Shrinkucci's Ramblings


I was born at a very young age and...bud um boom...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pat Robertson's Procrustean Bed

In the "Better Late than Never" department, here are some thoughts about Pat Robertson, the transparently slick, multi-millionaire televangelist, who has again exposed himself for the hypocrite he is.

A few months ago, when the Dover, PA state's voters nixed teaching "Intelligent Design" side by side with evolution (a wise decision, since "Intelligent Design," a thinly disguised version of Creationism, is based on faith, not science, and thus has no place in the science classroom), Robertson went into a typical Fundamentalist right wing snit and said: (I paraphrase) "When a disaster strikes, these voters no longer have the right to ask God for help (since they rejected Intelligent Design) and so now they should ask Darwin for help."

This guy is so transparent--he is masquerading as a Christian but he is anything but. He is not accepting or forgiving of anyone who does not agree with him. Like most fundamentalists, he has no capacity to live with grey. He needs a black and white world and any ideas or beliefs that are "relative" frighten him to death.

Imagine the power and magnitude of the insecurity that drives his need to have only simplistic, "right-wrong" answers to life's unansweraable questions. He is like Procrustes, the innkeeper in Greek mythology, who bragged that he had a bed that fit anyone regardless of his size; but the way he achieved this was to either stretch the sleeper on the rack or chop the sleepers legs off to make him fit. Robertson, Procrustes-like, chops away or stretches any facts that do not fit his beliefs.

He does not accept science's demand that one needs to experiment with an open mind and that the findings of experiments give us a basic but still incomplete truth until new experiments extend and refine that truth. He approaches each of life's questions with a pre-conceived, biblical literalist driven answer and then confirms his belief by using a Procrustean approach and chopping away and ignoring all the data that indicates otherwise.

Examples? He needs to believe that the earth is only 5,000 years old because the bible says so, thus he ignores carbon dating. He needs to believe that everything in the bible is the literal truth and so he ignores the fact that the bible has been a political instrument that has been arbitrarily revised many times over the centuries to suit the politics and beliefs of whomever was ruling at the time.

It is a sad thing to see a supposed man of god acting in such a petulant and mean spirited way. The true Christian values of love, mercy, forgiveness and open-mindedness are lost on him. He is a chest thumping, holier than thou, judgmental, empire building little man. One only has to watch his TV show and observe him doing his sham "prayers" and making up stuff about literally hearing the prayers of "a woman out there with a bad heart who needs money" and then making his shameless pitch for bucks to accurately assess his act. He's really no more than a TV huckster with a slick line. It was predictable then, that when the smart folks in PA rejected the pseudo-Christian, pseudo-scientific line touted by him and his ilk, he would tantrum and give himself away. The inability to live with grey is his bete noir.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Non-Drumming Drummer

I recently went to visit with a kind-hearted friend of mine. He has a habit of letting assorted people stay at his big San Francisco home. His house is a haven for folks who are either down on their luck, traveling on a limited budget or are friends or friends-of-friends of any of his five children.

While there, I was introduced to a young man of about 20 who, in response to my self introduction, said in a surly voice: "I'm Bob. I'm on a walk-about, traveling the United States." We chatted a bit and then I asked him if he was a college student. He replied: "No, college is a waste of time. It's the safe route taken by frightened people. I'm an artist, a jazz musician." I asked him what instrument he played and he said: "I'm a jazz drummer." I told him that by co-incidence I was also a drummer and asked him who he had studied with and he said, with a strong note of defensiveness: "I didn't have to study with anyone, I learned on my own." Trying to be tactful, I said: "That's brave of you. I was unwilling to try and learn on my own. How is your playing coming? It must be difficult to find opportunities to practice and places to play while traveling around." Sneering, he said: "There is no need to practice. I do all of my learning by listening to jazz and imagining it all in my head. I said: "But, I assume you have learned the basic drum rudiments such as paradittles, flams, and the like?" He answered: "That's all old, corny stuff and absolutely unnecessary. I learn by imagining and picturing the drum set and playing it in my mind."

After asking more questions and suffering the insults that went with his answers, I discovered that this boy had never owned a practice pad, drum sticks or a set of drums and that he had no idea what music notation looked like. I was further shocked to learn that he had never once played with a band of any kind. I was not surprised to find, after further inquiry, that he was the only son of wealthy parents and was traveling on their money.

Given that he was a snotty kid and not very likeable, I decided to tease him a bit. I said: "So, let me get this straight; you have never practiced, you have never played on a set of drums, you have no idea how drum technique works, you have never trained your hands to play the instrument, you have never played with another musician or band, but you advertise yourself as a jazz drummer. How do you justify this?"

Raising his voice, he angrily said: "You're like all the old farts; you do everything by the book. I'm taking a free, unfettered approach to jazz drumming. I can sit in right now with the best jazz groups and play as well as anyone. I've learned everything I need to know by listening. You're a slave to an orthodox, stodgy, old fashioned approach to playing drums."

I watched his face closely, because it occurred to me that he might have been working a beautifully delivered put-on. But, sadly, it was no put-on. His self-delusion was real. At this point I decided that he was getting too worked up and that further pulling of his covers would only lead to unwanted and unnecessary tension in my friend's house; but his pathetic attempt to gain respect by way of false advertising got me to wondering. What kind of parenting or home life would bring about such an obvious feeling of inferiority and enable such a blatantly neurotic and self delusional defense?

A couple of scenarios come to mind. I would guess that he had very little success academically. Given that he was articulate during our exchange and had a good vocabulary, he was probably tagged with an early label of bright under-achiever. His teachers could see he was smart but they did not know how to get past his defenses. I imagine his parents, whenever he delivered his silly "I'm superior to those who have a work-ethic" rationalization in response to confrontations about not doing chores or homework, continually backed down and let him off the hook without any consequences.

The anger that he demonstrated during our little exchange leads me to think that he learned very early to bully one or both of his parents with the tried and true defense of the insecure--"The best defense is a good offense" ploy. That is, if he attacks first, they are set back on their heels and never get their point across. I can imagine that he had weak, guilt ridden parents who folded in the face of his attacks or accusations of unfairness; or perhaps they were pre-occupied and never thought enough about his woefully inadequate study habits to consider it a problem. I would further guess that he was given money in lieu of attention, time and training.

Of course, it could have been a different scenario. Perhaps he had overbearing, judgmental, high achieving parents who put up such high standards that he had to develop this defense in order to justify not reaching such a highly set bar. I remember a patient of mine once telling me that both of her parents had doctorates and that even if she went on to graduate school for a Ph.D. after getting her undergraduate degree, the best she could do was break even. When, at my suggestion, she told this to her parents they were shocked. They had always believed they were inspirations, not daunting roadblocks.

But, for whatever reason, Bob, the non-drumming drummer chose to make believe he had a professional jazz musician's skill. His knew that esteem and respect are tied to such skills but because he had never learned to put in the necessary hard work he had to resort to a silly, delusional rationalization.

It seems to me that the world is populated with all too many folks like this boy. He and the Paris Hiltons of this world seem to think that attention, regardless of how it is gained, is enough. The idea of working hard to learn something worthwhile; the idea of delayed gratification; the idea that one's work is an extension of one's heart and soul; all of these notions are outside their awareness.

Once, while riding on a plane, I sat next to a wise man. We were discussing the challenges that each generation of American immigrants has faced during the last 100 years. He shared a pertinent old Yiddish saying: "My grandfather was a laborer so my father could be a businessman so I could be a professional so my child can be a poet." We can add that if the businessman or professional does not teach a value system that includes a work ethic and the value of delayed gratification, the happy chain of generational events in the saying breaks down. In this same vein, I once heard a definition of happiness: "Happiness is the awareness of my own personal growth." Bob the non-drumming drummer, until he learns to put in the practice, will never be marching to a real and satisfying beat.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Great Frank versus Perry Moral Dilemma

I grew up in an extended Italian family. My father and his five brothers were third generation Italian-Americans but were still tied closely to their Italian roots, having been raised for the most part by their maternal grandparents, my Great-Grandpa and Grandma DiToro, who were first generation immigrants. As a result, they admired and were proud of all things Italian, not the least of which were successful Italian entertainers.

To a man, my dad and uncles all loved and admired Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. For those of you who may not know about Perry Como, he was a crooner popular at the same time as Sinatra but whose value system was the polar opposite. Perry had first been a full time barber, Frank had never worked a day job. Perry loved his wife and was, the story goes, always true to her. Frank loved his wives and was never true to them. Perry was married once and stayed married until death did them part. Frank was married a number of times and was always looking over his current wife's shoulder. Perry was relaxed and a homebody, Frank was career driven and usually on the road and partying. Perry was content singing and doing his TV show and did not make movies. Frank sang and was a television and movie star as well as an big time Las Vegas intertainer. Perry was squeaky clean, went to church, hung with his family and had golf scores in the low seventies. Frank went to bars, was tied to the mafia, hung with the Rat pack and had seduction scores in the hundreds. And so, they could not have been more different. Their only similarity, it appears, was that they were both Italian-Americans. Yet, both were revered by my father and my uncles.

When referring to Frank, the males in my family would, with exaggerated New York Italian-American accents and a lowered voice, say: "Hey, that Frank! He gets some tail, huh!? He screws all the most beautiful actresses. How'd you like to be Frank for a week, huh?" And as they talked about him getting laid they would make that fist pumping motion down below their hips which indicated that Frank, that most impressive of swingers, "was getting his and everyone else's while he was at it."

When I became a drummer and moved from New Jersey to Las Vegas to live and work full time, the first thing my dad and uncles would ask me when I would come home to Jersey on visits was: "So, Ron, are you screwing those showgirls silly?" Or, "So, Ron, have you gotten to see Frank and Dino in Vegas? I'll bet there's tons of gorgeous cooze hangin' around them all the time, begging to screw them--am I right?"

On the other hand, when they discussed Perry, the men were equally reverential but about his sound family values. My father and my uncles all said, more than once in one form or another: "You know Ron, Perry Como, he goes to church with his family every week and he doesn't fool around on his wife. He's a good man. He used to be a barber you know, so underneath he's like us, a working man. He doesn't let his success go to his head."

So what does an impressionable young man do with these conflicting moral positions? I can tell you, with some embarrassment, that I did not recognize the conflict. And so it never occurred to me to ask the men in my family the obvious question: "How can you value both Sinatra and Como when they each stand for such different things?" It was only in graduate school that I began examining the split and its effects on me.

I have, over time, concluded that my father and uncles were very comfortable with such a moral split because they were Italian and had bought the old world Italian party line that adultery is okay and divorce is not. For example, on a recent trip to Italy, this was confirmed when I spent time with an Italian physician who bragged to me at length about his trips to Cuba with his male buddies and the high quality of the "teenage screwing" that is available. He is married with three grown children and spoke lovingly of his wife and family. Based on his description of his own behavior and the behavior of his friends, I would not be surprised if this was the norm in Italy.

When I asked my father why Italian men do not divorce but have affairs he said: "Because it's the right thing to do. Italians are family men. We don't abandon our children. We stay together for the kids. We can always get something on the side if we're unhappy. It's what men do."

I did my best to live up to this value system and to earn my father's and my uncles' respect. I married but was unfaithful. I tried the best I could to sleep with as many women as I could and dutifully reported it to my dad and uncles. I basked in their approval but all the while was anxious that I was not really macho enough to be a real lady’s man like Frank because I felt guilty about my exploits and I suspected that no self respecting Sinatra-like male would feel such guilt. Apparently, I had some unrecognized Perry Como in me.

When I got into graduate school at age 32 I was forced, in my supervision therapy sessions, to begin examining my value system. Slowly, over time, I began to see that my Dad and Uncles had taught me something that did not work for me. I decided to stop the lies and the cheating. It took me a while because such behavior is highly addictive.

I often wonder how many young Italian-American men have struggled with this Frank versus Perry split. And when I see an Italian-American man with a slick Brilliantined haircut, his top three shirt buttons open, wearing gold chains and a flashy wristwatch and cupping his crotch while ogling women on the street, I can safely guess he is doing his Frank Sinatra imitation. And so the tradition continues.

An interesting post-script to this is that I recently presented this Frank versus Perry ethical dilemma to one of my cousins. I concluded my story by asking him: "So, what do you make of this?" He thought for a moment, and then with a silly grin on his face, said: "I think the solution is to be a barber and screw a lot of beautiful women."