Category Archives: inspiration

The Nature of Our Better Angels

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I have friends and relatives that believe in angels.  Religious people who believe in the power of prayer and the love of God.  And I cannot say that I do not also believe.  But I also happen to believe that angels live among us.

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My Great Grandma Nellie Hinckley was, as far as I am concerned, an angel.  Born in the late 1800’s, she was a practical prairie farmer’s wife.  She knew how to make butter in a churn.  She knew how to treat bee stings and spider bites. She knew how to cook good, wholesome food that stuck to your ribs and kept you going until the next meal rolled around.  She knew how to cook on a wood-burning stove, and knew why you needed to keep corn cobs in a pile by the outhouse door.  Or, in the case of rich folks, why you needed to read the Sears catalog in the little room behind the cut-out crescent moon.

She also knew how to head a family.  She had seven kids and raised six of them up to adulthood.  She sent a son off to World War II.  She had nine grandchildren and more great grandchildren, of which I was one of the not-so-great ones, than I can even count on two hands and two feet, the toes of which I can’t always see.  Great great grandchildren were even greater.  Tell me you can’t believe she was a messenger from God, always knowing God’s will, and making the future happen with a steady hand, and eyes that brooked no nonsense from lie-telling boys.

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Mother Mendiola was an angel too.  I met her at my first school, Frank Newman Junior High in Cotulla, Texas.  She was the seventh grade Life Science teacher.  She had been a nun before becoming a teacher, and she was a single lady her whole life.  But she was a natural mother figure to the children in her classes.  She’s the one who taught me how to talk to fatherless boys, engage them in learning about things that excited them, and become a lifelong mentor to them, willing to help them with life’s problems even long after they had graduated from both junior high and high school.  She was not only a mother to students, but she nurtured other teachers as well.  She showed Alice and I how to talk to Hispanic kids even though we were both so white we almost glowed in the dark.  She went to bat for kids who got in trouble with the principal, and even those who sometimes got into trouble with the law.  She had a way of holding her hand out to kids and encouraging them to place their troubles in it.  She even helped pregnant young girls with wise counsel and a loving, accepting heart, even when they were seriously in the wrong.  When they talk about being an “advocate for kids” in educational conferences, they always make me picture her and her methods.  I can still see her in my mind’s eye with clenched fists on her hips and saying, “I am tired of it, and it will get better NOW!”  And it always got better.  Because she was an angel.  She had the power of the love of God behind her every action and motivation.  It still makes me weep to remember she is gone now.  She got her wings and flew on to other things a long time ago now.

Some people may call it a blasphemy for me to say that these people, no matter how good and critically important they were, could really be angels.  But I have to say it.  I have to believe it.  I know this because I saw them do these things, with my own two eyes, and how could they not be messengers from God?  I convinces me that I need to work at becoming an angel too.

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Contradictions

You know what a contradiction is, don’t you? It is whatever comes out of your wife’s mouth whenever you make a statement asserting that whatever you said is factually true. She will promptly and always explain to you how wrong you are… loudly… and in great detail. No matter if you happen to be provably right or not.

What’s that, you say? I’m wrong about that too? Of course, I am, dear. I only deserve the catfood cookies.

The fact is, if you raise your hand and give the teacher the correct answer often enough, you get a certain reputation amongst your classmates. Instead of continuing to call you, “dumbhead,” or “stupidhead,” or the simplified form of “caca-poo-poo-head” like they endearingly call everybody else, they begin calling you pejoratives like “Einstein,” or “Brainiac,” or “Supernerd, taah tah taaah!” And they begin pointing out in detail everything that is wrong about you. How you dress… how you talk… especially how you laugh. You have become the enemy. You must be contradicted.

“You are wrong, Mickey!”

“So, I get to be Dumbhead again?”

“No. you are still “Supernerd, taah tah taaah!” But you are wrong. We all think so, so that must be right.”

The truth is, Life itself is a contradiction. Considering the violence and hostility of the physical universe towards life, it is a miracle that anything at all is alive in the universe. The chaos of everything guarantees that if you are born into the miracle of life, then at some point, caused by a nearly infinite variety of possible aids to chaos, you will die. Order is whittled away into chaos. Civilizations fall eventually. Things die all the time.

But if all order must, by physical laws of the universe, be broken down into chaos, then, how is it that we have any order at all in the first place? Where does order come from? I’d give you a possible answer. But I would just be contradicted by the majority

Except for fundamentalist Christians who would say, “Let me think for a moment about why you are still wrong… and then I’ll tell you what I think the Bible says about why you are actually still wrong.”

One thing about being “only book-smart, but without common sense” that makes being contradicted all the time worth it, is that the more challenged the answers you come up with are, the more deeply you dig into them, and the more of a real-world understanding of why I am wrong about everything begins to make a bit more sense. Or not. Because I’m probably wrong in your estimation anyway.

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Softer Sunday Symbolism

Yesterday I was walking the dog when I was approached by a man and two women in the park. They were Jesus pushers. As a nominal Jehovah’s Witness, I am not supposed to have anything at all to do with such folks. They admired the little four-legged poop factory that I was walking. They listened patiently to the story of how we rescued her as a puppy in the middle of the street as cars zoomed past. They wanted to know what breed she was, and how we came to own her and love her. And then, they wanted to pray for me.

Jesus pushers! Just like the door-to-door work the Witnesses do, they want you to learn to pray their way and believe their truths.

I shared with them that I was a Christian Existentialist, and that could easily be interpreted as saying that I was an atheist who believes in God. And I admitted to them that I have a personal relationship with God and talk to him constantly. I admitted that in hard times I don’t merely rely on science for comfort. I do know what grace really means. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” says the Psalmist David. (The shepherd uses the rod to guide the flock and the shepherd’s crook to rescue the stranded and endangered one.)

It is not in me to turn away true believers, even if I cannot accept the tenets of their faith. I let the Witnesses down. But I am no more a Witness anymore than I am one of whatever flavor of fundamentalist Christian they are.

So, they prayed for me… my poor health, my financial difficulties, and my little dog too. Their prayers touched me. Though I believe they needed the prayers more than I did. They were proving their faith to their God after all.

My own faith, my own spirituality is fundamentally simpler than theirs.

I am a part of the universe, and the universe is all that is relevant, all that there is. The universe is God. And I know my place in the universe. It is as simple as that. When I die, I will still be a part of the universe. I don’t need to live forever. Death is not the end. But it is not the end because when you finish reading and close a book, the book does not cease to exist. Past, present, and future are all one. The book can be opened again.

I appreciate that they wanted to offer me “the good news” and give me comfort. But I don’t need the forgiveness of sins they offer. I have forgiven myself, just as I have forgiven all who have ever sinned against me. I am at peace. Life is good while I have it. I thanked them and wished them well.

And that’s what Sunday means to me.

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What’s the Real Reason?

What’s the real reason behind the choices I make as an artist? For instance, why didn’t I do this photo of the artwork over again when the wind warped the bottom left corner. That answer is simple. I was taking this picture with natural sunlight. And once the wind started messing up my pictures, it only got worse. This was the first and best of five attempts. And, while it doesn’t show up here, I did several photo-shop manipulations of this picture, including shrinking the girl’s head. The original was done from a couple of models I got consent from when I worked at a daycare center in Iowa City where I went to college. The boy was eight years old in the summer of 1980. The girl was six, but I used a photo of a girl I went to second grade with, so the head was also eight. They represent David Copperfield and Emily, Pegotty’s niece from the Dickens novel. I had to read the book for my Master’s Exam which I took instead of writing a thesis. The picture is about how I saw myself and my world in that timeless novel.

This picture won a blue ribbon in the art competition at the Wright County Fair in 1979. It is a colored-pencil cartoon situation right out of a Jay Ward, Dudley Do-Right cartoon. I used a picture from a Canadian travel ad for the Mountie. The Indian sidekick is a modified version of Little Beaver, Red Ryder’s sidekick. The villain and the girl were basically Snidely Whiplash and Nell from the Dudley Do-Right cartoons, but made to look slightly more realistic… but only very slightly.

Actually, I lied a bit about the blue ribbon. I got the purple Grand Champion ribbon for this picture. I had entered it solely because two years before I saw how easy it would be to win a purple ribbon looking at the pictures that won it, and I wanted to win the purple ribbon. Sorry I lied, but the real reason for this picture is that I wanted to win that ribbon.

This painting, from the 1990s, was an attempt to make sofa art to sell in my sister-in-law’s home décor store. So, the real reason for this painting’s existence is greed. But since I ended up putting so many hours into it that I couldn’t justify selling it for twenty dollars in a store that went out of business because nobody ever shopped there, I got far more value out of it by keeping it and enjoying it myself. It was inspired by numerous paintings of Native Americans done by white people on display in Love’s Travel Stops across Texas in the 1990s.

This picture, “That Night in Saqqara,” is about youth versus age, thinking about death, immortality, and being afraid of any or all of it. The model for the Mummy is Boris Karloff who was so nice to pose for a production still from his movie that I could draw him long after he was actually dead. The boy was a seventh-grader in 1983 who did not actually pose for this without a shirt on or with an actual Ankh life-symbol around his neck. The Pharaoh in the tomb-mural in the background was from National Geographic Magazine, and I think was supposed to be Tutankhamun, but I could be wrong. I am old and I mix up lots of things I once clearly knew. That’s what mummified brains have to be like, apparently.

The reason I had to create this artwork was because I was increasingly falling victim to illness, especially arthritis, and I was constantly thinking about what it would be like to die alone, entombed in a two-bedroom apartment on North Stewart Street in Cotulla, Texas. This was well before I met and married my wife, who is now my wife of 25 years.

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Thinking Differently

Buckminster Fuller is an intellectual hero of mine.  As he said in the video, if you bothered to watch it, “I was told I had to get a job and make money, but would you rather be making money, or making sense?”  Bucky was always a little bit to the left of center, and basically in the farthest corner of the outfield.  That’s why we depend so much on him in times like these when the ball is being hit to the warning track.  (I know the world doesn’t really work on baseball metaphors any more, but my life has always been about metaphors from 1964 with the St. Louis Cardinals playing and beating the New York Yankees.  Mantle was on their side, but Maris was playing for us.)  You have to live in the world that fits into your own mental map of reality.  And if you’ve been whacked on the side of the head one too many times… it changes the way you think.  You begin to think differently.  

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If you don’t know who Bucky is, as you probably don’t because he revolutionized the world in the 60’s and died in the 1980’s,  Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller was an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, and inventor.  He is credited with the invention of the Geodesic Dome.  But he was so much more than that.  He wanted to build things that made better sense, in a practical sort of way, than the way we actually do them.  He built geodesic homes because he felt a home should maximize space and use of materials and minimize costs and amounts of materials as well as environmental impacts.  He is the one who popularized the notion of “Spaceship Earth”.  He wrote and published more than thirty books, and gave us a variety of truly wise insights.  He promoted the concept of synergy.  He said, “Don’t fight forces, use them.”  He also pointed out, “Ninety per cent of who you are is invisible and untouchable.”  He was a man full of quotes useful for internet memes.

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So, lets consider an example from the mixed up mind of Mickey;

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Here are three dolls from the Planet of the Apes part of my doll collection. (Two different movies are represented here, the 1968 original, and the Tim Burton 2001 remake.)

The world we now live in is increasingly like the movie, The Planet of the Apes.  In that film the world the astronauts set down upon is ruled by talking apes.  The human beings in that film are relegated to the fields and forests where they are no more than speechless animals.  Much like the Republican Party and the wealthy ruling elite of this day and age, the apes control everything and, led by Dr. Zaius (seen on the far right) reject science and evidence as a way to explain things.  They rely on the rules set down by the Lawgiver in much the same way that modern day Republicans swear by the U.S. Constitution to determine the truth of all things.

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Here we see the apes capturing and enslaving Marky Mark… er… Mark Wahlberg rather than Chuck Heston from the original movie.

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In the original set of movies, Charleton Heston, playing the astronaut Taylor, discovers that through hatred and warring, the human beings of Earth have bombed themselves back into the stone age and enabled the evolved apes to take over.  How does Mr. Heston deal with that problem?  He discovers an old doomsday device and blows up the world.  Chuck Heston has always approved Second Amendment solutions to modern problems, so it is no wonder that he lays waste to everything, the good and the bad.  I think we can see that old orangutan-man, Donald Trump doing exactly the same things now as he runs for President, or Great Ape, or whatever…

In both the previous series, and the current remake, salvation from the rule of the monkey people comes in the form of a leader among the apes.  Caesar, whether he be played by Roddy MacDowell or by Andy Serkis, is able to solve the problems of apes and men by reaching out to those of the other species, assigning them value, and ultimately doing what helps everyone to survive and live together.  Diversity is power and provides a workable solution through cooperation.  The forces of hatred and fear are the things that must be overcome and threaten the existence of everyone.  Donald Trump needs to learn from the lesson of The Planet of the Apes, and be less like General Ursus.   We need Bernie Sanders to embrace the role of Caesar and show us how we can get along with our Muslim brothers… after all, they are more like us than the apes are, and Caesar builds bridges between apes and men.

So, there you have it, my attempt to build a new model based on an old movie… or on the remake… whichever you prefer.  And if that doesn’t work, well, there’s always…

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Other Folks’ Artwork

There are many, many things I appreciate about other people’s artwork. It is not all a matter of envy or a desire to copy what they’ve done, stealing their techniques and insights for myself, though there is some of that. Look at the patterns Hergé uses to portray fish and undersea plants. I have shamelessly copied both. But it is more than just pen-and-ink burglary.

I like to be dazzled. I look for things other artists have done that pluck out sweet-sad melodies on the heartstrings of my of my artistically saturated soul. I look for things like the color blue in the art of Maxfield Parrish.

I love the mesmerizing surrealism of Salvador Dali.

I am fascinated by William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s ability to create photo-realistic and creamy-perfect nudes.

Basil Wolverton’s comic grotesqueries leave me stunned but laughing.

The dramatic lighting effects employed by Greg Hildebrandt slay me with beauty. (Though not literally. I am not bleeding and dying from looking at this picture, merely metaphorically cut to the heart.)

I even study closely movie-poster portraits like Bogart and Bergman in this Casablanca classic poster.

I could show you so many more art pieces that I dearly love to look at. But I will end with a very special artist.

This is the work of my daughter, Mina “the Princess” Beyer. Remember that name. She’s better than I am.

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You Are Not Alone

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Losing the pool this summer was a humbling experience.  I had repaired it before and got it working properly again, so I knew in my heart I was capable of salvaging it.  But everyone was against me.  The city was convinced that I was a deadbeat letting it slide and simply lying about it taking a long time because illness and financial reversals were slowing me down.  My family was against me because they no longer had any confidence that I could still do it, and they feared me killing myself in the attempt.  And then Bank of America won their lawsuit and prevented me from paying for the effort, thoroughly punishing me for the mistaken notion that I had any right to get myself out of medical debt even with the help of a lawyer.  And the electrical problems, which I could not correct myself, put the pool restoration out of reach.  I failed to do what I knew in my heart I was capable of.  I failed.  I was the only one who believed I could do it, and I only managed to prove everybody else right.

But Michael Jackson’s somewhat creepy nudie video with the weird Maxfield Parrish parody in it is actually a theme song for what I learned about myself.  I was alone in the pool-restoration struggle.  But I am not alone in life.  I will never be alone, even if somehow I ended up the last person alive on the planet.  Because we are all connected.  We are all a part of one thing.  We are not alone, even when we are.

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I think I learned that best from my Grandmother, Mary A. Beyer.  She was a rock-solid believer in Jesus through the pragmatic Midwestern arm of the Methodist Church.  She also gradually became an isolated, lonely individual, living by herself in Mason City, Iowa.  Grandpa Beyer died in his fifties, when I was about ten.  Great Grandpa Raymond, who lived with them for as long as I can remember, passed away a few years later.  But she was never really alone.  Jesus Christ was a real person to her.  She read her Bible and her weekly copies of the Methodist publication, The Upper Room, constantly.  And she was always a central part of our lives.  Christmases at Grandma Beyer’s place are deeply woven into the fabric of my memory.  The bubble lights on the Christmas tree, the carefully saved and re-used wrapping paper from the 1940’s, the hot cocoa, and Christmas specials on her RCA color TV…  I still draw strength and love from those things, and from her faith, even after almost twenty years pretending Christmas was evil as a Jehovah’s Witness.  Simple truth and faith shared are some of those essential things that bind us together even though they are invisible to the eye.   My Grandma Beyer is still with me even when I am fighting off the pool harpies all by myself because the things she taught me and the love she had for me still live in me, still affect who I am and how I act and what I truly believe in.

I am not alone.

And you aren’t either.  I am here for you.  I value you as human being.  God tells me I should, even though God is probably not real, and I believe Him, even though I am a fool who probably really doesn’t know anything  And it is true even if I do not know you and never met you.  Heck, you may be reading this after I am long dead.  And it is still true.  Because we have shared life on this planet together.  We are both humans.  We both think and feel and read and believe stuff.  And I love you.  Because my Grandma taught me that I should, just as someone, somewhere in your life taught you.

You are not alone.

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Wake Up Sunday Morning!

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As weekly rituals go, one of the most important ones came every Sunday morning when I was a kid.  My parents were 50’s people.  By that I mean they were teenagers and young adults during the post war boom of the 1950’s when everything seemed hopeful and bright and alive with wonderful possibilities.  As a kid in the 1960’s the Sunday morning routine was this;

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  • Wake up grouchy from staying up too late to sneak a look at the late-night monster movie on Saturday.
  • Read the funny papers.
  • Learn life lessons from Family Circus, Dagwood Bumstead, Pogo, Lil’ Abner, and Steve Canyon.
  • Eat scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.
  • Complain about having to go to church and Sunday school.
  • Go to Sunday School and church at the Methodist Church in Rowan, Iowa.
  • Complain about having to go to church every Sunday on the way home from church.
  • Pray over Sunday dinner and be really, actually thankful for all the positive good things in life.

Obviously the most important thing in that routine was complaining, because I listed it twice.  But when it got down to it, we were thankful for all the good things about life.  We were positive people.  We sometimes listened to Norman Vincent Peale on the radio.  We knew we ought to be positive and thankful and love goodness and be kind.

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Somewhere along the way, though, the world forgot the life lessons of Family Circus.

Somehow we managed to screw things up.

Environmental scientists like Paul Ehrlich, who wrote The Population Bomb, warned us that the world could soon be ending.  And we ignored them.

Richard Nixon taught us not to trust politicians any more.

We stopped believing in things like the wholesome goodness of scrambled eggs.

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We let corruption in our government and inequality in the economic sphere become the norm.  The greedy people who were cynical and had no empathy for the rest of us took over.  That is how we ended up with someone like Donald Trump.  Racism, fear, and complaining now rule the emotional landscape in America and most of the world.

So, what is the answer?  What do we do?

Well, The Family Circus is still out there.  We can learn from it, laugh a little, and apply some of those life lessons.  Especially this one;

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That Bluebird of Happiness

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I often go back and re-read old posts, particularly when I discover that someone else has read them.  It is amazing to me how differently I perceive things from when I actually wrote the post.  As you write, squeezing huge, boulder-sized portions of hot, magma-like burning ideas and passions out through writing orifices not nearly big enough to accommodate, you usually hate what you wrote and are still writhing in pain from the creation of it as you try to edit it, trim it and brush its unruly hair.  (How’s that for a mixed metaphor to make you cringe?)  But given time and distance, you can really appreciate what you wrote more than ever before.  Things that you thought were the stupidest idea a man ever put in words suddenly have the power to make you laugh, or make you cry.  You are able to feel the things the writing was intended to make you feel.  You begin to think things like, “Maybe you are not the worst writer that ever lived, and maybe that’s not why nobody ever reads your books.”  But then, of course, your sister reads the post and tells you that you write like a really old, really crabby, really ancient old man.  And you use the word “really” too much too.  I know I deserve that, Sis.  Especially the “really” part.

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Here’s a post that I reread and liked today about Bob Ross.

This is the thing about happiness;  It is elusive and rare as a real-life blue bird. But capturing it for a moment is not impossible.  And as long as you don’t try to salt its tail and keep it prisoner, you can encourage it to sing for you.  (Much better metaphor this time, don’t you think?)  vintage-coca-cola-ad-1950s-1960s-clownb

When I am accused of being gloomy, old, and boring, I can happily admit it and make it into something funny.  I am something of a conspiracy nut, but not so serious that I believe all my own assertions.  For those people who took offense at this conspiracy theory of mine; Coca-Cola Mind Control, I would like to point out that “Hey, I was joking.  I actually like clowns.”  Even though there is a serious side to everything and there can’t be laughter without some tears, I am basically happy with the way things are.

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I started listening to “Live Happy Radio” on Sunday mornings on KLUV in Dallas.  They point out on their program of endlessly droning happy-talk that happiness is something that you can work at.  Like humor writing in blogs, it takes practice and practice and time.  They even asked me to share the word about their happy magazine and products, so I am doing exactly that right here.  Sometimes you simply have to put your cynicism in a jar on the shelf next to the lock box where you keep depression and self-loathing.  So you can find their Live-Happy folderol right here.

So I am bird-watching again with an eye out for the bluebird.  You know the one.  It is out there somewhere.  And I need to hear that song one more time.

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How It Should Be… According to Mickey

A 1951 Schwinn Spitfire like mine in 1963 when the world was golden.

My bicycle was red. It was red and looked just like the ones that Captain Kangaroo had in his commercials that we watched on a black-and-white TV every day before we walked or rode our bicycle to school, across town a whole long seven blocks away. After school I could ride it out a whole mile and a half to Jack’s farm with Bobby and Richard and Mark the preacher’s kid to go skinny dipping in the cold creek in Jack’s South pasture. Jack was younger than any of us except Bobby. And it was a golden age.

Spiderman comic books and Avengers comic books cost twelve cents to own, but they were forbidden. And as much as we sneaked them and passed them around until they fell apart, usually in Bobby’s hands, we never knew that Dr. Wertham had gone to Congress to make our parents believe that comic books would make us gay and violent. He was a psychiatrist who wrote a book, so even if you didn’t believe him, you had to worry about such things.

I believed in Santa Claus until 1967. And after I found out, I only despaired a tiny little bit, because I began to understand you have to grow up. And adults can lie to you, even if they don’t do it to be mean. And the world is a hard place. And the golden age ended in November of 1963 when JFK was assassinated.

In June of 1968 I rode my bicycle out to the Bingham Park woods, Once there, I took off all my clothes and put them in the bicycle basket, and then I rode up and down the walking paths through the trees with nothing between me and God but my skin. I had a serious think about how life should be. All the while I was terrified that someone might see me. I was naked and vulnerable. A mere two years before that I had been sexually assaulted and was terrified of older boys, especially when I was naked and vulnerable. But I was a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson. They were repeated World Series winners. And they beat the Yankees in the series in 1964. And more important than that, cardinals were the little red songbirds who never flew away when the winter came. You don’t give up in the face of hardship. You face the trouble. No matter how deep the snow may pile up.

And in 1969, the first man to walk on the moon showed that a Star Trek world was in reach of mankind. Star Trek was on every afternoon after school. I watched a lot of those episodes at Verner’s house on his family’s black-and-white TV. The Klingons were always bested or beaten because the crew of the Enterprise outsmarted them. You can solve the problems of the universe with science. I know this because of all the times Mr. Spock proved it to me not just by telling me so, but by showing me how you do it. And what you can achieve is greatly enhanced if you work together like Spock and Kirk and Bones… and sometimes Scotty always did.

So, what is the way it should be? What did Mickey decide while naked in the forest like a Dakota Sioux shaman on a spirit-quest?

JFK’s 104th birthday was on May 29th. Dr. Wertham has been dead for 40 years. Bob Gibson was 85 when he passed away in October of last year. Captain Kirk turned 90 in March of this year.

The Golden age is long gone. There is no single set of rules that can clearly establish how it should be now. But I like those ideas of how it should be that I established for myself while naked on a Schwinn Spitfire in a forest long ago.

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