Friday, August 29, 2014

"Suicide - An Opposing (Meaning A Not Entirely Negative) Perspective"

Do you want people to hate you?


Then why are you writing this?

Because nobody else did. 

(As far as I know.)

These thoughts fluttered to mind following the surprisingly affecting Robin Williams announcement.  They have been floating around for some time.  But before my blog, I had no opportunity to communicate them, and before the announcement, no compelling impulse to take the risk.

Understating for no reason beyond emotional squeamishness, suicide is a serious matter.  I read recently that, annually, thirty thousand people in this country take their own lives.  For one perspective, that’s less than one tenth of one percent.  From another, it’s a small city.

Setting aside the permanency of the decision – there is no “do-over” for “dead” – and the tragic devastation it leaves behind, what comes to mind is that both religion and the law declare suicide a punishable offense.  What the exact legal punishment is, I have never bothered to investigate.  (There are many jokes that come to mind, but I am not entirely in the mood.  Okay, one.  “Here’s your new cellmate.”  “What’s he in for?”  “Suicide.”  “Well at least he’ll be quiet.”)

What confuses me is why these legal and theistical proscriptions exist against an action the overwhelming majority of us are not seriously contemplating?  Usually laws and biblical codes are constructed to keep people from engaging in actions they might otherwise – meaning barring those obstacles – consider.

“I’m going to kill that person.”

RELIGION:  "You'll burn in hell!"

LAW:  “You will be injected with a pharmaceutical cocktail that has been known to be agonizingly ineffective.”

“Okay then I won’t.”

You don’t want those things to happen to you, so you decide not to kill.  (Except for those actual killers willing to roll the dice on both the botched cocktail and hell.)

Most people – I mean, we have our darker interludes – but an overwhelming 99.99 per cent of us would consider self-absentification totally unimaginable.  And not just we would not knock ourselves off, we cannot imagine any one else knocking themselves off either.

Look how many reasons it took to be at least partially comfortable with what happened.

Reasons Robin Williams Committed Suicide:

“He had money problems.”

“He had addiction issues.”

“He was bipolar.”

“His career was slowing down.”

“He was suffering post-heart surgery depression.”

“He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.”

Six explanations.  (There may have been others I have not heard about.)  Okay.  Six reasons, piling on, to make him determine that “This is my stop.” 

Six is a lot of reasons.  I mean, it’s not one reason.  One reason is “No way, Jose.”  But six reasons – we pretty much almost get it.  Six reasons is understandable, right?


There is therapy. 

There are drugs.

There is talking to a friend.

There is looking at your kids. 

There is speaking to a religious person.

There is individual prayer.

There is things may look bad today, but (SUNG BRASSILLY) “The sun will come out… tomorrow…”

With all those available alternatives…

How could he do that? 

How can anyone do that?  (Though, contradictorily, as mentioned, there are religious laws and civil proscriptions indicating an enthusiasm that is required to be thwarted.  Making suicide a punishable offense seemingly very few people are considering.  And yet, the authorities seem worried about it.)

Six reason to help explain why Robin Williams made such an unimaginable decision.

Let me humbly propose a seventh.  Which I have not heard mentioned, perhaps because in the most optimistic country on earth we find it too unfathomable to possibly contemplate. 

We have heard:

Suicide is a crime.

Suicide is a sin.

Suicide is an illness.

Suicide is a mistake.

But what about – just as a consideration, to complete the list though as an outside possibility especially in a liberty-revering country like our own…

Suicide is a


Freely selected




But personally decided upon…


They wanted to go and took such actions that would assure that they would.

Excruciatingly sad – Yes.

But why unimaginable?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Double Tripper"

A minnow of an adventure.  But even a minnow deserves its moment in the sun…

“I think I’ll check out the pizza at 900 Degrees.”

“That’s up on Wilshire.”


“Are you going to drive there?”

“No, I think I’ll walk.”

And so it began. 

Dr. M was working late that night, so my dinner plans would be a solo affair.  I decided to check out this newly opened pizza restaurant whose “Claim to Fame” is hellaciously hot ovens.  But first, I wanted to make sure that they offered the alternative of a gluten free crust, as I have been trying to cut down on my wheat intake, for health reasons, and to avoid the unflattering side effect of “Wheat Belly.”

I go to the computer and I Google900 Degrees Pizza Santa Monica.”  My first surprise is that the restaurant is not called 900 Degrees, it’s called 800 Degrees, which, due to my recollectional mistake, now sounds comparatively less impressive. 

What was impressive to me was that Google knew immediately what I meant and took me directly to the 800 Degrees website.  What if I’d typed in 300 Degrees, I wondered.  Would it still have taken me there?

GOOGLE SPOKESPERSON:  “Yes.  We have a six hundred degree ‘Margin for Error’.”

At the website, I discover what I am looking for.  800 Degrees does indeed offer gluten free pizzas.

The walk to 800 Degrees is about a mile point three or so in distance.  I know that because, in a car once, I had measured the span to the equidistant P.F. Chang’s, where I have often walked to meet my friend Paul for dinner.  (Paul introduced me to Scotch there, and after having one glass of “Macallan’s 12” with dinner, I prefer to walk home than to drive home “all likkered up.”)

Before leaving home, I pay particular attention to bring along my new, tortoise shell sunglasses case.  The added operation of placing them into the case seems to help me remember not to leave my sunglasses places. 

My sunglasses case now comfortably secured in my pocket, I head out the door, and set off on my walk.  Which will take about half an hour.

Ten minutes along, my route brings me to the Santa Monica courthouse where I had recently been called for Jury Duty but had not been required to serve.  I wondered, when I passed by, if I would feel any retroactive regrets over missing out on a possibly interesting and certainly character-building opportunity.

It turns out, not a single one.  If I felt anything, it was relief. 

I continue on walking.  Feeling the tiniest guilt for feeling no regrets whatsoever.

Further along the walk, I arrive at the currently-under-construction Laemmle Fourplex, and find the sidewalk ahead entirely blocked off.  I veer towards the street, but the heavy traffic makes it precarious to pass on the right.  I then turn in the opposite direction, only to discover that the “under construction” partition goes all the way to a fence, making passage also impossible on the left.  I feel totally stymied as to how to proceed. 

Then a helpful passerby points to a clearly marked “Detour” directly in front of me that – till he pointed it out – had gone entirely unnoticed.  I decide to take that.  But not before thanking the passerby, adding that without his thoughtful intervention, “I’d have been out here for a long time.”

Finally – as I had calculated – half an hour from my departure, I stand in front of the 800 Degrees pizza restaurant, corner of Wilshire and Second Street.  I go in and, since there is no host or hostess – it is not that kind of a restaurant – I find a quiet table, planning to sit, eat gluten free pizza and read a book.

After removing my sunglasses, I reach into my pocket for my tortoise shell case.  While rummaging around in there, and then hastily in my other pockets as well, I am jolted by a shocking realization.

I have forgotten my wallet.

One thing I know about restaurants is that they like it when you pay.  In fact they insist upon it.  And I didn’t have any money. 

Venn Diagram: 

“All restaurants require payment.” 

“I had nothing to pay with.” 

“No gluten free pizza for me.”

Instantly panicked, I consider my strategical options. 

Option Number One:  Tell them ‘Up Front’ that I have forgotten my wallet, and ask if they would allow me to go home after dinner and return later with the money.

No.  It is not in my character to solicit such unusual concessions.

Option Number Two:  Order first.  Then tell the cashier – you have to pay before receiving your food – that I had forgotten my wallet and ask if they would allow me to go home after dinner and return later with the money.

No.  That option takes even more chutzpah (brazenness) than “Option Number One.”

Option Number Three:  Call a nearby friend and ask them if they will drive over and bail me out, and I will pay them back later.

No.  Setting aside the constricted “nearby friend pool” issue – and you can take out “nearby” and it would still be constricted – I go by what you might call an inversion of “The Golden Rule” – “Do not inconvenience others in any way that you would not want others to inconvenience you.”  Also, I did not have a phone.

Option Number Four:  Get up from the table, go out of the restaurant and walk all the way back home, retrieve the wallet, then get into a car and drive back to the restaurant and have dinner.

Which is exactly what I did. 


“I went to that pizza place”, I reported.

“Did you walk, or did you drive?’

“Both", I replied. 

And then I told her the story.

Postscript:  How was the gluten free pizza?  There is a place near our house called Wildflour whose gluten free pizza is crispier and tastier.  The only drawback is that Wildflour recently closed down. 

That’s why I was trying the new place.  Unfortunately, the pizza at 800 Degrees arrived egregiously undercooked. 

It appears they could have benefitted from that extra hundred degrees. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Jury Duty D-Day II"

I go back to the courthouse, a “Shore Leave” beneficiary returning to “The Front.”  It might have been better if I had not left at all.  Re-entering the “War Zone” triggers my original anxieties.  It was like going to Jury Duty twice.    

(NOTE:  My apologies to anyone who has endured, not the metaphorical, but the actual experience.  I am analogizing for dramatic effect.  But do not doubt that I am cognizant of the difference.  I am.  And given the option, I would overwhelmingly embrace “Jury Duty.”)

“Going AWOL” was not a consideration.  Not meaning the thought did not, at least peripherally, cross my mind.  Again, pursuing this recognizedly inapt analogy, the rest of the Jury Pool members were now my comrades.  I went back, to a substantial degree, for them.  Not to bolster our defenses – we were not facing an imminent attack.  It was that somehow their opinion of me was important.  I did not want them to think poorly of me.  (“Earlo, they’re strangers!  “I know it’s crazy, but still.”)

I walk into the building, I pass through “Security” (Man!  All those Law & Order episodes where somebody ran amok in the courtroom, drew a gun and started blasting away?  I mean, was there no courtroom security at all before 9/11?)

I take the elevator to the Third Floor Assembly Room.  (I am generally a “Stairs Person” which, unlike in New York, is doable in Los Angeles, where impending earthquake apprehensions keep the building structures relatively short.  But with the absence of Third Floor stair access, I am required to take the elevator, trying gamely not to freak out.  It helped that there was nobody else on the elevator.  At worst, I would embarrass myself in front of the disembodied “Emergency Button Response Voice.”)

I re-enter the Assembly Room, wondering if I should check back in – less, I immediately realize, for attendance recording purposes than for personal self-aggrandizement – “Oh, good!  You came back!”

Instead, I simply proceed out to the patio, take my book out of my Major Dad knapsack (a First Season show holiday present) , and I get back to my reading.

At this point, the morning “scuttlebutt” aside, I expect to be called to serve on the court’s pre-announced second trial’s jury panel.  The prevailing “butterflies” instantly resurface.  It was then, however, I got my first inkling that all might fortuitously be well.

It is announced that the jury pool members who need Parking Validations should proceed immediately to the check-in desk, because – and here was the fishy part – they were turning off the “Validation Machine” for the rest of the day. 

“Say, what?

We were assured that this instruction had nothing to do with our continuing Jury Duty responsibilities, but I could not help thinking that it did.  Attending to “Parking Validation” appeared like a “Finishing Off” activity.  Similar to them saying, “Make sure you have all your personal belongings when you leave.  We’re not saying you are leaving now.  This is simply a reminder.”  To my ear, something about that instruction that seemed conspicuously “off.”

And it turned out, I was correct.

Ten minutes later, at about two twenty-five P.M., we were informed that our jury service had been completed, and we were officially released.

With apologies once again for the combat analogy – it was like the church bells were pealing all over San Christobel.  (Or wherever.)  We were permanently out of “Harm’s Way”, free to return to the waiting arms of our loved ones.


What was the fuss about?  And why was it so upsetting to me? 

I have, I am certain, mentioned this before.  “A rich and fertile imagination” comes with a recognizable downside.  Analogically constructed, every dentist appointment is accompanied by images of a jackhammer decimating your teeth. 

As with dentist, so with Jury Duty.  “Worst Case Scenarios” inevitably pop to mind.

MENACING CONVICTEE:  I’ll get you when I get out!”

More reasonable – at least to this fevered sensibility – is the concern that, feeling congenitally less capable that the Average Bear – in this case, the average juror – concerning real situations – “real” meaning situations you would prefer to avoid but can't – I have a dread of exposing my inadequacies before an assemblage of fellow citizens.

What if we see things differently?  What if I am ambivalized by the evidence and simply unable to decide?  What if some of the juror members seem stubbornly inflexible, and ignorantly wrong, and, okay I’ll say it – just plain stupid? 

How will I deal with people who disagree with me? – What if I become frustratingly tongue-tied and suddenly inarticulate?  What if we can’t come to a unanimous decision and we are sent back for further deliberation, and it gets even more contentious, and we “hang”, and the judge berates us for wasting the court’s time?  (And I know it’s my fault.)

To me, these seem more “legitimate concerns” than hyper-ventilated “What if’s?”  But I’m me.  And I have over-dramatized before. 

Confession:  I feel inadequate as a “Regular Person.”  In situations where “Regular Person” behavior is required, I feel trepidatiously “not up to the challenge.”  I may mask my concerns with an indignant sense of “entitlement” – “How dare they interrupt my habitual routine with Jury Duty!”  But my real fear is, “I can’t handle it.”  (Is this too personal?  It feels somewhat uncomfortable, but I go where the stories take me.)

On the other hand, a “‘Regular Person’ sensibility” costs me six – I think – interesting stories. 

“How was Jury Duty?”

“I went.  But they didn’t call me?”

How fascinating is that?

It is possible I might have enjoyed Jury Duty.  I watch trials when I go to England.  I enjoy courtroom dramas on TV.  Who knows?  The reasonable part of me might have relished the opportunity to challenge myself, sifting thoughtfully through the evidence, arguing my views persuasively during deliberation.  It’s possible.  As I’ve been told for a lifetime about strange foods that I have summarily rejected,  “How do you know until you’ve tried it?”

Was the fuss necessary?  I was provided no reality to compare it with.  It probably wasn’t.  But being dismissed without serving, I never actually found out.

Maybe next time I can approach the call to Jury Duty with a more equanimitous demeanor.

But, knowing me,

I probably won’t.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Jury Duty D-Day"

August 6, 2014.

I wake up at four twenty-three A.M.

I wanted to get up at six for my eight o’clock appearance at the Santa Monica courthouse, but well… I have this CD clock radio that is currently set for six-thirty, and I do not know how to change it.  (Even though I was the one who originally set it for six-thirty.  The lesson being that with machines, if my involvement with their operations is not ongoing, I immediately forget how they work.  It’s like former acquaintances who reappears and you can no longer remember their names. I stare blankly at the acquaintances.  I stare blankly at the clock radio.) 

So I woke up at four twenty-three to be sure I’d be awake at six, instead of when the alarm went off, which was – and apparently always will be – six-thirty.  (By the way, my CD “Wake-Up” music is the iconic late 60’s theme song from Hockey Night In Canada.  It’s like Foster Hewitt, waking me up.  A reference that will be lost on virtually everyone who is reading this.)

I meditate.  I shower.  I get dressed.  I eat breakfast and read the paper.

Everything’s normal.  Except, when I’m finished my habitual routine,

I have Jury Duty.

I leave the house as seven-thirty for my ten-minute walk to the courthouse for my eight o’clock appointment, figuring I’ll be at the head of the line to get in when the courthouse doors open.  I show up…

And there are a hundred people in front of me, all, apparently, with a similar idea.

I get in, I go through “Security”, I take the elevator to the Third Floor “Jury Assembly Room.”  My preference is always the stairs, but there is a sign indicating there aren't any, making me wonder how claustrophobics like myself get to the Third Floor. 

“We hoist them up through the window.” 

There is probably another way they deal with that.

I arrive at the “Jury Assembly Room” I check in, and I immediately head for the Men’s Room.  And not for the last time.  My “Anxiety-Bladder-Connection” is such that I make five subsequent visits that morning.

We are invited to listen to an explanatory audiotape, which is incongruously offered with what sounds distinctly like an Hawaiian musical accompaniment, all muffled drums and slack-key guitar. 

The audiotape’s message is that Jury Duty is rewarding and satisfying.  We are reassured that, as long as you can understand English, Jury Duty service is beyond nobody’s capacity.  No particular legal training is necessary.  A successful Jury Duty experience is primarily a matter of everyday common sense.

This reassurance does the opposite of reassuring me.  I really stink at everyday common sense.

The Jury Pool is then informed that there are two trials scheduled for that day.  A list of names is read off.  These people will form the Jury Panel for the first trial, which is about to begin.

The name “Earl Pomerantz” is not included in the list.  My sensitive bladder immediately calms down.

The first trial’s jury panel departs, leaving the rest of us, who will make up the jury panel for the second trial.  There may be a couple of “Lucky Duck” extras left over, but that is unlikely to be me.  I never win anything.  You know those games at the county fair or some such where they say, “Everybody’s a winner”? – I can barely win there! 

What they really ought to say is, “Everybody’s a winner…eventually.”  But there were times when it got late, and we had to go home.

The “Jury Assembly Room” is “meat locker” freezing.  I inquire about the sub-thermal temperature, and am informed that that’s because it’s summer.  Apparently, there is a thermostat for the “Jury Assembly Room.”  But it is calibrated in seasons.

There is, however, a patio off the side of the Assembly Room.  I go outside to warm up.  Such is the nature of Santa Monica Jury Duty – “‘Patio Friendly’, and two blocks from the ocean.”

I sit down outside, opening the book I had brought along for the expected wait.  “An entire day of enforced boredom”, observes a fellow Jury Pool candidate.  “Let’s hope so”, I laconically reply.

I hear the “scuttlebutt” that there may not actually be a second trial.  The information is electric, prison inmates hearing, “We’re getting turkey on Thanksgiving!”  I try not to get over-excited.  Random rumors can easily be wrong. 

Re-thinking things, it occurs to me that it might overall have been better to have been selected for the first Jury Panel, because if it turns out that there is a second trial scheduled later that day, it is unlikely to begin until the following day.  Meaning, for me, at least one extra day of Jury Duty!  

Count on me to spot the potential rain cloud in an ostensible silver lining.

Finally, it is announced that, since there will be no action until the afternoon at the earliest, we are temporarily dismissed, and instructed to report back and one-thirty.

I check my Swiss Army Pocket Watch, which I never use (that or any other watch) except on trips when I am required to be someplace at a specific time.  It says,“Ten-fifteen.” 

I could hardly believe it.  It felt like I had been there a year.

Down in the lobby, I catch sight of an institutional wall clock.  The clock reads:  Eleven-fifteen.”  It was then that I realized that the last time I used it, my Swiss Army Pocket Watch had been – and was still set – an hour behind. 

No wonder it felt so long.  I had been sitting there an hour longer than I thought.  Turns out, I had not gone to the Men’s Room six times in one hour; I had gone to the Men’s Room six times in two hours.  Making me half as nervous as I had previously believed.

After a quick restaurant lunch, I decided to go home for a while and rest.  It is there that I make a strategic mistake: 

I watch the concluding minutes of a Law & Order: SVU. 

It is one of my favorite episodes, in which a believed murdered Assistant District Attorney returns from “Witness Protection” to testify against her assailant.  An eight year-old boy who was shot by the same person also musters the moxie to come forward.

Why was my watching this a mistake?  Because, “What if the trial they put me on is like that one?” 



CONVICTED DANGEROUS DEFENDANT:  “Not now.  But I can find out!”

I do not mean to prolong the suspense here – SPOILER ALERT:  There actually isn’t any.  But this is getting overly long.  So with your permission, I shall conclude this gripping narrative tomorrow.