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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Jerome Phillips


THIS IS NOT A TEST, with your pal and confidant Michael Jerome Phillips

I Got No Friends ‘Cause They Read the Papers (transcript)

Published April 5, 2020

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Greetings from the high desert and the great American Southwest. It’s spring in the desert. There are a million young Cottontails running around, and the quail are fat. The desert tortoises are coming out of hibernation, but they seem to be social distancing. I threw a couple of bread crusts out the back door the other day, and it nearly ignited a riot. There was a fight between a Blue Jay, a Cottontail and a Jackrabbit. The squirrels love the radish greens, but the rabbits won’t touch them. Snobs. We had a lot of rain and snow over the winter, so a good bloom is probably right around the corner. Last night I heard two owls calling to each other, and as always, the coyotes howl, and the wind blows free. I am your cordial host, Michael Phillips, and you are about to be subjected to something I like to call THIS IS NOT A TEST. A phrase you may be hearing more often these days. Just remember I was there first.

Hmm, what on earth is there to talk about? I can’t think of a thing. Well, okay, see ya next time! Thanks for coming. Thank you for your patronage and undying support. Thank you for wiping your feet before you come through the door. And thanks for wearing the hazmat suit. It puts me at ease. Is anyone at ease anymore? I don’t know. I would think not, but when I go out, which isn’t often, it seems like there are a lot of people out there just doing whatever they’ve always done. Maybe I’m imagining it. Or maybe I’m still getting used to living out in the middle of the desert. I don’t know. Again. Maybe I should start saying, “I still don’t know,” that way, I’d be acknowledging all the previous times I’ve said, “I don’t know.” The knowing of things is important. More important than belief, yes. The people who emailed me after the last episode certainly seemed to know some things. And most of them were pretty convinced that I don’t know anything. I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I have to be right sometimes.

But I should ask you – were my COVID/coronavirus comments last time insensitive? Ignorant? Unfeeling? Heartless? Crass? Juvenile? Callous? Unsympathetic? Probably. The thing is, and here’s the thing of it, the crux of the biscuit – I can’t live every day thinking about the death or suffering that’s going on around me. If I did, I’d be paralyzed, and that’s all I’d ever do. I mean, if you really thought about everything going on around you – okay, not thought about it I guess, but felt about it – really felt about it, you’d be fucked. You can’t think about it, and you can’t sympathize and grieve with everyone, because it would be a full-time job. A job that no one would volunteer for, and no one could do. It’s probably why some doctors seem like assholes. What are they supposed to do? If they took everything personally or were emotionally affected by everything they saw, they’d have to quit and become plumbers.

It’s more than enough to grieve about the things that affect us personally. Even that’s too much for a lot of us to bear. But then someone comes knocking on your door – or they used to come knocking on the door anyway – asking for money for someone in a country you’ve never seen who needs malaria medicine or eyeglasses. I hate that they can’t get malaria medicine or eyeglasses or a god damn roof over their heads, I don’t like that. It’s wrong; it’s infuriating. But I can’t dwell on it. I’ve learned that I’m too sensitive. Carol taught me that by saying, “You’re so sensitive!” many times over the years. I never saw myself that way. I always tried to be detached, which appears to the rest of the world as insensitivity, and to which Carol says, “Yeah, dummy, you’re detached because you’re sensitive.”

Anyway, I don’t think I said anything ridiculous about the dreaded COVID. Or anything any more ridiculous than what I usually say. I was talking about the irrational fear and panic anyway, not about the spread of disease. I thought that’s what I was talking about. Like I said, there’s more news now than there’s ever been, that’s the main problem. The constant exposure to all of that fear-mongering makes people believe the world is on the edge of collapse. Then that whipped-up hysteria becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating a world on the edge of collapse. You don’t need any more proof of that concept than the month of March in the year 2020. Look around. We don’t usually watch the news on TV because it’s always been a hysteria machine, even if they have to create that hysteria out of nothing. “Coming up at eleven, is your mascara killing you?” But man, watching it now – well, kiss your ass goodbye, ’cause we’re all gonna die!

My thoughts about death, or my philosophy, if we’re elevating it to that, however you want to look at it, what goes through my head, what rattles around in my crass and juvenile gourd, isn’t in line with what most people believe. Here in the culture I live in anyway. I look at death as part of life, not a universal tragedy. I mean, some deaths are tragic, yes. Many are. Most are not. When most of us die, it will not be a tragedy. For the people in our lives, yes. Or for some of them, anyway. But for the rest of the world, no. We’re supposed to die. That’s how being alive works. Not thinking about that doesn’t make it not so. And it has nothing to do with life being “precious,” or whatever cliche or platitude they use. Life is beautiful. Even your life that I’m far too sensitive to care about.

I may as well take it even further than that, since half of you have already hit the “stop” and “unsubscribe” buttons on your podcast players. But I’m not sure that when we’re at the last part of our lives, that dying part no one wants to think about, that we should do everything we can to delay it. I’m not sure that the fact that we live much longer than we did only a couple hundred years ago a good thing. I don’t know. Look around. Around the world, not just your COVID bunker. Is it a good thing that there are almost eight billion people in the world? See, now we’re back to that suffering that I can’t look at. But you’ll see it if you look around. And of course, we’ll see how my philosophy holds up when I get there myself. To the end. It could change. I’ll let you know.

Is it weird that every time I hear “COVID,” I think of “Coven”? From the “American Movie” documentary, and that guy’s horror movie coven that he calls “Coven.” Is it weird? But life and death, sure. Talking about life makes me think about a Bob Marley interview from the 70s, you can probably see it on YouTube. Some ignorant Aussie twat is peppering Bob with stupid, condescending questions, and he asks him, “Do you make a lot of money from your music?” Bob says, “Money? I mean, how much is a lot of money to you?” Guy says, “That’s a good question. Have you made millions of dollars?” Bob says, “No.” In normal conversation, that would be that. But the interviewer wants the answer he wants, and he isn’t going to stop until he gets it. So he asks, “Are you a rich man?” Bob asks what he means by rich, and the guy asks if he has a lot of possessions, a lot of money in the bank.

Bob is looking off into the distance, and you can see he’s getting…perturbed, and he says, “Possessions make you rich? I don’t have that type of richness.” Then he looks the Aussie twat in the eye and says, “My richness is life. Forever.” There’s a slight pause, and Bob raises one eyebrow a bit and just keeps staring at the guy. It’s a funny interview because the guy thinks Bob, and all Jamaicans, are just a troublesome population of filthy, stoned idiots. I mean he comes right out and says as much. But all he does is expose himself as the only idiot in sight. Anyway, I subscribe to that outlook. Your life is all you’ve got, and that’s your wealth. Forever. It doesn’t last forever, though, so stop fucking around. “If you knew what life is worth, you would look for yours on earth.” Ya dig? Have I said that before? Did you just groan and think to yourself, “Ugh, not the Rasta shit again…”? Okay, let’s lower a different bucket into the well.

Here’s a question, what’s better, an abundance of caution or an abundance of toilet paper? “Abundance of caution.” Another dumb cliche dreamed up by politicians or the military or “officials.” Official language. Military language. Empty calories tossed to the swine. That’s you and me. The swine. The herd. That’s how the “officials” see us. “What do we tell the herd to keep them from jumping the fence?” I talked about business idiot terms and buzzwords last time, and there’s no shortage of them around these days. “Social distancing.” Who made up that one? An “official,” that’s who. Only an “official” or someone who hates the English language could come up with these things. “On the ground.” “How do things look on the ground over there, Jim?” We’re all on the fucking ground, aren’t we? Unless you’ve learned how to float like a hawk. It’s like asking, “How do things look through a pair of eyes attached to a brain, Jim?”

On the plus side, COVID has certainly made me aware of how many corporate email lists I need to unsubscribe from. I think I’ve heard from every company in the country, and some other countries too, with thirty paragraphs about how they are addressing the end times. We’re seeing all of these because there is no original thought allowed in business. “Oh, shit, the gas company sent out a COVID email. Where’s our COVID email? Someone get on that right away.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to know how Smashwords or Discogs is grappling with this horrible crisis. I got an email about COVID from the company that hosts this podcast. Okay…thanks for letting me know? I wasn’t particularly worried about how computers would weather the storm, but it’s good to know that they’ll be fine.

And, I should say that I’m glad some of you are getting a paid vacation. Those of us who work from home every day, and continue to without any change, salute you, and your selfless bravery. Social media certainly lights up when a lot of people are stuck at home, doesn’t it. It’s so reassuring to hear so many people saying, “We’re all in this together.” I guess my only question is if we’re all in it together, why are the grocery store shelves still picked clean? Seems to me, and I’m not an expert or an “official,” but it seems to me like everyone is in it for themselves. How much toilet paper do you need, bro? Or bread or pasta or bread flour or crackers or ramen noodles or eggs? How much do you need? I don’t eat eggs, but I make bread, and I eat those god damned ramen noodles just about every day. Or I used to.

In fairness to the hoarders out there, I should say that I went to the grocery store 10 minutes after it opened on Friday, and there were still about half a dozen small packages of toilet paper left. Five of them were bamboo toilet paper, which doesn’t sound like something I’d like to rub up against sensitive parts of my body, but I think they were still there because they were at the very back of the top shelf and nobody could reach them. I didn’t buy one of them, not because I’m afraid of bamboo toilet paper, which I kind of am, but because we have enough toilet paper. See how it works? All you have to do when you’re standing in front of the pasta is ask yourself, do I have enough pasta? If the answer is ‘yes,’ push your cart elsewhere. Then when the person who doesn’t have any pasta rolls up, there’s some for them. Miraculous! We’re all in it together, remember your Instagram post?

We use this water filter called Zero Water, and I took the last filter from the box yesterday and went to order some new ones. As I started typing zerowater.com I thought, “Shit, they’re all going to be gone.” They weren’t, not exactly. All they had left though were two-packs. Not Tupacs, two filter packs. And like anything else, you pay a lot more per filter for a two-pack than you do a 12-pack. It shouldn’t be a surprise since bottled water is also scarce. And no, I still don’t understand the connection. Unless all the water taps in all the sinks in the country are going to stop working, in which case there are probably going to be bigger problems than filling your drinking glass. I don’t even know why we still use the filters. Habit, I guess. The water here where we live is really good. It comes from a local aquifer, and it tastes like water. Like you remember when you were a kid. Unless you’re younger or grew up in Flint, Michigan, or something.

But we are all in it together, and it would be cool if people would really think about that. All of you who are saying it, take a minute to really think about what it means. “One love” isn’t just a song in the binder at the karaoke place, ya dig? It’s a philosophy, and it’s not always an easy philosophy to live by, but it’s a good one. Because it’s true. We’re all connected, as you can see now. We all rely on each other even if we don’t know or see each other. We, the humans on the earth here collectively, are an organism. Like your skin is an organ of your body, but we don’t usually think about it like that. It’s just the outside part that keeps all the other organs from falling onto the floor. But your skin is an organ, and we, all of us together as a species, are an organism. We all need each other, and I know your neighbor is a slob and might be clinically insane, but they’re part of the organism. They are part of you.

And while I recognize that you are part of me and I am part of you, maybe stay home instead of visiting the national park. I know you’re bored, and I’m glad you enjoy Joshua Tree, and really, I want you to come out and spend time here. I do. But maybe not now. It’s freaking out a lot of the locals. The park gates have been locked for weeks, but people still come. On the weekends, their cars line the roads for a mile outside the locked gates, and they walk to the park. Sometimes through residential neighborhoods. It’s making people jumpy. And you’re buying all of our ramen, so maybe just stay home for a while. The rocks and cactus and fat quail will still be here in a couple of months. I’ll keep an eye on them for you.

Remember at the beginning when I said that the desert tortoises were social distancing? Not really. I’ll just go to any lengths to make a joke. Nothing and no one is sacred, including the poor tortoises. I am ashamed, yet somehow I’m not. Not only are the tortoises not social distancing, one made its leisurely way through the yard the other day. Carol spotted it chewing the blossoms off one of the pear cactuses. We stood on the porch and watched it for a long time. It tried to get onto the porch with us, but there’s a closed gate there, and the tortoise couldn’t figure out how to unlatch it. The desert tortoise isn’t exactly an endangered species, but they’re classified as something not good. “Threatened” or “vulnerable” I think.

They spend 95% of their time underground, and they hibernate for almost half of the year, so we don’t see them very often. So it’s more than a little magical to be able to sit out on your porch and watch a tortoise dicking around in your yard. You know, if you were thinking, “He’s sure making a big deal about seeing a fucking turtle.” Anyway, they’re in trouble now because of people, of course. Not that people kill a lot of them, though who knows, people are pretty awful. But no, it’s because people, or our garbage, more accurately, attract ravens, and there’s nothing more delicious to a raven than a freshly hatched tortoise. They survived here in the desert for 15 or 20 million years, and now their very existence is being endangered by our garbage. And the birds who love it.

And still, some people believe in god but not science. Go figure. I don’t know what that has to do with it really. But speaking of freshly hatched tortoises, back in the 90s, I saw one of those fresh hatchlings scrapping around in the dirt near the shack I was living in. It couldn’t have been more than two inches long, and it didn’t look like it was having a good go of it. I didn’t see an adult around anywhere, and the little thing was just walking in a circle. I put a couple grapes down near it, but I didn’t see it eat them. Carol told me the other day I probably killed it because grapes are deadly poison to a lot of animals. But in my defense, I’m kind of stupid about things like that.

I don’t know if that baby tortoise made it, but the desert is cruel, I do know that. Not as cruel as COVID-19 I guess, but still pretty cruel. But the city is cruel too, and it was no treat living there sometimes. Especially in the last place we lived, Monterey Park, which neither Carol or I liked. So why were we there? I don’t know. Probably the rent was too damn high in Alhambra or anywhere else we’d want to live. I still love Los Angeles. I lived there for 35 years after all. I love it, and I’ll defend it, but I don’t miss it. I don’t even remember the last time I was there. Probably to go to LAX. Carol goes more often, which is good. She’s Los Angeles born and raised so she has to touch down there from time to time.

Anyway…ideological conservatism…that sure disappeared quickly, didn’t it? All of those Republicans who are always shrieking about “smaller government” signed off on 2 trillion dollars of government spending without so much as a single mop of their brows with their monogrammed handkerchiefs. Of course, they only did that because the economy collapsing would be bad for the businesses that make them wealthy. They cling to their backward idiocy where the economy isn’t concerned, though. Whining now about things like quarantines being totalitarian tactics, and claiming that the number of deaths is inflated. They want it both ways, as politicians and the wealthy always do.

You can show them that we’re all the same, that we’re an organism, and maybe they can even see that when they’re alone and no one is pointing a camera or microphone at them. But they can’t admit it. Publicly or to themselves. They’re too twisted up, and they’ve believed their own lies for too long. There’s a fungus – a four-square mile thing, up in Oregon, it’s all connected, and they say it’s the largest organism in the world. Then there’s that aspen grove in Utah, where all the trees are genetically identical and share a root system. Fifty thousand trees over a hundred acres, something like that. Then there’s us. Then there’s Maude. Right on, Maude.

People always used to say that the only thing that could unite all the people in the world would be an attack from Martians. Or, as the more scientifically astute would say, aliens, because they know there are no Martians. That we can detect, anyway.
But yeah, that’s always been the line, hasn’t it. We won’t unite until we have a common enemy. And, hey, would you look at that, here comes a common enemy! We’re all going to unite now! Kumbaya is coming! But people, here at least, in the United States of America, are still blabbering about politics. There’s a music forum I look at once in a while, and they had to close their COVID threads because people can’t talk about this situation without talking about “the Democrat party” or Trump.

I mean, it doesn’t help that we have a president who is clearly and demonstrably insane. And a government surrounding him that’s full of people who witness that insanity every day but who continue to stand behind him and nod when he talks about Martians. I wonder sometimes about those people, those officials. The ones who stand in front of cameras and soberly nod at insanity or just talk bullshit that they know is bullshit. Lies that they know are lies. I wonder about them. Like, is there a moment in your life where you decide to sell your soul? Is there some pivotal event that happens where they say, “Well, from now on, I’m just going to look people in the eye and lie to them.” Or are they just born without souls?

Politicians by their nature are liars, but I wonder if any people who aren’t born liars get into politics, and then, inevitably, they get to that point where they have to decide. They have to choose to sell out. I wonder what it’s like to stand in front of cameras or microphones and know that you’re lying but just not give a shit. There has to be some human part left of them that’s feeling bad, I guess you’d call that the conscience. If they haven’t suffocated or murdered their conscience, it has to be in there, some little piece of it, asking, “What the hell are you doing?”

I don’t know. Or, I still don’t know. But really, if this thing we’re going through now can’t make people see how stupid all of that is, nothing ever will. It is The Day The Earth Stood Still, you’re living it right now. Klaatu hasn’t come to earth in a silver disc, but COVID-19 has. And for better or worse, it’s stopped everything in its tracks. But even in the face of that common enemy, so to speak, some people continue their insane rants against “The Democrat party” and other imaginary threats to their way of life. It’s meant as a dig, the “Democrat” party, but it’s really just more mindless “official” speak. Shelter in place, motherfuckers. Boots on the ground! Active shooter! Speaking of active shooters, as opposed to inactive shooters I guess, the other day I read that, like toilet paper, it’s impossible to find any bullets to buy now.

Which probably makes sense, since bullets and toilet paper are basically the same things to some people. But I wonder what’s going through someone’s mind when they buy 500 bullets because there’s a particularly rotten virus going around? What are they thinking? “I better have enough ammo to protect my house when the apocalypse happens.” Is that what they’re thinking? Like, things are going to get to the point where they’ll be sitting in a chair next to a broken out front window of their house, without sleeping for three days, shooting people who approach the house looking for toilet paper as they climb over the pile of bodies stacked up in front of it? Wondering if the 500 bullets are going to be enough?

Maybe I only say that because I believe I have enough bullets. But do I? Now I’m not so sure. To be clear, I only have a gun because my dad bought it for me when I was eight years old. I wouldn’t have bought one as an adult; I don’t think. I know I was eight because the receipt is still in the box the gun came in. It was $80, which would be like $600 today. An expensive gift for a third-grader. But to be fair to the old man, I did start school early, so I may have been a fourth-grader in 1968. And he held on to the gun, so it isn’t like it was in the box under my bed, and I was bringing it to school. Hold on, let me pause here for station identification.

Okay, I just looked, and it turns out I have more than 500 bullets. Not a lot more, but that’s kind of funny. If you’re the kind of person who can find humor in bullets. Or hypocrisy. I probably won’t live long enough to shoot all of those bullets, unless, you know, apocalypse. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t drop by during the apocalypse. Please do. Unless one of the front windows are broken out. Then maybe stay away. It could be a sign of trouble. I don’t believe in that kind of quick apocalypse anyway. When time is up for the human organism it will probably be a slow decline. No need for bullets. But toilet paper, yeah. You’ll still need that. Better go get some more. How did I end up with 500 bullets?

All right, I’ll see you next time, hopefully we’ll both be here. I’m pretty sure that we will, but I was pretty sure we’d be living under President Clinton the second right now, so don’t take my assuredness or assurances for anything other than wild speculation and the wishful thinking of an old hippie. I will say, though, one of my sisters is a nurse in Florida. She told me she was exposed to COVID, probably more than a few times, so she’s quarantined at home for a couple of weeks, those are the rules. But she’s fine. So maybe my people can’t get it. Maybe I’m an essential business, genetically speaking, and nature figured out to leave me here to report in a sober and factual manner about epidemics and apocalypse and things. I mean, someone has to do it.

Until then, stay clean. Stay free. Keep your powder dry. Keep your wig on straight. One love. One god, one aim, one destiny. Selah.