Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

10 January, 2017

A question of faith and the problem of a proportional response

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. - John Adams

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be! - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

 

Lately I've been thinking about my father, and what he would say if he were still alive to see the state of the world... or if he would say anything at all.

He was a retired Air Force Master Sargent. When I talk to people about him, I most often begin with that detail. This sometimes gives people the impression that I grew up a military brat. But I did not. It would be incorrect to assume, however, that just because the old man managed to get his walking papers* that his 20 years of military service had no impact on him or his family.

He was also 16 years older than my mother. He was born in 1935, and grew up in a very different America than the America most of the parents of most of my school mates grew up in. He grew up during the end of the Great Depression World War II. He entered the military -- the Navy first -- when he was 17 years old, during the Korean War.** He entered the Air Force in time for Vietnam.

The Old Man never really talked about his military experience, except for a few funny stories. He didn't talk about a lot of things. He was waiting for his sons to be older, I think.

He never said much about his politics, either. I did ask him once about how he voted and he told me he was a Republican but didn't always vote that way. Another time, during an intensely religious phase of my life***, we spoke about abortion. He posed a question to me that has continued to inform my thoughts on the matter. That question was "How many women AND children died from back alley abortions?"

My father believed in a nation of laws. He believed that democracy meant something and it was worth defending. He believed that you didn't have to be the loudest in order to stand up for what is right. And even though he took a very practical approach to the world, he believed that some things were right and some things were wrong.

I try very hard not to paint him into what I would prefer him to be. He was not, in a way, a radical. He was not a simple man, either, because he understood that life could be very complex. He strove to be a simple man, I think. He lived based on a set of ideals, and he lived quietly in as much as his large personality and his considerable vanity would allow. He loved his family. He did what he thought was right.

The most difficult part of being a son is forging yourself away from your father's shadow.  As a son, I want to live in such a way that were he still alive, he would be proud of me. This takes me down some interesting paths. I may never know if the Old Man would like who I am now and the ideals I strive to live my life by. Like him, I strive to be a simple man. A man of substance. A man of use. A man who holds certain principles as absolute, but is willing to embrace the idea that life is rarely as absolute as our ideals.

I find myself looking the America I am living in now and I cannot help but think the core ideas my father lived by have no place here. I live in a state where its elected officials have proven they have no regard for people's lives, people's safety, or people's health. I live in a country that has embraced a cynical lack of faith in democracy and our natural rights by electing a egotistical megalomaniac that has set his sights on fighting personal vendettas, fueling hate, and pushing people on with pyrite delusions and calling them the golden future.

I find myself in place where I am worried about my family, my community, and my country.  If I were a solider, I would fight. But I am not a soldier. I am an artist and a a dreamer.

These are fronts I understand.

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* It took him a long time to get released from the reserves after he left active service. 1975, if  I am remembering from his records correctly. Apparently the military didn't want to let him go.
** He was "asked" by his high school principle to leave.
*** To paraphrase, I was far more interested in the letter of the law than the spirit of it. 


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19 June, 2014

Learning Along the Dirty, Sacred, River: Fathers, Teachers, Elders, Part 2

[Part one can be found here]

Me (Left), Dad, and my older brother. Dad was my first hero.
The best and most important lesson I have learned from my father is that I am not him.

I am not him. I am not my grandfather, nor his father, nor his father. I am not them. And while it is fashionable in some circles to worship our dead*  doing so means we lose not only something important from them, but from ourselves, too.

Although I grew up listening to stories about my grandfather Daniel, the truth is my Dad told me very little about his own life. I've written before about the book he and I never got to write -- a memoir of sorts we were going to title Every Man Is A VIP. He told me he was waiting for me to be old enough to understand.

Over the years since his death -- this September 3rd he will be gone 24 years -- I have come to different conclusions as to why he thought it was important to wait. After all, don't fathers regale their sons with stories about youth and prowess? That seemed to be the pattern of most of the fathers of the sons I went to school with, went to church with. Not that he didn't share stories about himself, but almost always they were funny stories. Most often, he was not the hero of his stories. He was never the villain either. When he told me the reason he never ate bananas he did not shy away from his own culpability. (He ate bad ones in the Navy while at port in Hong Kong... and so did the entire ship, including the Captain who ordered them NOT to eat the bananas. The entire crew ended up with dysentery... including the Captain.) When he told me the story about his military induction, he did not hold back on his feelings of inadequacy standing naked in a cold gymnasium with a thousand other young men. All men have their failures and all men have their triumphs. But for Dad, a story about him 1) was funny and 2) was educational, even and especially at his own expense.

The only time he told hero stories was when he talked about his own father, who was far from perfect and probably in need of some understanding, if not revision.

Grandpa Daniel "Boone" Parsons, with me and my brother

 Men are not perfect creatures and it does us all a disservice to worship our elders to the point that they become symbols of divine infallibility.

Grandpa Parsons died when I was 3, so my own memories of him are limited. Most of what I know about him, I know from stories Dad told. I learned a little more from My Dear Sweet Ma, and some from my Grandma Dunn, who knew him because they lived across the street from Dan and Minnie Parsons on S. Charity Street. He was not an easy man, though he, too, loved to tell stories.  I have come to suspect that my dad's ambivalence about dogs is rooted in the fact that maybe sometimes the dogs ate better than he did. Grandpa was fond of whiskey even though (and probably because) his wife supported the temperance movement. He was also something of a flirt and probably a philanderer, which made Grandma Parsons terribly (and likely understandably) jealous.

Then again, being personable isn't the same as taking your pants off and Bethel, like all small towns, has always operated more on rumor than substantiated fact.

He was a stubborn and argumentative man. One of my favorite stories about him is the one in which he stopped speaking to his barber over a political argument. He still went to the barber. After all, there was only one in town.  He just didn't speak to him. But he was also a man who took no guff, who did not simper and skulk.



Grandpa (Clay J, Sr.) Dunn at Bantam.
Grandpa Dunn died in 1988. He worked with his hands, which means he also worked with his mind. I once watched him working on a design for one of his carpentry projects. He was drawing it out on a napkin at the kitchen table. It struck me, being as young as I was and thoughtless as I was, that he was far better at complex math than I was at simple math -- and that he had dropped out of school.

Most of his world was cut off from me. I was too sick to be in his workshop, too sick to wander the woods much... or at least, that was impression I was given until I was 10 or so. Most of his world was cut off from me, but the one thing I learned from him, though he spoke very little around me, was that being educated is not the same thing as knowing. And while I was being raised to embrace education, I tucked away the knowledge that there is more than one way to learn something, and that I could learn by doing as much as I could by sitting in some stale classroom, waiting to be told what is important.

I keep that in mind every time I step into the classroom to teach. This lesson keeps me grounded as teacher more than any pedagogy.

It wasn't until recently that began to (maybe) understand the Old Man's motivations in not telling me the rest of his stories. Every boy grows up in his father's shadow**. But there's a point where the son must extract himself from that shadow, whether it is an oppressive one or whether it is a comfortable one. A boy doesn't really become a man until he fully extracts himself from that shadow. My Old Man castes a large shadow, and so did his father, and I'm guessing that his father did before that. Dad had to leave home before he could properly see himself in the light of day. The same was true for his father. The same was true for me. I like to think now that the Old Man understood this -- that bearing down too much on a son will keep him forever in the shadow. He did not want to be worshiped. He wanted to be understood when I had the appropriate context and experience.

I am not my father. But I am my father's son. I don't need to sit and wonder what The Old Man would do in any given situation because it is not my father who is in any of those situations anymore. But I can look back over what he taught me, the things he tried to tell me, and I can find my own answers. 

______________________________________
 *Worshiping the dead is not the same thing as Remembrance. Remembrance implies meditation, consideration and reconsideration, paying attention, and LEARNING. To worship the dead means fitting them into whatever convenient framework makes us feel better about ourselves and our world view, no matter how incorrect that view might be. See also: every public school history textbook. See also: every sermon by James Hagee, Pat Robertson, Robert Tildon, Joel Olsteen, Jimmy Swaggart, and Oral Roberts. See also: any nightly "world" news show on a major television network.
** This is true whether the father is present or not. Absence does not negate the father. Absence just leaves more room for interpretation and selfish revision.

01 May, 2014

Up The Dirty, Sacred River May Day and Mulch

First of all, Fellow Workers of the World, let me wish you a happy May Day! For  those of you who may be unaware, May 1st is when people around the world with a sense of history celebrate the contributions that labor -- both organized and oppressed -- have made to the world. May Day resonates with members of different unions in jobs both industrial and office around the world. May Day resonates with those who keep a careful eye on history and another on current events beyond the catapulted propoganda we are assaulted with from memeworld*.  

The above image is of an 1886 flyer. Working people in this country were fighting for an 8 hour work day -- which at that time, was labled dirty and dastardly socialism.  May Day was an attempt to organize previously unorganized and already unionized (aka:  harrassed) behind the single idea that people who work deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of the work they do... and that the people who actually do the work deserve to see the most benefit and the most reward from that labor. 

Friends of mine and Fellow Wobs are gathering all over  the world to celebrate today. They will sing songs -- new and old -- and put out the call yet again that the only people who can fix the problems of the world is EVERYBODY. Today, if all goes well, the Kentucky General Membership Branch of the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World... The ONE BIG UNION) should be officially chartered. Some fellow workers are gathering in Indianapolis to celebrate and remember today - and I am with them in spirit.

I am here, on the outskirts of Losantiville, planting flowers.

Digging in the dirt, and laying down fresh mulch in front of My Dear Sweet Ma's place is how am choosing to celebrate May Day. It is a small thing. Certaily it is not the sort of thing I need to assume is going to be willfully ignored by the news media, as I am sure that any May Day celebration here or abroad will probably be. Planting some forget-me-nots and a few bushes may not seem like an appropriate way to celebrate what I consider to to be a historic and important day.

On the other hand, I can think of no better metaphor for making the world a better place for everyone than to plant living things in the hope that they will grow.  The actual work of the world is like this: small and deliberate and full of care. The actual work of the world that will ultimately change the world does not include bombs or bullets; bombs and bullets fail in the long scope of history.  The actual work of the world is some people singing while others plant quiet flowers.

23 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - Up on Cripple Creek (Colorado)

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one - The Band (1970)


...these adventurous characters, going out into a new country...where it would seem that at last all men would stand on equal footing, have suddenly discovered that amid these primitive surroundings the modern industrial system is... found at its worst. -William Hard, writing about 19th Century Colorado miners.


When I met my 95 year old  Uncle Dan  for the first time a few days ago and gave him the short and sweet version of what I've been doing -- pointing out, as I do whenever possible, that I am continually struck by the beauty I find as I travel -- he remarked "There's a lot of beauty to see. A lot that's ugly, too."

Leave it to a Parsons to say so much in so few words. 

Those of you who understand the irony of this statement, now is the time to guffaw. That's right. Guffaw.

This cell was used to house up to 6 men, sleeping on hammocks.
And Colorado is, like a lot of this part of the country, is simply stunning to see. Mary, my first cousin, drove me up into the mountains, up through the City of Woodland Park, towards Cripple Creek -- which has been wrested from decay by the legalization of casinos and the subsequent tourism which has swelled as a result. You lose  (or win) at a casino, you can look for free range donkeys, you can walk up and down the main drag, look at the plaques on the buildings, buy ice cream, trinkets, toys, take a tour of the old jail... which really isn't that old, since it was last used in 1994. That's the year my daughter was born. She is 17 years old. I suppose it could be argued that metal boxes never go out of style and that prisoners should'n't be spoiled too much. I mean, after all, it's guilty until proven innocent, right? Make the bastards suffer. And the bitches, too, for that matter. The women's cells were upstairs... only two of them, along with a room for the Matron and a separate cell for children who were arrested. The women prisoners -- who, as far as I could tell, were mostly arrested for prostitution or other unladylike behavior -- did get a window view of the street, as well as a private  toilet and access to a bath tub. Still a metal box, though. with no heat in the winter, no respite from the heat in the summer.

The other thing that stuck out to me -- probably because the plaques describing them were included in the jail tour, is the labor history in Cripple Creek: like the 1894 Miner's Strike and the subsequent Colorado Labor Wars.  The 1894 Strike started because miners were fighting an enforced 10 hour work day. It was a violent strike, and it cemented the reputation of the Western Federation of Miners as a violent group. During the Labor Wars, which ran from 1901 to around 1904, were also violent, and included both the use of state militia, the National Guard under the command of Adjunct General Sherman Bell (who has a building with his name on it) and mercenaries like the Pinkertons, and the Baldwin-Felts. 


If you're a student of history, you might notice that the Haymarket Square Bombing -- for which four men, including Albert R. Parsons, were unjustly hanged -- occurred a few years prior the Cripple Creek Strike. (The Pinkertons were there, too. Notorious fuckers, the lot of them.)


I tend to get stuck on stories like this. Stories like that tend to be glossed over for the sake of tourism, and for the sake of revising some corporate entity's sense of guilt. And by corporate, I mean the government, I mean any governing body empowered by The State,  I mean the mining company that put profit above the safety of workers, and I mean anyone -- including the WFM, long defunct -- who resorts to violence. But mostly I mean the government, governing bodies, and mining companies.

I tend to get stuck on stories like this because there are always stories that aren't being told, that aren't being exploited for tourist dollars, that aren't left to history books that no one except historians read.

I actually had a nice time wandering around the town, because 1) I'm a history junkie and 2) I love small towns with a sense of character, some sense of self. And, as my cousin Mary pointed out, there's more history there than can be learned in one visit. I'm finding that for the most part, that's true of every place I've been since January. There is never enough time, and always more stories to hear.

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11 September, 2011

The Three Tenses: Some thoughts on 9/11, Football, and The Sacred Long Memory

I rolled out of bed this morning to get some work done before the Cincinnati Bengals play their first regular season game against the Cleveland Browns -- because, in fact, all work does stop for me when there's a football game on. I realize this relegates me to a stereotype, but I don't really care. That I was never an athlete doesn't change the fact that I enjoy being a spectator. That the Bengals are trying to recover from a lousy season, the departure of a whiny quarterback, and an owner who's head is permanently planted up his own ass doesn't change the fact that I'm wearing orange and black today. In spite of the past, in spite of everything, life and faith goes on.

After feeding the cats and taking a shower and making coffee, I made my way upstairs to my desk. The weather is starting to cool off enough that I will be able to spend more days up here, writing. (Old house, the physics of heat, and the inability to afford an air conditioner all played a role in what I am now thinking of the Ennui '11: The Summer That Nearly Killed My Soul.) I need this space -- some kind of space -- where I can simply sit and write and be alone with all the muck that goes on in my head. This morning, part of that muck means doing the day job. Tomorrow morning's newspaper deadline is looming already, and there are public officials to expose, lampoon, and embarrass into doing the right thing. (Save all your objective media bullshit, please. The Fourth Estate is rarely objective. And when it is, no one reads it, listens to it, or watches it, because it's as dull as the list of contents on the back of a box of Hamburger Helper. You want your journalists to be honest, ethical, and merciless, not objective... which means that Fox News is not really a news outlet, but a well-funded propaganda machine -- since they've proven they are neither honest nor ethical.)

The thing I am faced with when I get online, however -- because I have to check my email and Facebook before I can do anything... damned digital age -- are people's thoughts, remembrances, and tributes to 9/11.

And while I remember precisely where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the planes flying into the World Trade Center Towers, I will not pine about that here. Any attempt on my part to insert myself into a momentous and tragic historical event would be pointless.

The focus of such remembrances should be on the people who died, their families, and the subsequent  responders and Ground Zero workers who have and continue to sacrifice a decade after the event. The focus ought to be that even though it has been 10 years, that we shouldn't lull ourselves into junking the events of September 11, 2001, into some kind of convenient decade package -- which is what pundits and pseudo-historians tend to do. Decade packaging is a myth. The events that shape us as individuals and as a society do not stop and start at 10 year intervals.

Remembrance is not a word I use lightly. The very word itself has a kind of religious resonance for me. It reminds me of the religious zealotry I hid behind in my youth. "This do in remembrance of me," was what Jesus said, according to Luke 22:19, as he ate with his disciples at Passover. And while I have since rejected the metaphor for God and spirituality I was raised on, that specific word retains a particular resonance that never fades.

For me, though, remembrance continues to take on a larger, longer, and deeper view. Responses to the 9/11 attacks are a part of what I have come to think of as The Long Memory. This collection of stories, songs, and poems provide the permanent under current that keeps humanity moving. The Long Memory exists above, beyond, below, and outside of history. History is an abstract collection of events that are generally told with a specific narrative in mind. The Sacred Long Memory -- indeed, it may the one and only sacred thing -- ties together the past, the present, and the future. This Do In Remembrance Of Me. That is the purpose and the meaning: ensuring that the past stays with us and informs our present, and takes us into a better future.

The tragedies and travesties that have occurred as a result of the those horrific events are as much a part of the event as the planes flying into the towers and into the Pentagon and the crash of United Flight 93. Wars and rumors of wars. Torture, the silencing of dissenting voices, the xenophobia and all too familiar brand of Nationalism (think Hitler and Mussolini) that some people mistake for patriotism and "defending democracy." The soldiers who have sacrificed life and limb to keep Halliburton in business and to maintain the high price of a barrel of oil are just as much a part of those events as well. Gitmo Prison, Abu Graib, and the various crimes against humanity committed in our name are a part of those events, too.. and they continue to this day. President Obama has managed to continue most of the same war tactics that horrified rank and file Democrats during the Bush II regime. We're still fighting an expensive war in Afghanistan that no one talks about. We're dealing with a lingering recession here -- that, admittedly, Obama inherited -- but given the intransigence of the GOP, the tomfoolery of Tea Baggers, and the sheer spinelessness of the Democratic Party, there's no end in sight that doesn't hurt the poor.

And when I speak of remembrance, I also speak of the fact that 3000 + people died on 9/11 as a direct result of years of hawkish and exploitative American foreign policy. (Don't forget, Osama bin Laden was CIA trained to be our proxy during the Cold War to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Also, maybe one of the reasons the Bush/Cheney regime was so sure Saddam Hussein had WMDs was because WE GAVE HIM SOME when he was our proxy against Iran, which was backed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.)

These things, and the stories and songs and poems that have come as a result, are all a part of the Long Memory.

There are those who would make 9/ll a national holiday, and I can see their point. But it's not an idea I support.  How many people really know why Memorial Day is a holiday? Or Labor Day?  Did we immortalize December 7th, 1941 with a day off of school and work? (The answer is no. After all, it's too close to Christmas, the high and holy day that celebrates consumerism and egg nog.)

Remembrance means moving forward and carrying the Long Memory with us every single day. Adding to it every single day. Passing it on every single day. This Do In Remembrance Of Me. Part of engaging in Remembrance means that life and faith -- faith that some good can still happen -- must go on.

And the last time I checked, "to do" is an active verb. It means to perform a specific act, as in DIYDS. (Do It Your Damn Self.)

18 April, 2011

Brief Introduction to A Biography of Ill-Fate: Gibbleflugen's Gambit, by Halstead Mamby, PhD

Professor Wilhelm Gibbleflugen (1849-1920?) was an obscure German Historian who lived during the later part of the 19th and early part of the 20th Century. His influences were next to non-existent, and his theories half-baked. For example, rather than seeing history as a continuum of progress towards inevitable Platonic perfection – which was (and still is in most 1st world nations around the world) the generally accepted view of world history –Gibbleflugen saw history... best described in his own words (from his one and only book length work, Zivilisierung Kaput or The Fit and Failure of The Civilized World, published in 1919 at his own expense) as: “a series of random and largely forgettable events given meaning without cause, importance without reason, and weight without consideration.” He went to explain in great length what he meant by this cryptic statement; but like all German intellectuals, Gibbleflugen was much enamored by the flow of words rather than the message they were intended to convey.

To condense for the benefit of a contemporary readership, Gibbleflugen's stance on history was this: people only remember what they want to remember anyway, so there's little point in writing any of it down or even discussing it other than during party games or in the process of trying to impress an attractive girl.

This made him no friends among his professional colleagues, who saw his hypothesis as nothing short of professional and cultural abortion. He rarely attended conferences or read the papers of other historians, and was only given tenure at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin because he was immensely popular with students who didn't want to study history anyway. In fact, Gibbleflugen's seminars were legendary for their brevity; the class would meet only once, on the first day of the term. On that day, Professor Gibbleflugen stalked into the seminar room, carrying nothing in his hand but his walking stick made from the shaft of an American Buffalo topped with a large white pearl that he was sometimes fond of using to hit people on the head with, causing horrible concussions. Once at the lectern, he made each student stand up and say his (and later her) own name. When that was complete, he informed his students that they had just demonstrated all the knowledge he could possible give them... and would they please just leave him alone, for Christ's sake? He would be found later at his favorite tavern, drinking and arguing about the size of the barmaid's breasts or sitting in with the band playing his harpsichord.

Gibbleflugen himself had an encyclopedic memory for world historical events, even though no one ever saw him even pick up a book. A student, convinced that the Professor was a fraud, once cornered him in his favorite tavern. Once the professor was good and rotten drunk, the student began to whisper in his ear, attempting to draw the the scholar into a debate about some particulars of medieval European history. After five minutes of the student's incessant talking, Gibbleflugen could stand it no more, took his pearl tipped bull shaft walking stick and lightly. popped the young man on the top of his head. “The problem with your argument,” he said, calmly, returning to his mug of beer, “is that you're forgetting that the King was really a woman in drag.” To what king the professor was referring, no one heard; and the student, upon waking in an alley, promptly left college in disgrace and was never heard from again.

That he only used his powerful knowledge of history to get laid eventually led to his downfall; he was caught in bed with the twin daughters of a member of the German government, Gretchen and Gröten von Haasenhaber. Their father, a powerful diplomat and distant 7th cousin to Wilhelm II, the last German monarch, had Gibbleflugen arrested for contributing to the delinquency of children. (It was later discovered, through the long, laborious, and detailed testimonies of their many paramours that the von Haasenhaber sisters were as easily gotten as a village bicycle, and ridden just as often.) The Professor, who refused to defend himself or even to testify, spent the entire proceeding laughing to himself – at some times laughing so long that he was crying. The case was eventually dismissed when it was discovered that the high court judge deciding the case had deflowered both girls when they reached breeding age and had, over the years, visited them when their father was away on government business.

That the case was dismissed meant nothing, however. Professor Gibbleflugen was drummed out of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in what everyone thought was relative disgrace. He seemed none of the worse for wear, however; he could be found at his favorite tavern most nights, flirting with women and playing his harpsichord.

It was during this time of decline and increased debauchery that Gibbleflugen wrote what has become his seminal work. Zivilisierung Kaput (or The Fit and Failure of The Civilized World) was published in 1919 by an obscure publisher of exquisite pornography whom the Professor knew from the tavern. He would sometimes give copies of the book to women he wanted to woo, or leave them in public bathrooms. When critics and his former colleagues got wind of the publication, they asked him for copies to review, intending to rip it to pieces; the Professor responded by paying prostitutes to used the book as toilet paper before sending them to his would-be critics. If anyone asked him what his intention was in writing it, he would either ignore them, hit them on the head with his pearl topped bull shaft walking stick, or – if the person asking was a particularly attractive woman – he would ask her to bed. (Though he was not an attractive man by the standards of his day, this ploy worked more often than anyone wanted to admit.)

The (supposed) death of Professor Wilhelm Gibbleflugen was as mysterious and odd as the man. The night prior to his death, he had gone home with an especially pliable barmaid named Mable. The following morning, he was gone from her bed. His clothes and shoes were there; but his walking stick was missing. When interrogated by the authorities, Mable confessed that he had spent the night with her; and while she was a bit sad that he was gone, she was supposed to have said that she had rather he'd left behind his fine and useful walking stick instead of his clothes.

10 April, 2010

Saturday Morning Tao – A Fiction

[Dedicated to Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese]

So I’m thinking about this quote from Thomas Carlyle, a 19th Century British intellectual. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that anything that anybody is going to learn will be learned before the age of 18. He was for the British who Emerson was for America. In his lifetime, Carlyle became one of the most respected intellectuals in the English speaking world; this was during a time, of course, when intellectuals and artists COULD be famous without having to first “leak” a sex tape onto the internet.

Not to say that I think Once Upon A Time was ever any better than Right Now; but people generally focus on what’s glitzy and shiny, and I do think it bears saying that the things we find shiny and pretty are not ideas or works of art, but Megan Fox and Jon&Kate Plus 8. This suggests, of course, that we are not thinking feeling critters but wide-eyed voyeurs – which are more akin to a parasite than a critter. (Some useful definitions from The Parsons Dictionary of Often Used Words and Phrases [PDOUWP]: Critter, n – an independent creature that can be mammal, lizard, or fish. Large brains are not necessary, nor are they strictly useful, as too much thinking tends to result in a quicker and more agony filled death. Parasite,n – a creature that may resemble a critter in that it has an independent body and structure, can and does procreate on a large scale, and that it must, from time to time, move. They are effective because it is often impossible to tell strictly on sight whether something is a parasite or a critter. However, a parasite differs from a critter in that it cannot survive on any level without sucking life, experience, and blood from an available critter.) But to be fair, it’s true that the definitions of terms and ideas change over time; so that a critic, who is most likely a parasite masquerading as a critter, may in fact serve some larger function in that he frames the larger world in a way that higher functioning critters and parasites can understand and that lower functioning ones can emulate after listening to a watered down version in a pop song.

Carlyle, of course, isn’t as highly regarded now, mostly because he was embraced by fascists, uber-nationalists, and other such lunkheads. (Def: lunkhead, n – a subspecies of parasite that, having gorged themselves on critters, turn on their own kind. They become Department Chairs, Lackies, and bill collectors [from PDOUWP]. Note: Critters have a similar subspecies; these are often referred to as Fuckers, because theoretically they should know better.) Emerson is still respected in certain circles; but since he is unable to release either a CD or a sex tape, he is dwindling in obscurity.

I’m not entirely sure what brought on my thoughts of dead British fascists; but I do try to keep these things in context. While it’s true the Carlyle was probably a nationalist and most certainly a vocal opponent of Democracy, this ought to be kept in perspective. He has long since died and it does no good to beat up on a dead guy. I suspect that other people suffer the same fate. After all, it’s much easier to abuse the dead than it is the living – and it’s damned easy to abuse the living, so that should tell you something. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of Céline lately and he was, after all, a Nazi sympathizer during World War II; people who read his books and want to glide over the ugliness explain and/or justify themselves by suggesting that maybe it was his injury as a french soldier during World War I that turned him wonky. (Def: wonky, adj – nutty; goofy; off your rocker; operating at an intellectual level beyond the range of good taste, common sense, and sound logic. [From PDOUWP]) I love his words but I hate his politics. I feel the same way about Ezra Pound and the comedian Dennis Miller. I will not explain any of these things other than to say that writers, artists, and stand-up comedians are just that: writers, artists, and stand-up comedians.

They are far less dangerous to the world than, say the lunkheads and fuckers in Congress who are the kind of politicians (which can be either critters or parasites, but can never be confused with a Human Being) that would suffocate their children in order to avoid having to buy them new school clothes. Change is bad. Even worse, change is boring and has nothing to do with Jon&Kate Plus 8, Megan Fox, sex tapes, or pop music. Change is what they refuse to give to the homeless and to art programs. And before you accuse me of being partisan, keep in mind that I reject all –isms [See PDOUWP] on the basis of their limited intent and lack of insight. I sort of like democracy, but we haven’t figured out how to make it work yet – in spite of wanting to export it to every nation in the world that has natural resources we need to keep our civilization wheezing along.

And I’m probably being unfair to dead old Carlyle in calling him a fascist – but he’s dead, after all, and can’t defend himself; nor would he probably try to. I do think that even wonky people can sometimes make a good point, and Carlyle, with all his wonkiness, did have it right. Most of what I know is true I learned before I turned 18; and in spite of the reading and wandering and discovering, all I end up doing going back to what I know. I started writing when I was 10 – which I still do. I learned most of my history from watching Loony Tunes and Tom & Jerry Cartoons, along with my appreciation for jazz and classical music. I learned how to be skeptical because of an above average youth minister and because whenever I asked adults to explain biblical discrepancies to me they scolded me instead just telling me they didn’t have an answer. I learned that people who do the right thing will get screwed over just as quickly – maybe even quicker – than people who do the wrong thing; along with that I found out that our society rewards results rather than intentions because the wrong thing tends to illicit the most immediate and gratifying result.

I also learned how to laugh at and appreciate the absurd – which is everywhere – from watching slapstick with my dad; and if you haven’t bothered to watch Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, or Fatty Arbuckle, you should be ashamed and go find them immediately. Fatty Arbuckle, by the way, was very popular until an under-age girl died in his hotel room. And even though he was cleared legally, he was never again successful and died a poor and despised bastard – just like Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, did because he wrote a pamphlet in which he suggested that all churches be abolished.

22 February, 2010

Excerpt from New Manuscript

Since I had the cash, I went against my better judgment and decided to pay rent. The next day I woke up in the late afternoon and walked up to the gas station on the corner and bought a money order, two corn dogs, and a 40 of Miller High Life. On the way back I stopped by the manager’s office, the money order through the mail slot near the bottom of the locked door, and went back home to burrow in and avoid the day light. When I got back, there were two more messages on my phone. One was another message from Lynda, wanting to talk to me. The other was from my mother, asking if I’d talked to Rhea lately.


The corn dogs were hard from sitting under the heat lamp too long, but I added enough ketchup that it didn’t matter, and the beer washed it all down nicely. I tried watching TV for a while, but I couldn’t talk myself into sitting through any of the shit on any of the channels. They’d be doing me a favor, I thought, if they just shut the fucking cable off. How many years had I wasted watching television? Over my lifetime? It’s enough to stupefy the imagination. The time people waste never occurs until it’s well past reclamation; I spent my life doing what I thought was living. I worked – sometimes. I married. I had a child. I divorced. I worked – sometimes. I remarried. I got a career. I paid taxes, amassed debt, missed car payments and rent payments and utility payments. When I had the money I always tried to tip at least 15 percent when I went to bars and restaurants. I spent recklessly. I survived hangovers, evictions, break ups, break downs, deaths, funerals, births. In my mid-30’s I was able to look back and see a life not unlike the lives of other men my age. I wasn’t so different.

So why did most all of it feel like malingering death?

There were only two things I did right in my life, as far as I could tell: having Rhea and marrying Lynda. But Rhea was getting too old to visit and Lynda took a job out of town for a few months. She told me when she left it wasn’t me; but I knew it was.

“You never do anything. You don’t go anywhere except that bar. You don’t have any hobbies. You don’t even write anymore; and it used to be so important.”


“It still is.”


She shook her head. “But you’re not doing anything about it. You’ve been moping around the apartment for a year, Nick. A YEAR. I can’t take it.”


“So you’re leaving me because I’m a little depressed.”


She shook her head. “I’m not leaving you. I’m working out of town for a few months. I need to get out of here. I need to do this for ME, ok? Besides, the time apart might be good for us.”


“Whatever.” I didn’t believe for a second that she planned on coming back. She’d go off with her gypsy theatre friends and send me postcards that read Wish You Were Here (Not!).


A car honked outside. “That’s my taxi.”


“I could have taken you to the airport.”


“It’s not a big deal.”


It would have been, I thought. Once.


“I’ll call you when I land.”


“Ok.”


She sighed. “I still love you, Nick.”


“Yeah.”

She walked out of the apartment and got into the taxi. I stood there watching her leave. It felt like my entire life was riding off in a yellow taxi.

That I wasn’t working wasn’t the issue, although that played a role. Lynda, unlike most of the women I’d had dealings with in my life, wasn’t obsessed with money. She worried over it sometimes, but not out of some shallow social-status issue. Her fears of poverty had deeper roots than even I understood when we first got married, and I had come to take them seriously – even if my own nature got in the way of doing anything about it.

I walked downstairs because I was tired of standing in the middle of the bedroom. Of course, once I reached the bottom of the stairs, I hit the wall of smell that encased the entire first floor. What had Randall called it? Dead fish and dirty ass? He was often an intolerable human being, but he could be (entirely too often) astute in his observations.

“I really need to clean,” I said. My voice echoed. It was a wonder that Marie Rubio didn’t say anything about it when she dropped off the delinquent rent notice. For all I knew, the odor was starting to creep out under the door and out the edges of the window. Hell, it could’ve been seeping through the walls; the walls were painted concrete blocks, which gave the place a cave-like quality. It also dated the construction of the complex to the late 1960’s to early 70’s. Before advances in central air and energy efficient building materials, the best way to build houses in the desert was out of cement blocks; they kept the cool air longer. It made for shitty insulation of course… but the winters were mild except for the nighttime temperature and the cold always burned off by ten the following morning. That was one of the things about living in the desert Lynda and I didn’t realize; I suspect that most people don’t realize it, either. The winter nights get cold – sometimes below freezing. It’s not the same kind of cold; it’s not that mid-western cold that gets into your bones the way it gets into the ground and freezes solid to stay until the spring thaw. The desert ground doesn’t hold onto the cold in the winter. There’s not enough water or soil or clay for that to happen. The temperature simply drops, and maybe there’s a micro-thin layer of dew the following morning; but that, along with the cold, disappears quickly and leaves no trace of its existence.

The cave-like atmosphere of the apartment held the smell in like it held the cold; sometimes I had to hold my breathe from the time I walked in the door to the time I made it up the stairs to the bedroom, which was the only sacred place left. When Lynda first left, I couldn’t sleep upstairs; trying to sleep alone in our bed was simply too much for me. And no matter how much I drank, I couldn’t sleep in our bed without missing her – the feel of her next to me, her radiating warmth, the little snoring sounds she always made (and always denied making). I missed the way she talked in her sleep and didn’t remember it the next day, and the way she used to cling to me in the night when she had a nightmare. I missed the weight of her when she’d lay on my chest, listen to my heart, and play with my chest hair, always pulling out the gray hairs and accusing me of turning into a monkey. So for the first month or so, I passed out on the couch downstairs and slept with the lights on to erase the memories that lingered in the darkness and kept me awake.

Eventually, though, the smell downstairs and the uncomfortable couch pushed me upstairs; and I made sure to drink enough that I wouldn’t wake up, and I kept the television on to block out the sound of all those memories whispering at me from the shadows in every corner of the room.

Coffee, I thought. I need a little coffee and then I’ll scour the place clean. I steeled myself and waded into the kitchen. Dirty dishes stacked in high in the sink and spreading onto the counter top when the space ran out. Old, dried out food encrusted on the plates, the bowls, the silverware. Empty, crushed beer cans and drained bottles that once held wine, bourbon, and scotch. The floor was sticky. The stove was covered in layers of crud and stained with meals I didn’t remember trying to cook and the burners were riddled with acne-like little circles from Randall lighting his cigarettes on the burner. Old pizza boxes. Rancid delivery and take-out containers. I had to clean the place; if Lynda walked through the door at that moment, the sheer horror of it all would have pushed her right back out again. It was not evidence of a Man Debauched – which she probably expected – or even of Dedomesticated Man – which might have been forgivable. There was some other evil at work there altogether; it was something older and more rotten. In the light of the morning – and why that morning I didn’t (and still don’t) know – I began to understand that it was more than my laziness or depression or drunkenness. The thing I faced in my kitchen was not months of neglect, but that ageless decay that all civilizations succumb to in the end. It was the thing that took down the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Roman Empire. It was that impulse that lived on in the stories of the Christ’s crucifixion, the murder of Osiris, the death of Mohammed, the execution of Patrick Henry, and the railroading of Sacco and Vanzetti.

I found the coffee pot much in the same condition it had been in when I abandoned it the previous morning. How bad do I want this cup of coffee? I told myself I could walk back up to the gas station and buy a cup of their burned, yet still amazingly weak java. Then I could come back reinvigorated with something resembling caffeine and the fresh air, and take on the filth of the centuries that had taken root in my kitchen. The beer and the shitty corndogs were brewing in my stomach, churned by the deadly cornucopia of smells I had no choice but to breathe in.

Lynda would have a fit if she walked into this. She wasn’t a clean freak or anything; if anything, she was as absent minded as I was when it came to the daily futile chores of eradicating the dust, grime, and filth of living. But she would know what it was before I had a chance to try and explain it.

My stomach was in knots and I knew I was going to throw up if I didn’t do something. So I went back upstairs and took a fast shower; I made sure to turn the water up as hot as I could take it so I could burn the filth off my skin. Then I dressed, held my breath as I went down the stairs, and retreated from the apartment.

Instead of stopping at the gas station, I kept walking until I got to the bar.