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May 1, 2013 · Posted in Commentary 

Lionel holding forth at the Griffith Park Observatory--photo by Kurt Olerud




As bombs were blowing up in Boston, I was sitting in my doctor’s office in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and he was telling me that he had no medicines to deal with my painful swollen legs, knees and feet.


Now I know that human misery is a constant, but when you’re experiencing it personally, so is the world. Bombers in Boston, sinkholes, tsunamis, wars, nuclear accidents, meteors hurling toward cities, earthquakes, mad cops running amok, ships crashing into shore as they navigate into port, all somehow equate with my increasingly wobbly legs.


Now I’ll grant there is no apparent connection between a major American city being under siege by a couple of mad bombers and the pain in my body. But it feels as if the world and the lives of all of us in it, are going bonkers in droves. The news is becoming madder by the day. Nothing is left to shock.


My doctor’s patients are primarily elderly, of various ethnicities besides Asian, with the thing they have most in common is being poor. He eyed my stomach and said, “I have a simple answer for you. Simple. Loose that gut.”


Can’t you give me more diuretics so I don’t have to suffer every step, I asked, and he replied, “no, more diuretics could kill you.”


I explained that when I get off work late at night, I have to walk through a seedy block of downtown where a man with an obvious limp might be too easy a target.


“It’s an inconvenience,” he said. “You have to loose that,”  he emphasized, pointing at my stomach.


The concept of my pain being an “inconvenience” put things in perspective. The world is full of pain and I suppose by comparison too much of what people suffer, my pain really only is “an inconvenience.”


I have a friend–she was once a major American movie star–who is mostly bedridden with terrible psychic and physical pain. I won’t go into what these are, but her difficulties are far worse than mine.


When I went home from my doctor visit, my ex-wife was on the phone from the other side of the continent. She and her husband were facing eviction. Neither had been able to find work in years. They were desperate–not just for themselves, but for her  blue-fronted Amazon bird Hamlet, who I knew from when we were married. How can you be evicted to the street, and take care of an Amazon parrot and two beloved cocatiels?


I suppose that sounds silly, but animals–especially birds–suffer emotionally just as much or even maybe more than we do.


I know a neighbor, a single mom, who works hard but is having a tough time paying rent and putting food on the table for her growing teenage boy. But at least she isn’t being maimed by the guns of war outside her window.


Why is the world so full of pain? Why does the world seem to be going mad with excess pain? Bombs are exploding in our major cities, people are dying in incredible pain.


Much of the pain is self-inflicted. a bit like mine. Our economy is stumbling, and the opposition says the answer is to increase people’s pain. So they try to strangle the economy to make sure there’s no recovery, in great part because they hate the black president.


It strikes me that once, such behavior would have been considered treasonous. Inflicting pain as part of the “cure” is related to the concept  that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But it ain’t necessarily so.


And it’s not just in America. In Europe, the bankers–especially the Germans–tell the multitudes they have to starve, to loose their their homes and jobs and farms and families, so they can reap higher profits. In Europe, class struggle is more the obvious name of the game, but class struggle is not a term we use easily in this country.


Meanwhile, the country’s rich and the world’s rich, for that matter, hide their billions in order not to pay taxes, and sit on their ill-gotten gains rather than invest.


They purposely inflict pain for greed and for their rotten political purposes. And OK, perhaps I have inflicted pain on myself with too much hedonistic consumption now and then.


I guess I’m human and therefor a sinner. I must be punished. The world must be punished. Everywhere our bodies, our souls and our societies are disintegrating.


Damn them. I want to cry.


Lionel Rolfe is the author of a new book, “The Misadventures of Ari Mendelsohn: A Mostly True Memoir of California Journalism.” The book is available on Amazon in paper and on Kindle. He has authored more than eight books, including the classic “Literary L.A.,” “The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather” and “Fat Man on the Left.” He will appear at Beyond Baroque on May 12. He is also featured in an upcoming documentary, “Literary L.A. Movie.”





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