Mowing the Lawn In Gaza


“When thy intelligence shall cross beyond the whirl of delusion, then shalt thou become indifferent to Scripture heard or that which thou hast yet to hear.”  – Bhagavadgita

I keep this passage from the Book of Doctrines close to my heart since I first came across it in the winter of 1991, for I thought it a dangerous passage.  Two centuries prior to our beloved Christian movement and some seven to twelve hundred years after Moses first freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt, the Gita was making doctrines obsolete faster than scribes could record them.  Or the rich people of those days could typeset, print and distribute them.  The ebb of life on the planet was slow and uneven in the third century BCE or we might all be walking about with dots on our foreheads.

By the year 1948 (CE), those laying claim to being the people of Moses had had enough talk of messiahs coming or going, enough discussion of Judaic Ethics and decided, some would say with wide-ranging consensus, that “The Jews” had waited long enough.  The persecutions and the pogroms, usually sponsored by Christians, were a tiresome affair to observe and, all too often, a heartbreaking routine to experience.  “The Jews” would return to Israel and David Ben Gurion was as good a messiah as any in his time.  Maybe putting pen to paper would shut the Jews up.  In any case, the narrative of six million dead Jews at the hands of a lapsed Catholic expedited matters considerably.  The Jews would, “come home,” from their perspective, but for the Palestinians who had had a very amicable relationship with Palestinian Jewry up until the early twentieth century, the sudden shift toward Jewish hegemony in what had been “their homeland” must have felt like a betrayal among good neighbors.

I happened along on the planet a year before a fellow from my hometown won a Nobel Peace Prize for recording and codifying the epic journey of the Joads from Oklahoma to California, a journey that many read in sadness and shame but a journey that only told a smattering of details regarding the indignities humans serve up to other humans.  As the Grapes of Wrath went to print in 1939, the woman who was pushing me out into this theatre of the absurd in 1961 had been just 12 years old and had actually been a part of that original journey to California in 1929.  Needless to say, John Steinbeck had skipped a few significant details in the interest of brevity and creative license, but let it not be said it was because his creativity was waning; he had been drinking rather heavily in the hills above Los Gatos at the time and generally making an ass of himself between his residence and the post office where he delivered his manuscripts for editing to his publisher.  The politics of publishing any account of human-imposed human suffering within US borders that was not Civil War-related, would still need to follow that mould of, “all things come together for the good of the country and God Bless America,” or it would not be typeset.  Being a practicing drunk of some literary and journalistic promise, it is virtually certain Steinbeck was nearing the end of his publisher’s largesse when he and his wife made the editing decisions that could have meant the end of an endless river of booze and cigarettes, neither of which Our Dear John could have lived without.  Details be damned, even if it was my entire family’s story that was left out.

The reason why the Steinbeck (really, “GrossSteinbeck,”) story is relevant to a story about landscaping an area of Palestine who some feel has fallen into disrepair is because Steinbeck’s paternal grandfather, Johann, formed, with Clorinda Minor, the Mount Hope colony/pre-kibbutz in Jaffa.  Steinbeck’s grandfather’s brother, Frederick, was murdered and his brother’s wife and mother-in-law beaten and raped by Arab farmers in an all night affair of murder and mayhem that came to be known as, “the Outrages at Jaffa.”  To be certain the Steinbeck’s and their family had suffered from Arab and Bedouin harassment before this night in 1858, but this was the first noteworthy incident of Arab on Jew violence in Ottoman Palestine and it had more to do with zealous Christian Dominionist end-times theology in collision with Muslim hegemony, than with the inability of Palestinian Jews to live peacefully amidst their Muslim majority neighbors.  The murder of men and the raping of women, while practiced as an act of profound disrespect towards the “unclean” in Muslim countries, is not an act sanctioned by Islam.  It just so happens that where there are Muslims and “infidels,” there tends to be a lot of violence towards women and xenophobia towards men.  Sort of reminds me of South Texas, after a fashion.  Sniff.

The other reason why landscaping stories interest me is because of a side-business I use to support my greater aspirations.  Being an actor and being the owner of a small lawn maintenance concern between Killeen and Austin, Texas, basically means I mow lawns for a living.  As part of a lawn deal with a dentist in Austin, I managed to get my teeth bleached whiter than most politicians, which really helps me get past the first knock on neighborhood doors looking for additional clients, but has done nothing to enhance my capacity for finding dramatic work in a sea of blond-haired, blue-eyed twenty-something’s.  It is not that I am a bad actor or poorly skilled in delivering my lines, it’s that I am a young forty-something at the age of fifty-two.  People in Killeen look at me and think, “he’s a smart, handsome-enough man, why can’t he find any real work,” as I discuss the finer points of putting a clean edge on their lawn, while people in Austin, usually my friends, generally say, “there he goes, livin’ the dream and undeterred by the naysayers.  I can support that!”  Whatever it takes to get the bills paid.  If I have to tan to look Hispanic enough to be in this business, I am willing to do that, but I have to keep the blond hair and blue eyes ceded to me by my parents in hopes of greater commercial exposure.  Landscaping is just part of my larger plan to take Hollywood by storm.  Yay, me.

How I made it here to Texas I couldn’t begin to tell you beyond a tragic tale of unguided love.  Clichés may not be interesting to the general public, but they do tend to move people across country when the getting is good and the timing seems right.  Moving from California to Texas might seem to some folks like a backward move economically, spiritually, morally and culturally.  But I see where Manifest Destiny pegged a journey that began at Plymouth Rock and moved westward like a huge conveyor belt, carrying social pariahs of all kinds who got as close to the ocean as they could before they faced the fact that they would be living in close quarters with people they didn’t like any better than did the rest of the country.  Moving to Texas was a huge cultural shock to my system, but it appears now that my system needed the shocking.  Apparently the world is chalk-full of people who hate what they do for a living, are hanging on to their life story by their fingernails and are doing so while living in a poaching humidity that leaves molds, bacteria’s and fungi floating in midair, waiting for a receptive pair of lungs to come along and sustain them a while longer.  Prior to moving to Texas, I thought everyone lived in a place like Salinas and had a cleansing fog to look forward to rolling in every evening, only to watch it roll back out to sea by noon the following day.  Sixty-eight degrees, year-round. This was certainly the case in San Luis Obispo where I once went to college, and is true all up and down the central coast of California.  But not so in any part of Texas.  Nor is it true in Philadelphia, my father’s hometown which he no longer claims.

If landscaping and the mowing of lawns has been something of a meditation for me while I await the next chapter of my life to unfold, learning to speak with, tolerate, understand and make a living selling lawn services to a typical Texas homeowner has been an exercise in linguistic gymnastics, religious tolerance and humility.

“Do what,” the grey-haired man in the bolo tie said to me after I asked him what time it was.  He then took a step back and looked at the time piece in his front pocket and let me know that I was perilously close to noon-time in mid-August.  No one in their right mind mows their lawn after noon in the midst of a Texas summer, but that wouldn’t stop my client from asking for extras designed to watch me sweat and drip, becoming half-crazy from dehydration and completely incapable of carrying on an adult conversation.

“I really wanted to get back inside by noon, Mr. Deutsche.”

“The Lord works in mysterious ways, Ed.  Mysterious ways.  A hard day’s work cleanses the soul and brings us closer to the Almighty.”

Now it used to be that I could ignore an asinine comment like this from a client.  My Mexican counterparts do all the time, amazing me with their comprehension of American idioms and context, only to become deaf, mute or illiterate at the prospect of being asked to work past noon in the summer.  They often smile politely, say, “jess,” and pack up and leave the job site just as they had planned to from the beginning of the day.  But my way past competing with the rock-bottom pricing capacity of your typical Mexican landscaper was to ape the German-Protestant work ethic that demands a willingness to work for slave wages under third-world conditions, all the while maintaining a bright smile and pleasant demeanor that would make them proud to call me, “son.”  “Arbeit macht frei .” They know what they are asking for is unreasonable, they know they are challenging me to survive a huge and unnecessary obstacle between doing my job and ending up in an emergency room with heat exhaustion or worse; but they also know that if I am a true-blue Texan down to my bone marrow, I will go out of my way to prove it at the drop of any hat.  If a Texan challenges you to a throw-down, you better show up or plan on being part of a parade in your honor that sends you marching out of town.  Texans pride themselves on not being lazy, on working hard and on honoring authority; but once you prove to them that you are among friends who see eye to eye, you begin to notice how much harder the Mexicans you are competing against are actually working than the Texans who are paying their wages.  Southern hospitality meets southern hypocrisy every day in Texas, but don’t ever be caught dead saying so or you’re back out in the heat proving yourself one more time.  God-fearing German Protestants raised in this State get the smartass smacked off their faces at a very young age.  So I smile the brightest, toothiest Austin-bleached smile I can muster and say, “yes sir, Mr. Deutsche,” and I get busy not resisting authority since authority is helping to pay my rent this month.

“Thank you, son.  I sure do appreciate it.”

“Anytime, Mr. Deutsche.  You can count on me.”

“Do what?”

“I said, ‘you can count on me, sir,’” with yet another smile as genuine as any smile seen from the pulpit of any mega church in this State.  The “do what” was perfunctory and used as a double-check to ensure I wasn’t full of shit the first time I said what I said.  If you pass the second, “do what,” test, you’re in.  You’ve sold ‘em.  And if you think it gets any harder than that, just remember the long-con the Bush Family has been able to pull off in this State and the people here still hold their Family in high regard.  They were able to drop the entire economic, political and legal infrastructure of the goddamn United States to its knees in a fortnight using the same tricks Hitler used to come to power in Germany, yet Texans still want to get their pictures taken with these lizards, still want to be seen around them.  Frankly, I’d rather mow Mr. Deutsche’s lawn.  He’s a big fan of “Dubya,” swears to God Almighty that “Lib’ruls” are the death of this country, watches FoxNews and Reverend Hagee, but his heart is pure gold.  He would no more take a switch to a man beaten down by circumstance than he would stab his wife in the heart.  He’s actually quite liberal in ways not understood by those he supports with his money and his vote.  But he’s a Texan, so that means he has to win.  Texans pick a winner and stick with them to the bitter end.  So as long as I’m putting a perfect edge to Mr. Deutsche’s lawn and making it the pride of his block, I can count on plenty of business in this neighborhood.  My Californian ancestry is excused for as long as I am willing to adopt Texas values as my own and respect those whose trust I have earned.

Jews wouldn’t be terribly comfortable with the accommodations here in Texas because, first and foremost, Texans don’t like hearing people complain.  And complaining is something bred into the genetic code of every modern Jew I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  They might talk a good game, might be able to get you to relax and laugh with them, but make no mistake: this whole fucking world is beneath them, they know it for a fact and they believe that you do not.  Your willingness to accept the unacceptable is what makes you, “goyim,” and a sally, and this permits them to think of you as no better than a pack animal.  Heaven help you if you tell them this truth to their face, even if you heard them tell it to each other in your presence.  Now not every single Jew is this touchy any more than every single Texan is a naïve fool, but generally Jews and Texans share something in common that makes them mutually repulsed by one another: they stick together when times get rough and they share the spoils when times swing in the other direction.  The reason so many Americans find Texans so obnoxious is for the same reasons that the people of the world have always had it out for the Jews: they know their own, they cling to their own, they protect their own and they damn sure aren’t going to tolerate being invaded  by someone not, “their own.”  And, “fuck you,” for noticing it, you anti-Semitic/anti-Texas parent-hating Californian with a thirst for the ungodly and the unseemly.

I don’t often launch into a thesis while I’m mowing someone’s lawn, but my thoughts make it possible for me to do what has become second nature to me while I make use of the time discussing more important matters with you.  Matters of gravest urgency.  Matters that you might have overlooked while you were busy trying to live your daily life without feeling like a complete and utter failure to your employer, your spouse and/or your children.  I’d like to think we can sit down in this sacred space I am creating in my mind and recognize our thoughts in each other and identify the common mentality that binds us to one another on a global basis.  You look at me and think, “Loser,” because I am choosing to work at a menial job I am good at while I nurture a dream I have to connect with a whole roomful of people using a script or the written word as a vehicle.  I must seem silly to you to harbor such fantastic delusions of grandeur while I scrape the wet grass from the underside of my mower because you watered before I arrived and let your grass get too high before calling me to come shred the tops off your lawn and make it look brown and sick.  I am unworthy of your time because I appear to you to be less than what you would expect from someone who can speak and write English as if I were a college graduate, as if the graduates from your institutions of higher learning will ever be able to write or spell like I can.  I was born with this freakishly precocious diction and suffered many ass-whippings in the old neighborhoods I grew up in because of it.  Yes, it might be going to waste while I tell you about the finer points of lawn care and maintenance, but at least I am not using my gifts to decimate and devalue the lives crowded into a pseudo-city and made into clichés with fleschette bombs and white phosphorus, as your more promising college graduates do.  At least I know better than to see the heads of Palestinian children in every blade of grass I sever from its root, or regard every crawling insect or worm that inhabits one of my lawns as a signal that I need to spray insecticide over an entire yard.  At least I have the sense to realize that the same causes and effects that require me to intervene in a lawn gone wrong are identical to the causes and effects that make my own yard problematic.  At least I know what the word, “conservative,” means, and when a “radical” intervention is indicated.  I know lawn care, I’ve done yard work my entire life, and I know better than to treat every brown spot in a yard as a case of lawn moths requiring insecticide, rather than as a neighbor’s dog who got out over the weekend and had his way with the neighborhood.  A lawn is a system and systems always reflect the thinking and the behavior of those responsible for bringing them into being.  If I can’t make reasonable sense out of what you expect from a lawn care professional in the first ten seconds of conversing with you, I am not going to be able to save your lawn from your own ignorance and stupidity.  I have walked away from business like that out of sheer reflex because I know I am tossing pearls down a privy.  Maybe that makes me xenophobic or maybe that makes me a Jew, but I haven’t missed a rent payment in a long time and I haven’t had the police called on me because my client felt cheated by my work ethic or felt I was being, “unfair.”

So what does lawn care have to do with Gaza, especially now that we all know there isn’t a blade of grass left in Gaza worth sacrificing potable water for?

Point one.  Only people with money are going to be able to afford to sustain and maintain a lawn in the heat of Central Texas.  I am not going to find much business for myself in a poor neighborhood.  Likewise, people treat their religions like they treat their lawns.  People who don’t give a shit about their lawns generally do not go to church, mosque or synagogue, nor do they give a damn about what anyone else thinks about their status as the neighborhood iconoclast.  If I want to find the “sweet spot” for a lawn care business, I need to find people with the right mixture of devotion and money to make my talents profitable for my efforts.  If having a shitty lawn happens to be your religion, good luck getting your holy scriptures published and available to a wider audience.  While your devotion might be admirable, it is not a good fit with mine.  Vaya con dios.

Point one-aye.  The Holy Scriptures everyone seems willing to lose their minds and their lives over could only have been written, printed and sustained by a system of wealth and power that crosses many multiples of human generations.  That means that what is written in those scriptures was deemed as “not offensive” to their publishers and when it might be seen as such, was rapidly edited and a new edition published.  In the case of multiple editions deemed to be offensive, the errant editions were categorized and subsequently burned from public memory.  People have always heard what rich people wanted them to hear.  Loudly.  So while you might be fixated with using your chemical fertilizers and insecticides, there is a pretty good chance you are doing so because some rich guy told you to do so, or he told someone you trust to do so, and, voila, you’re doing it based on authority.  I’ve had to rescue plenty of lawns burned with chemical fertilizers, so I know that authority is about making a “prophet” into a profit, not necessarily doing the right thing.

Point one-bee.  Not everyone has a god, but everyone has a story that they treat like their god.  If you want people to believe your story, you better find a way of understanding your story, their story and a story with a happy ending that you can all blend together in that satisfies everyone’s need to have a good story to tell and one worth living for.  If you cannot master this very fundamental art of community building, plan on spending a great deal of time, energy and resources keeping everyone else from erasing your story from the slate of acceptable storylines.  A storyline that informs me that you want to have a lawn that is the envy of your neighborhood but requires no devotion or commitment from you is not an acceptable storyline, from my perspective as a lawn care professional.  That won’t stop you from trying to tell everyone about your storyline, especially if you have a lot of disposable income to spare.  While doing the impossible with nothing sounds appealing to the ears of sleepwalkers, in practice it is a waste of time and energy.  Everything is already Nothing, so expecting something for nothing is nothing new but it is a request for a static separateness that will be satisfied, if the desire in your heart is to be empty and alone.  The purpose of anything in Nothing is to communicate to you how very fucking alone you really are as you delusionally whirl on a speck of dust, flying safely away from anywhere you might cause greater harm.  Once you get the depth and scope of the abyss, the appearance of a helping hand on the horizon is accorded its proper value.  Communication received.  So if I ask you to do a few minimal chores in between my appearances to mow your yard, I am not suggesting that you should light it on fire, blow it up, mine it with explosives, or tear it up and put in Astroturf.  You can do any of these things, if you wish, because Everything is Nothing.  But you can also expect to feel the value of Nothing in great depth within yourself for all your trouble.  You have been warned countless times and in many ways about the meanings you assign to particular things at particular times.  Accept responsibility for your own crappy choices and make your problem solvable; blame me and repeat the same error with a less forgiving lawn maintenance professional.

Point two.   Christian Dominionists and Jews were strange bedfellows from the beginning.  But there was a beginning and that beginning came from a particular interpretation of an ending – an ending and an interpretation that began and ended with the rich folks mentioned in Point one.  If I were to go corporate and start swallowing up all the lawn care business in Killeen, at some point, I would need to ensure that everyone was always going to have a lawn, that they were always going to be able to keep their lawn alive and that there were always going to be plenty of bad examples of lawn care around town from which I could contrast my service results against.  Likewise, if I know my authority is based in a happy ending to a story we all fit into, I need to make sure that we all have the means to survive our stories and our shared happy ending, but I will still need to provide for plenty of bad examples to keep everyone focused on moving in the same general direction.  That is what war is for.  War is nothing more than a bad example of humans failing to get along with other humans.  With enough war, we drive people to peace.  But if I try to turn a profit from your bad example, I lose control of my ability to release either you, or myself, from my need for bad examples.  In so doing, I become a bad example.  Fixation with bad examples is illness and this illness results in death.  There is no exception.  So I let others better suited to the task try to corporatize what they do not, and cannot, own until they learn that they did not create life, nor can they wish for anything more without automatically asking for an end to their own existence.  I love lawn care.  I despise paperwork.

Point two-aye.  The entire state of Israel began as an apostasy that no practicing Jew would want or would have tolerated during the 19th century CE.  This did not stop Christian Dominionists from wanting the ending foretold in their scriptures, nor did it stop a certain type of educated Jew from wanting to beat certain types of Christians to death with their own ignorance.  Enter World Wars I and II.  World War I decimated the Ottoman Empire, making possible the transformation of all those 19th century Jewish colonies, and later, kibbutzim, in Palestine into a Jewish homeland while also gaining control of the oilfields of Basra.  World War II was about killing off all internal Jewish opposition to the establishment of a Jewish homeland followed by the restoration of the British Empire to its former glory.  In a very real sense, World Wars I and II were about mowing the lawn in Europe and Palestine, at the expense of the mostly Muslim Turks.  The Crusades might have ended with Saladin running a victory lap all over Eastern Europe and North Africa, but no blue-eyed Caucasian is going to allow a dark-skinned mud-person living in a tent have the final word in any argument.  Being crazy is an important survival skill bred into the genetic makeup of the Caucasian race.  Ask any black African from which all of us once came and they will make plain that white people are crazy and they aren’t kidding.  It appears that albinism took more than melanin from our skin: it took away a piece of our ability to be humane.

Point two-bee.  While the rich publishers of our fine scriptures are busily trying to assure us that, in the end, the Jews will agree with everyone and all will be well, the Israelis are also busily trying to arrange for Muslims and Christians to kill each other over false pretenses while defending their ability to maintain their status in Palestine.  That means the order of the day is convincing the rest of the world that they need to “globalize” their economies while Israel busily arms itself in preparation for the inevitable resource wars that will come when there are too many Muslims and too many Christians left to maintain a healthy biosphere, at which time the Israelis will, as they have done in Gaza, mow the fucking lawn and leave us all bereft of a place to live in or a window to throw it out of.

Zionism – whether it is Judaic, Christian, Muslim, Confucian, Shinto or agnostic – is the endless search for perfection in a place where perfection has no utility.  There are no Edens, there are no utopias, there is only a choice between the deepest, darkest emptiness our heart’s can stand, and the hand of a brother in arms.  We might feel abandoned by our churches, synagogues, mosques, families or neighbors, but we have not been abandoned by that which created us.  Life knows itself.

It is high-time we got to know ourselves.

FleaInfestation

At the Drive In

DriveInPiece

I’ve put this off long enough.  I’ve enjoyed the fruits and sweetness of a brief entanglement with bliss and despair long enough.  It is time that I get down to business, call a spade a spade and then pick up my spade and put it to its intended use.  I am done with my creature comforts and of protecting what has yet to be taken, as if what has already been taken has not been egregious enough.

Perhaps I should qualify the comforts I enjoy today, at the edge of this springboard, by mentioning where this journey began for me.

I started out as a child, as Bill Cosby is fond of mentioning, but I mention it with a tone sardonic enough to disturb and shake the palace walls of the most insulated, despicably wealthy generation of feudalists since the Middle Ages.  The truth is no child should have to experience pass or fail consequences of a lethal nature before the age of reason.  When that age is I will let you know because, for the life of me, it changes every decade.

It is an odd collection of memories, my childhood.  What I can recall I would have preferred to forget and what I would like to recall has most often buried itself in the funhouse of a psychological theme park I like to lovingly refer to as my family home.  It was the place I ran home to in terror as a white minority kid in a mostly black, mostly poor 1960’s lower middle class community of sweeping, jaw-droppingly gorgeous views of sand and sea.  We could not have possibly had a care in the world amidst a backdrop of such beautiful scenery, and so the national guard was never called to our neighborhood when whole cafeterias of young children threw their school lunches at one another, tossed countless bricks through school windows and at each other, overturned principal’s automobiles in parking lots, or failed to call for an ambulance when my Aunt Winnie’s daughter crawled almost a half mile home from middle school with a knife jammed into her upper chest.

Because she was in a position to receive it, I suppose.

Bobby Seale was the reason for the riot, Martin Luther King’s assassination was an ideological position for an angry mob and raping young girls was a passing thought in a town that less than one year and five miles removed heralded the geographic focus for an entire Summer of Love.  Imagine that, an entire summer of what I’d only seen on a black and white television screen, not that I could have identified it as such.  I see the video recordings of Monterey Pop now and there are young women looking like my elementary school teachers enjoying themselves, but what I saw at the time was trash and garbage strewn everywhere, campers that had opened up their liquid waste tanks into drainage gutters designed for channeling rain and parents who responded with disgust at what had become of our little corner of heaven.  “No thank you,” was their gentlest response to a rolling craven caravan of drugs, alcohol, loud music and social chaos that affronted our town at that time.

What was really there, just under the door skins overlooking every welcome mat on every porch in my little town circa 1966 was essentially no different than a drunken invading army showing up for a weekend and emptying its bowels into the same gutters children play in for fun.  I could blame the invading army, which would be the cheapest and easiest route to escaping my own guilt and shame, and I did so in the Summer of Love, but my family, almost reflexively, sought for a way out.  Towards a Winter of Discontent, one would suppose.

Physical beauty disarms and entices us to live nearby.  We may not marry, intermarry or possess physical beauty, but we can always pitch a tent out of sight of the local authorities from which we can plan our socioeconomic assault on what, if given half a chance, everyone would agree is a match in time and space made specifically in heaven for specifically this point in history.  And so we visit, revisit, upgrade and coerce and cajole until, finally, we make it to Salinas.  From Salinas, social movement is cheap and easy to come by since it lies on a major north to south artery that at one time fed the California Missions, hungry with Roman Catholicism, and fortified them against the heathen paganism of the indigenous culture.  That would be the same indigenous culture that continues to enable the agriculture responsible for most of its notoriety even today.  Nothing of western civilization has much of a compass for growth without a foundation of slave labor to build upon.  Ignoring that fact makes you fast friends with the Junior Chamber of Commerce; recognizing it as John Steinbeck did buys you a plane ticket out of town.

Into this land of deep, rich soil and promise my parents landed as part of their plan of assault.  For my mother it was to run from a Depression era experience in California’s Central Valley that was so hideous her life continued to exist in an animation suspended to the point of paralysis by Thorazine, electroconvulsive therapy, cigarettes and Ripple wine.  For my father, the Depression era was less harsh but no less challenging as a “son” of seven older sisters none of whom were favorites of their mother.  My father’s mother made homemade vodka in the cellar, a characteristic scent left behind in the wood that drew me to that room to play on my infrequent visits to “Galicia” — the name the immigrant eastern Europeans gave in the early days to their neighborhood in west Philadelphia.  Of much stronger constitution than anyone known to my mother, eventually my Polish grandmother would lock my drunken Ukrainian grandfather out of the house to experience his death from the cold of a Philadelphia Winter, rather than invite him in to beat her to a bloody pulp, once again.  She worked in the Litton factory from age 11 to age 72, a keen eye for detailed machinery and for finding flaws in what others would see as just another piece of metal.  Her whole pride and joy seemed to be in her over two dozen grandchildren, of which I was one of two banished to a far western outpost, unable to tolerate the climatic and cultural harshness of the mid-Atlantic seaboard.

So there you have a key piece of information about my character twenty years before I ever had a clue into my own self hatred: women were my only sense of stability and the men who occupied my experience were dependent on them for most everything in their lives.  Women were innocent and good while men were stupid, harsh, irresponsible and, in the end, they always left.  Matriarchy wasn’t so much a choice as what was left.  Trust your father and you could die or at least you would be sorry.  Trust your mother and you might have a chance at survival.

As a budding male thrust into this maelstrom of multiple assassinations on key political and social leaders by males for males, dramatic upheavals and social unrest, feminism made a great deal of sense to me.  Not because feminism promised any answers so much as they promised that I could ask the questions that needed to be asked.  The men in my world – a world fueled by alcohol, tobacco, petroleum and Brylcreem – did not appreciate having to answer questions, and they certainly didn’t need any answers since no one had any questions.  Believe what I believe, or disappear, would be the ethos of the 1960’s males I was exposed to; whereas the women seemed much more open to entertaining the novelty of a male in their presence who had any questions to ask in the first place.

I could go into great and humorous detail as to what poverty means in a microcosm of American society set in a backdrop of tremendous physical beauty and a climate that while cold was moderate.  I could jest, as Bill Cosby so often does, about what it was like to wear out your childhood sneakers past the point where there was no sole, only to have your father berate you and complain to the heavens about your very existence on the planet under his unfortunate roof.  I could paint myself as hero or villain in a neighborhood where the resident eight year old bad-ass threw a bowling ball at the head of his father, taking out the only heater in the house as well as part of the wall going into the bathroom; I could paint myself the victim of abuse from every conceivable direction.  I could recall being in what I now know was shock when, at five, my mother was returned to us after three months at Agnews State Hospital in a zombified and overly medicated state.  I could tell you what it was like to see my mother beaten and bruised, taking weeks to heal, while I walked several blocks with money and a note for the grocery store, day after day, for bread, milk, cigarettes and Ripple.  It was a dangerous time in our neighborhood, but I would have done anything for my mother as she was clearly the only victim of record allowed in our home.  My awareness of victimization would have to wait until I could escape from this hell on Earth I seemed to have been dropped into, perhaps as penance for another life where I was the source of agony for innocent children now far removed from me in time and space.

But I am not a victim any longer.  I am now and always was a witness to the only terror an American will ever know: abandonment by their one true God.

Whether the abandonment was real or imagined, I believed it.  I couldn’t allow the awareness of my belief to become public knowledge, not even to myself.  Instead, we would be plucked from poverty by a generous, if brief, period in the oil and gas industry where my father was able to leave his own impoverished Philadelphia past and his own racist inclinations towards the Bill Cosby’s of the world behind.  We would land in suburbia and I would be the unfortunate peer to children who would grow up to inherit a world of agribusiness and technology that they were completely unprepared for dealing with.  Oh, and did I mention there were no black people in our little suburbia?

There would be the handsome son of a former NFL team and college All Star linebacker who always garnered the positive attention of every female who ever set eyes on him.  There was the son of a billionaire farmer and agricultural businessman.  There were daughters of military and intelligence officers, boys and girls of upper-middle and upper class distinction.  And there I was, the son of a gas station owner who was in the right place at the right time for everything but what he really needed.  It is not that I was bad looking; it was that my presence on the planet was mere happenstance to begin with.  The State of California had long had a habit of sterilizing women who had crossed the threshold of addiction into madness, then falling into the arms of Agnews State.  By the reports of my older half siblings, my mother was too far gone to be helped by Science long before I ever set about the business of trying to repair whom I needed to love me.  Surely those kind psychiatrists fresh from their schools of Nazi-inspired wisdom would have seen my mother as a poor candidate for breeding.  But they, for some reason, did not.  As the eugenicists predicted, however, I was failing at whatever my mission in life was and my new socioeconomic peerage became fond of reporting this fact to me on a regular basis.  Even the older vice principal who should have known better joined in on the fun of picking on the only white-black child they’d ever seen rise up from the effluent they all knew was incapable of producing anything of local merit.

By the time I had reached seventh grade, I was ready to end my own life.  The feelings I now recognize as anxiety and depression had so dogged me that I felt I would be dead by the age of thirteen. The move up the socioeconomic ladder had triggered a cascade of misery and quirkiness that was easy to notice and only too easy to ridicule.  What might have been diagnosed as high-functioning autism in the current psychological models was, for me, a miserable, lonely, misunderstood place where I was filled with a drive to become but possessed almost no confidence from which to draw any strength.  I felt my presence on the planet was an accident that was being kept secret, and everyone knew the nature of that secret but me.

And I could and would blame it all on the flagrant interpersonal dishonesty of my uncomfortable peerage with the children of baby-boomer promise.  At least in a poor neighborhood, the violence was in your face, honest, direct and to the point.  Never was it covert or hidden.  Financial success brought with it a certain miserly economy that demanded that, rather than shooting or injuring you, I should, instead, drive you to do my work of violence against you, for me.  And so this Jedi Mindfuck, I thought, was the culprit of my anxious despair in the midst of an apparent Eden on Earth, a trick my childhood religion was fond of telling me the Devil often played on God’s chosen people.

I definitely felt chosen.

The ugly truth was that long before I’d ever ascended into the Pastures of Heaven school district where Maggie Morgan’s schoolhouse had grown into a highly state-ranked concern whose principal had literally fathered a psychopathic killer, I had pulled out all the hair from the top of my head.  I believe I was the age of six, several years away from reading a compendium of short stories that presaged the inevitable truth that would befall my home, and one year away from the death of the author who wrote those short stories.  The diagnosis at that time was psychological trauma, attention was given in the form of a “magic” heat lamp and some soothing words, and I miraculously quit pulling on my hair.   And also like magic, or a curse, those tell-tale symptoms of inherited, or magnetizing, mental infirmity kept visiting and revisiting me until, slowly, gradually, madness became a pastime, a hobby, the sharp edges of which I dulled with a variety of alcohol and other substances both legal and illegal.

Nothing helped, however, save a comfortable delusion.  The most comfortable was the one I shared with Raymond Carver, the one that suggested I was a connoisseur of fine wine and possessed inexplicably cultured taste the likes of which few, if anyone, possessed.  The kind of taste that leads a person to count urinating on their bedroom wall, as opposed to their adult bed, a mark toward positive growth.  The kind of acculturated sophistication that leads a man to punch holes through walls so that his wife can know he thinks enough of her to use inanimate objects, rather than her body, as a punching bag.  I think Steinbeck possessed the drinking aspect of this delusion as well, though some might disagree owing to his Nobel Prize.  What few realize, however, was that Steinbeck’s grandparents were the likely source of his lofty reward as they had both died defending the return of the Jews to Zion from ungrateful Palestinian Arabs – a debt that might have gone unpaid were it not for a few good Jews in positions of influence.  Plenty of good writing takes place on any given day in this world; much more of it is pure drivel.  Steinbeck, and every writer of note I have ever read, produces both in about the same proportion as the general population.  Like my father, the stars aligned for a fortunate few to be lifted from the mire, the payment of which appears to be progeny who suffer and blame them for their ambitious strivings.

I could show, rather than tell you, of all these things, but our time together grows short.  Like Raymond Carver, I found release from Bacchus in the evaporation of my favorite delusion and have found many years of swimming in the gravy of the work I have been called to do for fun and for free.  No more does violence of any sort hitch an appeal to my waning star.  I am living a completely different life where I have a sense of wholeness and purpose which I share with countless others who, like me, feel like aliens cast onto a dying planet by an unloving God with a perverse sense of humor.  I could show you my gratitude for my release rather than tell you, but that effort would require a real writer and I am no such thing.

What I am is the deep, rich soil from which I was born and to which I shall one day return.  What I am is both sacred and profane, a harlequin placed by fate upon this planet in the unlikely event it might choose to survive its own tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, to wrestle its mammalian humanity from the lizard-born jaws of its ancient psychopathy.  What I am is every unkind word I ever heard and every heartfelt sentence poured from the mouth of a grateful woman unable to comprehend why or apprehend how I could continue to give of myself past the point where a definable relationship could exist.  I am arrogant and I am kind.  I am as humble as the dirt beneath your feet, and as regal as the sky that threatens to fall down from high above you.  I am you and you are me.  We are one, you and I, and what I have refused to give to you I have refused to give to myself.

For good reasons, I thought.

Now it seems that, once again, I am too late to save the ones I love from the fate chosen for them by parents and ancestors who were too ensnared in their own slavery to recognize or acknowledge the chains of responsibility that have bound them to repay every drop of blood spilled in vain, every innocent life extinguished and every trauma left unreconciled.  But this morning it appears I am right on time, toilet brush in hand, to focus all of my faculties upon the tasks at hand.

“You’re late again, Meyer,” the manager of the drive-in snorted.

“I try to be fifteen minutes early for everyone on my route,” I reply, “but today I’m only ten minutes early.”  I don’t know why I bother defending myself with these people, they pay for a service and it’s in their interest to find fault.  “But you’re right, I’m running a little behind.  Anything need special attention today, Mr. Ryan?”

“The Friday night crowd took a dump in the urinal and the woman’s restroom on the west end smells awful.”

“I’ll have you ready to open in no time, Burt.  No problem,” I say, grasping his outer elbow just briefly.  I’ve found that eye contact, quiet confidence and cheerfulness, especially in this business, make for a lighter work load.

People like Burt, people who trade in fantasies or a way of life that they desperately long for, don’t realize that more hard work or effort will not give them what they want if those above them in the social hierarchy don’t want them to have it.  Their parents had it because the parents of those presently in charge wanted them to have it, wanted to try sharing some portion of a utopian dream of abundance with everyone, top to bottom.  But when the payment for their largesse required them to stomach accepting responsibility for the truth of the matter their response was unequivocal, direct and immediate.  And so they took back their support that their own spoiled children – the present crop of world “leaders” – might make better use of their wealth than those whose ingratitude seemed to exceed some subjective sense of couth or good taste.

So I scrub.  And grind.  And brush.  And wash.  And shine.  And sometimes, I whine.  Week after week, day after day, I stare into a bowl of reality and wonder the number and kind of poisons the prior evening’s clientele consumed to cause their exhaust to stick so stubbornly to porcelain and ceramic tile.  I know the chemicals with which to abrase these bowls and tiles and I treat a few of the symptoms of nightly excess.  But I can’t help but imagine the lack of wonder of a sentient mechanism so beguiled of causality as to believe their egress goes anywhere but back into their own mouths to reconsume.

Things may be thrown out, but never are they thrown away.

Sometimes, when the light is right and my job is well done, I can see my own reflection in the bowl and in the water.  I can see my smile, but I cannot see my teeth.

I did not go to college to achieve this enlightenment; such things do not come from without, but within.  Learning the labels from without at college I come close in description of the joy that can be found within, but no sooner do I succeed in describing it than I lose the shine at the bottom of the bowl to a ripple or a wave.  Back I arrive, on time, to my appointed destination.

“Is that you I hear cryin’ in there, Meyer?”

“No, sir, Mr. Ryan.  It’s just these chemicals make my nose run a bit, from time to time,” I say, swabbing my cheeks with my sleeves.

“Well, keep after it, then.  You’ve only got another hour and the women’s side still smells like death.”

“You got it, Mr. Ryan.”  It must seem odd for an educated man of middle age to be addressing a younger peer like a house negro on a Southern plantation might have addressed their master hundreds of years in the past.  But the truth is even that predicament was an improvement over the days when a king, a queen or even a squire could lock away anyone they chose to without recourse or even a charge.  All that was needed in those days was permission from a jailer, enough money to sustain a story and everything you ever owned, or ever would own, would be taken from you.  Everything human you could ever be disappeared down a cold, dark hole never to be seen or heard from again.  Prior to 1215 AD, disappearing human beings was simply the way business was done.  Until Pinochet in the 1970’s, or Hitler in the 1930’s, it seemed everyone on the planet thought the days before the Magna Carta were a part of human history never to be repeated.

Until now.

So I scrub and grind and brush and wash and shine and smile.  And sometimes, when I am alone, I weep.  Sometimes out of gratitude, sometimes out of despair and sometimes, an odd, mad mixture of the two.  Usually when I can see myself in a bowl once made foul by a child of the cosmos unimpressed by their heritage as a comet’s dust or the twinkle of a faraway star, usually then I am overcome with mixed emotions deep enough to sustain my wonder as both a part of it all and as witness to the fate of objects falling from great heights.

I am done with the men’s bathrooms now and I step across the crunching of loose gravel to glance out onto the rows and rows of tiny hills and accessory poles.  I have a shadow!

A green garbage truck startles me from behind.  The sheer force and violence of it as it lurches into a dumpster, lifts it high and then slams the contents into its seedy abdomen, is shocking, in a prehistoric, primal sort of way.  Just as quickly as it gobbles up the contents of one dumpster, it slams its generous container back to Earth like every drunk I ever saw slam their next to last drink down on the bar before asking for another.  And another.  And another.  Four green goblets filled with garbage and solvents designed to erase memories, feelings and thoughts, all disappear into the same bloated, stinking abdomen in a noisy cacophony of low-waged workers driving a gigantic beast before limitations are reached and a trip to the local landfill signals the end of the first shift.

Always left behind is the silence as these ancient relics move out and along with a squeal and a hiss, gears left to grind because old knees have become too tired to engage a clutch for many years and many trips to the dump.  A journey not always necessary is too often taken because seagulls need scraps to eat and fresh ocean air needs to be mixed with the stench of rotting cooking oil and excess – and that god-awful silence.   The quiet void of is-ness needs to be filled with human activity – some kind of human striving or human becoming – because only then is it possible to deny that we float completely alone amidst the dark silence, circling a yellow hot ball of thermonuclear gas that represents both our promise and our doom.

I wax philosophical because I am bored, but also because I have been compelled to remain awake when I would have preferred to remain asleep along with all my peers.  Even the brilliant ones, and there were many, never had to know the terrible silence between unspeakable sights and sounds followed by a void so deep and profound it said everything and nothing all at once.  Such tidal waves of Empty sweep young children from their feet and force them to struggle upward for air and for light, to no avail.  Only the baptism of panic is possible when water enters nose and mouth, always followed by demands for allegiance and fidelity to those whose job it has been, all along, to drown with awareness so as to interpret all silence, even that of the dead – no matter how dignified, no matter how bone-chillingly banal or flailingly futile and violent.

The renewed silence at the drive-in was broken yet again, this time by Master Sergeant Ryan demonstrating his talent for hanging the American flag from a folded triangle of stars to a hoisted symbol of Old Glory, all without it ever touching the ground.  Squealing, pulling, screeching as it rises above the roof over my destination, the women’s restroom.  I always save the women’s restroom for last because I am usually running short of disinfectant by the time I am done cleaning the men’s room, and the supply closet is right outside the ladies room.

“Goddammit,” Ryan cursed.  Obviously the pulley at the top of the pole has seen better days, needing more oil than elbow grease than in years past.  “I can’t even get it back down, now!”

Somehow this will become a job for me and a rented cradle crane before the first show time, so I probably need to focus on getting the rest of my cleaning done.

“Gee-zus christ!” was all I could hear echoing from my destination, along with the kind of god awful exhalation of air and grief that only a man who has known combat could ever replicate, much less hear.  A cry out into a vast wilderness sounds like it, right before the source of the wail is thrown off the nearest cliff.  Feeling the blood rush from my head to elsewhere, an anxious nausea vied for room in my throat with the air I needed to breathe, but couldn’t.  Running to the rendezvous point was all I knew I could do.

I had heard this wailing, the first time, right before after I had thrown a grenade, intended for me, back into a tunnel opening from which I thought it came.  What they later pulled out of that tunnel, by long, black hair, separated scalp from skull to reveal a tiny body whose bones had been crushed into gelatin by the concussion of the exploding grenade.  I think it was me who made that noise, but I cannot be certain as my ears rang for several hours and the unrelenting torrent of tears landed me in a coward’s unit for a fortnight of observation.

“My God, my God, my God, my god,” was all Ryan’s jaws, opening and closing, could breathlessly utter.  In his arms, the yellowed flesh of an infant as he hit the tiled wall with his back and slid to the floor, weeping bitterly.  The smell of rust made sweet by the death of innocence hung like a paste in the air while a stall door creaked and creeped open; above it, a large spray of blood and splatter punctuated the hopelessness of the scene.  I needed air now, and so jerked my weakened knees back out to the parking lot to lose what little breakfast and coffee I had had that morning.  And then I got my air.  I couldn’t stand erect yet, but I could begin to breathe through my mouth and nose, still stinging from what had just passed through it.  Ryan followed me out, the yellow flesh still in his arms, lifeless and bloodied from a gunshot to its head.

Ryan began to plead in my direction, almost apologetically.  “You can’t imagine see what is seen of mother there not shown what has been in stark flowers made muddy by cigarettes and beer.  An only child patient child weeping life to Sergeant Smiles not in hope to copy what has come.”

“What are you saying, Ryan?”

“What is said I’m saying not repeating not in silence not with beer but with child patient child waits a weeping life in flowers muddy by the snow.”

“Catch your breath, Burt.  C’mon now, get a grip.  Take a breath and try again.”

“What I say I said am not insisting but repeating understanding darkest light in muddy snow. Tears trail dripping dragging miles, not repeating, but insisting speaking hammer falls muddy to the snow.”

Ryan held the yellow flesh tighter as I motioned to take it from his arms.  “Taken from is taken to and never is sky blue falling muddy dripping dragging dropping to the snow.”

Ryan began weeping more, his knees buckling to the gravel to rock the infant, and himself, to a destination far from this place.

“Kosovo,” I thought.  “It might have been Kosovo.”

“Burt,” I started, “are you in Kosovo?  Speak to me, man.”

“Oh no,” Ryan began with a hopeful tone, “Dallas now Dallas then muddy in the snow repeating dripping dragging on for miles.”

Dallas?  Why Dallas?  “Are you coming home, Burt?  Are you at DFW?”

“Deep in Love they sigh and sway swaggering slipping by slipping past the speaking hammer falls muddy to the snowy grass.”

“I better call for help,” I thought.  “Godot isn’t going to make it to the show tonight.”

When I would run back and forth from the chopper, it was always one motion.  There wasn’t time to pause or reflect, just a lot of blood and rust, sometimes blowing into a fine mist right before my eyes.  Sometimes it was the smell of pork ribs smoldering in the grass, just follow the smoke and excuse the neighbors for not taking better care of their lawn.  In the middle of a sand dune.  In the middle of a gust of lead hail whistling and whirring, purring and pinging, ripping from and ripping through.  The call is made now so there is only time to wait and sustain, fighting off and fighting for, loosening a tourniquet to send a little blood to what’s left of the drumstick, before cinching it up again and blocking the shrieks of agony rising above the moans.  For a while.  For a little while.

Red lights appear shining through the gates and here, in this place, that means relief and maybe a short nap.  But not before the men in funny hats and badges appear to ask questions.  Or their mouths are moving in the form of questions, but not honest ones, because here there are no innocents, only villagers.  Some armed, some not.  Some young, some old.  Any one of them could toss a grenade into your lap at a traffic light and there you would be with nothing left to do but die.  So if you want to make it home to your future ex-wife, you have to prosecute the case on your feet, like if the District Attorney were your best friend and you always like giving your best friend a bottle of unblended scotch every chance you get.  So, since we’ve only known 21 years of peace in 237, that computes to a 91% chance that everyone you need to close the case of The Dead Baby at the Drive-In is already present.

“Did you know the decedents,” asked the man in the blue hat.

“Not well at all.  I didn’t even know there was anyone but the baby,” I replied.  Sam I am.

“Okay,” the officer started, visibly irritated, “how well did you know the decedents?”

“I never saw them before in my life.”  Which wasn’t entirely true because I’ve lived in this little town a lot of years, so I’m sure I’d run across everyone at some point.

“Look,” the young officer began his lecture, “we can do this here or we can do this downtown.”

“But we have to do it – right, Sherlock?”

“Yes, we do.  So, let me ask you again, for the third fucking time, did you know the decedents?”

“It’s actually the fifth time, Officer Nitro, and the answer is still, ‘no.’” I will not sit down in a box.  I will not eat them with lox.  I will not eat them on a boat.  I will not eat them with a goat.  I will not eat them with breaded Spam.  I will not eat them, Sam I am.

“How did you find the decedents?  Where were they?”  You fucking oxygen thief, a phrase that passed through the part of his transparent skull not hidden by his blue hat.

“I found them dead.  Actually, the owner found them dead in the women’s restroom over there.  I came in and he was holding the dead baby in his arms, babbling and sobbing.”

“How well do you know the owner?”

“I met him at a veteran’s meeting.  He got me this contract to clean up his place.  I’ve known him a few weeks is all.”

“And he trusted you to clean his business?”

“I clean his toilets.  I assumed his wife took care of the rest of him.”

The officer shifted in his stance, looking sternly at me with a piercing stare.  “Did you know either of the decedents?”

“For the sixth time, man, no, I didn’t.  I never saw them before.”

“So you never met the owner’s wife?”

“What does she have to do with anything?”

“She’s the dead body in the stall.  The infant was his first born.  And you, I take it, were his first asshole in charge of toilet inspections.”

Okay, maybe I deserved that one, but I gasped.  I knew Ryan could be a little flaky at times, but I never suspected anything to be wrong at home.  He’d been back for years.  He was just a kid for crying out loud.  “I’m so sorry to hear that.  I had no idea.  He just started babbling and crying.  I couldn’t make any sense of what he was trying to say, so I called for help.  I had no idea.  He only had an occasional nightmare, he said.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere.  How often?”

“Maybe a few times a month.  Cold sweats, night terrors.  Like the rest of us.  Pretty common.”

“And he told you this?”

“He told all of us this.  It’s how we get through it.  It’s how we deal.  We can’t talk about this stuff to other people.  They look at us like we have three heads and a third eye bouncing out of our foreheads.”  This fucking kid with a gun.  Some people think a gun makes them a psychoanalyst, cultural minister and final arbiter over human fate.  I’ll bet he’s never stared into some unlucky sons a bitches’ eyes and just blammed ‘em because that was some crazy lieutenant’s elegant solution for being in the wrong war at the wrong time.

“So he never said anything about beating up his wife?”

“No.  Never.  As far as I knew, they were happy.  They just had a baby.  They bought this old drive-in and as far as I knew, everything was working out.  Nothing like some of the other stories we were hearing.”

“Like what?”

“Look.  I can’t talk about it.  It’s anonymous.  Just know that Ryan was doing better than most with his recovery.”

“If that’s true, we’re headed for a busy goddamn holiday.  How many are in your group?”

“Fuck you,” was all I could think.  It’s one thing to accuse somebody of murder and beating their wife.  It’s another to start ripping apart an Alcoholics Anonymous group based on shit you know nothing about.  “It varies,” was all I said.

“I’m going to need names and dates.”

“Look, pal, “ a.k.a. Sherlock, “you’ve just told me that I’ve lost my only job.  If you arrest me, I get food and shelter for as long as I want.  Maybe even decent medical care.  So fuck you and the horse your mama puts quarters in to make you feel like a real cowboy.”  I need to breathe.  This asshat has gotten under my skin and that’s not a safe place to be with me, ever.  I prefer my alone time unattended by people dressed up in blue or white lab coats.  It’s just how I roll.   “I need to get the fuck away from here for a minute.”

“Are you refusing to continue?”

I know what happens if I keep trying to reason with uniforms who have no idea where they’ve just sent me, how long ago they sent me, how many times they’ve sent me and how many pieces of people I’ve just met I’ve had to load into bags to be sent off air mail.  I’ve lost count and it’s not my judgment that puts people at risk anymore – it’s a force beyond my control.  It leaps out of me like a bomb blast and it doesn’t care who lives or who dies as long as it clouds up and rains on somebody who thinks they’re in charge.

I’m not quite sure what happened after that because I came to strapped down to a gurney inside of a diesel, shades and blotches of green floating across my field of view.  It was either an ambulance or a garbage truck going to the dump.  No siren.  “Are we going to the dump,” I asked one of the voices moving around me.

“No.  Not today, Mr. Meyer,” a gloved hand moved to open my eyes wider.  “He’s coming to.  Responsive.”

“Am I going home now?  Are they sending me home?”  I asked.

“Someday,” the voice replied.  “If you want.”

Deer Jesus Epistle — Measuring Up As Men

SteubenvilleinTutu

“I call on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women. It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men.”  — Desmond Tutu, November, 2012

Not three months prior to Tutu’s statement, two teenage boys brutally assaulted, humiliated and traumatized a sixteen year old girl who was inebriated past the point of being able to take care of herself, let alone call for help from others.

To this very day, the victim’s family and the victim continue to receive death threats and threats of bodily harm from the victim’s teenage peers in the Ohio town of Steubenville, population under 19,000.

Various reports have attempted to slant the story away from the fact that a young woman, possibly already sexually traumatized before the notorious August, 2012 incident, was a victim of rape under Ohio law.  Some of these reports lay claim to this incident being, “fueled,” by social media.

I beg to differ.

Our society fuels both social media and violence against those who are vulnerable.  The whole of United States culture has been built and maintained by a strict code of exploitation of the temporarily weak by the temporarily strong.  When those temporarily weak grow strong enough, there is war.  This has been our pattern for over two centuries.  As the temporarily strong have used war to exploit the growing strength of the temporarily weak, they have become hollowed-out, rotting caricatures of the men, women, slaves and indigenous people who once founded and built this country.

The people of Steubenville have been demoralized and stripped of anything akin to human decency and what the rape of this vulnerable teenage girl reveals is not just cause, but effect.  This entire incident – the childhood trauma, the teenage alcoholism, the economic exploitation of the middle class, the indiscriminate violence, the media circus, the inappropriate labeling and valuation of cultural symbols by a media circus — all took place in a town too small town to be on any nation-state’s radar as a threat to anyone’s interests.  Steubenville has long since been decimated by “globalization” and the moving of steel mills to lands our uneducated children can no longer name, much less locate on a map.  And so the macrocosmic rape of Steubenville played itself out in a microcosmic incident of despicable human trauma and exploitation with vulnerable children caught in the midst of forces too powerful to be ignored.

Were the boys who victimized this teenage girl of Steubenville victims themselves?  Probably.  We enter into the so-called adult world of bitter realities praying to an ineffable sky-being that the personal coin of our lives will somehow magically land on its edge.  These boys parlayed their alcohol-induced block of feeling and sense-making to mean that, finally – for once – they were neither cause nor effect, neither victims nor victimizers, for their target of opportunity was so clearly incapable of recollection or self defense that they could finally act on their hormone-fueled drive for reconciliation and justice leaving no one the wiser.

Alas, no one in a surveillance culture ever gets completely away with anything.  Now everyone knows the coin landed with “cause” facing up even while a circus of agenda-setters tried to turn “cause” into “effect.”  However, the cellphone camera coverage made the facts clear in this case and gave the judge presiding no recourse but to adjudicate these two boys based on their behavior, rather than as well-intentioned young men who simply happened upon a vulnerable female during a night of alcohol-fueled stupidity.  “It was a case of mistaken identity, your honor, where one of these boys thought he had left his car keys in the vagina of an incapacitated female he thought he recognized.”  Such explanations would fall dead on arrival in the judge’s chambers, as they should have.

Human beings under stress behave no better than the worst-behaved chimpanzees in the wild.  Among the great apes a silver-backed gorilla could have mustered superior behavior to the demonstrated depravity of these two alleged hominids taken together.

What the media confusion of cause with effect displaced, potentially forever, is the idea that an incident like the Steubenville rape could be either cause, or effect, or even both at the same time.  The coin of human experience, constantly spinning in midair, revealed first cause, then effect, then cause again, in an endless cycle that rotated about an axis we prefer to call “time” but we might just as well label, “perception.”  For all humankind knows, there is no such idea as “time,” but simply circadian rhythms that come together only to fall away over periods greater than multiple human lifetimes.

Enter now into the social vocabulary words like, “forgiveness” and “mercy.”

For too long we have contented ourselves to believe that forgiveness and mercy were gratuities we ought to extend to those less fortunate than ourselves.  We linger in pestilence and paucity of spirit when we think this way, for every grievance we hold against one another increases only our own misery and despair.  Confusing cause with effect, we then displace our agony and our anger onto some other victim of circumstance who seems a more fitting recipient of our ire.  Rather than identifying and then forgiving the multinational banker who has made our lives into wretched caricatures of grandeur, we instead direct our rage at unwed mothers too poor or uneducated to utilize contraception during sexual intercourse.  Or, perhaps even a gay male who, in spite of society’s remonstrations against the foundations of his conscience, manages to find a moment’s joy in the arms of a lover he never knew could exist.  How dare such people find solace or comfort in a world as laced with misery as this!  Do they not know that we were chosen, we were first in line to receive social justice when it finally arrived, not these outcasts and piriahs!

Identifying our grievances as rage against the international banking establishment and its tendency to treat human beings as chattel at best and dumb animals at worst, we might find the misbehavior and misdeeds our brothers and sisters commit against us as effects and not strictly causes in and of themselves.  While we cannot reasonably hold these banking offenders accountable for the behavior of specific individuals, we almost certainly can hold them accountable for statistical increases in the measurements of social misery – poverty, violence, unemployment, disease, ignorance starvation, war and violations of civil liberties of every sort – as surely as we can place pen to paper to sign a bill into law.

From this day forward, for every middle class and lower citizen who commits a crime and is held accountable, let us also hold accountable those leaders and institutions that failed to provide the childhood support and supervision even a modicum of human decency ought to afford.  For it is not only the youths of Steubenville who have lost their way, it is the entire economic establishment raised to believe that “greed is good” and “only the fittest should survive” while placing their thumb on the scales of justice to favor one sort of “fitness” over another.  No human being at any layer of the social strata will ever be capable of knowing what sort of fitness our future survival might require.  Let us no longer pretend that the crazed and menacing ramblings of a sociopath speaking on behalf of other sociopaths hold out any promise of brighter tomorrows blighted by creatures with less than half the human capacity for empathy and compassion.  Ayn Rand’s “Objectivist” rants and her present-day apologist’s polemics do not advance the cause of human evolution, but would drive us backward to a time when dinosaurs ruled this Earth only to be smited by their own inability to cooperate and ensure mutual survival.

Let this be our response to the people and children of Steubenville, Ohio, and our collective prayer that the wisdom and compassion of Bishop Desmond Tutu should not pass into history unacknowledged or unnoticed.

Deer Jesus Epistle: Papal Conclave Edition

the-dude-tom-roderickProphecies of Saint Malachi, the final Pope being Benedict’s successor — apparently the Mayans were onto something with their “end of time” calendar that signaled a call to “judgment” for all humanity.
For too long, human beings have been walking this Earth under the mistaken notion that whatever pops into their conscious mind as being, “real,” must, in fact, be the way things are.  For those who see something different than a hastily gathered quorum, too bad, we find you to be, “insane.”
Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not suggesting that there are no conditions for which bed rest, medication and professional supervision are warranted.  There are such conditions, it just so happens that the majority of those for whom adequate professional supervision, bed rest and medication might be applied are in charge of some of our oldest and most powerful social institutions.
Like, say, the Catholic Church.
Don’t get me wrong: I am no Protestant and I am not a Jew, outside of a couple Jewish women I gave serious consideration to converting for in order to woo.  I was raised a Catholic, but I implore you not to hold that against me.  I was educated by American Jesuits which qualifies me as a card-carrying agnostic.  I don’t know enough about God to portend its existence, and neither do you, skooter.
I can tell you, emphatically, that there are many powers greater than myself in existence in my universe today, starting with my wife and a mistress I am contemplating going insane and slashing off my ear over.  But that does not imply the existence of a supreme being, or even a heralding of a comeback of the Supremes, with or without Diana Ross.
So simply because the “integrity” of your faith demanded that you turn your back on the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church does not ennoble your church in my eyes, it only makes your church a festering ward of the terminally insane because you are spreading the disease and not the cure.  Look at your snake-handling, tongue-talking, moralizing nonsensical Bible-thumping ignoramuses: is this a step above the decency and nobility of a single Roman Catholic Church or Jewish Synagogue?
Not in my judgment.
I save special ire for the community of Islam because your whole denomination is crazier than a gathering of Baptists at a Texas dancehall.  Yes, women have power; covering it up or trying to contain it does not change the fact that this same deity you piously proclaim your allegiance to created man and woman as separate and coequal lunatics in chief.  This same deity also guaranteed that you would never be able to impact any other form of life in the galaxy until you learned to stop killing and hurting each other.  The intent of Creation has been written all over our circumstance from the beginning: if there is a supreme being, it most certainly is not among any one of you, or us.  Mohammed was a certifiable and megalomaniacal lunatic and not someone to found any pursuit of truth in honor of. Nor was Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Martin Luther or Joseph Smith.  Nor am I.
The Day of Last Judgment is upon us.
Behold: are you a bigger dumbass than the Catholic Church that has for centuries used the exploitation of children to guarantee the hegemony of certain pontifical doctrines?  If you are not, then why am I the first one to inform you that every national government, including the UN, has come to use the convenient blackmail of placing the politically powerful on tape having sex with children as a means of guaranteeing their loyalty to certain vested interests?  Are you so retarded as to not see how potent a weapon in the arsenal of statecraft this Catholic tradition of “commercial” pedophilia has become?  Did this tradition of expediency arise out of sheer stupidity or the time-tested experience of dealing with the fevered human egos of the great unwashed masses?
Dorothy, wake up, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.  We aren’t even at the concert.  We are dealing with human evil of the most vile and horrific kind, the kind that would exploit and traffic in child orphans as a means of obtaining loyalty to a specific class of individuals with a very specific political and sociological agenda.  The agenda is the global enslavement of the human species through any means necessary and the politics varies depending on the expediency of meeting this objective.
Where we are, in this moment in human history, comes as a direct result of human judgment applied to the need to keep ourselves safe only from each other; we have not even begun to contemplate what might be required of us in order to guarantee our safety from the enormous challenge of cosmological calamity.
Does anyone remember taking a vote in favor, or in opposition, to imposing global slavery over the human species in order to guarantee our survival?  I do not.  I simply recall agreeing to buy certain products in the belief that if my breath were minty fresh, I might be able to attract a mate, a job and/or an adequate education.  I do not recall agreeing to join a federal reserve banking system where I agreed to pay a small cartel of families for the privilege of printing my paper currency on an annual basis, and, yet, it is so.  This is the best our human facility for judgment would allow. And now we sustain and support these unwritten, undemocratically imposed dictums by exploiting the sexual innocence of children and the depravity of adults who may well have been exploited themselves as children?
Enough.
Life is difficult enough without also having to shoulder the burden of rampant mental and emotional illness unleashed on the body politic.  We need to take at least ONE DAY set aside, globally, to decide whether we are going to continue allowing ourselves to be lead by human sickness or by human wellness.
In the days and weeks to come, I will observe examples of human sickness in full display and offer up how human wellness might set this situation aright and bring healing and light to all in the process.