Tag Archive | recovery

How to Think

When I hear those words echo from outside myself, I get angry, too.

I don’t know where the anger comes from – the fury.  I just know that it comes.  And it becomes.  On grey Winter days it may comeLiteral Fork In The Road at any time.  In the bursts of springtime blossoms it may fester and go rancid for a chance to spill its seed into the life of another unwitting victim.  Beginning anew, a little less angry with each successive generation, it comes forth with the promise of something different, something interesting, something beyond what has ever come before.  But then it just dies in fits of forgetful regret for not having lived out its promise, for never having broken through its own shell to reach out to the Light.  The Light that’s never really there when we need it, anyway.

Such is the fate of stardust and the powder-filled wings of angels.

If there’s anything good to come from the outright theft and betrayal of the sexual identities of fourteen young women, it is the minor wizardry of these words spilling forth in a waterfall of grief, regret, despair, disappointment and utter betrayal.  I cannot believe we gave so much of ourselves, promised to so many for so very little.

I used to blame my father’s Catholicism for the fact that I could never seem to accept the timid, tentative outstretched hand of a woman looking for connection, for shared joy, for relief from the bitter dregs of adolescent angst.  I could never smash the faces of my enemies nor vanquish my guilt over my reticence.  It was because of that old mossy, rusty cross and those eyes cast down upon the world in a familiar fact-filled glance of grief, regret, despair, disappointment and utter betrayal.  I could not bring myself to strike at the face of my own despair and fear; I could never accept the hand of promise stretched out to me from what seemed like miles away because I never felt entitled to the release, the resolution or the reconciliation.  I never felt entitled because…Jesus.  I never felt good enough because He was hung there like carrion for a murder of crows.  Every bloody nose I willed to be theirs, every smashed face that wasn’t mine, every orgasm lost in grievous sin into tawdry linens I sacrificed by being nailed to a cross of my own construction and design because “They” told me to do it when I couldn’t cross myself correctly, serve mass piously, take my torments with humility or confess my sins honestly.  The same sins it has taken most of my life to even recognize much less comprehend in origin.  “How convenient,” I thought, “that they have numbered all my bones and laid the wages of all sin at my feet, in my tawdry linens, in all my unreconciled torments and dreams of vengeance – no matter how long delayed!”  Of course it was the rancid, ancient beliefs of little men in fancy clothing and funny hats sent from a righteous heaven to defile the dreams of resolution and absolution begged for from a laiety so masochistic, so anachronistic that only a fool would pass on the chance to milk so sacred a cow.  Let the carnival barking begin!  Crash my dreams of a normal, healthy existence into the side of bitter mountaintop, never to be seen, nor heard from, again!

My mother’s bloodied face in 1966 and her long-defiled, swollen abdomen in 1936 had more to do with my tormented-shut libido and my interpersonal cowardice than any religious liturgy oozing out of  ancient Rome.  The sadism was handed down from years of masochism gone unrequited, from beatings so severe and senseless that the beguiled prayed to be set free even onto a snow-filled prairie to take their chances with wild buffalo; buffalo soon to be stacked high near the dead natives left without food to fight the chill of Winter.  No, the Catholics gave these brutal people safe passage into purgatory years after condemning them to the hottest Hell for refusing to eat fish on Fridays, refusing to restrain their coital urges for a public sanctioning of wedlock, for missing a week of mass or a Holy Day.  Or for loving an improper stranger.

The sins of 120 million dead brothers and sisters, of at least as many tears, bore witness then to a brutal savagery yet to come.  A web of interdependent shame so hideous as to make the true character of a people facile in the face of sacrificing any hero or shrew, for they would always be one in the same here.  To Europe and to ancient Rome, the impudent Americans would always be a laughing stock of hollow native outcasts, of fools and of dregs.  We would always care little for ourselves because, for centuries, we would be forsaken by the Crown of Britain for intransigence and singled out for disrespect.  Nevermind that the freedom we sought was only a modicum of what might be deserved for the children of any lesser god.  This callous disregard of our dignity was passed down to all others too taken by our silly clothes and poor agrarian skills to yield to the iron fist our naiveté concealed.

But proof is thus concealed in pudding and murmurs in the mud.

Of one thing my age has granted me some certainty: no deity or reified human being hangs from a tree after being beaten to a point where human death becomes a distant, fond wish and but gives a damn who eats what, who goes where nor who fucks whom.  The look of grief and utter, dismal betrayal in those bloodied, half-shuttered eyes cast down from that effigy beneath which I prayed longingly had nothing to do with anything but the behavior of those who birthed me here and on whose knees my tutelage received.  Beyond that I cannot speak intelligibly, for that is a matter of personal faith which, on a good day, my heart lightens and my smiles abound; on a bad day (or thirty minutes later), well, I wish for you nothing but the cynical fury of a life spent searching for what cannot be found: American dignity.

Fourteen women lost their will to live lives as human beings open to the advances of honest, trustworthy men because a cynical fury, known only to adults, cast onto a child a seething despair so rancid, so irreconcilably lost in the devotion, love and innocence of children, that that child had nowhere left to put their love, had no place to share a joy twisted by fury into sickness and death.  That child turned adult would have you thank them for not murdering these women, but for leaving them broken and not whole inside, that we might reconcile and untwist his sickness into love. Thank you, Bill.  Now go back to the now snow-starved prairie bereft of the buffalo and their brothers, back to the land from which you were fortunate enough to have survived and tell us more tales of laughter and exuberance, if you dare.  Of the wisdom or compassion of a man who hollows out the heart of a woman, eating it but once yet shitting it out sideways into a bag for the rest of his pathetic life, I know precious little but an agonizing despair so deep it cannot be reached.

That was my mother you raped, that was my sister you violated, that was my daughter you betrayed and that was my sex life you utterly destroyed in multiple thoughtless acts of muted revenge for sins beyond any adult ability to reason or scope, let alone a child.  A flaccid awesome lie paints the pants of the American landscape, and we blame you for a child’s disability to communicate a need for reason and for help.

It was not the Catholics after all.  Nor the Crown.  We are where we are because we deserve it.  All power and privilege decreed it so centuries ago.  For that revelation I thank you, Bill Cosby.

No clap of thunder or any tornado-swept hole in Hell matches the jolt of a mind split apart with wattage, laid waste to by countless drugs having side-effects too hideously tormenting to recount, only to be discounted by a community caught in disbelief over its own hypocrisy and loss of moral compass.  It was left to the judgment of a Judge that all power of judgment be taken from a nine year old girl so her goat-copulating father, who freely chose to leave his loose change and burning cigarettes on her nightstand, might continue to work in the community and sustain a family that was rejecting him outright.  The year was 1936 and from 1932 my mother endured the heaving advances, the pathetic breath, the jaundiced eyes and the enormous penis of an entity ten times her weight and orders of magnitude her size.  He was a brutal, drunken heap of human flesh thrown completely clear of a Hell made hot, barren and unwelcoming by his utter presence.  There is a reason the State of Oklahoma continues to quake in ignorant fear of supernatural evil: Jack Shelby lived there once.  He brewed ‘shine fit for Pretty Boy Floyd, lying his way through solid stone, melting handcuffs of righteous lawmen and leaving machine-gun toting criminals in awe of the power of his thunderous, cloven-hooved gait over wooden floors worn down soft by the shuffling feet of the despairing.  He would leave the Dustbowl of Oklahoma just ahead of fate because of the Great Depression, the same Great Depression the people of Texas continue to believe never happened.  They may be right; it may just have been the crater this sucking chest wound of moral ambivalence left in the dirt of Oklahoma when Satan, Himself, threw this Irish asshole to Earth from the hellfire of the Sun.  Steinbeck recounted symptoms for posterity, receiving a Nobel Prize; my mother absorbed a full-frontal moral shock for an entire world terrified by an evil so brutal it defied her ability to remain a whole human being.  For that service she received the scorn of her community, the misunderstanding of her children, and a life that continues to haunt my credulity and stain my credibility with good men who have never had to bear witness to such an empty vastness – to the sheer cold depth – of a moral black hole from which no hope of any light could ever escape.

That is why you have never heard of Jack Shelby, for as soon as he appeared in your life, your mind demanded you forget him; the sheer gravity of his darkness exceeded human comprehension.  What I realize today is that it was his presence in my mother’s life that sealed her fate long before I was even born.  It was never my grandmother’s fault; it wasn’t even the Catholic Churches’ fault; though responsibility, when it hits the fan, is never evenly nor fairly distributed.  This was all Jack Shelby, my grandfather, an evil-dead non-person who raped my mother from the time she was five until she was nine, defiling the countryside from Oklahoma to California in one, long forgettable visitation to our planet.

The first time they strapped my mother down, shoved rubber into her terrified, confused mouth and scrambled her brain with electricity was when she was 19 years old and had had two children by a man from the House of Canterbury.  He left soon after her stay in the sanitarium never to be seen, nor heard from, again.  Decades later, when his children were fully adults and merely curious, they located Jonathan and attempted contact with him.  He refused the connection.  He insisted they were mistakes and that they never contact him again.  They dutifully complied, a burden lifted from one child and left to rest on the shoulders of another.  That child died drinking a gallon of cheap wine every night just to maintain himself from shaking due to withdrawals, aged 64 years.  The official cause of death wasn’t cirrhosis or poisoning, but cancer.  A mere brush with a black hole sends grown men a full country’s width away from their own children and another man into a bottle never to surface again.  Mental illness caused a terrible fright in the 1940’s, even some 4 decades after a firm commitment from the country to build sanitariums to house the mentally ill, the alcoholic and the terminally misunderstood received cheers for President Teddy the Bullmoose.  If we could not repair broken lives, we could at least hide them, and our shame, from public view.  It was the least we could do since, prior to that time, it was the SPCA – the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – who were the only human beings willing to risk contact with society’s untouchables.  Sydney Cameron, a psychiatrist and admirer of the strides the Nazis had made experimenting on the Jews and others in their “work camps,” not one to miss out on an opportunity, used these sanitariums to find research subjects for his experiments involving the erasure and reconstitution of the human personality.  To relieve suffering, of course.  Dr. Cameron never quite perfected the “reconstitution” aspect of his experiments with “psychic driving” before he was forced underground and his experimentations along with him, but that wasn’t for lack of available test subjects.  There will always be plenty of shame to drive some of us completely mad and in search of some sort of erasure.  I do not know if my mother was ever a formal test subject in the early days of the “Monarch” program – a place where the cleansed records of Nazi doctors found a home and adequate funding for further research – but I do know she was given numerous “shock treatments” on multiple occasions in her many three-month, “convalescent stays,” behind the walls of Santa Clara’s now defunct, “Agnews State Hospital.”  I may never know the actual extent of the procedures my mother endured because the State of California “mishandled” all of the patient records from those days, selling the property to Sun Microsystems in 1997.  But at least I know that of the many “sterilization” operations that were performed on mentally ill women without their consent or awareness, my mother was probably not among them.  That could be considered a stroke of luck since, of the fifty states in these United States, California sterilized the mentally ill far more often than any other State.  Texas, where I now live, the least often.

We have always placed great pride in our mental illness in Texas, as it turns out, burying a wealth of “crazy uncles” and “addled aunts” in trailers and trailerparks spread out across the vast, expansive countryside, as if they were our secret treasure waiting to be mined.  We’ve even sent a couple of our most grievously afflicted to serve as Presidents of these United States.  One from each political party has been sent, so far, just to prove that we are nonpartisan and fair in our admiration and respect.

Both men were, history has shown, equally and predictably destructive.

“If nominated I would not run, if elected, I would not serve,” should have been LBJ’s motto before he ascended to the Presidency on the odd coincidence that his predecessor had fallen victim to an assassin’s bullet, not unlike at least one or two other of Johnson’s political opponents.  The Johnson Family might like to parade their favored son’s “Great Society” programs for all to see, but had he not guided and passed that legislation through Congress during his first and only term as President, Bobby Kennedy, the fallen President’s brother, close confidante and a sworn enemy of LBJ and his friend J. Edgar Hoover, would have certainly taken the Presidency and proceeded to right the grievous wrong that had been not just to his family, but to the entire country as a result of his brother’s untimely demise.  As it turned out, the evil that had been done to the United States and to my family up to that point, had taken up deep roots here in the American South, as multiple homicides just happened to take place against every major political opponent who dared to take exception to this country’s economic alliance with Nazi Germany back in 1932.  That would be about the same time Jack Shelby started making his drunken, twisted advances at my mother when she was barely able to walk and not yet able to run.

As for Texas’ other contribution to “whirled peas,” the wound is still quite fresh and infected to the bone as only the bite from the fetid mouth of a Komodo Dragon can be.  I think George W. Bushes’ dubious flight and appearance aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 to announce, “Mission Accomplished,” says everything about the purpose and plan the Bush Family had in mind for the United States beginning around 1932 when the President’s grandfather, Prescott, began funneling money and weapons to Nazi Germany and its new Chancellor, “Adolf Hitler.”  The “mission accomplished” banner had precious little to do with “combat operations in Iraq” being complete, because that proved to be complete nonsense.  The mission, from World War I to the present day, has been to bring about a New World Order; the same “novus ordo seclorum” Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler tried to ooze all over the world during World War II.  That mission, to the chagrin of all those brave soldiers and civilians who died during World War II, and their families, has been accomplished.  The dark crown of fascism has been restored on the head where it properly belonged.  God saved the Queen.

The only time I ever saw Jack Shelby, the person, was when he was dying on his bed in a convalescent hospital in Merced, California.  My grandmother couldn’t see fit to keep something like the death of a parent from my mother and, true to form, she gave him more comfort than I was able to comprehend at the age of 12.  True to the nature of these events, I do not recall his face.  I do, however, recall the old man not two beds away pathetically masturbating as my cousins Deborah and Cheryl sat vigil with my mother and grandmother as they said their final “goodbyes” to a hollowed-out shell of a human being.  By this time the evil had left behind little more than an effigy of the man who terrified and terrorized the women in his life four and five decades before.  By that time only Bobby, Jimmy and my mother were left, and they would pass in that order, all from cancer as the official cause.  As I sat there in that room soaked with the smell of Betadine and urine, wondering what I was even doing there, I began to feel the emptiness creeping over me like a hole in my chest that the wind would not leave alone.  Neither Bobby, nor Jimmy, bothered to see their father off with a final fair-the-well.  Over the decades they had seen many men off to Hell in multiple wars as they served in the Navy; the death of their father would be just another hollowed-out shell tossed overboard, the engines of progress full steam ahead.  They had said all they were ever going to say to the man who had terrorized them and raped their sisters.

There was nothing funny or sad about any experience that included Jack Shelby or his clan; these were spiritual trials to be endured, replete with panic attacks, anxiety and terror that seemed to know no bottom.  The terror that I grew up and through, damaging and traumatizing though it was, was nothing in comparison to the fate these poor souls had consigned themselves to.  Enough of my soul and heart was left to allow me to walk through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 30, thinking and believing I had been cheated of another 10 good years of drinking and taking drugs, “for fun.”  In those ten years, had I survived them, the disease would have convinced me that life was not about joy but was a trial to be endured.  Only the meanest, coldest and nastiest men lived long or prospered in this hellhole that the likes of JP Morgan, Henry Ford, JD Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie left in their wake.  These four horsemen created a country that will be known not so much for its natural beauty or its kind people but for its unrelenting cruelty against its own and others.  We have been uncompromising in that regard, the scope and depths of our genocidal history so hideously sublime that no history book dare print a word nor utter a sound lest the hounds of hell be unleashed against them and their families.  Such was the case with the Kennedys, such will be the case with any organized resistance against the evil that grows wild here and in places where the Sun never shines.

Just the other day I was reading a recounting of the history of German Uboats of World War II and the various artifacts found in that most impressive submarine fleet of the day.  Among the contents?  Several ticket stubs to movie theaters along the Texas coast.

The point of my story lost in a fog of shame and guilt will be over what shame and guilt I have failed to surface and resolve here.  My responsibility thus adjudicated, I shall suffer that the Queen and Rome might continue their masquerade as unwilling witness to the original sin the publishers of fiction  and contradiction thus contrived.

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.”

The Barbershop Diaries, Volume I, Issue 17: The Current Racism

Sometimes A Klan Rally Is Just A Klan Rally

Sometimes A Klan Rally Is Just A Klan Rally

Now the right wing glue-sniffers are attacking ACORN, Justice Sotomayor, Aunt Jemima, Mr. Bojangles, and (acting) President Barak Hussein Obama.  Next up: Al Jolson.

I suppose it all started when the Egyptians, in a brief moment of sanity, released the Jews from bondage to spend forty years trying to understand why freedom wasn’t truly free.  There was certainty in bondage, even if such certainty was miserable.  Humans are nothing if not adaptable, and if given a choice between a duel of wits with the Sinai Desert , or trusting the largesse of a benevolent dictator, most people tend to lean towards the devil they know.  Onward through the fog of victimization and the tyranny of oppression.

As “free” men and women, we are free to wander the desert for as long as we wish, but I know of no human person who could, or would, tolerate being lost anywhere with their family for forty minutes, let alone forty years – and that goes double for being lost in any kind of a desert.  Methinks the whole “forty years” narrative was an allegory…on the banks of the Nile…with or without meaningful interpretation.

The choice to opt for freedom does not come easy to anyone at any time – or at any level of psycho-emotional development.  Like most things in life, freedom is a process and processes can be thought of as having bony elbows and hardened knees.  Most everyone realizes this important fact unless they happen to be a teenaged child or young adult.  In which case I am an advocate of tripping the little darlings, saving the rougher fare for the thirty-five year old non-relatives who have not learned to discriminate between bull feces and shoe polish. 

Ethnocentrists – a polite term for racist – seem to possess the fecund, counterfactual imagination that one, or a basket of, ethnicities offer all that could possibly be necessary for human life to sustain itself on this planet and beyond.  If we maintain open-mindedness long enough to follow this line of reasoning to some definitive conclusions, we arrive at such treasures as, “we can see accurately well into the future,” and, “we have supernatural powers not possessed by others.”  While absurd on their face, such beliefs are not far-fetched leaps of logic beyond the “faith” required to believe that dead people can reanimate themselves, or that we are all under the moral surveillance of an omniscient sky-spook whose job it is to mete out justice to one and all – simultaneously.  And while this paints most every religion with a broad brush, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the latest heap of effluent tossed onto the American political stage has been primarily the work of a fundamentalist, Zionist subculture within the United States which believes that humans fed dinosaurs, willingly and unwillingly, and that the entire planet is only 6,000 years old.  The zeal possessed by this subculture extends well past the point of credulity, past mere delusional thinking and lands smack into the outright insanity of, “it is because I was reared to believe that it is so.”  In point of fact, the zealously religious are among the most racist creatures on the face of this planet.  In activating the fear-based core components of any religion – be they phantasmagorical or merely perceptually-based science – we virtually ensure the emergence of racism and prejudices of all kinds to rear their ugly, demented little heads.

By way of intermezzo, I did just refer to perceptually-based science as a form of religion. 

For those not used to poring over journal articles or who are not familiar with the intercollegial backstabbing that takes place in the hallowed halls of academe, let me just point out that the existence of your physical form relative to anyone else’s is an article of faith to science.  Meaning, of course, that there is no certain knowledge that the fundamental building blocks of which we are all made actually exist anywhere at any time — we take it on authority that our interpretation of our perceptions means what we have been taught it means. 

By this logic, I make no absolute distinction between current scientific evidence that is tainted by human interpretation and much older human-tainted evidence based on outside organizational authority — both, in time, lead to the same sort of lunacy that we are observing taking place, right now, among the fundamentalist evangelical right-wing of the former Republican party and their corporate “amen” section. 

One can make the argument that the religion of Science is self-correcting, but my observations have not born that belief out to any greater degree than the self-correction that has taken place in most standard religions.   In a pinch, I would opt for the religion of Science over most every other religion, but this prejudice still leaves a huge gap between legitimate, age-old and sage tribal knowledge and the best of current scientific conclusions.  I and Ken Wilber agree that both sources of knowledge are crucially important to living a happy, meaningful human life. 

My disdain for the behavior of those who choose lunacy and pathological fantasy over more grounded, scholarly and spiritual religious interpretations reflects my belief that most religions lead to a variety of loathsome “us versus them” confrontations of which the current racism is clearly associated. 

For the scientifically inclined who remain unconvinced that two or three major intellectual revolutions in the Philosophy of Science have taken place just in the last 100 years, I am not alarmed.  Eventually the positivistic certainty with which the scientifically-consecrated enoble their own thinking and perceptions will come beating on their skulls to deliver, unto them, the requisite humility of the saints.

Restoration of sanity is a process and like everything else requires both a willing student and a clearly presented, easily grasped curriculum. 

Evidence of racism is evidence not of a poorly presented curriculum but, in the present case, evidences a strident, arrogant denial of the most obvious matters of fact.  There is no learning failure taking place in the case of racism, there is only a dedicated unwillingness to look at all of the evidence that is as plain as the nose upon the human face. 

I do not mean to be dismissive of  matters of obviousness since there are, by some accounts, over two billion (2,000,000,000) sense impressions available to our perception at any given instant in time.  My point is that we are not lacking for any information here.  What we are lacking is a reliable apparatus or process for sorting through all of this information and coming to some competent conclusions before the moment leaves us in the dust and we are served up, yet again, with another moment and another two billion slices of information to sort through.

In a pinch for time, racism is one of many processes human beings use to sort through all of the information that our existence makes available to us.  Hard as it might be to believe, only a dozen or so generations separate us from a period in human history of such hostility that, had we engaged one another during the twentieth century with the same enthusiasm for bloodshed that we once did a handful of generations ago, we would have mindlessly murdered twenty times the one hundred million we actually did slaughter during the twentieth century.  For those keeping score, that would have been that two billion number again.  What this means is that for most of human history we have been brutally bludgeoning one another to death, or running in mortal terror from someone who wanted to brutally bludgeon us to death.  War, terror, running – these are all snappy events that do not suffer contemplative types very well, if at all.  We need to get to the point and we need to get to the point quickly… because the (fill in the blank with your favorite social piriahs) are a-comin’.

Communities of shared values have been, in fact, THE way human beings have adapted to the threats we have encountered from each other for most of the time our peculiar genetic encoding has been in circulation.  Racism and religion walk foot in mouth together in terms of needing to get snappy, if not impolite, before someone I do not know drills a spear or an arrow someplace where I know it does not belong.  Build a wall, dig a moat, fashion a drawbridge – fairly quickly people develop a prejudice for family and community and a strident, if not arrogant, suspicion of anyone trying to worm their way into our Keep.  “Famly values,” as it has been used and misused in the present moment of cultural morality has been nothing more than an encoding of the term, “racism.”  It is not by sheer coincidence that as soon as Ronald Reagan started on his peculiar bandwagon of “family values,” that more demonstrably ill people of color were rounded up and thrown into more and more prisons, as a percentage of their total population, than demonstrably ill white people as a percentage of their total population.

Ethnocentrism = racism = war = religion = insanity.  Since most people harbor an affinity for both ethnocentricism and insanity, peace and the pursuit of happiness only require we rid ourselves of racism, war or religion, as single entities, to weaken the entire tangle that represents the pursuit of our unhappiness.  We have already tried to rid ourselves of racism and war to no avail…both have snapped back into prominence with a vengeance.

I propose, then, that we simply rid ourselves of religion.  We can still go to church, if we like, but methinks it is time to stop giving religion a free ride in the tax department.  And I, for one, will stop sending money their way that will not be spent  strictly on the flock of which I am a member.   No more tithing to an overarching, aging bureaucracy in some far-off land.  All politics are local, and so is all community.  I am done with religion as a means of creating a moral compass for the great unwashed masses, or as a means of saving my bacon for a better time and place.

The time is NOW, and always has been; the place is HERE and will always be.  

Let us choose to love one another simply, responsibly and compassionately – right here and right now, in this very moment.

Barbershop Diaries Volume I, Issue 16: Living Life Beyond the Test Pattern

 

I'm Fine...Just Will Need Some Help Extracting This Chair Cushion Once We're Done Here

I'm Fine...Just Will Need Some Help Extracting This Chair Cushion Once We're Done Here

I never fully appreciated just how deeply I could sink my fingernails into the chair of my barber as a child.  One would think I was sitting in a dentist’s chair, and as it turned out, I reacted in this same completely unconscious manner with my dentist.  As soon as someone put their fingers inside my mouth and I heard the buzz of the drill, my mind would go elsewhere and my fingernails would keep me from floating off the planetary surface.

I have no explanation for why my barber’s chair elicited this same response in me.  Perhaps it was the buzzing of shears, or the incessant commands to hold still – tilt left, tilt right – that put something in me on red alert.  Not that anyone in the barbershop realized that just under the barber cape my knuckles were an iridescent white.  I was striving to be a picture-perfect consumer of male grooming behavior and with a high degree of precision I succeeded.  But it is to suggest that nothing of much import seemed to come my way unless I had previously removed myself from any personal consideration, or ceased allowing myself to experience any modicum of personal satisfaction as the result of “my” achievement.  Given that bleak forecast, getting out of bed every morning was a step into the heroic.

It was not until I had grown much older, experienced physical intimacy with women and then deigned to allow a massage therapist to touch my bare back that I began to loosen my hold on the arms of all modern torture devices, whatever form they might take.  Something had to give and it had to be in me not because there was something obviously wrong with me, but that everyone else had run out of reasons to contribute to my self-destructive behavior.  I hated myself, but I wanted you to love me so that I could then be justified in hating you, too.  Not exactly a conscious-level plan on my part, just a preponderance of the extant evidence.  This frame seems to fit the evidence well because I can see myself rolling and tumbling in the shame of it all to this very day.

Don’t get me wrong: I am positively joyous ninety five percent of the time.  But the other five percent of the time makes me want to poke out my eyes with a sharp stick.  The other five percent of the time I am caught in an obsessive web of want so sticky that I wonder if I will ever be able to just let it go and move on.  Inevitably I do, of course, but where in the hell does the motivation, desire or inspiration come from to go forward once the glasses are all empty and the party is officially over?

I remember running the stairs in our high school stadium.  The first few flights were easy, but then the burn started to take its toll and it began dogging me every step of the way.  I could still move my legs up and down, but I couldn’t really feel them anymore.  When I did feel them they told me to stop, that this was nuts, that there was no value in going any farther – but I couldn’t stop: you were still doing it, so I had to, too.  You were still giving it your level best, so I couldn’t let the team down.  And so it was the team and being a part of something bigger than myself that drove me to explore the area outside of my normal limits of endurance.

But where the hell does team spirit, or motivation, come from when, for more nights in a row than you can remember, you find yourself waking up alone to the glow of a test pattern illuminating your barely furnished living room?  And forget about the motivation to pursue this sort of sport to its logical conclusion, where does the desire to stop one’s self from picking up a shotgun, pointing it in one’s mouth and pulling the trigger come from?  It certainly will not be team spirit because I can attest to the fact that the “team” has long since found something more entertaining to do with their day than wait to see your head explode in a spray of red mist.  They can see that sort of thing most every day on cable television…before the test pattern shows up.

Fear of death might come close, except for the fact that I have seen death come and take its prisoners several times now, and not one of them seemed to put up much of a fight.  Once the diapers came out, once the wheelchair became a necessity, there was a quiet resignation that the fight had gone on long enough, that the fear was a waste of time and oxygen.  There may have well been some residual fear of death but I can assure you that there was an even greater fear that the torment would go on.  Still…no shotguns, no exhortations against a cruel supreme being and no drama.  There were even, at times, moments of contentment and peace.  One last walk up San Jacinto, one last trip through the old neighborhood to see children playing in the water and somewhere where the air is fresh, clean but thin, the yoke would leave its shell behind.  What was left behind would gladly be left for others to feast on – it had long since passed its expiration date, anyway.

We are at this place as a nation and as a people.  We have allowed ourselves to become the objects as well as the spectators of scandal after scandal, as if watching ourselves being eaten alive by parasites represents some call to a higher purpose, or a part in some drama foretold by an alleged supreme being who obviously cares nothing for our peace or our collective shame.

In these days of torment and torture, the demons sound like angels and the angels sound like demons.  These are the times that try men and women’s souls.  We ache for the heroic, but we refuse to turn our backs on all the scandal, envy and gossip-mongering.  We receive justice, but then we complain because it is devoid of mercy.  Those who can see no justice, no mercy and no heroism in the world are blinded to it by their choice not to see it.  Or, having seen it, move to trample it under foot.

Sometimes getting a haircut can be heroic.  But giving one never is.