February 2010


Tra-la-la-la-la.

Lest we forget. There is always an argument for more. There are many “kinds” of people. One broad category of people deals with wealth. I’m not talking about intelligence or ability, just wealth. I know a number of individuals who are not particularly bright or witty or even kind but they do have wealth. There is an excellent chance that such folks are the beneficiaries of inherited wealth. I applaud inherited wealth. If granddaddy worked smart or was a total scoundrel yet had enough presence of mind (and good legal/financial counsel) to establish a trust (or investments) that today pays the country club fees, etc. for his genetic juice, well, who are we to judge otherwise.

To the degree any of us can, we try to give a leg-up to those in the bloodline who follow. How big a leg-up and for how long (successive generations) depends on a number of factors which are not the focus of today’s essay.

I’ve a family joke that goes, “I’d like to live as well as gramps.” I grew up in Iowa in the 1950s. Few from my town of Sioux City were vacationing in the Virgin Islands in January or going to the slopes for extended ski vacations. I heard of a kid or two who lived that way, who left in junior high for private schools in the East. But they were few, indeed. There were some truly beautiful, architecturally desirable homes in Sioux City, I know, I delivered The Des Moines Register newspaper to them for five years. But, simply put, ostentatious wealth and the display of it was unseemly and not something “we” sensible Iowans ever did.

Yet my grandfather made a bundle of money as a lawyer and was in the financial position of “buying” during the Great Depression. He lived grandly by such standards of the times. He had two “domestics” who handled the children (seven), the house and the cooking. He traveled extensively in the 30s to Florida to big game fish. Alaska, Mexico and Canada, too. To fish. My father drove new cars to college during the Depression. He married the most beautiful woman (empirically) in town and joined his father’s law firm (Jepson, Jepson, Jepson & Jepson). It had to have been a “good” time for him. But by the time 1970 rolled around, he was recently divorced and for all intents and purposes, broke. He spent the next 26 years of his life happily doing his thing and accumulating a little money on the side.

My father always did his thing. Except when he didn’t. He wanted to be a physician but my grandfather insisted he become a lawyer, like all his sons. I know that “chapped” my father. He grew-up (the family baby) with the proverbial “silver spoon.” But that never handicapped his spirit, actually having the benefits of wealth at a certain age can be a wonderfully liberating experience in what it provides. He had the independent soul of an anarchist with the mind and language skills of a lawyer. A dichotomy, yes, but it was a great combo for the 20th century.

Wealth. Is a tool. Is an instrument. (It should be a verb.) It provides access, opportunity. It can be liberating (except when it isn’t). Wealth is relative. It is temporary (because human life is temporary). I’ve said it before, the only thing better (for me) than being Christopher Robin Jepson would have been to be Christopher Robin Jepson Rothschild or Christopher Robin Jepson Medici. But then again, if I had been a Rothschild or Medici I would not have been a Jepson and I am “content,” at ease with who I am. I have to be. If we could choose our parents before we were born, well, just imagine that world.

I was blessed at birth! The stars, Jupiter & Mars aligned to give me Chris and Marybelle Jepson for my parents. Thank you.

How much is enough? How much does “one” require to be happy? This is a tricky question? One of the trickiest of all. Particularly in the “type” of world (society) we now inhabit. Human beings, I believe, are “inherently” status driven. Both men and women are, for the sake of this conversation, a bit like the male peacock. We preen and poise for the most fundamental of reasons, to have access to the opposite sex. “Some” psychologists suggest that is what everything (life) is all about. The art, the music, the literature, the building of financial empires, whatever it is, snowboarding like Shawn White, it is all about access to the opposite sex. Being noticed. Be desired.

To the degree wealth achieves or facilitates that function, is a matter of economics. The big-haired women of the stock car Daytona 500 world (as an entire economic subgroup) are, perhaps, “driven” (have been conditioned) to respond to (value) the trappings of flashy cars and speed (Vroom! Vroom!). Whatever. What you drive (to some) determines your “value” to the ladies.

America’s women are similarly “driven” to stand out. Every economic class has its signals, its trappings, it’s hierarchy of exclusivity based on/off wealth.

But at some point in life, wealth, in and of itself, is not about sexual desirability (although that big sexy bulge in your back pocket has been determined to always be in demand), wealth is about what it provides. To you. For others.

But again, how much is enough? The swindler Bernie Madoff wiped out a lot of people or reduced them down to their last million or two in the bank. I’ve seen them crying on television. I get it. They’ve lost a (varying) degree of security, of flexibility. They “vas” robbed. I’d execute the SOB. Seriously. Wouldn’t hesitate. It might have a salubrious affect on deterring similarly like-minded scoundrels.

I know a professional chap in Winter Park whose wealth is perhaps around $10 million. He owns real estate. He does well. He travels. He’s intellectually engaged. He laughs at himself. And, if I were judging this individual (and I am), I’d say he’d be what he is (today) regardless of his $10 million. Or $8 million. And that is key. To me.

Right this moment, as I write this, the leaves are playfully rustling with the squirrels in my sun-dappled backyard and I am listening to an exquisite piece of jazz titled, Ben Webster for Lovers, by the superb saxophonist Ben Webster. Buy it. Order it today. While you are at it, order Waltz for Debby by the Bill Evans Trio. These two albums are ecstasy for the ears, heart and spirit. They are sublime. And are available to anyone—TO ANYONE—regardless their level of wealth.

Artist Paul Signac said of Monet, “He paints as a bird sings.”

Wealth can facilitate many things. But regardless the size of your checking account, wealth is not a requirement in hearing (a) Monet sing to you.

Can I hear a “Tra-la-la-la-la,” the joy of art from each of you? And, trust me, you don’t even have to carry a tune!

Sweet. Life can be.

Since Tom and Dick Courted Mary.

Finally, a mass murdering female! Equality demands it. Circumstances provide it. What’s the expression? “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Over college tenure no less. My, my. So modern!

By now I am sure you’ve heard of Amy Bloom, the University of Alabama professor who was denied tenure. “Allegedly” she opened fire on colleagues, killing three. All sorts of “stuff” is coming out about her, such as she shot and killed her 15-year-old brother with a shotgun when she was 20 (ruled accidental) and that she was investigated for a potential bomb incident dealing with her doctoral dissertation and the chairman of her review committee. Hmmm? I do see a trend, some unfortunate coincidences.

I’d like to see her tested for testosterone. I typically reserve such craziness as strictly a male prerogative. Although we are seeing an uptick in the ever-so-fashionable Muslim practice of female suicide bombings. Not to be outdone by their male fanatics, Islamic females are stepping up to the plate, taking their swing at martyrdom for the cause of jihad.

I always find religious extremism so attractive (Don’t you?), such that when one branch (say Sunnis) of the same religion blows to smithereens adherents of another branch (say Shite’s), well, it’s downright inspiring, their religious faith. A faith so profound it makes me question why we have separation of church and state in America. Let’s bring that old time 15th century religion back to America, too. Recall when Christians butchered one another with the same ease that Muslims do today. Ah, that old time religion. Gotta love it. But I digress.

Women and violence. Maybe it is just now occurring to American females that being smaller and physically weaker, typically speaking, than men is no impediment at all when extracting one’s pound of flesh. For thousands of years women have had to put up with insult after insult, not to mention the injuries. Violence and oppression of women has been the historical norm. Less than 100 years ago women in America couldn’t vote. Examine 19th century state laws and you will be amazed that women couldn’t divorce, couldn’t own property and for darn sure, couldn’t vote. They were even unwelcome as participants at pre-Civil War abolitionist meetings (eliminate slavery). An irony that was not lost on the feminists of that time.

Over the years I’ve taught a history class or two and if the material warranted it I would ask the female class participants to speculate on, generally speaking (specifics abound), why men have been so beastly to women? Where did the idea come from that women weren’t as capable as men, weren’t as smart or creative and/or that their input when community decisions were made unnecessary. Imagine the world today (our species), if women all along had been free and equal to men, their perspective and insights considered, their values and votes counted. As those of their male counterparts. I am not naïve to think women perfect (hardly) but I do believe they bring to the table “values” that are not necessarily so prevalent in/from the male perspective.

You say, “Oh, Jepson, there you go again.” Oh? It came as no surprise to me that quite quickly during the current Haitian relief effort, food coupons were given to women only. Why you ask? Because the children weren’t getting fed when it was a free for all.

More than likely, most students (male & female) would cite the differences in size and strength and the unique role females have in the perpetuation of the species (females get pregnant) as the primary reasons women were considered “less” than men. Go figure on that. Granted, when confronting violence (securing food or combat), I’d just a soon have an equivalent male (6-4, 200 pounds) at my side as a “typical” female. But for all those “other” life experiences in prehistoric times, women brought as much (or more) to the table as most males.

My sister believes that one of the reasons women have been historically sequestered and controlled is because of sex. I have a joke (Hah! Hah!) I say that goes, “No man knows for sure” who the father of his child is. I know it’s cynical but being cuckolded and raising another man’s sperm contribution has been a troubling, perplexing issue (for men) since the git-go. Since Tom and Dick courted Mary. Paternity isn’t the issue it once was (what with genetic testing) but old male fears (instincts?) die hard.

For whatever the reasons men treated and considered women inferior, their beliefs became institutionalized in our religions. Look at Christianity. Look at Catholicism today. Male management hierarchies/bureaucracies where women are unwelcome. Attempts at controlling female sexuality and reproduction. These are vestiges of male dominance passing for religious authority. Ridiculous and absurd in every sense of the meaning.

Martin Luther, as repugnant an anti-Semite as ever lived, changed the course of history when he nailed up his 95 Theses and started the Reformation. Prior to Martin Luther, the clergy did not consort with (marry) women. Too good for the ladies they were (are?). Well, Martin Luther changed that by marrying. Big impact on the status of women. Good enough now for God’s spokesman they (women) were.

Even more significant was Martin Luther’s insistence that women be taught to read. Prior to this period in history (circa 1500 Europe), women were not educated to read. Luther thought everyone should have access to God, through reading his “vernacularized” Bible.

Well, that started all sorts of things and arguably, here we are today in the West where women have achieved near, if not equivalent, equality with men. Granted, there remain pay inequities and some professions have not entirely or warmly embraced the idea of gender equity. But the day will come when the Congressional buffoons, our Supreme Court and the Presidency will all have female majorities or leadership and we’ll say, with our rosy revisionist glasses on, “Oh, for the good ol’ daze when the boys ran things!” Or, maybe not.

I think we should get out of Afghanistan today but before we leave we should give every woman and girl there a 45 caliber pistol with enough rounds (and training) to protect herself and her sisters from the male abuses and oppression that comes from living in that 15th century misogynistic, theocratic, repressive hellhole. And exit visas for all Afghan women who are smart enough to know that to stay is doom.

Examine the images (stories/myths) that our daughters today are now being exposed to (and who willingly embrace) and you will clearly come away with the understanding that it “ain’t no more” Nancy Drew stories that are captivating our girls. It is now Super Heroines who don’t take “Nothing off nobody! No time! No way!” And. Let a few years pass.

Make’um sometimes “real pissed-off honey’s,” 21st century modern day women with an edge, an attitude and a pistol and well, shoot’um-up, bang-bang becomes the new norm.

I heartily recommend to my more introspective brothers that it’s a new morn’ in America. Be civil. Be respectful. Be considerate. Always. And, it’s still okay to open a door for a lady.

Afterall, she may be packin’. Hah! Hah! Hmmm.

Meditations on Stuff.

Twice as much
Aint’t twice as good.

- From “Gravity” by John Mayer.

I kid you not, there are people out there working away with the job title of “Compulsive Hoarding Expert.” I, too, am an expert, a professional in such matters.

I have figured out one of the genuine blessings for having children. You can giv’um stuff. Furniture, books, art. STUFF! My daughter has been the recipient of untold stuff. Chairs and couches. Book cases. Books. Dishes. Art. My wife once upon a time, in a pique, unloaded an incredible assortment of stuff that even yet today I’ll see in my daughter’s home and go, “Damn, when did I give you that?” Hah! Hah! We laugh. Hmmm? I joke, I jest, Josie.

My middle child, too, has received load after load of dishes, lamps and furniture but he has not yet acquired the ability to hold onto it. My youngest child with his girlfriend will be returning from NYC to Central Florida in the fall and I am already putting together piles of “stuff” required for establishing a household. I set aside five “Coke” chairs that were common in soda shops of the 1920s; I was with my mother when she purchased them in South Sioux City, Nebraska in 1959. $5 a piece. They’ve been with me 40 years. Lots of memories. Time to go.

I unloaded this past Super Bowl night one of two “jury panel” chairs I acquired god only knows where. I gave my daughter one, to the son goes the other. But I am only scratching the surface. Don’t ask to see my closets. I am one of “THOSE!” You know, them! I’m just short of the stereotype of the guy who opens his closet door and is immediately buried under a cascading avalanche of stuff. I am sooo embarrassed. Actually, I am not. You know why? Cuz my crap is all neatly boxed and labeled. It would never “fall” out of the closet.

Like that makes a difference. I come by my “acquisition skills” naturally. My father was the type of man who saved stuff. I’ve seen him recycle nails pulled out of a demolished building. A coffee can full of bent, pulled nails in a few minutes would be skillfully hammered straight on concrete and tossed back in the can and put on the back shelf ready, decades later, for that one special occasion requiring such nails. Oh, he saved a nickel, maybe a dime.

After my parents divorced in 1970 (28 years of marital bliss, well, at times.) all brakes were removed from Dad’s inhibitions at collecting. The house methodically filled up with stuff acquired from estate and yard sales. He took tables and stacked them on top of each other, three high in the dining room and then filled them all up with glass objects that when the light was right no doubt filled his heart with delight.

My bedroom which consisted of two rooms actually became the lamp repository. Lamps on the sleeping porch and shades in the other. Floor to ceiling. Among his children it became “a” running joke on how “Dad had cornered the Sioux City market for used lamps.” I have absolutely no idea why he devoted so much space to used lamps.

Yes, I do. For a buck. My Father, a retired corporate lawyer, ran a “flea market” out of the basement. He’d buy something for a buck, clean it, fix it, cosmetically alter it and sell it for $3. Such finances floated his boat. Mentally speaking. Lamps, however, were not a high-demand object. When he died, they ended up dumped. Sigh. He did, however, make “good” money on the rest of it. Incredibly so.

My tastes are “too sophisticated” for the likes of what excited my father. Yes, Sirreee, Bob! What he did was for the joy of turning a profit on a relative piece of junk. Although, over the years the dining room slowly filled up with “quality” stuff. That when he died fetched thousands. Only his more “valued” flea market customers, a mere handful, every got to see the sacred, inner-sanctum dining room display. They immediately showed up at his death to “first dibs” the remains—of his stuff.

Yes, I have stuff from when I was a teenager; acquired and prized and nearly all of it, boxed. But it’s been the last 40 years that I have consistently acquired stuff. I love knicky-knacks. I do. Little objets d’Art. One-of-kind antiques. One-off college senior art projects. Beautiful stuff. Ceramics. Pottery up the ying-yang. Countless art fair acquisitions. Paintings. Framed paintings. Paintings unframed and in folios surrounded by acid free paper. Stuff!

You see something that makes you laugh or is genuinely beautiful and unique and if there is sufficient jingle in your pocket, you buy it. But as the decades pass and if you’re not acquiring the homes necessary to display all your acquisitions (an advantage of “real” wealth), priority of space becomes the issue.

I was recently at the Gallery on First in Sanford and saw a beautiful little object for $X. I could afford it. I wanted it. I did. I longed for it. But where do I put it? Besides, I have boxed away “stuff” of equal or superior beauty that hasn’t seen the light of day for a decade. But what have you done for me lately? Art that once moved me may not so much inspire me today as one’s tastes constantly change and evolve. And isn’t that great.

Upgrades. A couch you had in your 20s may make you shudder in your 60s. Hopefully, not too much. But life to a certain extent is about upgrades. Just look at what we now own (require?) for televisions. Or, stereo systems. Our possessions are no different. And into the boxes go our old choices, the acquisitions of our youth, the had-to-owns of a different day. I highly prize one-offs. I have sufficient vanity to own/possess that which no one else does. And, you know what? Into the boxes it goes. Stacked like so much cordwood in my closets and garage. Burn me on it, children.

Nah, I’m on a tear to clean it all out. Books. I unloaded approximately 3,000 books in the late 70s in Columbia, Missouri. I did it again, unloaded books, a decade ago and am going to condense all my books down to two large bookcases. Going, going, gone!

And over the next year, my closets (and garage) will, well, I will actually again see the corners. Of the ceiling, at least. Hah! Hah!

And to my children, Thanks! For handling all my bull and for taking my stuff. Or, is that “veecha-versa,” as they say.

But, Oh The Glow!

“Cause if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it.”

Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) by Beyoncé.

Sex is a trap. Of the sweetest kind, of course. But it is a trap nonetheless. I marvel at the absolute power of sex. I genuflect. I bow. I pay homage. It is the most powerful force in nature. Unequivocally. It makes earthquakes and tsunamis also-rans as natural phenomena. Simply recall Carol King’s immortal lyrics, “I feel the earth move under my feet. I feel the sky tumbling down . . .”

Now why is this? Look at all the human energy that is devoted to sex. It is mindboggling. Staggering. I cannot even venture a guess as to what our Gross National Product (GNP) would be if we removed what we spend on sex. I am not talking about prostitution (although that is, no doubt, an astronomical figure). I am referring specifically to all the products and services associated with sex between human beings. Clothing, cosmetics, entertainment (TV, movies, music), alcohol, drugs (illegal and legal prescriptions. Think: Viagra, etc.), cosmetic surgery, food, dietary supplements, gym/spa memberships, weight loss clinics, psychological counseling, vacations/travel, publications (Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, etc.). I am not even scratching the surface of what we spend/invest as individuals and as a culture on being sexually attractive and desirable, as well as, what we invest to achieve and facilitate the sexual experience.

I know for a fact, from personal experience, that I became acutely aware at the age of five of the fundamental difference(s) between boys and girls. I didn’t know the particulars, of course, but I knew that I was attracted to (desired) girls for different reasons than when I sought out the company of the “guys.” This wonderful, delightful chemistry between men and women (boys and girls) begins at a young age. And, it is not by chance that this is the case.

We are hardwired by nature to seek out the opposite sex and do the “dirty.” We prepare throughout our youth to do just that. And when our hormones “kick in,” well, Katy, bar the door.

Sex is a fact. It is what it is in order for humans to reproduce. Imagine that the sexual experience isn’t the mind-bending jolt (more on that later) that it can be but rather it is comparable to severely stubbing your toe every time you attempted it. My father had an expression that he all too frequently recommended to me, “If it hurts, don’t do it.” You know, “It!” In this case, we are discussing sex. If it were not pleasurable, how often would we do “it?” How often would we think about “it?” How often would we crave “it?”

But it is pleasurable. Undeniably so. There is no comparable human experience to sex. If you made a list of what you would give up last and, depending on your age, sex would head the list. Books or sex? Movies or sex? Art or sex? Food or sex? Hah! Hah! I joke about food. I do? It is the “A-HA!” experience of life most readily available to all of us.

Again, why is this? Why is sex with someone other than yourself (Bad Chrissy! Oh, not sooo bad. Really.) such a human fixation and priority?

Because it puts such a kick in our step. The process is sublime. It feels exquisitely divine. It focuses one’s attention. It makes you want nothing else (What are transcendent moments for after all?). It’s nostril flaring, heavy breathing myopia. It’s expressive. It’s particular. It unleashes incredible chemicals within our bodies that buoys our spirits, opens our hearts and expands our minds. It makes us (or can) more generous. It can make us better. As human beings. It contributes to health and harmony. It is hopeful. It connects us to/with other human beings. To repeat: It is a positive act that reinforces our connectedness (literally, of course but figuratively as well) with humanity. It is our common denominator. Sex is humanity. It’s the vitamin that actually works!

Ah, but is there anything associated with being human that doesn’t come as the double-edged sword? Sex is no different.

So much of our literature (history too for that matter) is consumed with the subject of sex. This is no mere coincidence. Jealousy. Passion. Treachary. Longing. Betrayal. Hunger. Fidelity. Desire. What after all launched the 1000 Greek ships?

Sex is an experience that requires our most intimate glands come in contact. (I include the brain in this context but it is not axiomatic that it will be entirely engaged. Sigh.) And, out of that life begins. For, lest we forget, sex is about procreation.

I am one of those modern types, however, who believes that sex is, in and of itself, an end goal. Not every sexual experience need produce babies. Mercifully so. I’d even argue that what the world needs is far more “great” sex (for every adult) and far less children. We have enough people. And way too many “unwanted” and “unplanned” babies. As well as unhappy marriages.

There is a school of thought “out there” suggesting that folks save themselves for marriage. I find this peculiar. As Ann Landers once observed, “Would you buy a pair of shoes without trying them on?” I certainly wouldn’t recommend entering the candy store of life and not trying a number of the available treats. For, after all, how would one know whether one prefers Red Hots vs Good & Plenty or Sweet Tarts vs Hot Tamales or a Mr. Goodbar to an “OH Henry!”

When we are younger, sex is befuddling. The post glow of great sex can cloud one’s vision. Great in the sack does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean great for life. Any adult with half a brain on knows that.

I certainly would not advise my daughter or sons (and didn’t) that they follow the advice of Beyoncé that for sex to occur a ring is required. What a recipe for disappointment. Birth control, yes. Awareness of sexually transmitted diseases, yes. I am not advocating casual or impersonal sex, just that we not require marriage in order to experience our sexual selves.

Rock guitarist Jimmy Hendrix sang in the 1960s, “I have only one itchin’ desire, let me stand next to your fire.” Indeed. Fire, however, is seldom “the” building block of relationships.

But, oh the glow!

I close with Edna St. Vincent Millay, “My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends It gives a lovely light!”

And, oh the glow!