Questions I can answer

How come you’re not writing cat columns any more?

To tell you the truth, the cat thing was becoming a drag. I have 12 insights into cat behavior, and I used them all up in the last century.  And lately we’ve been down to one cat, Pancho, and he never does anything interesting.

Bucket died a few years ago, literally looking into my eyes as the fatal shot took effect, but I disapprove of maudlin “my pet died and here’s how bad I felt” columns. People will cry, but the tears seem unearned. Any writer or filmmaker can kill a beloved pet and make people sob, but so what? I don’t like being manipulative about a personal sorrow.

Also, by writing it I would diminish my own experience. Writers should take time to stop writing and participate in their own lives.

Come to think of it, Pancho did learn recently how to fake a limp. He tottered into the house one day, right front foot lifted off the ground. We poked around tentatively, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. The next day, the limp was gone. It came back a week later, and he looked pathetic, but the limp went away again. This pattern continued. Once, he forgot and lifted the other foot.

And yes, we took him to the vet. Don’t ask. That’s another reason I abandoned writing about cats: Every time I mentioned some cat eccentricity I’d be deluged with suggestions from people about diet, toxic environmental chemicals, and/or diseases frequently (or infrequently, but you never know) contracted by cats. Or, in one case, the possibility of cat poisoners operating in the neighborhood. Those readers all meant well, and I could hardly insult them, but God I wanted to.

untitledTests September 08, 2011-37

Bucket, not dead yet

What was it like to be a semi-famous columnist?

It was great. What did you think? I was never so famous I had to hide from the paparazzi, but I was famous enough to get seats in restaurants that were theoretically booked up, or tickets to sold-out shows. Also, I got to do insanely cool stuff, from swimming with the dolphins at the Academy of Sciences to speaking to the graduating class of the English Department at Cal Berkeley.

Also, people would come up to me, sometimes literally on the street, and say, “I bet you hate hearing this all the time, but I really love your work.” Oh my yes, I did hate that, because who wants to hear that they’re doing a good job? I hate praise. Particularly when it’s delivered with a little bit of what might be called flirting.

Gradually I got unfamous. People slowly stopped coming to my writing classes, or sending me pleasant emails, or even recognizing my name. I wasn’t the flavor of the month anymore, and I wasn’t sure why, but it probably had to do with my personal failings. I kinda missed being semi-famous now that I wasn’t.

On the other hand, I learned who my friends were.

West OaklandWest Oakland 00005b20160326

The heartbreak of anonymity

What’s it like living with a rage potato as president? I’m sorry, that was inappropriate. What’s it like to live with a shitweasel as president? A douchenozzle? A witless fucking cocksplat? 

I’ll get to that.

Can we agree that greed is the problem? Maybe not the problem overall (that would be racism, right? Or war), but the vice that’s put the United States into this chaos of dangerous stupidity. It’s why Donald Trump became president: People have been trained by half a century of propaganda that, in the immortal words of Gordon Gekko, “greed is good.”

So Trump, with his bogus trappings of wealth, his gilt rooms and his plush plane and his idiotic “You’re fired” parlor trick, and his obvious lack of both sophistication and information, seemed to represent the American dream. Anybody could get rich, even this guy. And everyone wanted to get rich, because that would solve all the problems caused by amoral capitalists who could give a shit why you fell behind on payments.

So, at the risk of sounding like a 1975 Troyskyite publication with a picture of huge capitalist surrounded by bags of money swallowing workers whole and drooling corpses, our government is, now, largely a money-making scheme. Policy is about maximizing profit.

Of course, Trump is doing the nickel-and-dime hustles, forcing the taxpayers to pay for his stays at his own golf club, raising the rent for the Secret Service offices in Trump tower, and shamelessly suggesting that people who stay at the Trump hotel in Washington might get favorable treatment. Also he raised the room rates there. Trump steaks! Trump airline! Best of all, Trump University!

He’s a grifter. They’re all fucking grifters.

So now we have a new Afghanistan policy which is largely indistinguishable from the old Afghanistan policy. Why continue this war that we will never win? Why not just stop? But that would leave in the lurch the arms manufacturers and the military vehicle manufacturers and the uniform manufacturers and the companies that set up fast food outlets in war zones (nothing like a Big Mac before your die). War is, after all, an enormously successful profit center.

A profit center, I should emphasize, that is managed by the government, where cost overruns are celebrated in song and story.

Am I being too cynical? Absolutely not.

Everything is monetized. Everything. Trump’s secretary of education  wants to monetize schools. (And don’t forget student loans, which monetize adolescents). Trump’s attorney general wants to monetize prisons — and fill those prisons with jaywalkers and marijuana smokers. (As someone said, “America’s justice system runs on the exchange of money for freedom.”) Trump’s Secretary of the Interior wants to open up national parks and monuments to drilling and mining, thus monetizing scenery.

And our drug prices are the highest in the world, thus monetizing us.

And we let that happen. There are so many distractions, sports and television and music award shows and two-hundred-dollar shoes, and meanwhile our government is being looted, and information about this looting is derided as “fake news”. The rules have changed, and we haven’t noticed until right now, and maybe that’s too late.

It’s entirely surreal. It’s like living inside a Terry Southern novel. It’s like living inside “Guernica”. Truth is imaginary, and rapey Mexicans are streaming across the border, and imaginary illegal voters are influencing elections. Did I mention that goddam wall? Plus, the Russians are doing God knows what, something shady involving Kushner and spies and unlaundered money and hotels in Georgia, not that one, the other one. Russia is the biggest kleptocracy in the world, but take heart. We’re catching up.

I own a garden full of plants. My plants are providing oxygen for a choking world. My fucking plants are do more good for the country  than the entire government. What? I am not yelling. THIS IS YELLING.


Not yelling



 Photography by Tracy Johnston

A soothing voice amidst the chaos: Michelle Mizera

81 thoughts on “Questions I can answer

  1. Lovely piece. Maybe Pancho heard about the bogus bone spur that kept El Trumpo out of the military (even though he can’t remember which foot), and your cat thought, as much as cats think, worked for him, could work for me. What do I want from Jon and Tracy?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Finally — I have closure on Bucket and Pancho. They and their predecessors have brought me a lot of joy and a few tears over the years, and now I am satisfied to let them fade into obscurity. (Although I am tempted to point out that a single cat column, along with your garden, is an antidote to governmental idiocy.) Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is indeed about money, but you may be focused too tightly. The election was the conglomeration of gerrymandering after the 2010 census, poor focus by the Democratic Party, and some terrible tactical flaws by Hillary, but it still comes down to the poor white voters who saw little hope for the long term. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance, which came out during the height of the primaries. One of the most depressing observations on poverty as a root cause was the observation from a friend of the author’s — there really isn’t a solution, the most you can hope for is putting a thumb on the scale for those at the margins. What is implied in that sentiment is the idea that there’s a huge chunk of these folks inside the margins who cannot be reached. Cf. Trump Rally in Phoenix this past week.

    Yelling is therapeutic, but usually only for the yeller. I appreciate your tendency toward rational thought.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. In a recent conversation with my management, I noticed my outrage at a situation was moving toward a strident tone. And I realized I was yelling at me for not doing more to keep the problem from occurring. A great deal of frustration, because the job makes doing so extremely difficult and unpopular, but still…

        It isn’t entirely relevant toward yelling inspired by impotence, I know. Although perhaps a bit, especially when considering your observation on no longer being a celebrity with a bully pulpit. Me, I’ve decided it’s up to the next generation to get motivated and neuter the Boomers. Hearts and minds.


  4. It’s about the economy. Middle class people need access to good jobs. A good job is attractive to sexual partners. Good money, nice honey, life is sunny!


  5. “Can we agree that greed is the problem? Maybe not the problem overall (that would be racism, right? Or war)”

    No, I think you got it right the first time: the problem overall is greed. I’m sure an argument could be made that one of your other candidates is the root cause of greed, but it makes more sense to me that greed begat them than the other way around. Oh, sure, there are a lot (a LOT) of people for whom racism or war or Trump are more urgent, more palpable problems, but I think it all comes down to greed when you get right down to it.

    Certainly greed could beget racism: if I treat you like an equal, I have to share my stuff with you, ergo I will have less. If I treat you like a slave, not only don’t I have to share my stuff with you, but I can get you to do stuff for me, stuff that I would otherwise have to do myself. Win-wi… uh, well, Win, anyway.

    Greed begets war. I simply can’t imagine an archvillain tapping his fingertips together going “heh heh heh” while he figures out new ways to annihilate and hurt other people just for the heck of it. But if it means making a huge profit and retaining incomprehensible power, then, yeah, I guess we could make an exception for our ordinary revulsion to such doings.

    Or maybe fear? Greed is the fear of running out of stuff, just as racism is the fear of a color different from your own, and war is the fear of someone else warring you to death first?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You devolved into italics there. I do understand why. And I do agree that a lot of it is fear-based. Certainly all the dopey social policies are fear of the Other. But greed is greed.


      1. It was supposed to de-italicize after “just for the heck of it”. Sorry for the unintentional yelling.


      2. Is it not possible for Industry to satisfy its Greed by addressing Climate Change – the growing “enemy” of all nations for the first time in human history?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. As always, I relate. Today I spoke with my 75 year old mother who called me from Mexico, where she is makin like a mule and bringing back drugs for the family. Namely a 6 month supply of insulin for my 75 year old father, who has been a diabetic since 1948 and who now finds that even with medicare and medicaid and additional insurance that the 400 bucks a month his insulin now costs is ruinous… But along with that crestor and lipitor and sundry other prescriptions for the entire family. We all have insurance but; formularies, ya know? So we take turns going and split the overhead of the trip. We save thousand a year doing this.

    And the government? As you say, it all boils down to venality, ignorance and stupidity. and ignorance is the only one we have any chance at all of improving.

    I think I shall take Cara the wonder dog down to Crissy Field this afternoon and do a little business…
    Thanks as always.

    PS what better way to go than with the one you love gazing into your eyes?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It’s not that you have become unfamous, it’s that your doting audience of bygone days has gotten old and died. These young whippersnappers don’t know from nothin’! Still, a cat story, no matter how mundane, would be a relief.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must beg to differ – some of us are still around…. since Jon & ‘Dair shared the back page, & McCabe, Hoppe, & Caen contributed (oh yes, & The Night Cabbie)…& you’re right, Jon’s occasional cat column has always been a welcome balance to it all…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t know which is worse, the Rump supporters who don’t see the guy they support or the supporters who see the guy and either don’t care or like it. I wince when people call him a pig. Pigs are pretty smart.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Dear Jon, I miss your Chronicle column and enjoy these missives — thanks for still making me laugh out loud! — Carolyn Barnes

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi Jon! Have you been reading a cartoon called Breaking Cat News? I really think that you would like it. Maybe you could get it in the Chron? So happy to be your Facebook friend! Joan Riley >

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Lengthy replies to implicit questions, attempting to shoebox: Today my views were solicited by the New York Times, concerning California. The survey began with “What are the most pressing problems facing California? What do you think should be done to address them?”

    I provided a lengthy, explicit, well thought out response, with numbers, Problems and Solutions. I was pleased with my careful and accurate summary.

    The second question was “How long have you lived in California, and in what ways, if any, has the state changed since you moved here?”

    I moved to California in 1966, when the population was 18.86 million – it’s now 39.95 million, of whom about 15 million of us are more than the land, water, and infrastructure can handle. We need to become post-carbon ASAP but we can’t with no population policy and we don’t have enough water to grow enough food and water all these lawns and why in the hell are we using drinking quality water to flush toilets? Why aren’t we insulating everything?

    The third question was “Have you recently moved or seriously considered moving out of or into the state? What brought you here or pushed you away?”

    And my answer is we are thinking about British Columbia because can you imagine what California is going to be like in 10 years? 20 years? And that turned out to be one of the next questions – what will California be like in one decade, or two…and the more I thought and the more I wrote the drearier it all revealed itself to be.

    I came here to go to school in 1966, attracted by the Free Speech Movement at Cal and by the international music and arts scene. I stayed for all of these.

    Now I am considering leaving the United States because I am now 72, and having worked in the Civil Rights, Environmental, Women’s, AIM, and Huelga movements, worked at EPA, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the California Public Utilities Commission, been cofounder of Buyblue, cofounder of the California Democratic Party Environmental Caucus, worked as a journalist, as an organizer, as a bureaucrat, after all these years and with all the good people doing all the good work that has been done, here we are in the age of Trump. So I do not see a healthy national or local culture emerging from the carbon age to a post carbon age in my lifetime. Too many people, too much traffic, too many people staring at their tv and phone screens instead of participating in community, too many extremely distracted, self-centered, selfish, ignorant people, left and right.

    On the left, for example, there are people in my own circle of acquaintances who believe that vaccination causes autism, that fluoride in the water is bad for you, that chemtrails are poisoning them, and that smart meters and cell phones cause radiation sickness and brain cancer. Changing their minds turns out to be as impossible as changing right wingnuts’ minds. The problem is what Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky describes in his book Behave – we are strongly disposed to divide the world into Us v. Them, and people create and join communities around cockamamie beliefs because we need to participate in communities of Meaningfulness. It’s the same as the right wing hate groups in that regard – the Quest for a Community of Meaningfulness. Even though I think I understand what is going on, I’m appalled and heartsick, despairing in the face of the current triumph of the Wrong Culture, the culture of selfishness, hate, bigotry, superficiality, 1950’s obtuseness and arrogance, etc.

    The ideals for which I have spent my life working are now being trashed, dismantled, stricken flat by the thick handed money men who have funded the GOP and its minions – people who voted for Trump because he describes the USA they Want: racist, sexist, white, belligerent, powerful, bullying, and Uber Alles. Their influence spreads like a fever creating a miasma in our minds. Where once we were creative, mellow, happy, we are now growling, self-absorbed, screen-staring sybarites. My dream was -was – that we would create a stable, healthy, well educated, creative, useful, salvific population in balance with the limits of the environment. My, how the mighty have fallen.

    The last question was What does being a Californian mean to you? And I answered:

    “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley

    Or to cite the I Ching: 36. Darkening of the Light.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I feel the same. I would love to live, at least part of the time, in either a) my ancestral homeland of Sicily, or b) a rational country like Canada with a well-established system of universal healthcare–but I like it here, it’s my country, dammit, and besides, my kids and grandkids are here so I ain’t leaving.


      2. Indeed. Besides, given the demographic reality of those reading this, most (including me) will be on Death’s Door or already through it in twenty years, so what’s the point of moving? The vast green forests of Canada are destined to dry out and burn, the various island paradises of the globe will sink beneath the rising seas, and our deserts will become unlivable infernos thanks to the feedback loops fueling global warming. To paraphrase the late, great Joe Louis, “We can run, but we can’t hide,” so we may as well make our respective stands where it feels right, then do the best we can to turn the tide. If that’s not enough (and it probably won’t be) well, we tried. Time swallows us all in the end…

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Louie, our black & white cat and Karma, our rescued blue heeler dog established a respectful working relationship (touching noses first thing each AM) immediately after the dog was indulged with a whiff of the cat’s ass. Anyone who payed attention while “reading” Ulysses knows how that works.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You know I am actually a little surprised at how *usual* the Trump cabinet has turned out. DeVos may be more in favor of charter schools than her predecessor, but she seems to be doing what Ed secretaries do: running the department and spending our money on whatever Congress has authorized. And the new Interior Secretary says he does not want to sell of even an acre of Federal land. With a few of the Obama-created National Monuments, he wants to shrink the size which will allow more mining and grazing and agriculture on what will remain Federal lands. Amazingly, no cuts to the marine monuments on our California shores More fishing allowed, but then some fishing was always going to be allowed. National Monuments always allow for some commercial uses, the difference is how many hoops you have to sail through to get a permit. Unlike National Parks where no commercial use is allowed at all. (Oh, if te NPS finds it4 essential to cut down some trees they do sell the logs).

    This is really good news for those who don’t want more drilling off our California coasts.

    As for the other departments, they all seem pretty much unchanged. Except for Justice. The sooner Sessions goes, the better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nibbling away, no matter how “small” the bites, is still nibbling. Considering what the Conservation Movement had managed to accomplish – which was a general direction, reversing course ain’t a good thing at all.

      Little pockets of rust can bring down a bridge.


  14. Fellow(a) travelers….all of us stuck in this horror movie with no mute button. We love you and your words


  15. Yes! Yes! YES! (yelling). Nailed it once again. And you are always famous with me, Jon, and of course with all Unitarians within reach of your famous classic Unitarian column, once long ago. Maybe you are sick of that particular historical reminder – since so much good stuff has come after it.


  16. Just for the record, (and I bet you hate hearing this all the time), but I really love your work. You were no substitute for Charles McCabe or Stan Delaplane, but you turned out to be an excellent Jon Carroll, and I was and still am grateful for whatever thoughts you wish to share.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I don’t miss the cat columns (because I have a cat), but I do miss you, Jon, and your other columns. Keep the posts coming…when your country is going down in flames, it’s so much more pleasant to be able to grin about it…even if that grin is the risus sardonicus.


  18. You are famous to me!! My Favorite columnist/blogger! I especially love the way you write exactly what I feel, but make it sound intelligent and funny (even if it is about cats).

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I love this post, especially, “So, at the risk of sounding like a 1975 Troyskyite publication with a picture of huge capitalist surrounded by bags of money swallowing workers whole and drooling corpses, our government is, now, largely a money-making scheme.” We thought it was like that a long time before Trump, didn’t we? And now, those are the good ol’ days. (P.S. Glad to be done with cat columns too, I’m allergic.) Keep it up.


  20. thank you for continuing to write and sharing your thoughts. And I do miss the cat columns but enjoy reading about you traveling. I have been traveling more recently too…the only way to face the world we are living in…run away for a while. I really like this column…you describe my feelings so much better than I can. Please keep writing. Gretchen


  21. PLEASE keep writing….your humor helps with the horrible bitter taste the daily news leaves in my mouth. The idiot who is taking up space in the White House is a true horror. Your writing brings some normalcy to day to day life. Thank you. Claudette Bergman

    Sent from my iPad



    1. Stop listening to the news. Even Rachel’s well-researched truths scare the hell out of me. I do BBC news which doesn’t spend much time on you-know-who. Good luck.


  22. Jon….I was born 11/12/43 and always felt a special connection to you, although my love for your columns probably had more to do with that feeling. I retired 10/31/2015, and nearly wept when you announced your retirement as well. Here I was, looking forward to reading your thoughts as I sipped coffee in my recliner chair instead of on Bart! Anyhow, many years ago, my roommate and I agreed to catsit for someone who ended up going to Canada to beat the draft. A month later, she gave birth to seven kittens. One day, I was on the floor playing with them when one kitten apparently injured her left foot. I fussed over her, and all six kittens began hobbling around with the left foot in the air. Soon she, and immediately all of the others were back to normal. Taken, by seven 4 week old kittens.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I love you Jon. You say it all so well. Even if I don’t agree with you, I applaud you. Being a advo-cat, cat rescuer and lover I appreciate always cat updates.
    Yes, cat people will jump right in with advice, we can’t help it. We know stuff from experience and we get concerned that a cat owner may not.
    Anyway, loved this column. Going to share on Facebook, okay?


  24. Jon,

    I know you hate it when people say you are terrific… But you are. This below is my favorite line from your latest post. I grok that. It’s like living inside “Guernica”.

    Elein Mustain 510-637-9106



  25. You are and will always be gratefully remembered and often quoted around our house. We miss your daily presence in our lives via the Chron and much appreciate these blog posts … cats or no cats. I’m thinking you are actually rather bad at anonymity.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Jon,

    Can you feel your fame now?

    Thanks for yelling.

    We who yell need to know we are not alone!

    But, I struggle with the thought that the “enemies” are not the buffoons in the White House, but rather the deluded millions who voted for him, them, it.

    I feel despair at the thought.

    The hope I see is a “mitigating force” creeping in.

    Already I get the feeling more entities in Government have been going about their business and not paying as much attention to The Trumpet.

    Rex Tillerson said as much.

    But what about the deluded millions… ?

    Deep breathly!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Hello
    I am not the sort of person who would stop someone, semi-famous or not, on the street, no matter how many years of my life their ‘voice’ was part of my early morning awakening.

    But-and — your writing has meant a lot to me (and to my parents, both gone now) for most of my adult life. Your uproariously funny columns that had me laughing out loud, your thoughtful kind columns that pushed me to think outside my comfort zone, and your very honest columns about yourself that awakened compassion in me and helped me be less ashamed of my own weak spots.

    I’ve composed more emails to you in my head than I care to admit. This is the first I might actually send

    Thank you for being part of my life, even though we have never met

    Kate Chaitin

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

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