America

It’s the Fourth of July and I can’t, I just can’t. My neighbor across the street, who two elections ago had a big orange “DEFEAT OBAMA” sign in his shrubbery, and during the last election interestingly displayed no sign at all, has a honking big American flag hanging in his porch entry, as sort of a flyscreen I guess. I ought to tell him it doesn’t work that way.

My country is taking kids away from their parents and giving them back, if they’re given back, broken, and I can’t do a lot more about it than write kiddygarten postcards to voters begging people to vote for anyone who will act to stop this insanity. I don’t even like kids, but you don’t do this. You don’t.

There’s a link there at the word “broken.” Read as much as you can stand. Goddammit.

Nonetheless, I’m an American — not a Brit, though I almost did that once (and they have their own problems), not a Canadian or anything else. When I was born Eisenhower, aka the Last Honest Republican, was President. My father played in the Army Band, Pershing’s Own, and I learned first hand how full of shit the rah-rah-red-white-and-blue could be, but still, here I am. I have to find something that I can still love.

I reverted to Arthur Foote. A Unitarian kapellmeister, who studied in Europe and channeled Dvorak, Brahms and Mendelssohn, he is the only American composer I can entirely embrace. Fuck your folksy Aaron Copland first grade orchestral settings and your Charles Ives cacophony. Here is a beating heart.

Unitarianism is an interesting faith, if it is one. I don’t really understand it much. I think it basically follows the rubric “be a good person.” We could use that.

Here is the Foote piece that I always come back to. Tell me if the world isn’t redeemed at about 1:24 when the B section kicks in, or if not there when the melody comes back dancing on the roof of Creation at 7:35. An American did that. So we’re not all damned to the outer dark.

Sorry, but those are the thoughts I think these days.

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Bag It

So all over the Internet, according to my Twitter feed, there seems to be a rash of weeping and hand-wringing because a fashion designer named Kate Spade was found dead. Holy priorities, Batman.

Don’t get me wrong: suicide from depression is always a sad thing. Take it from someone who lost a best childhood friend that way, largely, I’m fairly sure, because her mother loved a bunch of retarded kids more than her own brilliant daughter and continually forced the daughter to interact with them. I remember the hushed explanations, the mealy platitudes reported to me from the funeral service — thanks to dysfunctional everybody, I didn’t know she was dead till she had been in the ground for a month — and the posthumous denigration of someone who was suffering. I remember clearly that the parent who had all the time in the world for the feeble-minded curtly told her own daughter to “do something about herself” when her first year in pre-med went down in flames from her emotional struggles. I have enough bitterness about the way depressed people are treated to curdle the sea.

But all this sentimentality about handbags? There are people online rhapsodizing about the “aspirational” nature of the designer product and what it meant to them — some sort of image of “adult womanhood” — as if a handbag were more than just a fucking container to carry things around in, and as if we need to carry so many fucking things around.

I have two clear memories of people who cared jack shit about handbags. One was an epicene overprivileged blonde skinny woman in a toy job at the first gym where I ever worked, who drawled “I found a wonderful sale on Anne Klein. Are you into Anne Klein?” “I’m heavily into Sears and Montgomery Ward, myself,” I replied, thinking of my $3.60 an hour part time paycheck which for Skinny Blonde was just the garnish on a placeholder gig so she could say she was a real! working! person before going home to her parents’ fancy mansion. The other was a sad matter of someone who had only been able to survive, after escaping an abusive family, by finding generous gentlemen. Things that money bought were earnests of permanence to her. I was nicer to her.

Bags? What the fuck even is it about bags? A nuisance, a drag, a thing to look after, something that no man in history has ever felt he had to own. I went from a backpack to a hip pack to a key wallet over the last thirty years and I never really looked at who designed the things. You use them. You try to find something that doesn’t drag you down. It isn’t your identity.

There are these women at my gym who drag bags around. One day soon I’m going to go up someone’s nostrils just because the idiocy of it ticks me off. You’re in the gym, lady: first off, get yourself some real gym clothes and shoes; second, if you carry something around — I do — it should only be the stuff you need to have with you to work out — this is the US so you came here in a car and the car has a trunk. Stop leaving that horse-nosebag-handbag on the floor for me to trip over. Aside from, it makes you look stupid and focused on things other than the reason you are here. Please get your day tripping self out of my sight.

But here we are, with the world and especially America burning down around us, unjust deaths by the quire piling up among our veterans and our poor people, and someone needs to grieve over a person they never knew because handbags.

America will bullshit itself to death. Been happening for years. Just putting up signposts.

Phew

A while back I wrote a frustrated, distressed post about a #MeToo accusation of George Takei. The story was disturbing, given that all political progressives and sci fi geeks love George, but it also sounded way too like the kind of thing that, well, happens. Hollywood is a weird place and can bring out the worst in people who seem admirable.

It begins to sound as if the whole thing was much less fraught than the original story suggested — an almost classic tale of mixed signals. It doesn’t have heroes, but neither does it have villains. God love persistent reporters.

A fabricated coffee meeting. Key facts withheld or walked back. A “great party story” about a sexual assault—which the accuser now says may not have actually happened.

What happens when an activist’s legacy is tarnished by the story of an old friend who later says it could have all been a misunderstanding? And how do we process such an anomaly in an era of overdue social justice?…

It all makes plenty of sense to me. Yikes, if I had a nickel for every time I thought someone was interested and put the blocks on him… oh well, I’d have a handful of nickels. But there it is. No one else has had a thing to say about Takei, gay culture of that time was known for impulsive hookups, Takei is still happily Tweeting away; meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein has turned himself in. The wheels grind slowly but exceeding small.

 

 

 

 

America

I tried to get a photo, but the light was either blazing through or reflecting off the windows of the station wagon. Also I was trying not to be too obvious. With luck I’ll never see the damn thing again, but if I do I’ll have another try.

It was in the parking rank right beside the door of my gym, a beige, battered family-with-kids wagon whose windows had been repurposed as billboards, painted with white lettering in about an inch-high, fussy hand, as dense and intense as a Dr. Bronner’s soap label but not nearly so engaging. “Latinos are the Domestic Terrorists of the West!,” it said, with convergent ramblings about rapists and child traffickers and “Espanole people” (I only found out later the same day that people use that term). Oh, and Califori-something is to be hated and, most inscrutable of all, a column of words: “Celibate/Proud/Jew/Greek/Roman.” Sort of a roster of the civilizations that people usually mean when they say “Western,” but celibate? Not surprised, at least.

Presumably, someone was in there working out, who had driven this mobile hate-fest into our parking lot and would eventually come out and drive away in it, no doubt swelled with pride of some kind.

I wanted to do something and I couldn’t. Vandalism is ineffective and the front desk guys were already checking it out. One of them is deeply black, a sweet guy whose smile always elevates my mood. Our best trainer is Hispanic. I had a sort of heartburn in my bone marrow from it. I let them know how I felt, but was stumped for a better action.

So this is where we’re at. First a pickup truck that hated refugees, now this unhinged window decoration. And this is in the deepest blue part of my state.

Dear God, make it stop.

Not Little Nemo

For those who don’t get the reference, “Little Nemo In Slumberland” was a classic comic strip involving a child protagonist who had a series of weird but fairly sentimental dream adventures.

Then there’s this. Props to the Engineer, a webcomics geek, for cuing it up after the 1300th time I woke up in the morning and told him about my weird dream.

exhibit

I have been getting early morning stress dreams more and more recently. I wake up taut as a guy wire and feeling as if I’m trying to break out of six restraints at once. Today, I dreamed I was interned in some sort of residential school/prison and that a few people had organized a plan in which I and another inmate, a lanky light skinned young black man, would escape. We had to have our “go bags” ready but avoid risk of their being detected in a locker check — there was some sort of kerfuffle about the combination locks — and the escape was timed for midnight on a specific night, something to do with the security schedule. I got my clothing and supplies all stuffed into a small rucksack. The time hit and we moved, aided by someone who was something like the facility nurse. I was focused on connecting, on the outside, with former FBI director and current hot-headline memoirist James Comey, whom I have apparently internalized as the personification of straight-arrow authority ready to help people in flight from evil state oppression. (He’s a bit of a diva, and I will never figure out what the hell he was thinking with the Clinton matter, but probably that characterization’s not far off.)

I just wish I could draw like Lackadaisy.

The Avocadoes Of Indifference

Bear with me. That was the title of a short play in three acts, meant to be performed during the 55-minute duration of a class period, which I cranked out in the waning days of my senior year in high school — Yorktown High, if anyone cares, in Arlington, Virginia, 1971. I was sixteen.

The plot barely returns to me. There were stock college characters like the chubby guy who drinks a lot. There was an ill-starred romance involving a couple who had mistakenly used Crest instead of contraceptive jelly with a diaphragm and so she was knocked up and he was panicky and they were trying to strategize (it was a couple years before Roe v. Wade), and she had a pet parakeet named Mr. Bumby, who was represented by a covered cage and the cast’s reactions to an imaginary escaped bird who shat on them at the conclusion of the second act, and there was campus activism planned in the third.

At the moment that the war protest became a fracas our heroes retreated from the clash point, but for whatever reason, because I was being snarky and socially conscious all at once, one of our posse who was tall and buff but couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag entered in fatigues wearing a legacy Army helmet from some past generation of his family and sporting a toy rifle, and voices off shouted “Bang” as virtually every cast member in the production fell to the ground, shot, by the peacekeeping National Guard. Because Kent State, if you remember?

I wasn’t even that much of a firebrand. I had never stood on a protest line. (That happened later, with the Hyde Amendment,) I just knew at the rough age of consent in my state that something was fucked, very fucked, about a point in history where kids saying we don’t want to die don’t send us to die don’t send our friends to die was greeted with the killing breath of National Guard rifles.

A few years later a book was published with the title “Don’t Shoot — We Are Your Children!” The New York Times uttered a rather patronizing review, commenting on the extremism of Jerry Rubin and the drug habits of some of the young people profiled. Bleh.

Don’t shoot.

Here we are in 2018 and the children are both shooting and being shot. But also the adults. Both ends. It just seems to take the young uns, who’ve grown up doing active shooter drills, to stand up and say hey, it stops here, and also we can now VOTE.

Pushback is predictable. The National Review scorned one of the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting for “inserting himself” into the firearms debate, as if he had a fucking choice.

Don’t shoot, we are your children.

Don’t shoot, we are you and you are we.

America needs to come to the end of its love affair with the thing that goes bang. A hundred Indians bite the dust, right? Well it’s 2018 and we’re all out of Indians, who didn’t ask for it in the first place, and it’s us. It’s some asshole with a grievance and access to a killing machine and it’s us. I think twice about going to movies. It needs to stop.

Bye to the avocadoes of indifference. Welcome anyone who seriously, earnestly gives a shit. I’ve gone all political here. I can’t help it. I’m past clever belles lettres and cat stories, though there will be more of those; I just can’t deal blithely with my nation any more.

Do what you can, American readers, to support the people marching on March 24.

 

Rhymes With Orange (II)

My father — he’s been dead ten years and more now, and for most of the twenty-seven before that he was swanning around saying “I have no daughter” when people asked — complicated story — well, families suck, but he was a man who could tell a story, which redeems a lot. He played the French Horn in The United States Army Band, or TUSAB, an acronym which was stenciled on everything in sight at the Fort Myer band auditorium, puzzling me in my childhood when I was often dragged along on quick missions on base. Everything on base was either dingy light yellow, battleship grey, or brown, wavy linoleum. It’s much spiffier now, but these were the days of clapboard “temporary” buildings” that had been temping along since the end of the war.

I guess you could call my father a veteran. He never saw even the back end of a battlefield, having bad eyes and flat feet, the dead last of cohorts to be deployed, and in his abortive memoir of the war years, he described his ohmigodIdontwanttogetmyassshotoff moment of truth when he sent home for his horn to try out for the camp band. He had observed that troops shipped in and troops shipped out, but the band stayed. It worked. And he became a military bandsman for life, playing the last honors for countless veterans laid to rest in Arlington, playing for President Kennedy’s funeral while I huddled at home with a bad flu, tearfully watching everything on a tiny black and white screen. He gave his respect where it was deserved. Where it was not, he found… ways of expressing himself.

He got moved around to two more bases before the war ended — the last one in Georgia, commanded by a generally despised officer named Braun who had, the rumor went, been sent back from the European theater for vague “inhumane” behavior. According to my dad, he was a stuck up little martinet, fond of Draconian penalties, who relished little more than the regularly performed base “pass in review” — when the infantry had to march in formation past the reviewing stand, saluting as they went, metronomed into line by the base band playing a march as they, too, strode by. Base personnel speculated that a little Nazi had rubbed off on him.

There were tuba players in the band, of course, and they were friends with my father; there is a freemasonry among all musicians but a distinct one among brass players, who seem to share a crude, mutinous sense of humor. I think it is because of the farting noises that you invariably make while trying to learn the right way of getting a sound out of a brass instrument. (Note for what it is worth: I learned to play the oboe.) If you don’t have the inner eleven-year-old that remains capable of laughing hysterically at this kind of noise all your life, you may not be a brass section candidate.

Somewhere along the line, someone coined a cantrip on the notes so-so-so-so-la-ti-do-re-mi, mi, re, do! with the potted German everybody-talk lyric: “Was ist die Farbe, dem Pferdenscheiss? Braun, braun, braun!” [What’s the color of horse-shit? Brown, brown, brown!] It went around the base rapidly, as such things do in time of war when people need to blow off steam and frustration at being dragged off the farm or out of the family store, or just ward off fear of deployment.

Thereafter, every time the band passed in front of Colonel Braun on the reviewing stand, no matter what march was being played, the tuba section on a high sign would play that melody. History does not record whether the CO ever noticed, for all anyone knows he was tone deaf, but people felt better.

I understand the current denizen of the Oval wants a big ass military parade across Memorial Bridge, with tanks and things — never mind that it’s ready to fall into the Potomac — and down Pennsylvania Avenue.

I suppose you don’t really need a rhyme for orange. Or oh-rang-eh as it would be in German. Just a suitably disgusting substance. Any ideas? Slime mold? Metamucil? I’m almost ready to call up my dad on the Ouija board.