Category Archives: Barron Cannon

Cracking Wise

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I was busy on our front porch one rainy afternoon, sticking my thumb into our cat’s mouth and springing his fangs with my fingernail, something he never tires of, when my wife interrupted us.

“I’ve asked you to not do that,” she said impatiently. “You’re going to break his teeth and then we’ll have a toothless cat.”

“He likes it,” I said. “Besides, I think it strengthens his teeth.”

“Oh, never mind.” she said. “Look what came in the mail. It’s the yoga magazine and your friend Barron’s in it.”

She has called him my friend instead of our friend ever since he dug up his mother’s flower garden and replaced it with a root vegetable garden.

“Barron? What did he ever do to become newsworthy besides spend half the day on his mat exercising and meditating?”

“He hasn’t done anything, but he’s writing an advice column for them.”

I was so surprised I jumped out of my seat and the cat scattered pell-mell. I had been sending stories to the magazine for more than three years and been ignored, never even receiving a rejection letter.

“An advice column? What does Barron know about advice?”

“Honey, Barron is the kind of man who, when he asks if you want a piece of advice, it doesn’t matter what you say, because you’re going to get it anyway.”

I snatched the magazine from her hands. It was folded to the full-page column, and staring me in the face was a picture of Barron Cannon, standing on one leg in the middle of his parent’s backyard, where he lives in a yurt.

I fell back into my chair and began reading ‘Ask the Yogi’.

Dear Yogi Barron:

I enlisted in the army last month to defend our country and fight terrorists. I expected basic training to be hard, but I was ready for the challenge. Now I find out that yoga is going to be part of our fitness training. Our drill sergeant says it will keep us flexible instead of bulked up and meditation will keep us calm when things get nerve wracking. How can that be? Yoga is for chicks, isn’t it? I need to know the right way to hold my rifle, not the right way to touch my toes, and I need to shoot when I see the whites of their eyes, not get in touch with my third eye.

Signed, Dismayed in Fort Hood

Dear Dismayed:

Not to worry.

After Osama bin Laden was killed and thrown into the ocean, Gaiam Life, the leading yoga accessory manufacturer, issued a “special edition” yoga mat thanking Seal Team 6 for taking care of business. There are lots of yogis going heavy. Even the Dalai Lama says that if someone is going to shoot you, shoot back first. Many people are skeptical about the power of yoga, but not the Navy Seals. When interviewed they often mention how closely yoga training resembles their own. Some Seals have even set up fitness schools, blending yoga exercise with combat techniques. Since you’re just a grunt in boot camp, you’re not going to argue with the Seals about the power of yoga, are you, grasshopper?

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

It sounded just like Barron Cannon; in other words, snippy and deific. It didn’t sound like a mass-market magazine that knows how to trim its sails.

And, what did he mean by ‘Your Dutch Uncle’?

I had to get to the bottom of how Barron Cannon, who lives off the grid, had gotten his scribbling onto the pages of a magazine with millions of subscribers as well as more advertising pages than pages of anything else.

I couldn’t understand how anyone like him, who, if he had stooped to be on Facebook would never get a like in his life, could possibly have gotten a corporation to pay him for his opinions. To say he was not only curmudgeonly and out of the touch with the yoga generation was understating the obvious.

It had stopped raining, so I rolled up the magazine, stuck it into my back pocket, and took a walk the two-or-so miles up Riverside Drive to Barron’s yurt on the heights of Hogsback Lane overlooking the Rocky River.

Barron and I were soon sitting on the edge of his parent’s backyard, on a pair of plastic Adirondack chairs he had scavenged somewhere, while he unrolled the magazine and admired his handiwork.

Dear Yogi Barron:

I have been married for 12 years and have three children. I love yoga, but my husband has never had any interest in it, so I have always gone to the studio without him. He enjoys sleeping, eating, and watching sports on TV. In the past year I have fallen for a man with two boys who also passionately practices yoga at my studio. He is very fond of me, too. His wife is ignorant and irresponsible. I think he would be a wonderful husband and a great father for my children. Should I take the plunge, leave my husband, and start a new life?

Signed, Troubled in Minneapolis

Dear Troubled:

Have you lost your mind?

First of all, do you realize there are five children involved in your so-called yoga romance? How do you think they are going to feel when not one but two families are broken up? Second, what does yoga have to do with cheating on your husband, besides breaking most of the principles by which it is practiced? There is more to yoga than standing on your head, which you seem to be doing quite well. There is no reason to be unhappy in love, certainly, but dump the yogi lothario and try helping your husband off the La-Z-Boy. Maybe there is a reason he is such a slug. Living to eat and watching sports 24/7 is living the zombie life. Get him off his butt, on his feet, and off to the studio with you. It might be the way to bring him back to life, and your marriage, too. When you help him you help yourself, as well; it might also bring you back to your senses.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

After Barron’s long-suffering mother had brought us coffee and scones, I came right to the point.

“How on earth did your words of wisdom make it into print?” I asked, incredulous.

“A word to the wise isn’t what I’m doing, since it’s usually people on the stupid side that need me the most,” he said.

“I would have thought offering advice about the day-to-day was beneath you.”

Barron Cannon has a PhD in philosophy. He lived off the grid because no sooner had he won his diploma than he realized politics had replaced philosophy in the modern world.

“It’s not really advice,” he said. “Advice is free, but since it’s in a magazine that people have to pay for, it’s more like counseling.”

“You don’t sound like the friendliest counselor in the world,” I pointed out.

“I’m not trying to be their friend, because no friendship could stand the strain of good advice for too long,” he said.

“Which is it, council or advice?”

“It’s both,” he said. “But don’t worry, I never give them my best council, or advice, or whatever you want to call it, because they wouldn’t follow it, anyway.”

Dear Yogi Barron:

I practice at a large yoga studio and often hear our various yoga teachers say things like “Live in the now” and “It’s all good, it’s all yoga”. But, what about learning from the past and planning for the future? And, it can’t all be good, can it? Some things have to be right and wrong. Don’t they?

Signed, Baffled in Boston

Dear Baffled:

It is obvious you don’t understand yoga, which is our most beloved Eastern philosophy because it is so accepting of SUV’s and Ayn Rand. It is also obvious you have not read the Bhagavad-Gita, one of yoga’s most important guidebooks.

In the book, which is a long poem from a long time ago, a warrior named Arjuna doesn’t want to go into battle, telling his chariot driver, who happens to be the god Krishna, that he doesn’t see the sense of it. He decries all the slaughter leading to nothing but disaster and ruin. Krishna has his own agenda, which is revealed later in the story, so I won’t ruin the surprise. Needless to say, he musters many top-down arguments to convince Arjuna he must go to war, among them the “be here now” argument and the “there is no evil” argument. It turns out it really is all in as Arjuna goes to war, after all.
The newest translation by Stephen Mitchell is the best and most accessible and I recommend you get and read it as soon as possible. All will be revealed.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

“If you’re sensible enough to give good advice you should be sensible enough to give no advice,” I said. “ So, what is it you’re trying to accomplish?”

“I say a good scare is better than good advice, so maybe I’m trying to throw a little scare into them,” he said.

“But, it benefits me, too. Living in mom’s backyard suits me, such as it is, but I’ve been thinking of a girlfriend, which means I need some ready cash. I’m getting paid for telling people the best thing they could do when falling is not land, and that’s a gift horse I’m willing to look in the mouth.”

When I heard the words girlfriend and money come out of Barron Cannon’s mouth I almost fell out of my chair for the second time that day.

Barron had been living a no expenses life since graduation. He had sold or given away almost everything he owned he didn’t consider essential. He lived off his root vegetable plot, some fruit trees, and a solar array. He practiced yoga and meditation, read only e-books on the Lakewood Library site, and went for long hikes in the Metro Park.

“Don’t look so shocked,” he said.

“Having a girlfriend doesn’t necessarily invalidate my criticism of the capitalist mode of production. I just need a few dollars to take her out to lunch.”

“Who is she?”

“I don’t know, yet. She brings a group of schoolchildren to the Nature Center every Friday.”

Dear Yogi Barron:

After I moved across town and changed yoga studios I noticed that more and more of my friends from my old studio fell to the wayside. I had two long-time friends who disappeared from my radar screen completely. My question is, do I just let these good friends slip away? Or do I try to save our friendships?

Signed, Confused in San Francisco

Dear Confused:

I don’t blame you for being confused. It is one of life’s most common problems, when all of a sudden you are not so close to friends anymore. Friendships enhance the quality of our lives. What to do? Give those old friends a call. Invite them over for dinner or go out on the town. Catch up with what they have been doing. When you visit with your friends you do something good for them and yourself.

Here is what the Buddha said about friends: “He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you are down and out he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”

I wish you the best of luck reconnecting with your friends. If it doesn’t work out, remember you can always make new friends at your new studio. The Buddha’s not around anymore, anyway. That’s what former friends are for in our modern age, aren’t they, fodder? It’s like seeing one of them in a crowd; you just want to look away.

I’ve heard it said, if you really want a best friend, buy a dog.

Signed, Your Dutch Uncle

“How is your column going?” I asked. “Is it doing some good?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m dealing with people for who the worst advice you could give them is be yourself.”

He leaned back in his chair, studying the sky.

“Good advice is always going to be ignored, but I just ignore that, so it doesn’t bother me. After all, I’m getting paid so there’s no reason to not pontificate. I try to stay aloof to whether or not anyone pays any attention to it, and I don’t persist in trying to set anyone right. After all, like Sophocles said, bad advice is hateful.”

Barron could never resist being pedantic.

“What is that business of signing yourself as someone’s Dutch uncle?”

“Firm, but benevolent, my boy, firm but benevolent,” he chuckled.

On my way home I reflected on the irony of my many hours researching articles that never got accepted, while Barron Cannon, an Occupy Marxist, simply spouted off, got into print, and got paid, as well. Once at home I searched out my wife, who was doing yesterday’s dishes, and asked her how I should resolve what I saw as an unfair state of things.

“Honey, if you’re asking for my advice that means you probably already know the answer, but wish you didn’t. Why don’t you go play with the cat? I’m sure it’ll come to you,” she said.

“Just don’t do that thing to his teeth.”

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Here Comes the Sun

sign for Acropolis nestling beneath the fig tree

The temperature was in the 90’s, just like it had been for weeks, and the humidity was mosquito-like, which it had been for weeks, also, when my wife and I went for a walk on the multi-purpose path in the Rocky River Metropark.

The Metroparks, more than a hundred years in the making, are a series of nature preserves, more than 21,000 acres, which encircle Cleveland and its suburbs. There are hundreds of miles of paths and horse trails, picnic areas and fishing spots, and eight golf courses.

Our home is perched alongside the eastern edge of the Rocky River valley and we are able to get to the park in minutes, where it is considerably cooler in the shade of the forest and along the river.

We walked down the Detroit Road entrance to the park, past the marina, the Dog Park and the soccer fields, as far as Tyler Field, before turning around. As we neared Hogsback Hill, an isolated high point on the near bank of the Rocky River, I suggested we go up to see my friend Barron Cannon, whom we hadn’t seen since the spring.

“You know I don’t want to,” my wife said.

“I know,” I said.

Barron Cannon is a trim young man in his 30s who lives in a yurt he built in the backyard of his parent’s house at the top of Hogsback Lane. He has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Philosophy and is a committed yogi as well as a radical vegan.

“He needs to be committed,” my wife has said to me on several occasions, usually right after we have visited him and are out of earshot.

“Why can’t he occupy Wall Street instead of his mom’s backyard?” she likes to add.

Barron Cannon does not have a job or a car or a television. He has never voted.

“I’ll vote when anarchists are on the ballot,” he once told me.

I wanted to remind him that anarchists who vote are like atheists who pray, but I thought, what was the point?

We found Barron Cannon in the backyard, lying face-up in the sun on an Elmo Sesame Street beach blanket on the south side of his yurt. He was naked except for a fig leaf covering his private parts.

It was a literal fig leaf.

My wife looked away when he propped himself up on his elbows and the fig leaf rolled away

“Sorry,” he said, pulling on a pair of cargo shorts. “I was getting my daily dose of sunshine here on the acropolis.”

He was tan, from tip to toe. I could see he hadn’t been using an SPF lotion of any kind.

“You should be careful,” I suggested. “Too much sun isn’t good for you.”

“That’s where you’re right, but even more wrong,” he replied.

“Too much sun may be bad, depending on your skin and heredity, but avoiding the sun is not good for anyone. Remember, we evolved in the sun, living outdoors for almost all of our two million years on this planet.”

He put on a pair of old-fashioned Ray-Ban black frame sunglasses and leaned towards me.

“Then, not very long ago, we started messing with Mother Nature and started avoiding the sun. When you avoid the sun you may not get rickets, because you can always take a pill, but all the pills in the world can’t replace the real thing.”

He pointed up to the sky.

”When you strictly avoid the sun you increase the risk of dying from internal cancers,” he added.

I must have looked skeptical, because he tilted his dark glasses down his nose Lolita-style and exhaled.

“Look it up,” he said.

It turns out the International Journal of Epidemiology more than 30 years ago reported that colon cancer rates are nearly three times higher in New York than in New Mexico. Since then many other studies have found solar UVB induced vitamin D is also associated with reduced risks of breast and rectal cancers.

“When the government and our medical organizations started telling us to avoid the sun, they literally forgot to tell us we would need to get our vitamin D somewhere else,” he said`.

By this time my wife had wandered off and was commiserating with Barron Cannon’s mother about the flower garden her son had torn out and replaced with a root vegetable plot that spring.

“Vitamin D is a hormone,” he said, “and it’s produced naturally when skin is exposed to UVB in sunlight.”

He told me vitamin D sufficiency is linked to a reduction in 105 diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and many forms of cancer. Some researchers believe vitamin D deficiency contributes to nearly 400,000 premature deaths and adds a $100 billion dollar burden to the health care system.

By some estimates vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide epidemic, with some studies indicating greater than 50 percent of the global population at risk.

77 percent of Americans are considered vitamin D deficient, according to government data.

“Do you know why?” Barron Cannon asked me.

“No,” I said.

“I think overzealous sun avoidance is the only plausible explanation for the 50 percent increase in that figure in the past 15 years,” he said, slapping a fist into his palm for emphasis.

“I take vitamin D every morning,” I said. “I don’t have to go out in the sun. Besides, it’s been unbearably hot this summer and there are lots of bugs since we had such a mild winter.”

“You think science is complete and knows everything,” he said. “You assume modern science understands all the benefits of sunlight and that the only good it does is make vitamin D.”

“Yes,” I said.

“That is not true,” Barron Cannon said. “Let me give you an example.”

He told me about a recent study authored by Dr. Bryan Becklund and Professor Hector DeLuca of the University of Wisconsin and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. They discovered that vitamin D, or something in UV light, retarded progression of an animal model of multiple sclerosis, which is a painful neurological disease for which there is no cure. While vitamin D suppressed progression of the animal model, UV light worked even better. The report concluded that UV light was having an effect independent of vitamin D production.

“If it’s true in humans, it means that sunlight, or UV light, contains something good in addition to vitamin D,” he said. “We just don’t know what it is.”

Our ancestors evolved naked on the plains of equatorial Africa.

“The sun was directly overhead. We have a long, long evolutionary bond with the sun. Humans make thousands of units of vitamin D, and who knows what else, within minutes of whole body exposure to sunlight. It is unlikely such a system evolved by chance. When we sever the relationship between ourselves and sunlight, we proceed at our own peril.”

Barron Cannon gave me a sharp look and leaned back on his elbows

At a loss for words, I was grateful when my wife reappeared.

“I’m getting a little toasty in all this sunlight,” she said.

I agreed that we should be going. We both bid Barron Cannon goodbye and made our way home.

After dinner that night, as my wife watched ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on Turner Classic Movies, sitting on the front porch in the orange-red light of a quiet sunset I skimmed a review of a paper in the British Medical Journal by Professor Simon Pearce.

“Some people are taking the safe sun message too far. Vitamin D levels are precarious in parts of the population. They stay at home on computer games. It’s good to have 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to the sun two to three times a week.”

As I put my iPad away I thought I might give it a try in our backyard, without slathering on any sunscreen as I normally did, but definitely wearing a pair of shorts.

Where did Barron Cannon get fig leaves, anyway, I wondered?

On the Loose

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On a recent May morning my wife and I visited Barron Cannon, whom we hadn’t seen much since the previous fall when we met him picketing The Hungry Conscience, a vegan restaurant in our neighborhood.

The first time we encountered Barron we were attracted by the flashing lights of a police car at the eatery, and were greeted by the sight of a slender pony-tailed man in his 30s bearing a placard on a stick with a single word scrawled on it: HYPOCRITES.

The two patrolmen who had been called to the scene by one of the outraged cooks were politely asking if he would refrain from protesting without a permit. Although he insisted he had more than enough reason, he reluctantly agreed to go home, and strode off, his picket sign thrown over his shoulder.

He was going our way, and after falling into step with him, we were astonished to learn he was himself a vegan.

“Eating is an act of nourishing my body and soul,” he said. “I choose to do no harm.”

He did not eat animals, drink their milk, or wear their leather. He eschewed all animal products for any reason, at all. He considered eating honey exploitive and avoided it.

“I don’t like people who eat animals,” he said, “but that’s just about everybody, and since that is not changing anytime soon, that’s that, there they are. At least I don’t have to live with them.”

As least as long as they weren’t his parents.

“My parents are the worst,” he said. “They are always bringing chickens, pigs, ground beef, Slim Jims, beef jerky, Spam, and sardines home from the grocery. I see them in their kitchen every day, sticking forks into decomposing flesh and animal secretions.”

It turned out he lived in a yurt in the backyard of his parent’s home overlooking the Metro Park, barely a mile south of Lake Erie. He did not have a job, a car, a refrigerator, a wife, or any pets.

“Don’t even get me started on pet slavery!” he said.

A philosophy major with a Master’s degree and more than a hundred thousand dollars in unpaid student debt, Barron Cannon was unqualified for nearly any job, even if he had been interested.

He did not vote, watch television, or take medicine.

“By FDA requirement,” he explained, “each and every pharmaceutical is tested on animals.”

He was a vegan purist, pursuing his ideals to their logical conclusion.

He had few friends, other than several elderly bicycle-riding hippies and a handful of retirees in the neighborhood for whom he did odd jobs. But, he only worked for them if they did not have cars and agreed not to talk about their problems.

Whenever we visited Barron we always walked, because if he knew we had driven to see him, he would refuse to see us.

“Can’t we just drive and park a block away?” my wife asked, reminding me of the four-mile round-trip hike from our house.

He lived on an allowance his parents begrudged him, shopped at a local farmer’s market, practiced yoga every day for two hours, followed by an hour of meditation, and only recently had gotten his yurt connected to his parent’s power supply.

Unbeknownst to them he had dug a trench from the connection at the back of their house to his yurt, into which he had buried a concealed electric transmission wire.

“I found out we are on the nuclear power grid now, which I will tell you is a blessing,” he said. “It gets dark and cold in this yurt in the middle of January.”

“I used to heat it with firewood from the park,” he added. “I had to collect it at night, otherwise the rangers gave me grief. I don’t think they liked me.”

He now heated his yurt with a 5000 BTU infrared quartz heater, and compact fluorescent bulbs were strung from the rafters.

Barron Cannon had previously refused to enjoy either electricity or natural gas, on the premise that both are petroleum products, in which are mixed innumerable marine organisms.

“That’s one of the things I can’t stand about those leaf-eaters at the restaurant, cooking their so-called vegan cuisine with gas made from the bodies of dead fish,” he said. “And the Guinness they serve, it comes from kegs lined with gelatin. They are too busy ringing up the cash register to even know what they are doing!”

Vegetarians drew his ire, too, although he tolerated them.

“I can put up with vegetarians if I have to,” he said, which I reluctantly admitted to being when he quizzed us. He gave me a mirthless grin.

My wife, who describes herself as an omnivore, on the side of free range and organic, aimed a dazzling smile at Barron Cannon, keeping her eating habits to herself. As we approached the road overlooking the Metro Park valley we gazed out across a sea of green treetops, always a welcome sight after a long winter.

Barron Cannon’s yurt was on the backside of a sprawling backyard on the edge of the valley, where Hogsback Lane intersects with Stinchcomb Hill, named after the founder of the park system. It is a bucolic spot in the middle of the city.

I was loath to mention that William Stinchcomb had been a pork roast and beef tenderloin man in his day, as well as president of the Cleveland Automobile Club.

“Vegans are the worst, the whole lot of them,” he said. “Show me a vegan who isn’t an elitist, or spouts veganism who is not a do-gooder, or making mounds of money from it, explaining how it’s all one big happy equation, yoga, and veganism, and new-age capitalism, and flying to their Lord Vishnu immersions in Germany, and everywhere else around the globe for their yoga retreats, damn the carbon footprint, and I’ll show you the real invisible man.”

Since Barron Cannon did not own a phone, or even a doorbell, we were relieved to find him at home. He was laying out rows of seeds and tubers inside his yurt, where he had opened the flap over the roof hole and hiked up the walls. We joined him, sitting down on the canvas field chairs that passed for his living room, my wife remarking how pleasant and breezy it was inside his home.

I was nonplussed to see an Apple laptop on a small reading table.

“I keep up,” he said. “It’s not like I’m a caveman.”

Barron led us out to his new garden. He had dug up most of his mother’s backyard, dislodging wild roses and rhododendrons, and was planting rows of root crops, including beets, onions, turnips, and potatoes. He was especially proud of his celery.

“I cover my celery with paper, boards, and soil. They will have a nutty flavor when I dig them up in December.”

“I don’t eat anything from factory farms,” he continued. “In fact, I am getting away from eating anything from any farms anymore, at all. Farms whether big or small are not good ideas. Freedom is a better idea.”

As we prepared to leave, Barron scooped handfuls of birdseed from a large barrel into a small brown paper bag.

“You should take every chance you have to feed the birds and other animals you see outside your house,” he said. “Give them good food, organic food, not processed. It will make such a difference in their lives.”

On the sidewalk in front of his parent’s ranch-style house, Barron Cannon touched the brim of his baseball cap in farewell.

“Be a real vegan. That’s the biggest thing any of us can do,” he said.

On our way home my wife was unusually quiet. As we passed a small café with outdoor seating, we thought we would stop for refreshments.

“I know chocolate brownies have eggs in them,” my wife said, “and cappuccino has milk in it, and I know Barron wouldn’t like this, but right now I think I need to sit down in the shade and enjoy myself for a few minutes.”

We both agreed that the vegans we knew were ethical and compassionate, their lives complementing their health, humanitarian, and environmental concerns. We could not agree on whether Barron Cannon was a determined idealist, a mad ideologue, or simply lived in an alternate universe.

We had espresso and cappuccino, raisin scones and chocolate brownies, watched the sun go down over the western edge of the valley, and walked the rest of the way home in the dusk in a happy buzz.