411. It’s over… right?

 

The oligarchic Olympiad of the most un-presidential presidential election ever conducted on this planet is now over, isn’t it?  Please, God. Make it stop!  Two years and at least five billion dollars have produced…. what?  The Despicable with fewer votes loses. The Despicable with the larger number of votes gets to pull taffy with congress and the media for a while, until a hearing, special prosecutor, impeachment, or some other pair of concrete boots get shackled in place. But no, that does not even add up. The Despicable with the most popular votes lost, thanks to the electoral college system.  It’s hard to say which ruthless political hyena is the bigger loser. Oh yeah, but the biggest loser is our country, unfiltered and driven by idish fears where neither issues nor facts mattered in the end. Only the twin towers of fear and hate stood. Just take the gloves off and get violent. Take the mufflers off and get hostile. Turn the conscience off and spit all over the Other. Let there be no talk of reconciliation. No. No matter who won, it is a matter of Reload not Respect or Rapprochement. Fact deniers become verdict deniers and then history deniers. If you start with a pair of liars, you end with a frothing ocean of lies, breaking on our shores in wave after sickening wave of verbal garbage.

“But he lies more.”

“But her lies are worser.”

“No, he’s the worserest.”

“I know what you are, but what am I?”

And the wounded nation groans for the next generation.

I don’t ever recall the pure hatred of the other side as opposed to the firm declaration of difference in directions being outlined. My first election pitted Jimmy Carter against the un-elected, suddenly promoted in scandal, Gerald Ford. Good trivia question there:  which U.S. president was never elected president?  Oh, political science majors are drooling while googling. John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore, and Chester Arthur are the others who moved from vice to full president after calamity. Death opened the door for these guys, whereas Watergate opened the door for poor old clumsy Gerry Ford, who was not even elected Vice President, to stumble through. Spiro Agnew was elected twice. Remember him? However, these stories pale by comparison to the political pornography we have been subjected to for the past two years. Death would have been more noble for the office of the President than drowning in this moral sinkhole of 2016.

The media have functioned as porn film makers. They are just giving the people what they want, so they say, while raking in record ratings and earnings. Pollsters, pundits, professional blatherers have all gotten on the porn wagon. It is its own parasitic industry, ticks feeding on the blood of a bleeding nation. Fear and hate keep audiences glued to their favorite news outlets, drinking their favorite flavor of hallucinogenic Kool Aid. The political porn stars, Don and Hill, are hideous caricatures of character, so flawed on so many levels.

And we are the insatiable audience for this reality television, twitter feed, Facebook war on civility. Peephole creepers. Is it over yet?  No. The new stink is just beginning.  That skunk odor will help sell air fresheners and cigars, and trips to mythical places that have never existed. The campaign culture bar was lowered below ground level so that future political limbo dancers will have to knee walk through Hell, heads bent backwards, sucking the dirt from the soles of the same old special interests, shamelessly squirming to dodge custom made land mines. Hey, it’s what ya gotta do.

“The name of the new boss is the same as the old boss.”  Oh, that won’t do. Let’s go full credit to the Who…

THE WHO     “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the songI’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that’s all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed
‘Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!

I’ll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I’ll get all my papers and smile at the sky
Though I know that the hypnotized never lie
Do ya?

There’s nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again
No, no!

Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

Sure, it will be different. Sure. The triumph of fear and hate sandblasted the electorate’s moral compasses, leaving nuclear ghosts where soulful people used to reside. Ever seen a nuclear ghost?  They are the shadows of folks whose bodies were annihilated by atomic bombs in Japan.
Onward, patriots. It had to be done, this scorched earth political assault. Once we stopped seeing the Others as  human beings and demonized them, the bombs had to drop, right?
But it’s over now, right? Wrong.
Revisit Dover Beach sometime, it ends this way…
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

 

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375. Ahhhh

“AHHHHHHH!!!” The sound rushes out of me unconsciously on this first warm sun-filled day. I don’t even try to take a deep breath, but I do anyway as I  cross the street with a sudden skip in my stride. Expansive energy, so hard to find all winter as I watched for ice patches and slush pools, rises in my perky legs. The sapphire sky expands above, letting out its belt a comfy notch or two. Winter is all about conserving heat and avoiding wind and rain, looking down, shriveling up. But today I’m wearing my hushpuppy suede shoes, knowing that rain is not forecast; and my eyes seek the happy unhooded horizon.  What the heck!  Ahhh, my body is not cramped from all the chillension that comes with freezing rain and driven snow. Spring is not far off; it can’t be. The birds are swarming over farms again. Squirrels are busily digging up their final acorns buried last fall. I can nearly taste the lilacs of spring as surely as I have smelled snow coming. “Slow down in the sun”, my body whispers to my peppy self. “Soak up that vitamin D and smile back at the strengthening sun.” Good advice, body. ‘Ahhhh, thank you, thank you, very much’, I imagine a relaxed Elvis telling me.

A Southern man awakens in me, urging civility, bourbon, and slow cooked pulled pork with three sides. “Ahhh said, Ahhh said, boy, you gotz to get on yo’ hammock and sway in the gentle Gulf breezes. Bad timez and worries, they’ll wait for ya’ll. Aint no future in hurryin. Soon they’ll be a buryin you. Bourbon refill? They ya go. Life and good bourbon be for sippin’ not gulpin’. Yeah, you know it’s true when the warm starts in yo’ belly an yo legs feel like jelly.”

Ahhh, slipping into a hot bath, I don’t even notice that same utterance leaves my mouth till it bounces back off the tiled wall. My low back is pinched at two points and the hot water is like an old lover who knows just what to say. “Hello, tendon. It’s been a long time, I know.  Babydoll, you remember how to stretch, don’t you? Just call all your jangled dandelion neurons together and blow. Blow them all away. Now hold me like you did when we were both young.”

Or slipping into a swimming pool in Tucson when it’s 100 degrees in the sun, “Ahhh” pours out of every skin pore and a choir of ten toenails shouts “Amen”. Your plump earlobes and even the back of your starched throat relax. The hushing almost sounds like water poured on a campfire but not quite so spitty and sputtery. These ahhhs are not about the sharp end of anything but the smooth start of something soothing… silver butter knives spreading warm cream cheese on a perfectly toasted, honey soaked bagel. Yeah, baby. I am a wearer of my hobbled senses now in the post-Ahhhh era. Oh, and they fit like spankz on a summer night. [Not that I have worn spankz on any night, I’m just free styling here, blogapotomases. Curb your kinky thoughts or I will delete you for ever, ever. Don’t try me.]

The first sip of good coffee early in the chill, misty morning or a sip of cold lemonade on a stagnant summer afternoon elicit the same Ahhhhh. “Yeah, that’s good.” Deep answers deep out in the next orbit beyond the material world. It’s the place where Buddhist monks chant Ummmmmmmmm for centuries. Occasionally we crack open a window, not even thinking but just being random… and we hear the monks’ UMMMMMMMM vibrato massage the marrow of our tired bones. Ahhhh. It is the window of whapportunity, whatever that may be. Leave it open to the saffron sound waves and your soul will merge with your rhythm and blues inside a symphony of sandalwood incense. Trippy, yes?  AHHHHHH. [***This is still a drug free blog workspace, just in case you were wondering. I submit to weekly random drug tests every Tuesday at noon.]

The long yawn after a deep night’s sleep filled with dreams of delight and awe.  Awake without full control of your limbs, ahhhhh. Man, that resets everything, as half tears lubricate the corners of my eyes. It’s all good, Momma. Don’t you worry ’bout a thing. Let Stevie Wonder sing. ’cause I’ll be standing on the side when you check it out.

When you go to your doctor, and the doc wants to look  at your throat, what sound is required? The universal Ahhhh. The sound is part of what is known as the therapeutic response. When your chiropractor adjusts your spine, what do you say?  Ahhhhh. And your masseuse or masseur rubs that coiled snake knot out of your trapezius muscle, what’s the word?  Yeah,  Ahhhhh. It is a gasp of relief and pleasure simultaneously experienced. When a difficult problem is finally solved, Charlie Chan says what?  “Ahhh so”. When a rescued damsel in distress gratefully hugs and kisses John Wayne, what’s he say? “Ahhh shucks ma’am. Tweren’t nothin but a thing.” When Bill Clinton was caught in his spankzy moments, what did he say? “Ahhhh, I feel your pain.”

The first cousin of Ahhhh is Awwwww. It is the irresistible response to cuteness. You see your little grandbaby and up rises the vowel of oy gushed through contented vocal chords. Awwww. Golden retriever puppies nip and play with each other on a blanket across from their reclining mother. You just can’t help it. Awww, so I have noticed, is more often uttered by females than by males. And Ahhhh is more often uttered by males. Why?  It would take several volumes of deep psychobabble to even begin to explain this phenomenon. For now, trust me and enjoy the moment. Awwright?

 

364. Super Size Me, Dude

Rusty did not set out to work the drive thru window at the Happy Burger in town. He had bigger dreams. No one dreams of working fast food, do they? So it’s safe to say that the drive thru window was his second worst nightmare. Kids he had graduated with and other folks in town drove up, and he had to smile then happily hand them their Happy Burger meal, smiling insipidly above the deep dread he felt. He chose the third shift to reduce his exposure to such social shame. But the inner revulsion rose up anyway, against gravity like a wave of acid reflux, gagging him much too often. He had suggested to management that the staff wear happy clown masks, hoping to hide behind a company provided clown mask instead of his own recognizable face. “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became”, he muttered to himself like some ridiculous rap line.

He was smarter than this and smart enough to know that smarts don’t count as much as family connections and money and wisdom. Those college prep classes, the AP, the advanced track, he took many of them and held his own, never once imagining that one day he’d stare into the deep fryer watching frozen French fries boil up in super heated peanut oil. His dreams were likewise deep fried and floated up, golden brown– so many dead fish, chicken wings or fries. He remembered getting A’s in chemistry class and physics, pointless now… “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became.”

Rusty knew it was not grammatically correct, but he didn’t care any more about rules and order, manners or limits, even law. Chaos had blown his illusion of control to smithereens.  Bits of his expectations littered the break room like shrapnel. He’d once memorized the periodic table of elements in his junior year. The only element that held any interest for him nowadays was plutonium, named for the Roman god of death. He was past dying; he was dead, walking dead. Zombiefied. Embalmed with the toxic liquor of his misfortune, like drinking Captain Morgan out of a corpse’s boot. The oxy’s, he found, took the edge off of shame, reducing life to a mere sham.

He got her pregnant. It’s just that simple. One biological fact threw two, no three, okay, maybe twenty lives into the industrial strength blender on puree. Chaos turbocharged the two of them. They were both in college prep and had a lot going right in their lives. They were bright and optimistic, glowing with the beauty of late adolescence–Radiant hair, teeth and skin, firm muscular bodies. Irresistible, and they did not resist many impulses. Faster and faster the unsustainable Whirling Dervish ride went. Time and money they did not have were squandered. At least those were measurable. All the emotions that vaporized over that furious year could not be counted or contained. Boundaries were crossed, no, leaped across headlong like the obstacle course at Ft. Benning, after Rusty enlisted to get the security package available no where else. Private Steele, first class. It was something, some place to start.

“Beep, beep, beep” the fry timer screeches to his numb mind. Never mind, never mind. The baby accelerated adult life, couldn’t wait. He raced the baby to graduation, marrying Tiffany, and becoming a father all in the same month, June 1992. The year Hell opened up and demons darkened his skies. Totally black now.

An anesthesiologist, yep, that was the target. It was high status and medically necessary and very lucrative. Plus, it just sounded so cool to say at a cocktail party. “And what field are you in, Rusty?” “Oh me? I’m an anesthesiologist.” Seven silky syllables in one sexy word. “The last person you see before your surgery, you know? It’s dicey, though. They put their lives in my hands, but they don’t all make it back from dreamland, you know?” Dr. Kevorkian was all the talk back then. He wanted, even demanded, assisted suicide be granted a legal guarantee. Rusty had disagreed with Kevorkian back then; but these days he thought it was pretty darn appealing. Why not?  When the unenlightened townies drove up yelling, “Super Size Me, Dude!”, he wanted to scream back “Minimize Me, Dude”. ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. Hook me up with morphine and leave me in the walk in freezer’ he thought he thought.

Some days he’d stomp into the walk in and punch bags of frozen French fries, and pound his sweaty head onto rigid patties of beef. The revulsion gurgled at the back of his throat, threatening to spew out. He could feel the grease on the soles of his shoes begin to congeal in the subzero temperature of the freezer. No one could hear him scream, “Super Size Me, God!! I can’t take this existence any longer. Kill me!”

Things looked good for him in the Army. College was still possible and his superiors liked him, recognized his abilities. He was finding a path in all the deep weeds ahead of him. And then Tiffany grew distant. Sure, they were both immature but coping as new parents, along with lots of help from his mom and hers. And surprisingly his own father stepped up and made himself available to them, far more than he’d ever done so with Rusty. Despite all the help or perhaps because of it, Tiffany demanded time out and away, fun time for her. “Girls just wanna have fun” times, she’d say.  There was more to it. Rusty had little experience with girls in his young life, but he knew something odd was afoot. Someone else’s feet were walking across his fragile marriage and slipping shoes under his marriage bed. He just didn’t know whose feet yet.

The night of the atomic bomb blast was burned onto the back of his eyelids, inescapable and beyond comprehension. Tiffany, his own father, the silent lies that wove together under a disgusting quilt of putrid truth. Incest: the unthinkable had become the unbearable. By then he’d broken his foot and been discharged, rejected by his Uncle Sam as a hopeless cripple. So as he locked the freezer door behind him and lay down with a can of starter fluid, it all seemed so poetic. He recalled Prufrock’s Lovesong from AP English, “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table…” He huffed the ether, knowing he’d lapse into unconsciousness immediately. He uttered his own pathetic poem to frozen chicken fingers, “Shame, shame, it’s a damn shame what my life done became.”

…. Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

357. Unexploded Ordnance

That’s an odd title, dontcha think? What exactly is ordnance, you ask? Military weapons and ammunition. Why explode it anyway?  Well, a few miles from my office is an Army depot where occasionally, on perfectly still days, engineers blow up old ammunition that dates back to World War II and the Korean War. Apparently old bombs or missiles become unstable and need to be properly disposed of like excess picnic food. And that’s what these explosionists do– blow up piles of ordnance on beautiful summer and fall days while eating chicken salad sandwiches. Thunderclap sonic booms roar across the valley and resonate off the opposite foothills range. Boom, boom, boom. Pretty simple. No one gets hurt.

However, I’m thinking of invisible unexploded psychic ordnance– old hurts and pains, guilts and shames, bones of contention, griefs, losses, heartaches, and traumas. Stuff you swallowed because you had to, long ago. Not that you drool over it like a dog over his morning puppy chow. Not like that at all. No, you’d much rather not consider any of these things. Instead you cover them with work and life’s many intense experiences. You steer inflated conversations away from these razor wire coral reefs that may shred the fragile underbelly of your soul. Yeah, and all the while these patinated brass canisters are corroding, leaking acid like old forgotten batteries inside your chrome Boy Scout flashlight.

Down under your defense mechanisms the equivalent of land mines wait for your foot’s pressure to trigger a demolition. You buried them like corpses, deep and still but still alive. Perhaps you find yourself sucked into a conversation that seemingly takes on a life of its own. Strange energies arise. Big feelings too. Verbiage flows like dammed water down a spillway. The back pressure is so great and this gushing release feels right, but it’s wrong. Kaboom, boom, boom. Your mouth outruns your cricket conscience, and you make an ass out of yourself. Your foot flies by your face and you see gum stuck to the patterned sole of your nice suede shoes. “I liked those shoes. Didn’t notice the gum.” And you walk on, limping actually, on your ragged new stump.

Since it’s all metaphorical, you feel no physical pain. Still, your guts twist like sheets in a tropical storm. How can you empty yourself of this old debris? Surely there is a psychic trash hauler who can pick up the toxic tonnage for a fee. A landfill in the next county that safely disposes of the waste. A site supervisor there who monitors the wicked gases of devolution. It would be clean, convenient, and so evolved if we had such advanced soul carpet cleaning enterprises. In lieu of such mechanisms we have the same old system of honest repentance where you lay yourself naked and humble before God and your garbage… and seek the precious balm of forgiveness. You must regurgitate the hurts and guilts and shames and claim them in your self disgust, like so many muddy catfish sliming out of your gullet. Amazed, you gag at the sinful catch in front of you.

“I did that!” you gasp. Words aren’t heavy enough, foul enough to describe your vomitus. You writhe on jelly legs. No rest, no rest comes to your hurricane beaten conscience. Flakes and splintery surfaces blow off your crusted soul. Ship wrecked, wave tossed, you just hang on. It’s a long nightmare you float through under a placid face. When will my undeserved  sunshine of forgiveness break through these awful torrents? My mind goes decades deep in memories to Pinnochio on the big silver screen. He was so cute and innocent and foolish. He wound up in Monstro’s belly. Pinnochio was not a monster, but his continuous lies and bad choices led him there. Exactly where he needed to be, turns out.

In the belly of the whale he faced his father Geppetto  and the cat Figaro he’d abandoned. They were swallowed while searching for Pinnochio. The puppet boy finally comes to the end of his foolishness and begins to take responsibility for others. He builds a fire that causes Monstro to sneeze and exhale their little raft. Pinnochio redeems himself, saves Geppetto, but appears to drown in the process. If the movie stopped there, every child would be in grief therapy on Disney’s nickel. But it continues. Geppetto takes Pinoak home and sadly lays him out. He grieves again for the boy he loved.  That night the Blue Fairy returns and transforms the water logged wooden puppet into a real, fleshy boy. He is finally worthy.

That’s where repentance ends: when we shuck off the crud of sin and humbly accept our God given worth. Narcissists over value themselves. Low self esteemers under value themselves. Most folks just ignore the question. Too deep. But that’s where the healing happens, down deep in the black crevices of our souls. Covering, endlessly covering the ordnance does not detoxify or empty it. So, Blogagogers, cough it up with me. Come clean. Let’s blow up the sunken city of  port-a-potties so that no one gets hurt. Pry open the pearl of great price and behold! As surely as sin turns you into a braying donkey, the grace of redemption returns you to the image and likeness of God.

330. Tightly letting go

The ghost grip rises northward out of my upper spine and starches all those supple muscles in my neck that had found warm relaxation at the beach last week. It’s just a single stressful day of the routine, and already the coffee, tension, and focus are pulling together like rusty marionette strings to make my head nod, smile, turn, and tilt. EEk!! It’s a bad trade, but the ratio seems to be 1:8, one day of work cancels out 8 days of relaxation. I’m trading dollars for pesos. Why?  Why do we do this to ourselves? For achievement of one sort or another, so I am told. We build resumes of rigidity.  And when we’ve had enough, we brittley retire from the brutality. Once we are fully, hopelessly  wooden boys, we finally soften up in preparation for the end– the letting go of doing and the embracing of being.  My retirement song will be “I’ve got no strings to hold me down, to make me fret or make me frown. I had strings but now I’m free, there are no strings on me.”  Pinnochio, where are you, man? I went to school. I worked like a donkey. And I behaved badly here and there. Now I want to be a no strings, fleshy, real boy again. If you can’t make it, Pin, at least sent Jimney Cricket to talk me down. I don’t want to live in a whale’s belly any more.

My peer group met at my house this morning for French toast and bacon, grits and coffee. (Grits come with or without you asking. It’s passive-aggressive Southern Food Fascism, an informal way of taxing and testing your guests. How will they deal with the grits? Like John Wayne or Lil’ Wayne? It’s a Rohrschach Test with boiled ground corn.) Whipped cream and blackberry pie filling were available along with organic maple syrup. Our topic for discussion?  The end of life, the inevitable decline of aging. For a field trip Dave 2 suggested that we visit his retirement community, which he just loves. A breathless lack of enthusiasm met his suggestion. No one wants to plan his own slow, fragile demise. So we don’t. We read about it in our book– Atwul Gawande’s Being Mortal. Lots of good stuff in there for other people to use. But Lordy, not me. I just hope to die in my sleep… long before I lose control of my bodily functions and mental capacities. I want autonomy, firm flesh and freedom till the end. Problem is, we don’t get much of a choice in the matter.I think it was Woody Allen who said he wasn’t afraid of death, he just didn’t want to be there when it happened. Me too, Woody.

According to Gawande, your best insurance policy against winding up in a nursing home is having a daughter.  Fortunately I have three. I hope at least one of them will keep me out of the nightmare of institutional living if that’s where I appear to be headed. Like most American men, I don’t want to become dependent, or more dependent than I already am. It’s a strange dynamic, this aging process. In a way it’s like playing poker with Death. You win almost every hand when you are young and can’t even imagine losing one day. As you get past 50, though, you notice the face cards aren’t coming your way very often. Forget about aces. You’re pulling a lot of 5’s and 8’s. No straights or flushes either. You fold more often and win seldom. Some folks call for a new deck at midlife. They quit their job or marriage, their church or their kids. Wanting a new purpose, passion or cause, and facing a barren horizon that is too much to bear…  they demand, “Dealer, new cards!!” The Dealer chuckles at these naïve players, neck deep in mortality.

“SNot that easy, Boys. Mortal means ‘ssssubject to death’… not if but when. SSSSoo, how about another hand, eh?” Eventually everyone learns that the Dealer always wins. Since this is the inescapable end of the material world story, what are you doing with the time we think is still available? Are you making a tighter, tougher resume? Are you tightening your abs and working a veggie diet?  Lots of antioxidants?  Good, good. But are you adding value to the time you are reupholstering?

Back to Pinnochio. He lost his strings when he explored his freedom. He blew it. He skipped school and fell for Stromboli, the bad dude with the traveling carnival. Every time he lied, his nose grew, which is not a bad adaptation. [Imagine if our politicians had this adaptation. They would be upright swordfish. Reporters would be skewered nasally in press conferences. Congressmen would skewer one another at hearings as they lied back and forth. In presidential debates, the guy with the longest nose would be declared the winner. Chris Christie wouldn’t have to lie about Bridgegate any longer because New Jerseyites could just drive back and forth to Jersey City over his nose.]

Anyway, Pinnochio found his soft flesh after saving his woodcarver father Geppetto’s life. Just when you think old Pinoak had drowned after the awful whale Monstro chased him, he is transformed into a real boy by the blue fairy. Boom! Why? What’s the Pinnochio secret?  Sacrificial love, my little wood shavings. He gave his life for his father, his wooden life, that is. Old Pinoak stopped lying and started using his noggin to rescue Geppetto and the cat. Image result for pinocchio and geppetto in the whale pictures As a result the Blue Fairy returned to change his splintered wooden heart into one of flesh. It almost sounds like a religious parable, eh? Sacrificial love actually transforms the giver and receiver. Like Shakespeare said about Mercy…

“The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown”

Sacrificial love may be mightiest in the weakest and most vulnerable, folks who have nothing to spare but find this gift in the empty cupboards of their lives. So, I’ll play another hand with Death. He can have my sawdust. I’m taking my fleshy heart with me.

 

 

 

328. Vacate the Premises

A few times per year I need to vacate the premises. It gets chilly, plus too much continuous time in Turtle Town, like secondhand smoke, may be hazardous to my health. I know this because short bursts of time in Turtle Town make me a danger to self and others, so it only makes logical sense that longer periods of time simply aggravate the aggravation, gravitating toward a grave situation.  My butt gets deflated and spreads out like peanut butter on a warm summer day. My hips cry out for support, but none comes, not even Tom Brady. My protruding pelvic bones imprint shuffleboard cue stick marks on my leather office chair, skeletal remains are all that remains… or maybe I’m just hallucinating again. If you listen to paranoid clients long enough, you need Haldol too.Image result for person melting in lava

Either way you just know when it’s time to leave town. It’s like knowing when you have to turn off the Neil Young song train before you hang yourself with the power cord next to your I pod dock. [CSI investigator Bob… “Looks like he was listening to Down By the River.”  Ed, “This much sadness it too much sorrow…” Bob, “Yeah, it’s impossible to make it today.” ]  This is just good self care, Blogobblers. So, off we went to the true South, where grits and alligators live in harmony, that is if no ducks connect them. Add one stinking duck, however, and the feathers fly. The duck eats the grits, the alligator eats the duck, and the grits eat… uh, let me get back to you on this one. (Think!! What do grits eat? Alligator poop, that’s gotta be it.)

Last year it was Savannah, Georgia we graced and were graced by. (We  also visited Jekyl Island and the beach nearby.  It was a-gracing maze where the wealthiest Americans once roosted in the winters… Roosevelts and Rockefellers and the Burritos.) Walking around the city of squares and live oaks covered by Spanish moss and sordid gossip, we gaped and gasped and gulped at the jaded beauty of it all… lovely and culturally osmotic how that Southernness crosses the air/skin barrier and gets into your very marrow. In mere moments you begin drawling, “Ya’ll good folk, bless your little Rebel hearts.  Come on and give yo’ Mama a big ole hug. Look at that po’ homeless panhandler, Junior . Izn’t he precious? Give’m a dollar, Sugar. Ya’ll got nuff tea to melt yo sugar? We can double fry that Oreo cookie for you.” After an hour you’re singing Dixie and talking NASCAR with religious fervor. “In Dixie Land make a left hand turn, Look away, away.”

This year our destination was Charleston, S.C.  Folks, I am blog-plugging this city, though they don’t need my plug. Our tour guide told us Charleston is the Number One tourist destination in the USA. I can’t argue with a man who drives two mules and a carriage through a three hundred year old city without hardly watching. (See that? I tossed in a smooth Southern double negative there.) It became clear that Savannah was the little brother, the distant cousin to the throne of this historic bling. Wow!! The old city of Charles Town grew by filling in marshlands that had functioned as the municipal dump. Land was scarce, so many of the Charleston buildings of a certain age are one room wide, three stories high, and go deep in their narrow lots.

 Now you’re with me, huh?  Notice the open porches, piazzas, Baby!  In subtropical temperatures and humidity levels this was a breezy form of free air conditioning. Still is. Charming. Naturally you’d have to get along with your next door neighbors when you hang out so closely without electricity or television.  No wonder Southerners are famous for their nice manners. Sardines are also known for their quiet compliance once laid in tins full of oil, which is what the humidity levels feel like in August in Charleston. I’ve never heard of a sardine bar fight. Have you?

The John C. Calhoun House was beyond words. The current owner has taken artsy hoarding to Olympic levels. Priceless, one of a kind, irreplaceable, bubble over your mind’s cognitive dam as your senses are totally bombarded by perceptions and information. I never took LSD but I imagine its effects would be like a tour of the Calhoun House– psychedelically endless and ultimately unknowable– Tiffany lamps, Russian Czar silver, Chinese incense burners big enough to cook a whole pig. “Yeah, I tripped out there once…like Vegas in a snow globe, Man, or Jimi Hendrix’s walk in closet. Totally trippy and synaptically  sizzling. Words fail, Man. Dig it?”

It wasn’t till the next day at Boone Hall Plantation that the economic engine for all this magnificent wealth stepped clearly out of the antebellum fog. 13 brick slave quarters line the driveway up to the mansion house.

Three hundred and fifty year old live oaks shade the sandy lane but cannot hide the stain of slavery. Hundreds of Africans were run through and run down on this soil, making attempts at  producing rice, cotton, indigo, bricks, pecans and a host of other crops. The extant mansion house was actually built in 1935, so it’s a bit of an anachronism. It’s an odd spirit that settles in after you visit a few of these vacated cabins. They were well built with bricks and ceramic roof tiles made on the plantation when a German family owned it all. It is a strange premise that work will set you free. Where have I heard that before? There is that neat, orderly German thing going on where precise engineering went into producing things while not a drop of humanity was spilled exploiting human beings. A darkness builds as you visit each cabin and realize that the imperial wealth of nearby Charleston was extracted from the sinews and marrow of slaves.

Old-slave-mart-facade-sc1.jpg  The shame is not simply a Southern burden, though, even if Neil Young says it was. “I saw cotton and I saw black, tall white mansions and little shacks…Southern man when will you pay them back?”  Well, just like the darn duck in the earlier allusion, somebody bought all that cheap cotton. And somebody sailed those slave ships. And somebody bought all the slave made products at rock bottom prices. The market place was not the South. It was the disapproving, highly moral, can’t resist a bargain world that kept the slaveholders in business. Hmmmm. How about that? Not sure much has changed since the official end of slavery. The world still chooses to look away, look away, look away from the misery beneath the bargains we capitalized consumers enjoy.

I know that free market folks like to speak of the freedom that capitalism has inspired, how it has modernized and improved living conditions for the masses. I’m just not sure how I’m going to be real with the enslaved workers who made my cheap cotton t-shirts and socks when I meet them in heaven. Someone may have to vacate the premises.

301. Thank You, Talibanditos

I was reading about the recent attack of teenaged Afghan girls who had acid thrown in their young faces by Taliban extremists. (Pardon the redundancy.) At first I didn’t get it. I thought that it was finally safe for Afghanistan’s next generation of women to attend school so that they would not be such total fanatical idiots like the morons who attacked them. It bothered me until the other day while I was cutting the grass and my numb mind wandered. I suddenly got the logic of the Taliban idiots. They have several good reasons for disfiguring innocent school girls

1. By pouring acid in these girls’ faces, the Talibuttheads could make the girls as ugly on the outside as the attackers are on the inside. Seeing their handiwork displayed forever will show folks for as long as these girls live just how ugly a heart poisoned by hatred can to be.  And not only one zealous Talijerk, but the whole lot of them. And as they scream “jihad and Allahu Akbar” on deaf ears, only scarred faces and mute mouths will silently stand witness. These poor girls won’t pray out loud to Allah, for what kind of God condemns his own daughters to be maimed? Thanks, Taliban Carcinogeniuses, you have answered the previous rhetorical question for the world. Chemical de-vangelists. Brilliant cretins who worship annihilation. Ground zero is your holy spot; your god is plutonium. “Here’s a toast to you guys. Yes, it’s hydrochloric acid. Tastes like bleachy poison with a hint of charcoal finish, huh? The second sip doesn’t burn so much, though.”

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2. Blinding the next generation of women makes them as blind as their attackers. In this way they won’t be able to read their Korans or any other texts. Instead they can live a life of impoverished dependence on hysterical fundamental mullahs who shriek in the name of the Prophet with pure venom. After all, acid is simply the distilled liquid form of their fanatical verbal streams. Instead of just deadening the listeners’ ears with toxic steam, acid eye wash can burn out retinas, blotting out most of God’s beauty. Thank you, Talibandits for your gift of the blind leading the blind. Your example is perfectly despicable.

The poppy flower.

3. Blinding young women keeps them as ignorant as their attackers and guarantees more ignorant devolution. They will get to wallow in the victim hot tub of religious quicksand till death. What an agonizingly delicious deal! The gift of incompetent stupidity passes to the next generation. Hatred and vengeance served hot on a pita with hummus and a celery stalk. Reminds me of the old Asimov line, “Violence is the final refuge of the incompetent.” How true!!  These Talibaboons cannot make, invent, discover or create anything. Instead they destroy, even their own young. Like their first cousins Isis, nothing is sacred, nothing is holy, certainly not human life. They recruit the next human wave like heroin dealers selling opiates to the hopeless. Truth is the first victim of warfare and religious zealotry. The dealers promise vibrant poppy flower salvation but deliver oppression via dead opium bulbs.

The opium factory.

4. Worshiping violence and death is easier than protecting life, culture, art, beauty, love, and the good of mankind. But it’s all or nothing with Talibuttons, and since they lack competence, their answer to complex issues is nothing cubed. Just look at the before and after  pictures of Buddhist carvings in Bamiyan.

They were dynamited and destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were idols. And of course, the world is a safer place now without these irreplaceable antiquities. Who needs history? Idiots don’t. It’s like giving wristwatches to chimpanzees. Thanks for absolute intolerance and mono-monotheist nihilism. Your purity, Talibanzais, makes things so clear.

5. Thanks for making it so clear that evil exists in a pure form. Many times issues overlap and get quite complicated in our modern world. They take time to sort out and categorize. Not this one. Thank you, Talibitemes, for simplifying while magnifying your infantile blind rage with Stone Age clarity. Your black stain on humanity can be seen from a satellite in space, but you probably have a fatwah against space crafts. So let’s just say, we can see it from the Kyber Pass. It’s not religion, it’s not culture, it’s not a value system that you represent. It is the same old opium paste of hate and power and greed with automatic weapons.

6. In a free society it is easy to get distracted by lovely things, trivial things, even sports and landscaping television shows. Thanks again, Taliburdens, for bringing the focus back to the gates of Hell, where blind mullahs lead blind girls into eternity under the blind eyes of Cerberus. Thanks again for reminding me of Marvin Gaye’s fatalistic line, “Only three things for sure: taxes, death and trouble.”

 

 

209. False springs and genocide

It has happened, my little bloggnats!!! yes, a warm day and windows wide open here at my office. Noisy life is thumping outside, calling squinty-eyed cave dwellers like me out into the wondrous sunshine. 70 degrees and suddenly life is languid again behind last year’s dusty sunglasses. Even though I see on the Weather Channel that snow is coming on Thursday and maybe again next week, I’ll take this false spring day as the dirty snow piles melt away. Ahh, spring sun, the golden gift from God.

Blue crocus flowers

But what’s really exciting is I had my first blog hit from Namibia. How weird is that? I had read a book last fall about planned genocides. Namibia was one of those extermination zones where self-righteous German soldiers hunted down and slaughtered the indigenous people of southwest Africa and stole their land and cattle. I’m sure the English would have done the same if they’d had the chance. Genocide is not particular to any people group, though the British were very skilled at it; so were Americans when it came to the pesky Native peoples. Now, my patient blogicianados, I’m sure you are wondering if there is any sort of connection between false spring days and genocides.

Namibia

I have a personal theory about perfectionism and genocide. It seems innocent enough when someone ( a perfectionist) has high standards and wants others to comply with these noble goals of theirs. The superior minded begin trying to educate the dull witted masses about their superior ways. When they are met with resistance, the superior ones begin punishing the resistors. They change the rules and laws. Resistors and their sympathizers are imprisoned and then executed. It’s a clean, neat, and thorough program. The perfect plan turns into a perfect genocide, because after all of the perfectionists’ pure efforts, the resistors can not be re-educated so they have to be eliminated. The darn Aztecs could not become Spanish Catholics. The nomadic Africans could not get the whole German thing. The Australian aborigines didn’t do well in Victorian society. Solution? Kill them.

Ahhh, but that’s all history. It’s just short of sultry outside right now. I’m thinking of a beach as each car passes on the main drag across the alleyway. I mentally translate their dull roars into waves breaking on warm sands. Birds are tweeting about. Life is blooming again, except it’s not real yet. Nasty winds and cold are going to whip this watercolor painting into a frozen placemat at the bottom of a trash can by next week. It’s too soon, people. Like 14 year olds in love– no roots, no bark, no strength to endure the savage elements that will follow. Teens tend to be fervently idealistic due to their lack of experience and maturity. They believe in all or nothing choices and resist negotiations and compromises. When you are thoroughly convinced of the moral rectitude of your position, why negotiate or discuss it? Just like the Spanish conquistadors, the Brits around the world, the Germans, the Serbs, the Turks, the U.S. cavalry… they knew better and with absolute certainty. And so they proceeded with absolute arrogance to exterminate resistors to their ideals.

For some reason famous spring storms come to mind, where folks thought winter was over and they were aching for spring. In New York City in 1888, for instance.

The Blizzard of 1888

45th Street and Grand Central Depot, New York, March 1888, Source: NOAA’s National Weather Service Collection

With 21 inches of snow falling over a two-day period — the third largest accumulation on record — the blizzard of 1888 hit New York City by surprise at the end of a warm March day (March 11-14). As two storms, one approaching from the south and one from the north, met over the City, heavy precipitation and winds gusting up to almost 75 mph resulted in snowdrifts up to 30 feet high. Roads and highways were blocked, steam train service was suspended, horse-drawn streetcars and taxis halted operations, and ships docked in New York’s harbor.

A New York Central locomotive derailed while attempting to push past snow drifts in the 4th Avenue tunnel, and many commuters were stranded on elevated tracks in unheated cars. It took 14 days for the City to completely recover. The mayor responded in early 1889 by ordering all overhead wires placed underground. At least 200 New Yorkers died. Many froze to death that false spring.

Suddenly it was on them without any warning, no Weather Channel then, and pretty Easter outfits failed to keep them warm as they huddled in doorways and under bridges. Like young impetuous lovers, completely unprepared for what they had walked into, as if love alone would protect them from hypothermia, dehydration, and suffocation… they died. No ideals will not dig you out of an avalanche, kids. Wishing life was different does not make it so.

Now I need the magic trick to pull the genocide rabbit out of the false spring day hat. What are they doing in the same post? If I proceed to plant tomatoes today because it is sunny and 70, I will effectively kill every one of the plants in two days. No force of imposing my will can change this biological fact: tomatoes freeze and die at 32 degrees or lower. They will not produce fruit at temps below 55. To follow my will would only result in some sort of planticide. And yet, this is similar to what educated men did over and over again with the humans they had conquered.

In Central America the Spaniards killed and enslaved indigenous people to extract gold wherever they could. They believed incorrectly in a fantasy city of Cibola, the city of gold. A rumor, a lie, a fable led to real suffering and death of individuals and whole cultures. When lies are taken as truths and truths are seen as lies, bad things happen. People die like tomato plants in sub zero temperatures. Oh, national ideals and religious purities sound so good to the initiated, the chosen and the saved. Whether the dreamers are communists, Crusaders, Taliban, Zulus, Hindus, manifest destiny Yankees, or German nationalists, the outcomes are hauntingly similar. Fields of death and destruction bloom after absolutely lovely ideals erupt.

118. Aftermath

It’s an interesting word that comes from agricultural roots. A maeth was a mowing of a crop; so an after maeth was a second growth that required mowing. I guess a second harvest was noteworthy and very positive when food was so hard to produce in the late Middle Ages. Later on the word aftermath came to refer to results of some sort, simply the sequel to an earlier event. Later still, I suppose, it came to reference negative consequences. So nowadays when we speak of the aftermath of some event, it’s usually about a hurricane, a massacre, or some earthquake’s eruption, where things and people and institutions have been mowed down.

Out in the former fields surrounding our little town the chain stores and restaurants have taken up residency. First it was the big mall near Scotland in 1981. It never, I repeat never, reached full occupancy. Instead it has been the Killing Field of stores. Many have come and gone over the last 32 years. The place is a study in oddity. The larger anchor stores are at the opposite ends and in the middle. Then you have the gross movie theaters that needed a facelift twenty years ago. But wait, there are at least four jewelry stores in a mall that features discount shoes, bargain clothes, dollar store deals, and other low end businesses and empty storefronts. Why? At one time the mall was the equivalent of a covered downtown experience without the bad weather. However, this concept was lost along the way as malls actually decimated established downtowns across America. The Chambersburg Mall now resembles the downtown it helped to decimate, minus the charm. It has that dated ghetto look that screams of lost potential.

In the past twenty years or so we have witnessed the new phase of shopping malls that are not covered downtown experiences. Instead they bring the same package of stores and restaurants to open fields situated along high traffic interstates. You know the ones I’m talking about. There is an Old Navy or Kohl’s, a Pet Smart, a Staples, and the chain restaurants that share the same parking area– Panera, Fridays, Red Robin, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc. You know the drill. It’s convenient and uniform, and therefore familiar. The one I most dislike is Applebee’s. They glom onto a locality and decorate with local knick knacks and old photos to appear to be what they are not. Just to pick on them a little, here are some internet facts.

“The company, which recently finished selling most of its Applebee’s restaurants to independent operators, said third-quarter net income rose to $58.7 million, or $3.14 per share, from $15.5 million, or 85 cents per share, a year earlier. The latest quarter included a gain of $73.7 million from the asset sales, which was partially offset by higher income taxes and expenses, and the expected lower segment profit resulting from the restaurant sales.

Excluding items, the company earned $1.03 per share in the latest quarter. Analysts on average expected the company to earn 93 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Total revenue fell 18 percent to $216.3 million, but beat analysts’ expectations of $202.6 million.  DineEquity bought the Applebee’s bar-and-grill restaurant chain in a $2 billion leveraged buyout in 2007.”

“Eating good in the neighborhood” takes on a whole other meaning when you follow it with record profits and a 2 billion dollar leveraged buy out. The question becomes WHO is Eating What? These places that inhabit the crossroads of America are eating the downtowns of America wherever they pop up. It’s a sad tale really. You take a town that has struggled to build itself up over decades, even three centuries around here. Through the ups and downs of agriculture and industry, a community binds itself together with schools and churches and companies and housing developments. The local folks work together over decades to solve problems like pollution, traffic, parking, noise, crime, recreation, fire and flood. And however imperfect the product is, it is the result or the aftermath of local human struggle over time. The problems and successes belong to the folks who have their skin in the game.

Now behold the swooping opportunism of national and multinational corporations. They do a demographic study; buy up land near an interstate exit; rush through a wonderplan of development; demand substantial tax breaks; and then attach a money vacuum hose to the nearest town. These large chains cannot be intricately involved with the communities that they descend and feed upon. Their relationships are within their own corporate hierarchy not with the local neighbors. Unlike local businesses, mega-businesses move fast and replicate like a virus. They have a uniform plan that is cost effective. They are on television ads across the nation and can profit in ways that are not available to single entity businesses.

These interstate open-faced malls are the latest growth in the fields around our town. At first everyone is excited that there are so many more options for shopping and eating. Finally! A Red Lobster or a Ruby Tuesday or an Olive Garden. Now we are like every other town, which is both the up upside and downside of these interstate exit ticks. Every exit resembles the last one you passed as you drive across a homogenized America until it becomes the Uniform States of America. But what is worse than the aesthetic insult is the fact that local money is going upstream into corporate coffers where high end VP’s and CEO’s plot profits and live a life unimaginable to the local peasants who support them.

Aftermath, after our downtowns are mowed over and the only hardware store is Lowe’s or Home Depot out at the mall. After pharmacies become as quaint as phone booths. After local breakfast joints lose to Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel and coffee shops surrender to the Starbucks Evil Empire. What then? We will be poorer in our communities and in our connectivity to each other. Corporations have no soul, folks. No matter how many local photos they display, their profits are headed to Wall Street.

I suppose the next transformation may come when we leave automobiles behind and return to our downtowns to meet our needs. Then the open-faced malls will be left behind in the blighted aftermath that we call progress.