Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Monday, April 27, 2015

Bruce Jenner's Transition

     Why would a former Olympic decathlon champion want to transition into a 65-year-old grandmother? 


            Most of us remember the 1976 Olympics and the world's best athlete running an extra lap, fists in the air while flashing that famous smile after winning the decathlon.  


            Bruce Jenner had it all.  He was a handsome 6 foot 2 inch kid in a toned body and a smile that still turns my wife into a quivering bowl of Jello.  I keep a spray bottle of ice water handy to cool her down during these attacks. I had to spray her down today while she watched Brad Pitt in the movie "Troy."  


            But now macho Bruce Jenner wants to be a woman...  He says that in his mind he is a woman.


            Back in the '50s all the boys, myself included, made jokes about Christine Jorgensen, the first man to become a woman.  In those days that was mind-boggling.  Contemplating the surgical "elimination" process was  enough to make a young boy instinctively curl into a protective fetal position.  Louis Armstrong singing "Mack the Knife" created an image of "Mack" in a surgical gown with a meat cleaver as a scalpel. 


            In his recent interview with Diane Sawyer, Bruce admitted that he was more female than male in terms of his self concept.  He said that this dilemma had haunted him from early childhood. Evidently, that's how Bruce always saw himself - as female.  


            Interestingly, after hearing Jenner's story, the Russian athlete that Jenner beat for the decathlon gold metal in the Olympics joked that he can't believe he got beat by a woman.  

            I don't follow Hollywood stuff, sitcoms, and celebrity trash, but when I stand in the check-out line at Safeway and wait as the checker yells "Price check on three," I can't avoid the rags in the rack headlines. The strange family that is famous for being famous continues to keep the tabloids in business. Now we watch as the patriarch of that family turns into a woman before our eyes.  


            Jenner was an international hero and I admired his athleticism, as I did with Bob Mathias before him.  I don't know and I don't care about Jenner's weird family, but I learned something about Bruce by watching his interview.  I also learned something about Diane Sawyer, who lacked the intelligence to decipher Jenner's explanation of the psychodynamics of the conflict he has lived with since childhood. She was more interested in what Jenner's sexual orientation would be after his transition.


            Sawyer went so far as to ask Bruce if he was a lesbian.  I told Gayle that if a magic genie popped out of a bottle and changed me into a woman, I would immediately become a lesbian.  Jenner responded that he is a normal heterosexual, i.e. he's attracted to women.  But sexual attraction is not his issue.  


            Jenner  tried to explain that sexual orientation and desire has nothing to do with his attempt to bring his body into alignment with his self concept.  The man is 65 years old and not focused on getting laid.  Unfortunately, Sawyer's depth of understanding went about as deep as Jenner's nail polish.


            I had firm preconceptions about this entire Jenner thing prior to hearing him explain his background.  Since early childhood when he would put on his sister's clothes well into his adulthood, as he tried to hide his conflict over sexual identity, Jenner tells a sad story. It's a very complex issue. 


            After listening to Bruce during the interview, I came away with better understanding of some of the psychological elements and the process that led to his "coming out."  The "nature nurture" question had been settled in my mind, but if Jenner is being truthful, I may have to allow more latitude in my position.  


            However, I still believe that the appetite that one feeds is the one that grows.  This is most easily confirmed in the area of sex and is a good topic for analysis sometime.  


            I admire Jenner for his honesty and courage in revealing himself to the world.  However I don't agree that he "had to" lay his problem at the feet of his ten kids and seven grandchildren, his mother, his entire family, and his many fans.  He had lived with this problem for over six decades and at the age of 65, why not hang in for the remaining years, maintaining his "manly" image for the sake of his family? 


            Many times confession takes the burden off the "confessor" and simply passes that burden on to someone else; in this case Jenner's family. 


            Diane Sawyer failed to focus on the developmental basis of Jenner's problem, but tried in vain to move it into the area of homosexuality and politics.  She was authentically shocked when Bruce told her that he wasn't an "Obama fan" and, in fact is a conservative Republican.  Even more shocking to Sawyer, he also stated that he is a Christian.  That blew the template. 


            Sawyer may have left the interview bewildered and confused by the psychodynamics involved in Bruce Jenner's conflicts as well as the fact that he is a Christian and a political conservative. I, on the other hand, am left with a better understanding of the lifetime psychological battle of a good, but conflicted man.  



Saturday, April 11, 2015

Huckleberry Days

     With all that is going on in the world, it's difficult to avoid negativity, so, at times, I find myself reflecting on the decade of the '50s; a time just prior to the onset of our national psychosis.  I thought I'd reflect on a few of my light-hearted memories from those great days when I was a kid.           

            I once wrote a book called, "The Huckleberry Days of the '50s" describing my personal experiences growing up in Los Gatos during the '50s.  Silicon Valley back then was a blanket of fruit trees.   Schools had to adjust their starting date based on the prune crop, because  most students worked picking apricots and prunes during the summer. 

            Blossom Hill Road, running from Los Gatos to San Jose, provided a panoramic view of blossoming fruit trees as far as the eye could see.  Those magnificent miles of orchards were the playground for young kids and a source of income for older kids.    

            The orchards and open fields served another purpose - forts.  The urge for young boys to build foxholes and forts seems to be universal.  I still remember those “fort-building” days and the competition between the ground-dwellers, who dug holes and camouflaged them, and the tree-dwellers, who had the advantage of prehensile tails for climbing.  The gopher guys usually did better, because the monkey guys didn’t have opposable thumbs and kept dropping their tools. 

            Miraculously this building urge hit all my friends at about the same time.  Our  neighborhoods were pock-marked with foxholes.  It looked like the area had been taken over by a hoard of large ground squirrels.  

            I remember my younger brother building a better fort than the one my buddy and I had built.  Tom is smart.  It takes brains to become a Captain for a major airline.  TWA honored him upon his retirement, which was rarely done. I've always been proud of him.  His mechanical skills blossomed early and I envied his fort. 

            Tom had the additional advantage of having a girl to share his domain.  Tom didn't know the unwritten law that forts were for boys only.  Girls were not allowed in a boy's fort.  But Tom hadn't yet grasped the concept that girls weren't boys.  He thought they were soft boys with long hair who ran funny.

            But ignorance of the law is no excuse.  To express our displeasure, my buddy and I lit Tom's fort on fire while he was inside playing doctor with his girlfriend.  The poor kid tripped over his stethoscope as they both scrambled out in a cloud of smoke.  

            If we had given him a few more minutes to finish his exam, he may have resolved any question he may have had as to why we didn't let soft boys who ran funny into our forts.  Of course, that attitude changed dramatically for all of us a few short years later, but by then we had forgotten how to build a fort.

            There is a lingering rumor that my fort-building buddy used Tom's stethoscope on dates in high school combining it with the reassuring ploy, "It's okay.  I'm a doctor." 
            We needed wood for our forts and we weren't adverse to commandeering wood anywhere we could find it.  A local contractor had just completed a house on the next street over from ours. The word on the street was that his house came up one bedroom and half a garage short.  He ran out of lumber.  The poor guy was still studying his wood order when I tossed the last of the camouflage over my hideout.

            I have a friend who was raised in Southern California where orange orchards covered the land.  He and his buddies built the mother of all foxholes.  It was deep.  It was huge.  And it was very well camouflaged.  One sunny day my friend and his buddies were making their daily trek to their underground home when they heard the sound of a tractor.  Suddenly they saw a tractor make a turn down the very row where this huge foxhole had been dug.  It was the farmer who owned the orchard blissfully guiding his tractor into fort-building history.

            The boys took off running as the tractor approached their camouflaged foxhole.  They looked back just in time to see the tractor disappear head first into the black hole.  That was many decades in the past.  Legend has it that the tractor is now buried under a shopping mall and when it's real quiet and the moon is full, they say you can hear the ghostly sounds of a tractor engine idling where orange trees once grew.   

            That's a true story, except for the ghost tractor, and I may have embellished the thing about burning down Tom's fort.  But that was the world I grew up in and it couldn't have been better.

Friday, April 3, 2015


     Easter means chocolate eggs, Easter egg hunts, and spring break to some people.  But for many others, Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of Christ" gave us a realistic-maybe too realistic- depiction of what Jesus went through prior to and during the crucifixion.

            We've seen versions of the crucifixion many times in a variety of movies.  The unjustified brutality can elicit anger and hate for the Roman soldiers and religious leaders who inflicted pain and suffering on a man who only expressed love and kindness. The people chose the criminal Barabbas for freedom and the sinless Jesus for crucifixion. Evil abhors good.     

            One thing that has always stood out to me is something I find very difficult to comprehend.  It's the fact that even on the cross, while in excruciating pain and agony, Jesus looked down from the cross at the Roman soldiers who were gambling for His clothes and said something shocking.  Jesus said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  He forgave them.

            Could you forgive those who had whipped and tortured you and had just pounded huge nails through your wrists and feet?  I couldn't, but Christ did.

            We live in a time when Christians are persecuted, tortured, and killed world-wide.  The persecution and hatred of Christians is increasing in America.  I have a visceral reaction to those anti-Christian zealots, particularly Islamists who behead children in the name of a Muslim god. The last thing I want to do is forgive them, but that is what Jesus taught and demonstrated in the most horrific and least likely situation one would expect to find forgiveness.

            I suppose I could forgive the Islamic savages after I killed them.  I don't think forgiveness means acceptance and I doubt that Christians are obliged to stand by passively while evil primitives slaughter Christians and Jews, including innocent children.  So there is a conflict, but Jesus said that if we want to be forgiven, we must forgive others.  Talk about a dilemma . . .

            We always think of forgiveness as forgiving others, but how about forgiving ourselves?  I think that is some cases it's easier to forgive someone who did something to cause us pain than to forgive ourselves for things that haunt our memories and cause a sense of guilt and regret.

            This whole forgiveness thing is something I don't completely understand. It seems to go against human nature.  There have been many times when I have been reminded of this obligation and have tried to forgive with some degree of success.    But it's difficult to wrap my mind around the astounding fact that Jesus forgave while dying in agony on the cross.    

            That is only one of many things that impact me personally when I consider an event that happened over two thousand years ago; an event so powerful that it divided history into BC and AD.  That brief statement by Christ from the cross is sometimes overlooked, but it is immensely significant.