Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Big Brother & Aunt Evelyn: Reno or bust, Part 3

(Photos are of one of the Donner Party cannibals, me at the slots, Big Brother houseguests acting like politicians, our car breaking down, Ashley standing under a "Donnor Summit" sign and baby Mena -- she didn't go on the trip but you always want to see a photo of baby Mena, right?)

I've been in Reno for 24 hours now and have pretty much broken even on playing the slots. I made an initial investment of $10, won $10, and then lost $10 over the course of an hour -- so I figure I got an hour's worth of entertainment out of the deal as well as some genuine physical exercise from pulling the lever down a few hundred times. The Ramada Inn casino got my money. I got to have fun. It was a win-win situation.

Then it was time to go out to lunch with my 95-year-old aunt, the real purpose of our trip to Reno. And she looked just like she had back in 1973. I should look that good at age 95! 95 is the new 50? Yeah.

First me and Aunt Evelyn talked about my childhood. Perhaps she might be able to remember stuff about it that I had been too young to understand. "What was I like as a child?" I asked her.

Aunt Evelyn thought for a long moment and then said, "Messy." Not the answer I had been hoping for.

Then we re-lived my beloved father's probate trial in all its juicy details. My evil sister had been NOWHERE to be seen during that last horrible year of Pop's life as he valiantly struggled to avoid showing my daughter Ashley and me what terrible pain he was in and began rapidly shrinking before our very eyes. However. My sister was right there when it came time to read Pop's will. Within a week of my father's death, my sister had refused to allow the cemetery to bury him unless we bought her off -- and had sued us for probate. Plus her husband was a lawyer. Free legal work.

That was then and this is now, however. I've learned a few things about the law since that time. First and foremost, I've learned about Nolo Press's wonderful self-help law books and how to represent myself in court. Had I but known about Nolo back then, it would have made a really big difference. Instead of cowering and being wishy-washy in the face of my sister's frontal attack, I would have made the following speech to the judge:

"Your Honor, my sister is (allegedly) a greedy cow who is trying to go against my father's known wishes and (allegedly) steal all his money -- what little there is left of it after all his healthcare expenses. But I plan to fight her to the bitter end 'in propria persona' -- all by myself. I plan to ask for a jury trial. I plan to have her and her husband be forced to drive up to Oakland from Los Gatos once a week for a decade. I plan to drag our family's dirty laundry through court for as long as it takes. I plan for this legal battle to go on for YEARS. So. Your Honor. Does anyone want to settle this case right now? Or does my sister's husband want to give up his law practice and devote 24/7 to this case for the rest of his LIFE?" And then my bully of a sister would have been stood up to and would have had to back down. Humph. And Pop would have been proud of me. He (allegedly) always liked me better.

Representing oneself in court has distinct advantages. While the opposition has to pay for legal defenses or lawyers that represent themselves have to burn the midnight oil, someone representing themselves as "pro per" does not. Going "pro per" even helped me settle my recent lawsuit against the Department of Defense. And lawyers HATE it when you go "pro per".

After lunch with Aunt Evelyn, I talked with some of the other residents of her senior living facility, and when one of the residents found out that I was from Berkeley, he said, "I'm a Bush supporter. I'm telling you that right now." Well, guess what. Unless you are a retired defense contractor and/or never had to depend on banks or Wall Street for help grow your retirement nest-egg, you backed the wrong horse.

"It was wonderful to see you again," I told Aunt Evelyn, "but it's Sunday and we had better start driving back to Berkeley before the traffic gets too heavy." Ha. My real reason for heading back early was that I didn't want to miss the next episode of Big Brother!

"Why do you even like that show?" asked Ashley.

"Because it reminds me of national politics. Like in Washington DC, everyone in the BB house is lying to everyone else and abandoning friendship, trust and morality in favor of stealth, secrecy and greed. And the players who try to act morally and/or who believe other people's lies get voted out first."

On the way back to California, we listened to an audiotape by Richard Feynman, wherein he talked about how the human race had made great progress scientifically but mentally we are still behaving like cavemen. I totally agree. According to the Seattle Times, "Scientific and technological progress continues to accelerate. IBM promises a computer at 20,000 trillion calculations per second by 2011, which is estimated to be the speed of the human brain. And nanomedicine may one day rebuild damaged cells atom by atom, using nanobots the size of blood cells. But technological progress carries its own risks. Globalization and advanced technology allow fewer people to do more damage and in less time."

What's the point of inventing all this stuff that allows us to live a better life than our fathers -- if it only means that we have more modern high-tech stuff at our disposal that allows us to act more like Genghis Khan?

Feynman also pointed out that everyone demands that scientific theories must be proved -- yet no one demands the same criteria for, say, political or religious theories. "There is an infinite amount of crazy stuff," Feynman intoned as we crossed the Sierras, "which, put another way, is that the environment is actively, intensely unscientific. There is talk of telepathy still, although it's dying out. There is faith-healing galore, all over. There is a whole religion of faith-healing. There's a miracle at Lourdes where healing goes on. Now, it might be true that astrology is right. It might be true that if you go to the dentist on the day that Mars is at right angles to Venus, that it is better than if you go on a different day. It might be true that you can be cured by the miracle of Lourdes. But if it is true, it ought to be investigated. Why? To improve it. If it is true, then maybe we can find out if the stars do influence life; that we could make the system more powerful by investigating statistically, scientifically judging the evidence objectively, more carefully."

Then our car started smoking and we stopped on Donner Summit to pour oil and water and brake fluid and steering fluid into the engine -- and to think about cannibalism and body parts and illegal organ transplant rings in Afghanistan, Israel and New Jersey.

And now I'm back home in Berkeley and trying to win the lottery so that I can go back on another road trip ASAP.