If Witch Hunts and Bullying are Wrong, I Don’t Want to be Right

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives, that wonderfully absurd and inept collection of lunatics and extremists, outdid itself on two fronts.

The first is the saga of the Speaker of the House: A few weeks ago, the House “Freedom Caucus,” forty of the wackiest wackos representing the farthest right of the right wing, forced John {“Weeping Willow”) Boehner out as the Speaker of the House.  After meeting with the Pope, “Cry me a River”Boehner announced his resignation.  This may finally be evidence of the infallibility of the Pope. Maybe he really does have a connection with God. The presumed successor, Kevin McCarthy (not to be confused with the star of the 1956 sci-fi classic film, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” but rather the House of 2015 horror feature, “Night of the Brain Dead”) bowed out after hints of scandal,, but not before admitting that the House Benghazi committee is politically motivated to hurt democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, I know, it’s shocking.  Everybody knows that, just like everybody knows fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent on your car insurance. But more on Benghazi later. Desperate for a new speaker to abuse and manipulate, the GOP turned to Wisconsin Representative and confirmed idiot Paul “Ayn Rand” Ryan (who would win an IQ battle with Wisconsin Governor and former presidential candidate Scott “All in all you’re just another brick in my wall between the U.S. and Canada” Walker by a single digit … say, nine to eight). Ryan said he’d take the job if 1) the Freedom Caucus would support him and 2) so long as he can maintain time with his family as a priority. This stand was lauded by peers and pundits from both sides of the aisle as heroic and noble. But then a look at his voting record revealed hypocrisy, not heroism, as he voted against the Family Leave Act.  The fact that in 2014 the House was scheduled to work a whopping 113 days (about 112 more than necessary for their output) doesn’t help, either, as it doesn’t seem that difficult to balance work with family when you’re off 252 out of 365 days.

As for the “freedom caucus,” we’ll see how much they are in line the next time they decide to try and shut the government down over whatever silly and manufactured issue is the next to tie their undies in knots.

Then there was yesterday’s Benghazi hearing, where Clinton was put on stand for nearly eleven hours. Everybody was shocked and surprised that Clinton made mincemeat out of the amateurish attempts to catch her in a “gotcha” moment and that that no new information was revealed in this, the eighth Benghazi committee conducting the 13th public hearing. Twenty nine  ARB findings and countless “I take full responsibility” statements by Clinton weren’t enough for the Republicans – they had to get to the bottom of this, and find out what things went wrong, and who was responsible. Twenty million of the taxpayers’ dollars later, the end result is twenty nine ARB findings and Clinton’s acceptance of responsibility.  But that’s okay – the Republicans can try again.  They’re nothing if not persistent – this is the same body that has voted more than fifty times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. After all, with that demanding 113 days work schedule, what else are they going to do?  Vote on the bi-partisan immigration reform bill that passed the senate in 2013?  Come on, get real – there’s only so much you can’t do.

One thing it turns out they can do is give Hillary a not really needed so much boost in the polls, The hearings turned into an all-day campaign ad for Clinton, who was calm, cool, and armed with facts, the Kryptonite to the super powers of lies and innuendos that work so well for the Republicans in the fantasy world of Fox News but in the real world, well, not so super.  It was fascinating watching Jim Jordan and Martha Roby get more exhausted and frustrated as the day wore on, until they both cracked and looked really bad.  All while Clinton, who the marathon session and the relentless questioning was deigned to exhaust and frustrate and crack, kept her cool, slowly and patiently reciting fact after fact in great detail, taking up the inquisitors’ allotted time.

So what do we take away from this?  I think one thing is that this charade of making everything a political game has got to stop.  One term that was heard over and over in the hearing was “Arb,” or ARB, which stands for Accountability Review Board.  The ARB process was put in place after the Beirut disaster in 1983, when 241 marines were killed in an attack on their barracks.  It’s been used countless times since, in a bi-partisan and non-political fashion, to document lessons learned and best demonstrated practices to prevent these tragedies from re-occurring, After Benghazi, an ARB came up with 29 recommendations, 25  of which were implemented immediately.  The eight committees and $20 million spent have added no value, not even as an anti-Hillary political attack, as it’s transparency resulted in a backfire that has actually strengthened Clinton’s candidacy.

Here’s the bottom line about the current state of politics in the USA:  The political right has been taken over by extremists to the point that the entire Republican party has shifted so far that candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson have a real chance at winning the nomination.  Meanwhile, the divide between left and right has become so wide that virtually everyone has already decided where they stand, and nothing will change their outlook.  I have no question that there are those on the right who feel as passionately that Hillary revealed herself to be a monster as I believe she showed remarkable skill, restraint, and resolve. It’s all pure emotion, and logic and reason aren’t part of the equation. This is how Jeb Bush can literally, in one minute, blame Clinton for Benghazi, saying “the Secretary of State is responsible,” and the next be completely befuddled when it’s suggested that by that same logic, brother  George W. was responsible for 9/11. Everybody has already made up their mind.

Yet that doesn’t stop billions and billions of dollars being funneled into our political campaigns. All told, there are approximately twenty three people out across this great nation of ours who are undecided, who don’t know where they stand  A majority of these are people who recently fell and hit their heads on a rock, or Sasquatches, or some other mythical creature. These undecided voters are the people who all the money is being spent on, who will eventually choose our next president.

Heaven help us.

Breath of Fresh Air

(This is a short excerpt from the new novel I’ve started writing – I’ve been having fun letting it take me where it goes and discovering its stories.)

It was 3:00 on a cold Saturday morning in January of 1947, just hours after seeing his own father for the first time in fifteen years, and locked out of his own bedroom by his wife, when my father, Corey Tyler, drunk and disoriented, realized that he was soon going to be a father himself. He stood in the living room of his small upstairs apartment, staring at his closed bedroom door, and tried to comprehend everything that had happened in the past several hours.

His mind was racing from one image to the next, from his father’s eyes as they looked into his own to his wife’s moist eyes as she told him she was pregnant, to the German SS soldier’s panicked and wide eyes in Dachau as he pleaded for his life seconds before Corey ended it with a single cartridge fired point blank from his M-1 and the sound of the subsequent shots as Corey emptied his clip into the soldier’s already dead body, and the clicking sound as Corey continued squeezing the trigger until he felt Sergeant Harris’ right hand on his shoulder.

He found himself staring into the ice box unsuccessfully trying to find another beer. Then he tried the kitchen cabinet where he kept the hard liquor.  All that was left was a couple of ounces at the bottom of a bottle of brandy; he took the bottle and undid the top and raised it to his lips and emptied it down his throat. It burned as it went down, the familiar warm burn of a wildfire hungry for more fuel. He put his army fatigue coat back on and walked out the back door of the apartment and stood in the little landing at the top of the stairs and buttoned it up. He walked down the stairs and stepped outside into the cold and clean night air, down the gravel driveway to the sidewalk. He started walking to the west, where it was only one short block to Main Street.

When he got to Main Street, he stood for a moment and adjusted his eyes to the glow of the streetlights.  He looked up and down and it was empty, no cars parked in front of the store fronts, no traffic on either the street or the sidewalks. He knew the bars and Fred’s Liquor Store were all closed, but he walked to them anyway, hoping that somehow he was wrong, and that he’d be able to satisfy the empty ache in his gut.  But one by one, as he passed The Bull Market, Smitty’s, and the Foxes Den, and finally Fred’s, there was no drunken miracle unfolding to provide him with that just one more drink.

He reached the end of Main Street, his search for a drink proving fruitless, and the still, cold quiet doing nothing to silence the noise in his head. He kept walking, turning south on Sixth Street and continuing on past  the darkened homes  and empty driveways.  He found himself at the corner of Sixth Street and Logger Avenue, two blocks from the shack with the dirt floor that he lived in with his mom and brothers and sisters in the winter of 1933, after his father had left them with no warning or explanation. He knew there was nothing left of it, that it’d been torn down years earlier, but still he was compelled to walk down the darkened street and observe the space the shack used to occupy.

The shack was in the backyard, facing the alley, of the owner and landlord, Mr. Peters, a skinny little weasel of a man who worked as an accountant at the paper mill. Randy told him stories about Mr, Peters, things that Corey was too young to have known about, how he’d hit on their mom and offer her discounts in rent in return for certain favors, and how he beat his young wife, Mrs. Peters, a pretty and young blonde who Randy had a crush on.

The shack and Mr. and Mrs. Peters were both long gone now, the Peters’ having sold the property and moving downstate some time ago. The very first thing the new owners did was tear down the shack, and at some point they erected the chain link fence that Corey leaned on as he looked out to the empty space that his memory still occupied.  He thought about Randy, and Mrs. Peters and how her blonde hair would bounce when she walked, and he thought about his mom, how tough it must have been for her to live there, keeping Mr. Peters’ at bay while trying to keep her family together while trying to understand why her husband had left.  And here he was, on the night that his wife told him she was pregnant, alone in the dark, while she slept alone behind a locked door, locked to keep him out. He inhaled and filled his lungs with cold, fresh air.

He thought about the moment he shared with his father earlier that night, when their eyes locked on each other, and he wondered what it was he saw there, what it was he recognized, and it came to him. It was the same thing that had driven his father to leave that drove Corey to be outside in the middle of the cold night.  It was the same thing that drove him to drink, to leave his wife alone night after night. It wasn’t the same specific thing that made them both leave, it was the thing inside of them, the thing that let whatever haunted his father haunt him, just like it was the German soldier at Dachau that haunted Corey. It’d always been with him, even before the war, it’d been handed down years ago from the small man in the plaid wool coat in the Lyons’ Den, it was in his blood. Now he knew it, and he was able to name it, to put his finger on it, while at the same time he wondered if he’d ever be able to defeat it. He knew now that his father was powerless against the restlessness that drove him away from his home and family, and he understood that now, just like he understood that he was destined to stand in the dark on the outside of chain link fences looking back at his own pasts.

He thought of Anne and their honeymoon and his heart broke, and he realized that every night he came home late to a dark apartment he was chipping another fragment off of her crumbling heart, and he wondered if he’d already damaged it beyond repair. He turned his collar up and started walking again, further into the darkened streets, and he thought of his unborn child, safe and warm inside Anne’s body, and the cold and dark world it will have to enter, alone, a world of death and mutilation, and for the first time since he’d been out on the streets he could hear the echo of his footsteps in the cold and still night air.


This morning, while walking laps around the gym to cool down after my workout at the cardiac center, it occurred to me that I felt great.

I’ve done enough whining and moaning on this site about my experiences with Parkinson’s disease and my heart bypass surgery nearly six months ago. Like most people, I easily get lost in self-pity from time to time and wallow in the “poor me” depths that I frequently sink into. These moments are real and demand to be dealt with, else they become all consuming.  But it’s just as important to acknowledge those times, temporary though they might be, when the pain and discomfort subside. It’s these moments, when one’s vision isn’t clouded by disease, that clarity is available. We just need to prod ourselves to look for it.

As I walked my laps, I looked out the big second floor window onto the Kenosha neighborhood below. It’s a modest, older working class neighborhood, with unpretentious two story houses and bungalows, most built in the forties or fifties, the streets lined with mature oak and maple trees.  The leaves on the maples are just beginning to change, small bursts of orange that explode and sparkle against the deep green backdrop of the leaves that haven’t changed yet, reminding them that transformation and death awaits. It was a brilliant morning, the sun shining bright and the sky bright blue splashed with specks of white clouds. Through the plate glass window, I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and I could see the breeze make the leaves on the trees tremble and shake. It was all perfect, the sun, the sky, the leaves, and the traffic, the cars in the street driven by everyday people living everyday lives, too busy and preoccupied with everyday minutia to be aware of the beauty and wonder that is all around them, and it struck me that that was okay, that there is beauty and wonder in the minutia as well.

My laps complete, I went downstairs and walked outside, where I was greeted by the cool autumn air and the crisp breeze that was blowing out of the north.  I drew a breath of fresh air deep into my lungs and marveled at what a wonderful thing it is to breathe, to taste clean and pure air, to feel my lungs expand and contract. I’m alive, and for a moment I knew, I comprehended, what that meant, and it meant everything. I was grateful for everything that had ever happened in the almost fifty seven years I’ve been on the planet, and everything that happened since the dawn of time, all the random circumstance and chance that brought me to the sidewalk outside of Kenosha Memorial hospital at 9:41 this morning. And I was grateful that my heart still beat beneath my chest, and for the moments yet to occur that I will be fortunate enough to experience.

My oldest brother, Mike, took his own life nearly five years ago. I am warmed by his memory, what a great guy he was, and how important of a part of some of my best moments he was.  At the same time I am haunted by his absence, and by regret for things that I wish I’d done differently. I wish I’d recognized the pain that drove him to suicide, and more than anything, I wish I’d told him what a beautiful and perfect part he was of a world so beautiful and perfect that one is free to breathe in its essence every minute of every day.