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Another Sign of the Impending Apocalypse

I remember sitting on one side of the table and my sister and her friend, Laurie, sitting on the other side.  I was a teenager, maybe around 15 or 16 and they took me to Luis’s Mexican Restaurant.  I don’t remember why, I just remember being happy they took me.  In my memory, it was one of those things I appreciated.  Big sis and her friend letting me tag along.

The walls of the place were covered with pictures of Luis with famous people — boxers, actors, politicians.  The restaurant was one of those places with different rooms that spread off of each other.  We sat in one of the rooms in back.

I had never been to Luis’s before.  We looked at the menus.  We ordered our food.  Ten seconds later, it arrived at our table.  Seriously.  The thing about Luis’s … well, it’s difficult to describe, but … the refried beans and rice were served by the scoop.  Ice cream scoop, that is.  Arriving in perfectly round balls.  And the burritos and tacos were probably more traditionally Mexican food than what you get at modern Mexican restaurants.  It was very simple, basic food — that apparently could be plated and served in 10 seconds or less.

In the years that followed, the group I hung out with a lot during my college years spent a lot of time at Luis’s.  For a couple of years, we got together most Friday evenings and played a game of softball with however many of us showed up.  Afterwards, we went to Denny’s or Luis’s.  I have no idea why it came down to those two.

Another mystery was that when we could drink legally, we added pineapple daiquiris to our meals at Luis’s.  Nope, not margaritas at a Mexican restaurant.  Not cervezas. Pitchers of pineapple daiquiris.  For some reason.

Luis’s closed down probably 10-15 years ago.

Another culinary tradition my sister and her friend Laurie handed off to me was the incredible combo burrito with green sauce at Taco Bell.  It was probably right around the same time that they exposed me to this.  And for something like 35 years, that’s been my go-to at Taco Bell.  Yes, it’s fast food.  It’s crap.  It’s junk.  I should stay away from it.  But those Taco Bells are just about as ubiquitous in California as McDonald’s.  For more than 20 years, the fast food restaurant closest to our house is a Taco Bell.  It’s right there, and I have found it difficult to resist its siren call.

All these years later, it’s been all about the combo burrito with green sauce.  With a slight wrinkle.  When I was in college, another student who worked in the office where I toiled away agreed that the combo burrito was the thing, but insisted you had to get extra cheese.  So, yeah, I added extra cheese to my order.

Every once in awhile, I branch out.  I get a Mexican Pizza — if that doesn’t say Mexican food, what does?  Or some of their other things — a few years, I went through a short phase with the Enchirito.  Topnotch stuff that was.  But more often than not, my order has consistently been two combo burritos with green sauce and extra cheese.

Until recently.

Something has changed.  It just doesn’t sit well anymore, if you know what I mean.  The truth is that is one of the consequences of Taco Bell.  The not sitting well.  When I travel and we need to stop and get a quick lunch and then keep going, I never get Taco Bell because you never know when it might make its presence felt.  If you know what I mean.

But it’s more than that these days.  I’ve started moving away from the tried and true combo burrito with …

I think it’s another sign of getting old.  Pray for me.  😉


People Come, People Go

I went to Sac State and got my degree.  It was a useless major, made more useless by the fact that I did little to lay the groundwork for a meaningful job in that major.  So, I marketed the only marketable skill I had — I could type fast — and got a job in the Faculty Office at McGeorge School of Law.

It was the summer of 1987.  I was a receptionist/word processor.

I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  A year later, I enrolled in a Masters program.  In International Relations at the aforementioned Sac State.  I continued to work full-time.  After about a month, I dropped out of the Masters program.  There was no way I was going to be able to do both. The amount of reading and presentations and reports and everything else the program required simply wouldn’t work in combination with the full-time job.

I looked around.  By that time, I had moved on from the initial position to Executive Secretary for the Assistant Dean of International Programs, where I provided support to that dean and a handful of professors.

I looked around some more.  Hmmm…  If all these other idiots could go to law school, maybe I could too.  I knew this.  There was no way I was going to do what I was doing then for the rest of my life.  There was something more for me.

So, I enrolled in the evening program at McGeorge.  I continued in my Executive Secretary position for two years and then did a few other things the last two years of my law school life.  And four years after enrolling, I graduated with a law degree.

And I had done the same thing.  While a law degree is not as useless as my undergrad degree was, I had really done nothing to lay the groundwork for a good job, the right job, after graduating and passing the bar.

The truth is that there was a lot about law school and becoming an attorney that wasn’t really me.  I was doing it to escape a thing I didn’t want to do without really knowing what it was I was ready to do.  I knew I didn’t want to be a litigator.  I knew I didn’t want to go work for a large law firm being one of the cogs in the wheel, working 80 hours a week and rarely seeing the sun.

I interviewed at one law firm as graduation approached.  It was a small, local family law firm.  I didn’t get a second interview.  But when they told me they would probably start me around $35,000 a year if they hired me and I did the math on my drive home — they would probably make $150,000 a year while paying me that $35,000 a year — I decided even more that the law firm life wasn’t for me.

I ended up getting another job at McGeorge.  A staff attorney and administrative hearing officer.  I worked that job for four years and then went on to other opportunities.

All told, between that first job, four years of education,, and the follow-up job, I spent eleven years at McGeorge.  It’s been almost 20 years since.

It’s probably been at least a decade since I’ve been back.  The people I got to know there started to retire, pass away, go on to other opportunities, and the connection I had to the place grew weaker.  There was a time when I knew everybody who worked there — from the campus cop to the Dean to the secretaries to the maintenance workers.  That went away a long time ago.

The other thing is that I didn’t necessarily leave the place with the warmest feelings.  The whole law school experience involved $55,000 in debt that I’m still paying on and a feeling that I was just a number to the law school — a source of revenue.  Which is really odd given my connection to the school because of my prior job and subsequent job.  As I was graduating, there was a group of students who talked about “Not One Red Cent,” meaning they would never donate money to the school.  While I wasn’t necessarily a part of that idea, the reality is that I have never donated money to the law school and have been somewhat cynical about the whole law school thing ever since I graduated.

And the other issue is that I left my post-law school job at McGeorge primarily because I simply could not figure out a way to squeeze a reasonable salary out of my boss.  He was tight-fisted and with a growing family, I needed to make more money.  So, I left, without much in the way of fond memories or reasons to stay connected to the ol’ law school.

Except for the people.  After eleven years there, it was almost like a second home filled with a second family.  As the years went on, that feeling faded as well.

Today, I was back on campus for a symposium on a subject I’m working on in my current job.  During the morning session, I took my own personal break and walked through the hallway near the classroom we were in, looking in the display cases that are still there all these years later.

I came across this picture.


It’s a painting of Claude Rohwer, a good man who taught at McGeorge for 40 years.  When I was Executive Secretary for the Assistant Dean of International Programs, Claude was one of the professors I also supported.  He was always good to work with.  In my last year of law school, he was my professor for Remedies.

One of the things that worried me about going to school there after working there was that all of the professors knew me.  That could be good.  Or it could be bad.  Some of them might ignore me, not taking advantage of the fact that they knew me.  Others might look at it differently.

My Con Law professor, every once in awhile, out of nowhere would suddenly turn and say, “Mr. Paxson, what do you think about X?”  And I would curse him for this.  Claude did that as well in that final year course.  I was somebody he could always turn to to question about a case or a law or whatever.  Not necessarily that I got the answers right, but there I was in his class, an easy mark.

But, he was a good man and he was a part of my life for years back then.

As I walked down the hall and saw that picture, I felt a bit of nostalgia for a place I thought I had left behind.  After lunch, I went for another walk, throughout the campus.  Back to the Faculty Office and through the building with most of the professors’ offices.  I ran into John Myers.  I took Juvenile Law and Criminal Law from him.  He was one of the more relaxed professors in class, just teaching the subject and not putting too much pressure on us students.  I worked as a research assistant for him for a semester or two and co-wrote an article with him.  It was a nice moment to stop in and say “hello.”  He seemed happy to see me.

I continued my exploration of the old campus and ran into another professor from way back then.  Another professor I worked for when I was an Executive Secretary.  He had a stronger memory of me and was thrilled at the professional success I have achieved.

It’s interesting.  I started working at McGeorge in 1987 — 30 years ago.  There are still at least a dozen professors who remain all these years later.

And this far removed from the whole thing, I feel a bit of nostalgia about the whole thing. These people who were in my life then.  They came and they went.  As so many do.  It’s always been one of those interesting questions to me.  How do we go through life with all of these people passing in and out and figure out which are the ones that really matter? The ones that we need to keep closer and not let go.  Did I make a mistake by not holding on to some of the people from back then?

I was reminded of how I felt about the friends my kids made in their earlier years.  I remember seeing them making “best friends” each year and remembering the best friends I had as a child and realizing that I lost track of them many, many years ago.  It seemed sad to me then, when I looked at my kids and their best friends and realizing that in a matter of just a few years, those best friends would be nothing more than a memory.

It’s the same thing that I experienced today.

People come, people go.  It’s a shame.

Something I Miss

In college, I cast about for a major for a couple of years.  In the spring semester of my second year, I took the basic government class that fulfilled a general education requirement.  By the end of the semester, I had my major.  In the hallowed halls of Sac State, I chose Government.  Yes, while most colleges and universities call it Political Science, Sac State, like Harvard, refers to the subject as Government.  I’m pretty sure, however, that a degree from that other place was probably worth a little more.

It was then that I began a lifelong fascination with politics.  I loved the conversations we had back then.  In class and out, a range of views expressed by my classmates.  We challenged each other and forced each other to defend our positions and beliefs.  And we didn’t back down from it.  We weren’t offended that somebody would question our views or our “facts.”  That was part of the fun of the thing.  Verbal warfare, fought within the rules of respect and a desire to learn from each other.  And every once in a while winning by convincing the other to think a little harder than they did before.  Maybe even nudging them a little closer to our point of view.

At one point, one of my classmates became my girlfriend for a brief, shining moment.  She was drop dead gorgeous and incredibly smart.  And a true member of the conservative block back then.  She challenged me regularly and I loved those conversations.  That we thought differently on politics and current events did not create a division in our relationship.  It, at least from my perspective, stoked it because of the dynamic conversations we could have on those topics.

A few years later, she turned into a radical socialist or something like that and eventually became an Economics professor at a state university in the Midwest.  I guess I won that argument.  😉

A few years later, back when the internet was in its embryonic stages and was hosted primarily by local bulletin boards, a friend told me about the political forum at the 24th Street Exchange.  I checked it out using the ol’ dial-up modem with its chirps and beeps and jumped into the political debate there.  There were a few of us who engaged in regular discussions about the political environment back then — probably 1992-93.  David Silva and I were the liberals.  Dave Roberts and Kevin Menager were the libertarians.  Jeff Culbreath and a few others were the conservatives, Jeff coming at it from his evangelical Christian perspective.

Once again, I found a place where I could discuss these issues and matters with a range of people who challenged each other.  Sometimes things got a little bit heated, but we all keep coming back to it.  Exchanging opinions and ideas and challenging each other in spirited verbal battle.  And on the internet where the anonymity of the thing is supposed to kill that possibility.

Since then, I’ve struggled to find anything close to those college discussions or the debates of the 24th Street Exchange.  Every once in awhile, a good political dialogue pops up here or there, but they are few and far between.  In part, that’s due to the circles I have traveled in over the last 20-25 years — many, many friends who are liberal.  My family is pretty much entirely liberal.  And I have spent the last fifteen years working for elected officials who are all Democrats and who, therefore, generally surround themselves with other Democrats.  And, of course, I live in just about the bluest state in the nation.

In addition, the growth of the internet rather than creating a new town hall, a new forum for engaging in civil discourse, instead has led to each side inhabiting their own private islands, where challenge and dissent is not tolerated.  And this has spread into personal interactions as well.  The number of times I have participated in in-person political “discussions” that have ended because of the other side’s complete and utter inability to accept a challenge to their views, their opinions, their facts is countless.  They all too frequently end with name-calling and frustration on both sides.

I’ll admit that part of this is on me.  I think.  Back in my college days and on the 24th Street Exchange, those discussions were built upon a foundation we all shared.  There was a generally accepted view of things, of the history, and of the principles that mattered. Even if we disagreed on solutions, we at least were able to agree on the basic facts that existed in our world at the time.  Now, people can’t even agree on the facts and I grow increasingly frustrated by this.

I’ll give you an example.  There is a website called Infowars.  It is run by a guy by the name of Alex Jones.  He believes that Sandy Hook was a false flag event that involved the use of actors.  People who believe Mr. Jones have said some of the most vile things you can imagine to the families who lost their children in that massacre.  And they don’t stop.  It just keeps going on.  But Donald Trump has cited Alex Jones and others I have discussed politics with recently have referred to Infowars as their source of information.  Once they do that, I simply cannot go on.  How is it remotely possible to engage in civil discourse, an adult conversation, with people who believe that crap?

What I wish I could do is start a blog with a handful of other people who come from different parts of the political spectrum who would be interested in engaging in an on-going conversation about the issues that exist in our country.  I view it as being a mixed view blog modeled after PowerLine Blog, which has four authors who contribute to the blog — they’re all conservative though, so there’s no real mix of views on it.

I want to show that a conversation between the right and left, and the fuzzy middle, that is respectful and productive actually can take place.  Call me a dreamer.

I have ideas about a few people I’d like to invite to this blog, but what is missing is a conservative voice. Got any ideas?

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A friend recommended this book to me a couple of weeks ago.  She hesitated to do so because the content was … well, a little bit tough.  I immediately went to Amazon and ordered the book.  I crave intense subject matter in my books and movies.  She told me she cried during reading the book.  I told her I needed to feel that emotion reading a book again.  It’s been too long.  I looked forward to reading A Little Life.

From the book cover:

A Little Life follows four college classmates — broke, adrift, and buoyed with their friendship and ambition — as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma.  A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.

The book came.  I dove in.  It’s a big one at over 800 pages.  This is no small commitment, one made the harder by the fact that the first 120 pages are a complete mess.  At least that’s how I felt.  Absent my friend’s recommendation and the promise of intensity and human horror, I may have given up.  But it was close.  And somewhere between page 120 and page 150, the story started to click.  The narrative got a little cleaner, a little more straight forward, and it pulled me along.  It is one of those books that I needed to finish, that I couldn’t stop thinking about in the moments and hours when I wasn’t reading it.

This is not a story for the faint of heart.  As I wrote that last sentence, I thought of The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  The stories are completely different.  But they also are similar in the unstinting honesty in which they deal with absolutely brutal events.  The Road, with its simple, spare depiction of the fundamental horror of trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic word.  A Little Life, with an epic portrayal, that feels almost never-ending, of the horrors humans can inflict on others and the scars that sear themselves into the souls of the victims.

I cried at one point in the story.  Not when my friend did towards the end.  But early on, in a moment of unbridled happiness for Jude.

If you’re looking for something to read and do not have issues with searing, brutal depictions of what people do in abusive relationships (and I don’t want to share more because, well, you know, you have to discover the details by reading the book), I recommend A Little Life.  It’s a pretty stunning work.  I have this feeling Jude and the story of him and his friends will stay with me a long time and that I’ll come back and read this book every now and then.

This Speaks To Me

After college I moved to the beach and got a job delivering pizzas; my friend Peel moved to New York and dabbled in homelessness and then on to Portland, where he fell in with a group of shoplifters who returned what they stole for cash, used the cash for drugs, and slept on the street. […]

via Factotum (for Peel) — William Pearse | pinklightsabre

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