Wednesday, March 28, 2018

New radio station 88.5 FM offers the rare gem of consistently playing high-quality rock music

“Jenny said when she was just five years old
There was nothing happening at all
Every time she puts on a radio
There was a nothin' goin' down at all, not at all
Then one fine mornin' she puts on a New York station
You know, she couldn't believe what she heard at all
She started shakin' to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll”

“Rock & Roll,” The Velvet Underground

Are you a rock music fan frustrated trying to find a good radio station?

A few months ago, I saw a billboard for a new rock radio station I should check out. I’ve usually been disappointed listening to new radio stations, but what the hell, I gave it a shot.

Listening to the new station on a given day, I would hear an impressive list of songs, such as “The Joke,” by Brandi Carlile, “Everything Now,” by Arcade Fire, “Up All Night,” by The War on Drugs, “Once in My Life,” by The Decemberists, and “Baby I Love You,” by Ryan Adams.

Then I might hear some classic oldies interwoven within the new song playlist, like “Love Is The Drug,” by Roxy Music, “One Time, One Night,” by Los Lobos, “The Rising,” by Bruce Springsteen, and “For No One,” by the Beatles.

Two of the station’s slogans describe its philosophy as: “Smart rock for passionate music fans,” and “You deserve better radio.”

If you’re in the Los Angeles and Orange County area, tune into 88.5 FM. You can also listen to it anywhere when you download the station’s app to have it streamed into your phone or tablet; or you can stream it through iHeart Radio.

For a rock music fan like myself, it’s tough to find a radio station worth listening to. The very idea of being a rock music fan has changed quite a bit since I bought my first 45 records and 33 albums in the 1970s.

These days on LA radio, you can find targeted, limited channels. You’ll find alt-rock stations like KROQ or ALT 98.7; or Top 40 pop on KIIS-FM; or classic rock oldies stations like K-EARTH 101; or urban hip hop like Power 105.1; or country music like Go Country 105; or Christian pop like 100.3 FM, which used to be The Sound playing classic rock from the ’60 and ‘70s.

There’s also music apps like Spotify and Pandora. I usually listen to Thumbprint Radio on Pandora, will consolidates songs based on my favorite artists and most listened-to songs. The problem is the repetition. I’ve been getting burned out on Iggy Pop, Death Cab For Cutie, the solo careers of the Beatles, and “House of the Rising Sun,” by The Animals.

When listening to 88.5 FM, you’re going to hear a broad spectrum of styles — Folk/Roots, Rock, Blues, Alt-Country, Classic Rock, and more. What we call rock music has evolved in recent years into an amalgamation of music genres that you can hear on the new FM station. It’s playlist reflects a revival of singer-songwriter acoustic tunes and raw, earthy blues from bands like Alabama Shakes; the latest from established artists like Beck and Coldplay, and newer ones like First Aid Kit and Mondo Cozmo; and forgotten gems like the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow,” or “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” by Fairport Convention.

One thing I love about radio is being surprised. Not long ago, I heard a huge hit on 88.5 FM from 1988 that became a radio standard in the 1990s — “Orinoco Flow,” by Irish pop star Enya. We remember it most with the “Sail away,” refrain. It wasn’t the greatest song, but it was a joy to hear it again.

Since the 1990s, I’ve heard radio stations failing when going this route — mixing tracks from established artists’ classic albums with new songs in the “smart rock” spectrum; and I’ve heard variations in recent years on Sirius XM, Pandora, and cable TV music channels.

Former MTV veejay Mark Goodman has represented this trend well over the years. I used to hear him in 1989 on a short-lived FM station called The Edge, which is similar to Sirius XM’s The Spectrum channel where he’s been working as a DJ in recent years. Goodman might tell you, in between songs, all about why he’s just played the latest from Black Keys, Dawes, and Mumford & Sons.

Radio station 88.5 FM has a good chance of surviving and thriving. It’s a win-win where I get to hear music I love and find out about upcoming concerts. You can also catch in-station live interviews and performances by artists such as Moby and Jack White. Weekend programs are hosted by radio veterans who share their favorite songs and perspectives on artists. Sometimes, the artist is in studio to talk about their latest album and to play a couple of songs.

88.5 FM is simulcasted by two college public radio stations, KCSN at Cal State Northridge and KSBR from Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif. You can find it on your FM digital dial, and you can also download and play the mobile app; or listen to it on iHeart Radio. Having started up in late 2017, the station is looking for listeners through billboards and online ads. Being a public radio station, it’s also looking for donors to support the station. It is nice to not have to listen to commercials.

The challenge is getting to hear the music consistently. For some reason, the FM broadcasting signal can be occasionally weak unless you’re somewhere near the Northridge or Mission Viejo stations. As for digital streaming, the 88.5 mobile app can suddenly cut off for some reason and then start playing five-to-10 seconds later; only to repeat itself a few times. That might have to do with connectivity issues on my iPhone with Sprint phone service. The good news is that you can go on the iHeart Radio app and pick up the station clearly and consistently.

Another challenge is not hearing a wider selection of music that truly represents the joys of being a music fan and the diversity of the song selection. Why don’t I get to hear Prince, or Sly and the Family Stone, or Kanye West, or Rihanna, or Justin Timberlake, or Madonna, or other great songs on 88.5 FM that make you want to get up and dance?

When I was a kid, you could listen to the KHJ top 40 AM station and hear a broad selection of hits. The hour might have started with Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” and then you might have heard “Fox on the Run,” by Sweet, “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” by War, “Hello It’s Me,” by Todd Rundgren,  “Shining Star,” by Earth Wind & Fire, and “Fame,” by David Bowie. It made for a better day, especially when you got to sing along. It also exposed me to all types of music and talented artists, not just one limited style.

I felt like Jenny from the Velvet Underground song. My life may or may not have been saved by rock ’n’ roll, but it got a lot better.

That broad song selection started changing on pop music stations and video programs in the late 1980s and 1990s. It started becoming segmented and separated. So you might hear some really good new music coming out in rap and hip hop, post-punk alternative rock, country music, heavy metal, electronica and techno, and classic rock. But you had to spend a lot more time listening to different radio stations and researching what was out there.

There’s a lot of new music I’m missing these days, but I do want to listen regularly to a quality station like 88.5 FM. Its playlist might include songs off albums from years ago I’d never heard; or hadn’t heard in a long time and had forgotten how great it was. I love to hear songs that can be captivating from new artists and established ones I might have missed; or great songs I hadn’t heard in years — not for the nostalgia but to tap into the goldmine of great rock music.

That forgotten treasure could be “Cleaning Windows,” by Van Morrison; or “Mandinka,” by Sinead O’Connor; or “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” by Warren Zevon; or “Nick of Time,” by Bonnie Raitt.

There's also a few scheduled programs you might want to check out on the new station. One of my favorites has been “80s Experience” on Saturday nights from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Pacific time. Not only will you hear something like “Fascination,” by The Human League, or “King For a Day,” by Thompson Twins, JJ (the DJ), will also play colorful tracks like a TV comedy title song (remember “Different Strokes”?), and maybe a TV spot for Coca-Cola that’s easy to remember. That show definitely taps into the nostalgia, which is alright by me once in a while.

The deejays do a very good job. My favorite is Nic Harcourt, who I used to listen to years ago on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” Some of the contributions Harcourt and KCRW have made to quality music programming has carried over to 88.5 FM.

Here’s to the radio station continuing to play great music for years to come. I have to get around to joining the donation list, but at least for now I will champion the cause — as my life has been enhanced over the years by hearing new songs and singing along to favorites. Now I have a radio station I can count on. It makes driving and being stuck in traffic much more tolerable.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Best rock n’ roll song moments ever in movies, in my opinion

The Rolling Stones, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ in ‘Mean Streets’ (1973)
Director Martin Scorsese is credited for forging a unique connection between pop music and film, and having a lot of influence on younger filmmakers who followed his lead. It goes back to his first critically acclaimed film from the early 1970s, where wannabe Mafia guy, played by Harvey Keitel, waits in a bar for his childhood chum Johnny Boy, played by Robert De Niro, to enter the picture. The camera zooms in on Keitel’s face as watches with envy, as De Niro walks up with a young woman under each arm. Johnny Boy is wearing his favorite pork pie hat with a goofy smile across his face. The song sets the tone for the scene, along with red barroom lighting; and it will encourage you to watch his concert documentary, ‘The Last Waltz.’

Elvis Presley, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in ‘Jailhouse Rock’ (1957)
While most of Elvis Presley's movies were considered to be mediocre in quality, this one is well worth seeing. Presley plays Vince Everett, who’s serving time in a state penitentiary for manslaughter. Later he’ll become a young pop star, leaving prison behind. ‘Jailhouse Rock’ became a famous dance number in the picture, where Presley sings in a black coat and striped outfit while several other inmates wearing the same outfits back him up. Presley gets to slide down a pole and lead a dance number shown on a local TV station. Could such prisoners be that good playing musical instruments and taking dance steps choreographed on Tin Pan Alley? Who cares? Just watch it.

Bob Dylan, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ in ‘Don’t Look Back’ (1967) 
In one of my favorite documentaries, a young Bob Dylan goes to London for his 1965 solo tour on acoustic guitar and harmonica – soon before he would be going electric and enraging traditional folk music fans. Dylan is sitting in a hotel room with his entourage when young Scottish folk singer Donovan joins the party. Later known for his acid rock hits “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow,” Donovan plays a simple folk song on his guitar while Dylan listens in behind big dark sunglasses. Dylan then takes off his glasses and borrows the acoustic guitar to play the new song off his ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ album. Donovan sits in awe watching the chord changes, taking in mind-bending lyrics, and puffing on a cigarette, as Dylan smiles wide and belts it out.

Chuck Berry, ‘You Never Can Tell,’ in ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994) 
'Pulp Fiction' was considered to be a movie that opened the door for alternative, artsy movies backed by the majors. Director Quentin Tarantino became known for his style that included placement of lesser-known pop hits from previous decades. Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ was played nice and loud at Jack Rabbit Slim’s retro-50s diner. John Travolta led Uma Thurman on the floor, making it nearly a tribute to the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ star’s dance moves. In the years following the 1993 acquisition by The Walt Disney Company, Miramax was able to tap into the surprise 1994 hit to fund several other art movies – several years before one of the Miramax brothers/founders, Harvey Weinstein, saw his highly successful Hollywood image disintegrate through revelation of sexual harassment. Tarantino and Disney will get along fine without him.

Cat Stevens, ‘Trouble’ in ‘Harold and Maude’ (1971) 
It is strange to think of a major studio funding a movie about a young man, faking suicide attempts to frustrate his mother, falling in love with a woman about to turn 80. But there were a few more released in the ‘70s (i.e., “Deliverance,’ ‘Chinatown,’ ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Nashville’) before mega-hits like ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’ shifted the gears. ‘Harold and Maude’ could top the list in terms of a bizarre storyline unfolding that you have to watch. As the Cat Stevens song is being played, a sequence of events is unfolding. Has Maude died and will Harold drive his converted funeral limo off a cliff? You have to watch it to find out, and to hear some of the best movie soundtrack songs ever (in my opinion).

Another seven you should see, at least in YouTube shorts:

Jimmy Cliff, ‘The Harder They Come’ in ‘The Harder They Come’ (1972) The movie that inspired much interest in reggae music, along with Bob Marley records. It’s a tough movie to watch at times, with the impoverished, rising talent Jimmy Cliff being taken advantage of by the record company.

Alan Price, ‘O Lucky Man’ in ‘O Lucky Man’ (1973)  The former Animals keyboardist, Alan Price, (who you can see complaining about it to Dylan in a ‘Don’t Look Back’ scene) wrote and performed in a movie score right up there with ‘Harold and Maude.’ The movie was a sequel to another dark and strange movie from 1968 that also starred Malcolm McDowell, entitled ‘If.’

The Doors, ‘The End’ in ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) The Vietnam War picture starts with an infamous opening sequence where Martin Sheen drunkenly punches a mirror in his hotel room and watches his hand bleed, which he smears over his face and body. You get the impression you’re going to be seeing a lot of blood and darkness, which is definitely the case.

Public Enemy, 'Fight the Power' in 'Do the Right Thing' (1989) While released five years later, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is credited with opening the door to daring, unconventional pictures, but this one already had a lot to do with it; along with Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’ that same year. The movie shows the racial powder keg that can erupt in neighborhoods like Brooklyn. It starts off the with the hip hop classic setting the tone for opening credits as Rosie Perez dances through it.

David Bowie, ‘Heroes’ in ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ (2012) This is one of the best uses of a song I’ve ever seen in a movie, with a carload of high schoolers racing through a highway tunnel with the song playing full blast. ‘Harry Potter’ icon Emma Watson, then a few years older, stands up in the back of the pickup as they drive through the tunnel with the song soaring – and makes you wonder if Watson will be flying away like a bird.

Derek and the Dominoes, ‘Layla’ in ‘Goodfellas’ (1990) I won’t go into the details, but you get to hear the closing instrumental coda to the rock classic as the camera pans over a montage of made guys and their women murdered in the Mafia tradition. It’s one of several unforgettable music moments in another classic Martin Scorsese picture.

‘Time Warp’ from ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’  (1975) Going to watch a midnight movie showing of this campy cult musical is a must-do, but don’t let the fans get to you. Yes, they will be standing up close the screen in mimicked outfits shouting out words – to the extent that you occasionally won’t be able to make out what’s being said on the screen. But that’s okay. Songs like ‘Time Warp’ rock hard, and each member of the movie cast plays it up perfectly. You can’t miss this one, even if you need to watch it on your home theater. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2.5 near-death experiences in vehicles I’d been driving (hopefully that’s over)

Those of you who know me well, or who’ve read my chapter in Truly Alive: 5 Near-Death Experiences - Before, During, and After, know I’ve had several close calls – three of them near-drowning experiences as a child and teenager. Since that book came out in 2010, I’ve added one and a half more near-death experiences. All three took place with me driving. The first incident, described in the book, involved drunk driving in 1991; the second was a car crash on a freeway in 2012; and the third, in 2015, involved a parking lot crunch with a rented moving truck and some very angry young men who looked ready to kill me.

What’s behind all that? A drinking problem in the first one, distracted and risky driving in the second crash, and deficiencies in my ability to drive a large moving truck in the third.

But the same person was driving all three times.

No. 1: It’s early April 1991. I’m living with my parents after moving back to SoCal from the Bay Area. My family had gone to Palm Springs and I stayed for work.

I’d been doing a good deal of drinking that night, all alone in the house. I ended up blacking out late that night, deciding to go for a drive during early morning hours. I ended up jumping my car over a curb on Redondo Ave. near the PCH intersection in Long Beach – and plowed into two palm trees in a V-shaped divider on the curving road. I’d bashed my head into the windshield and folded the steering wheel into the dashboard with my chest. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

I came to sometime later that morning in the emergency room of a hospital. It took me hours to fully wake up. Once I did, the intensity of the ER woke me up. Somebody nearby had been badly injured and was being treated by doctors and nurses, while yelling out. All the while, a police officer stood at the entryway with his arms folded, looking blank.

I wondered if the cop was there for me. Maybe I’d killed somebody during my drunk driving and I was going to prison; and I wasn’t going to be able to live with it. I kept asking the nurses if they knew why the cop was standing there. They kept telling me that they weren’t allowed to talk to him, and they had no idea why he stood there with his gun belt.

It turned out he was there to arrest a gang member who killed somebody during a Latino vs. Cambodian gang fight. That was the person near me being treated in the ER who was stirring everything up. I was the drunk who could have killed somebody and now had to deal with a DUI.

How did I get here? I wasn’t a daily drinker, or somebody waiting for the dive bar to open at 6:00 a.m. Wherever it all started, it hadn’t been my first blackout or dangerous and bizarre experience.

It was the emergency that had opened my eyes about what I’d been up to heavily for the previous three years. Within a few weeks after that crash, a friend took me to a meeting to hear a speaker talk about the drinking problem. Years ago, the speaker had been drinking heavily with his girlfriend at a joint on Long Beach Blvd. He’d been driving back to their apartment, when all of a sudden, they were in a car crash and she was killed.

The speaker said he had to learn the hard way that once you cross a certain line in your life, you can never go back.

It was almost like he’d shot a bullet out from his mouth right between my eyes. Time had stopped in that meeting room, and I didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time. He was telling my story that could have been, and I wouldn’t have been able to live with it.

No. 2:  It’s December 28, 2012, three days after Christmas. I’d picked up a friend that evening, named Greg, to go to a support group meeting. As we accessed the freeway, I was telling him how stressful the holidays had been for me. I took the curve over the onramp on PCH, heading northbound on the I-710, a bit distracted and annoyed while telling my story.

It was one of those times when big-rig trucks, loaded with cargo containers from the ports, owned the Long Beach freeway. It was so jammed that night, I couldn’t find a place to enter the right lane. I crept along gradually on the right-side shoulder as truck drivers refused to let me find open space to access the slow lane.

One of the truck drivers kept honking at me as I moved forward, struggling to find a gap of space to enter the freeway lane. Later on after the crash, he didn’t explain to me why he’d been honking and I didn’t ask. Maybe he was telling me to stop on the right shoulder and let the trucks go by. He would have been right about it, looking back.

Boy, was I pissed off. “Come on, guys, let me get on the freeway!”

Greg would later tell me how much he’d cringed inside, knowing I was taking a huge risk.

And then it happened. I surged into the slow lane, and got hit in the left rear bumper by a truck following behind. My Honda Element was snapped into a hard curve as if I was making a U-turn into next lane on the left – just in time for another big-rig truck to ram head-on into my car. That truck was big, fast, and heavy enough to send me, Greg, and the Element gliding sideways about 25 feet to the right.

Have you ever talked to somebody who’s been right near an explosion and lived to tell about it, or made it through a firefight during a war? I’ve been told by a combat survivor that, momentarily, times seems to stop.

As we went soaring sideways to the right, I had one of those stopped moments. At first, we sailed in an arc, and right before the car caromed off the freeway and glided across the asphalt, everything went into very slow motion as if time were stopping.

After that frozen moment, we bounced and slid several yards toward the right bank.

Once the car slid to a stop, my mind started coming to. I was hanging from my seat belt strap, looking down at Greg pinned in at the bottom against the passenger-side door. He was still alive, and so was I.

I had a puffed-out airbag in my lap, and we both had shards of broken windshield glass pelted to our clothes. We didn’t have any severed limbs or broken bones, but I would be feeling the impact on my head and neck in the days ahead. Greg was firmly stuck in the car.

We could hear voices outside the car. I shimmied my way out of the driver’s seat and belt, and climbed out of the side window frame. There were four people standing outside waiting, and they helped me down.

Two of them had been the men driving the trucks that hit me in both lanes. One woman seemed to be the spouse of the driver who’d honked at me and nudged me out of the right lane. Another woman seemed to have been following close behind in her vehicle, and had been quite concerned over whether we were still alive.

We watched highway patrol officers sealing off the freeway lanes to the right with flares, only keeping the fast lane open on the left side for vehicles to pass by. We also waited for the paramedics to make contact with Greg and assess the situation.

The paramedics had to use “jaws of life” to bend the metal back and pull him out. One of my friends later told me he’d been listening to a local news radio station, when our crash and Greg’s rescue had been reported.

Greg seemed to be alright. Years earlier, he’d suffered a stroke and was limited in his posture and mobility. The crash didn’t seem to make it any worse, but like me, he was pretty shaken up. He stood leaning with his left hand on my shoulder. We watched the emergency crew sweep away broken glass and chunks of metal so that the lanes could be opened up.

The second driver, who’d hit us head on in the second lane over, never said a word to me. As the paramedics and highway patrol did their jobs, I saw him walking away with several of the CDs that had been thrown out of my car.

Later on, I found out that the highway patrol crash report never mentioned the second driver and his truck. There was only one truck included in the report, and the driver and his spouse stayed to answer questions and reported the crash to their insurance carrier. I brought this up while being interviewed by his claims adjuster, and told that story to my insurance company. One claims adjuster eventually acknowledged that it had happened with the second driver, but the insurers weren’t going to pursue that part of the incident any farther.

Ever since that day, I’ve been a more careful and boring driver.

No. 2.5: Careful and boring didn’t completely transfer over to driving a large and rented moving truck.

During the summer of 2015, my girlfriend Susan moved into my house with one of her sons, Tim; her other son, Jonathan, would occasionally stay with us during school breaks. Read more about it in “How the Man Cave was invaded and desecrated.”

We’d rented a moving truck to get their furniture and boxes moved from her townhouse apartment in Orange County over to Long Beach. That morning, I picked up the cutaway van with a long storage bed.

My first episode was minor – pulling out of the home driveway with Susan and Tim in the moving van. I scraped the rear left corner of a small car while making a wide turn, not having been realistic about the radius needed for that turn.

I got out of the car and checked the damage; there were plastic brake cover chunks in the street from the scrape. I cleaned that up and put a note on the car’s windshield with my contact number. I did get a call later that day from the car owner, where we traded auto insurance information.

I was more careful after that incident, and we went through the day making moving trips between homes.

By about 7:00 that night, we needed a break and were hungry for dinner. Susan and I decided to stop at a fast food joint down the street from my house prior to making another trip to her previous home.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I curved right to pull into an open parking space. Right as we pulled in, we could hear metal scraping from the rear right end of the truck. I’d collided with a white pickup truck.

Susan and I looked at each other, unable to speak for a few seconds. I suggested we get the hell out of there, and she agreed. We didn’t dwell on it, but I suppose we were overcome by fear – and fantasy that it would just magically go away. Temporary insanity, I suppose.

I backed out and headed for the other end of the parking lot. As I turned out onto the street, I could see a group of young men running for us, as mad as hell.  There were probably five of them in the group, but my memory is a bit blurred.

That’s where the 0.5 near-death experience came in. Were these dudes going to pull me out of the truck and beat me to death?

I decided to deal with it, and asked Susan to roll down her window. The pickup truck driver did the talking. I played dumb for a little while about the crash, and agreed to pull around the corner and into the parking lot.

He showed me the damage done to his truck, and we took a few pictures and exchanged insurance information. He’d calmed down quite a bit at this point, and his friends never said a word.

My moving truck had met up with his pickup’s rear left end, and the damage was more than just surface level. That pickup’s panel was crunched in. The moving truck looked a bit scraped up, but it was hard to determine what was new and what had already been there.

We parted ways on good terms. It worked out much better to be honest and deal with it.

I took the moving truck back to the rental company the next day, and called my insurance carrier. I had to clarify, more than once, that there were two minor collisions that I’d caused. Nobody lectured me about it, and they didn’t really need to do that.

Lessons learned: don’t drink and drive; pull over to the side of the road if you're pissed off at other drivers, especially truckers; and hire starving artists to do the moving. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mystery guest sits next to my hospital bed, nudging me to stay alive

Here’s Chapter 1 in a book I’m putting together, based on my experience in 2007 temporarily dying from encephalitis; and what living has been like since then. The book has the working title, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8.

by Jon LeSage

I've never come close to being a doctor. I’ve done a lot of research on the Mayo Clinic website, and have pretended to understand what doctors have told me.

While never becoming a doctor, I had to find out all I could about a disease that just about killed me. Neurologists understood it, but I don’t remember them telling me about it. It was my family explaining it to me in a basic, child-like way that made it stick later on.

They aren’t doctors either, but they had to learn much about my condition and make sure I was treated correctly.

There were doctors that treated me who at first believed I had a stroke, not encephalitis. Doctors had to learn more about my condition, too.

Have you ever heard of encephalitis? A condition where, most of the time, a virus triggers intense inflammation – swelling – in the brain. I’d never heard of it, and for a long time, could barely remember the word nor answer visitors’ questions about what happened to me.

Doctors who understood that I had encephalitis and not a stroke have told me that the front left lobe of my brain was where my inflammation was happening, along with a small central strip on the right side. This is where memory is housed in the brain.

They believed that having herpes simplex as a seven-year-old kid (causing chicken pox) planted the virus in my body, and it never went away. Having shingles in my 30s was further evidence of herpes simplex continuing to float through my blood. Years later, I was told my stress level was high enough to push me over the edge into another virus bout, and this time it got stuck in my brain.

Encephalitis kills up to half the people who get struck by it. For the other half, many are severely damaged and finish the rest of their lives in child-like mental states; the capacity of a four year old, nothing more.

Few people have ever heard of it. Many doctors and nurses, including most of those who treated me, knew little about it, nor had they treated people struck by it. They thought I had a stroke, not encephalitis.

I lost my entire memory for nearly a month, starting Aug. 12, 2007. I collapsed that day, twice, and my heart stopped beating. I was resuscitated and my life was saved – once by my wife and once by a nurse.

As I came to in the hospital in September, my memory and mental presence faded in and out. For a few people who visited me in the hospital, I remember greeting them and engaging in warm conversation… then my memory fades and I don’t remember what we talked about.

When I dig deep and reflect on my very first memory after collapsing and being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance on Aug. 12, something always comes back to my memory movie screen.

                     *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *

I see brief foggy glimpses while opening my eyes inside a hospital bedroom. Everything was white or light blue, and people’s faces were blurred except for constantly blinking eyes. 

There I was: On my back… could not get up. Covered in sheets and blankets, wearing a gown, soft lights above my head glowing. Separated by a divider from the world.

In and out I’d go. I’d wake up again right after someone tugged my wrist, stretching out my arm. Or shook my shoulder and murmured instructions until I opened my eyes.

Who was it? What did they say? I can’t remember.

Voices murmured, hands touched me, needles poked me. Serum flowed into puncture points and through my veins, warm and then evaporating into nothing.

I was invaded by aliens and had no idea what was happening. Thank God I had someone else in the room looking after me. I might not have made it without him.

There was an old man sitting next to me on the right side of the bed, and he was always touching my shoulder and gently, quietly talking into my ear.

I remember hardly anything that he said – more that he was just there. If memory serves, he was trying to help me – trying to explain what was happening to me. Why I was in the hospital bed and filled with chemicals.

I have this vague memory of him waiting for the medical staff to leave the room and then commenting on what they were doing. I don’t know what it was all about, but went something like this:

“Jon, did you hear the nurse’s questions?”

“Jon, they took your blood test again to see how you’re doing.”

It was almost like he didn’t really say those words, but I somehow got his message. He was talking to me, but I don’t think his lips even moved.

I couldn’t say anything back to him beyond murmuring. And I couldn’t look at him squarely and see his face.

But I knew who he was. I knew him well.

My father: Armand C. LeSage. Armand sat right next to his little boy, who was 44 years old and couldn’t get out of bed. Dad was always concerned about my safety.

I would know him anywhere – that voice and its distinct tone, the words he used, his life experience as a fireman bailing people out, and as a husband and father stepping in to manage catastrophe.

I don’t remember feeling anything. I had no idea where I was, or why I was there.  I couldn’t think clearly about anything.

I didn’t have enough consciousness to question or realize anything. No thoughts crossed my mind, until later on.

Looking back, I’ve thought: What was this all about? Was I dreaming or awake? Why did I only recognize my father?

Where was my wife Amy? Was she near me, too? I didn’t hear her voice, nor see her bright yellow eyes.

It was just the medical monsters there to probe and poke me. And my father watching over me, barely in the room. He was there to take care of his son.

His words and presence weren’t enough to get me out of there. It was like a bad dream, a low grade nightmare. It was no horror film – nobody jumped up from under the bed and tore me apart, or screamed into my face. I wanted out of there, and to be left alone.

This memory happened several times; it felt like more than one day or just one memory.

It all came to one final moment. It all faded out one day. As I drifted away from the room and into a dark sleep, my mind became very clear for just one moment.

My mind opened up quite briefly, and I got it for the first time. I looked at my father for the last time.

I said to myself, “My father died 11 years ago!”

And then my eyes and mind closed. I drifted out of the room.

To read more of the book and other blog articles, sign up for the free e-newsletter in the right column. And stay tuned for another chapter from the book coming up, posted in my blog:  “2.5 near-death experiences in vehicles I’d been driving (hopefully that’s over)” You can also read about another book I’ve edited and contributed to on NDEs – Truly Alive – and Tales of UberMan, about driving for Uber and Lyft.

Friday, November 18, 2016

How the Man Cave was invaded and desecrated

Rules of the Man Cave
  1.  Only wash your bedding once every six months.
  2.  Talk to animals and yourself more than fellow humans.
  3.  Don’t buy new towels for the bathroom and kitchen. Wear them down to shreds.
  4.  Don’t invite a group over for a party or game night. Suggest they hold it at their   place.
  5.  Ignore repairs and maintenance needing to be done.
  6.  Don’t bother decorating the place; that’s way too feminine.
  7.  Never, never answer the doorbell ring, unless someone’s scheduled to enter   the Man Cave.
  8.  Honor the Temple of Isolation. Guard it with your life.

On August 1, 2015, my girlfriend Susan moved in along with her college student son Tim; with occasional stays by another college student son, Jonathan. And her two cats, brothers Nico and Sparty.

There are two ways for me to look at it:
  • My house is a much better place to live – warmer, fun, cleaner, decorated, repaired, and worth working extra hours to pay for.
  • My house was taken over by unicorns and pillows with tied bows, framed mirrors, antique decorations, new roommates, and three cats 
Let’s say it’s mostly #1 with a little bit of #2. There is one banner with unicorns on it, made to look like royal tapestry from England in the Middle Ages. The good news is there’s only one hanging up, and there had been two. Susan is open to negotiations.

Overall, I have to admit I’ve adapted to the new environment. I like it much better than during the darkest Man Cave days. But let’s be clear about something – the unspoken rules of the Man Cave were violated.

Before the move in, I’d had a series of renters staying in the front bedroom and bath, with all of them bringing in pets. One of them had asked me to adopt her cat Bonsai, who had taken to me before I took to her. I said yes, and Bonsai became the watch cat. I never saw much of the renter in the front of the house or his cat. It was officially a Man Cave. (I used to think that saying was stupid, until a little over a year ago when my house was invaded and desecrated. Then, the origin of the term made sense to me.)

As for the big story behind Susan and her sons moving in, she and I had been in a relationship for about two years and her lease was coming up in the summer of 2015. It made a lot of sense for her to move in, and one of her sons was in a good place to have a room and go to college not too many miles away. Her other son got to have a room when he visited, and sometimes invited friends over to play video games in the den and eat junk food. The cat brothers got their own space, eventually with a swing door placed in the bottom of the kitchen door for them to have full access to indoors and outdoors. It’s a win-win for all.

A big challenge was getting them moved in, with her stuff and my stuff needing more storage space than was available. We did a number of runs over to Goodwill and left several items in front of the house with “Free” signs taped on. That did get rid of most of it.

Now, if you replace a toilet with a new one, be careful about leaving the old one out in your driveway with a “Free” sign on it. Especially if there’s a middle school down the street from your house. Don’t be surprised to see that the toilet has been dragged out into the street; or that kids are laughing hysterically in front of your house, and some of them are standing around the toilet for group photos.

Then there was the move-in day, with two minor collisions I caused in a rented 30-foot moving truck; of which I will never rent again. Much better to hire the Starving Students or some other low-cost service. The second crash happened as we tried to squeeze into a fast food parking lot to have a meal we’d needed for hours. That Ford pickup was parked just a little too far out; or maybe I’m not so good at parking a 30-foot truck. Insurance companies were informed, with my claims adjustor taking several minutes to understand what I was trying to say – that I was involved in two separate incidents that day. He was good about it. I think they’re trained by the insurer on how to take the report and be supportive, without lecturing you on dumb driving.

My cat Bonsai had a very rough time with the transition, and she still seems to be getting over it nearly a year and-a-half later. Bonsai was living here about three years before they moved in. She’s older than the two cat brothers by about seven years, and has hissed at them quite a few times.

Bonsai’s main issue was having the Man Cave violated. It had been her palace as Queen Bonsai, occasionally sitting in the bay window and looking out at the masses who should have adored her. But the cat brothers who had moved in, Nico and Sparty, didn’t buy that one for a minute. One of them, Nico, occasionally enjoys crossing the boundary to her space and getting hissed and yelped out. That’s led to chases a couple of times, and knocking things over. No injuries so far.

Bonsai has lived out something of an allegory for us all to learn from. She has been her own worst enemy. The cat brothers, and human brothers, are fine with Bonsai and usually just leave her alone. She’s made all of this as bad as she’s determined it to be – never getting over her sacred space being invaded. She reminds me it’s better to accept change and make the most of it.

It does stay interesting in what was once the Man Cave.

Kitchen cleanup has become a new challenge in my life. What happens when a young man, who shall remain anonymous, cooks a meal but leaves some of the leftovers on the counter and doesn’t wash his dishes? Do you ask him to finish it up, and come out later to see none of it has been done? Do you eat the leftovers without telling him, as retribution?

Have you ever napped in a Coma Cave? There’s something about our house where people, except for me, sleep in really late; and maybe take long naps later. We live in a nice and quiet neighborhood, and in a comfortable house with air conditioning and heating. I might have left early in the morning driving for Uber as they’re deep in sleep; or I might be writing an article in the den, with the others usually deep asleep (including cats). That’s how the name Coma Cave came to me. A while back, I came home about 9:00 in the morning from Uber driving to find two furious housemates. The neighbor had hired a crew to chop down and grind up tree branches. They started at 7:30 in the morning! Could you believe that outrage! Peace and quiet in the Coma Cave must be respected!

I have to admit that life has gotten better since the Man Cave was invaded and turned into a home shared with loved ones. It’s great coming home – seeing what Susan has been doing and having a few laughs. Sometime I walk in the front door and toward the den, only to see her bare feet up on a padded stool with one or two cats lying next to her with the TV playing. Tim cooking his meals and visiting the kitchen in the middle of the night for snacks. Jon coming in very late, which we don’t discover until well into the next day. The cats being cute, like the brothers sleeping next to each other; and Bonsai, and me, slowly adapting to change.

Farewell, Man Cave.

How did we get so hooked on zombies?

Two statistics:
Literary rate of the U.S. adult population:  86%
Percentage of U.S. residents who’ve watched zombie movies and TV shows:  95%

Even though I’d stopped watching The Walking Dead a while back, I did get hooked on zombie stories long ago. When video machines came out in the ‘80s, I rented, and later bought, copies of the original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. In the first half of the 2000s, I watched whatever came out – 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and Shaun of the Dead come to mind.

Years later, I bought and read the World War Z novel and I couldn’t wait for the early days of The Walking Dead – before several of the cast members I liked were killed off. Since those days, Fear the Walking Dead has come out, World War Z with Brad Pitt, Zombieland (which I would highly recommend), the zombie-loves-human movie Warm Bodies, and the iZombie TV series.

I’d say we officially have a cultural phenomenon with zombies.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what it means and asking others for their opinion.

One quote that I liked came from Robert Kirkman, an American comic book writer best known for creating The Walking Dead. Kirkman said The Walking Dead really is “about us. It’s about how we respond to crisis.”

I saw an interview years ago with George Romero, who made the 1968 film credited with starting all of it, Night of Living Dead. Romero said that he’d tried to make the black and white movie as realistic as possible, like you were watching a documentary on something that really happened; with local TV news coverage that appeared to be reporting something that was taking place.

It made me think of stories about Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater staging alien ships landing in America during a 1938 radio broadcast. It was called “War of the Worlds,” based on the H.G. Wells novel. People went nuts over it, thinking it was for real.

Romero said that Night of the Living Dead, and later Dawn of the Dead, depicted what Americans were going through viewing TV news with violent footage from the war in Vietnam, riots and burnings in big cities, protests, the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate. Paranoia was palpitating through the air.

We’ve had a revival in zombie stories lately. I would say that Kirkman and Romero have made a few good points.

Here’s my take on what could be stirring up something close to paranoia, and how we’re responding to crisis and stressful periods of change……
  • ·       The Great Recession that started in 2008
  • ·       Mobile devices becoming tethered to our wrists starting with the iPhone in 2007
  • ·       Full-time jobs with benefit packages versus independent contractors
  • ·       Transforming from print, cable TV, and a laptop – into Netflix, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit, and a revival of Facebook. All of it on a smartphone, tablet, or flat screen wall mounts; and the occasional e-book on Kindle and Nook.
  • ·       Owning a car versus sharing a car ride
  • ·       Fear of infectious disease pandemics taking millions of lives, enough for people to wear surgical masks
  • ·       Donald Trump running for, and getting elected, president. And for everyone else, Hillary Clinton running for, and nearly becoming, president.

Yes, you can survive anything – even during a zombie attack.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Aside from Donald and Hillary, legalizing marijuana was the big news on election day

I smoke two joints in the morning
I smoke two joint at night
I smoke two joint in the afternoon
It makes me feel alright

I smoke two joints in time of peace
And two in time of war
I smoke two joints before I smoke two joints
And then I smoke two more

“Smoke Two Joints”

A very big deal took place on Tuesday, November 8 – voters in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada approved recreational marijuana ballot initiatives – joining up with Colorado and Washington, which legalized marijuana in 2012. A few other states passed medical marijuana provisions this year. Maine is expected to approve legalization, too, while Arizona didn’t gain enough votes to pass its legalization measure.

Years ago, I was very much opposed to legalizing marijuana. I’d had my own problems with it and didn’t see the point of making it a legitimate business. In the past couple of years, I’ve opened up to it, especially after talking to Colorado residents about the positive outcomes of legalizing it in that state.

So far, so good. Better than keeping it an illegal trade, where people might get murdered over it. Now, if you're a pot smoker living anything like the lyrics to the Sublime song, that's another story altogether. You might want to get some help for it.

I do have a few questions about legalizing marijuana:

• Will there be Stoned Driving tests like BAC drunk driving tests?
• Will pot smokers band together and form a volume purchase club for discounts on Cheetohs, gummy bears, candy bars, sunflower seeds, and other treats to satisfy the munchies?
• Is there a good way to handle a socially awkward scenario when a group of people sitting behind you at a movie or sporting event, who wreak of pot, start laughing hysterically at stupid jokes?
• Will Visine go out of business when pot smokers no longer need to get rid of red eye?
• Who will be threatened to go out of business once it’s legalized? Hydroponics stores? Your neighbor’s son and his buddies?
• What corporations will get into the new industry? Starbucks, Google, and Amazon? Will they form an association? Join the Hemp Industries Association and sponsor its annual convention?
• Will it take away a good talk show topic for rebels like Woody Harrelson, Seth Rogen, and Woody Nelson?

If you've got any good answers, please leave your comment below.