thinktanks of physics that the idea that a hundred-year-old basic tenet of physics (and astrophysics), general relativity (GR) has quietly been sleeping with a 90-year-old wildass idea, quantum mechanics (QM), in the stuffy backhalls of academia and the less than stuffy esoteric physics conferences held out in the open (which gives them maximum privacy). Add old man Everett's many-worlds interpretation of QM in the 1970s, and you're now swimming with the new physicists who are tired of the century-long fight between GR and QM and are beginning to believe that our understanding of the universe and the world in which we live will ultimately be conceptually understood by what Leonard Susskind and my old friend Sean Carroll are beginning to call GR=QM.

    That means to us Einstein's great idea that space and time are inexorably linked and Niels Bohr's (and others') great idea that classical physics can't explain the universe but quantum physics can are one cat with two unalike sides.

    I don't have the math to go any farther and if you do what the hell are you doing here? But if you want to read some intelligible words on this great collision/romance between GR and QM, here's a link to a review of a new book by Heinrich Päs, The One: How an Ancient Idea Holds the Future of Physics. Of course the review is published in the Daily Beast, a Web tabloid (webloid?) that follows the royal family and airplane crashes as well as daily news. (I've had the Daily Beast bookmarked since the dawn of information, and I've rarely regretted it.)

    Here's the link to the article in the Daily Beast . . .


    It's a ten or fifteen minute read for me because I needed to read it real slowly. It might or might not be useful to know that Old Man Everett died at 51 partly because he read L. Ron Hubbard's book Dianetics and refused to go to a doctor. But maybe he figured out how the universe works in his brief stay on this rock.


    1. Well, my first and most urgent thought on all this is that if we reconsider the concept of time and space, we'll have to rejigger the entire history of DOCTOR WHO — literally hundreds of episodes, and 15 doctors.

      What this *really* means, of course, is that the article is over my head. I read it and tried, honest, but I'm getting the same feeling I had in high school trig, where knowledge bounced off my head like marbles chucked at me by the older kids.

      However, I am pleased to report that as residue from a long-ago job writing biographies of allegedly notable souls, I have a factoid about Hugh Everett. Per his instructions, he was cremated after his death, and his ashes scattered into the trash.

      L Ron Hubbard was a scumbag, and should've had his ashes scattered into the trash before death.

      As for THE DAILY BEAST, it's tabloidy in appearance and coverage, but I've never noticed wrongness in its reports on actual news that actually matters. I judge it a reputable source, and it's long been in my surf cycle, twice weekly.

  2. I hope I wasn't giving the impression that the piece was in any way understandable to me on a detail physics level. I have tried since I was 25 or so to read one popular astrophysics book every couple of years. Popular means no math because I never even made it to calculus, much less to the kinds of math physicists use. I don't understand general relativity at any level and I don't understand the first thing about quantum mechanics, but I do know that physicists have been trying to get GR and QM to work together since about 1932. This might be another false alarm like string theory in the 80s and 90s and probably is, but whoever manages to unite these two approaches to understanding the universe will be the next Einstein.

    I follow professional chess, but I'm a lousy chess player. Same with physics, which is like chess except played in n dimensions. I barely navigate in three, and there might be ten or eleven. So this could be a big deal that I'll never understand. All the other attempts to unite GR and QM have ended in tears and resignations, so this is probably another false alarm, but what if he is right? OK, back to the Marx Brothers.


    1. I was kinda borderline competitive at chess in my 20s, but I've forgotten everything except that it's good to control the middle of the board.

      Math, I made it as far as algebra. I could sorta see the point of algebra. Everything beyond that, though, is beyond me.

    2. Getting competitive at anything is a lot of work. I know a couple of serious chess players slightly and they think of chess as "the beautiful game" rather than futball. Sometimes though, late at night after getting their remaining rook trapped in a corner and butchered like a midwest chicken, they wonder what the hell they're doing with their lives. In the end we're all just running out the clock.

      On the bright side, the genuinely eccentric people in the world keep us entertained while the iceberg looms ahead. My cousin didn't much believe in doctors and he died pretty young. I never saw him at work. His son was about my age and he died at 59 because he didn't believe in doctors. Statins might have given him another 15 years. He died with an MBA (massive bank account) because he didn't want to divulge his age, so never got married. The govmint got the dough.

      I suppose we keep trying because there's no alternative and there's always a distant possibility . . . Justin Playfair said, ""Don Quixote thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But thinking that they might be -- Well, all the best minds used to think the world was flat. But what if it isn't? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what they might be, why we'd all still be out... in the tall grass with the apes."

      That's the best I can do for optimism on a cold January morning. I know it's after noon, but it's morning in my time zone.


    3. That's pretty great optimism. You write far deeper comments than I write posts.

      And your chess perspective is especially well-timed, as I'm still grieving over a bishop lost and plan thwarted not even an hour ago. Always take chess over football, however it's spelled, or over any game except maybe baseball.

    4. I'm older than you and, quietly, just as cranky. I continue to refuse to use the Americanized name "soccer" for the game much of the rational world continues to call futball or football. You can't use your hands like you try to in the American game of football. Footwork is important in American football, but very few players touch the oddly shaped ball with their foot (or feet).

      The NFL and its billion dollar sponsors would like the world to stop calling what the recently late Pele called "The Beautiful Game": football or futball as the Hispanic world spells it. Call the game with the impossibly high ticket prices and the oddly shaped ball American football. Call the beautiful game which preceded it (and might follow it if we don't become a nuclear waste repository first) football or futball. I don't give a damn whether the Googs like my spelling. Fuck them.



    5. No matter how it's spelled, I don't like either soccer or football or futball.

      The American game is too brutal, and the people who play it best are especially brutal. And also, 95% of it seems to be nothing but guys in tights and shoulder pads standing around.

      The worldwide game is, I guess, an acquired taste. You have to grow up with it to appreciate it, and I didn't so I don't. Also, it's run by the most corrupt racketeers outside of the Pentagon.

      Younger me attended both kinds of games, though, and I even saw Pelé score a goal.

    6. I wonder if you know, dear Doug, that you're a decent man and you have made the world a better place.

    7. Leaving high school, students who've excelled by discovering another amino acid or by developing an algorithm to get data to cell towers faster are competing with other geeks who figured out how to prevent corn flakes from becoming soggy for a few tuition-only scholarships, while the school's 260 pound right tackle is choosing among full boat rides to several institutions of higher learning and deciding what color SUV he's going to ask them to lease for him.

      Pelé learned to play in the crudest of Brazilian ghettos using an old sock stuffed with rags for a ball and was playing for a professional team at 15. He eventually made good money playing futball, but he could have made it sooner by simply going to Europe. He was committed to transforming Brazilian futball into a world class enterprise, which he did in about ten years: then the money CAME TO HIM. He finally left Brazil to make a few million with the Cosmos, and you were fortunate to see him then. He played with grace and class and rarely boasted. When he scored he didn't head for the sidelines to mug: he joined his team at midfield to celebrate together. He wasn't perfect but he was a damn fine role model for several generations of young Brazilians. Americans could learn a few things from his life as well.


    8. You sound like one of those brief bur rousing bios they used to run on WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS before the world of sports got too wide to fit.

      Did you see Pelé play at the Kingdome?

      All this futbal talk reminds me that a few times, I went to the Tacoma Dome to watch indoor soccer. Those were the most enjoyable futbal games I've seen. The game works better on a smaller pitch.

    9. Maybe, minutely. It was a pretty sucky world before I got here, but I've tried not to make it any worse.

    10. Pele got acquisitive later in life, but for much of his career he made decisions based on priorities in which money was not the most important. That small fact shouldn't stand out, but in the professional sports industry today, sadly it does.

      When Ernie Banks let go his call "let's play two" before Sunday games, everybody in Chicago knew he made the same money whether he played one or two. That was the point of his catchphrase.

      If it sounds like the hype of Wide World of Sports, then it does. We shouldn't make heroes out of people because they can hit a curve, but Ernie Banks was the first Black player the Cubs hired. It should have happened sooner, but that doesn't make it hype. We celebrate what we can and move on from there.


    11. The Cubs' first black player (just about any team's, I imagine without researching it) had to be terrific. For an average player, white guys get preference.

      Even today (I imagine without researching it) if a white utility infielder batting .255 and a black utility infielder batting .255 are battling for one of the last roster spots, the white guy has a big edge by being white. Probably a big enough edge to get the job even if his numbers are a little worse.

    12. And also, I *loved* WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS back then. It's kinda what got me interested in sports.


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