A Hard Rain


So Bob Dylan won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. There’s been a lot of controversy about whether a songwriter is really a creator of literature, but I’d argue that there have been maybe three or four artists who have consistently written lyrics that are worthy of being classified as literature, and of those, only Dylan would qualify for consideration of a Nobel Prize.

Dylan has long been a personal hero of mine.  Above all, it’s his songwriting and his performances that I’ve admired so much.  I’ve also admired his eccentricities, his I don’t give a fuck if you think I can’t sing or I’m weird or whatever.  Dylan has always done what Dylan wants to do, and he’s remained relevant and vital and enigmatic for more than fifty years now.

Dylan didn’t attend the Nobel conference, but he did pass along a warmly worded note expressing his respect for the institution and his sense of honor for winning.  Best of all, they got the great Patti Smith to perform “Hard Rain” on his behalf.

It was the perfect selection of singer and song.  “Hard Rain” is even more relevant now than it’s always been before, given Donald Trump and the threatening cloud of nationalism that is advancing across the world.  The horrors of Syria and the atrocities occurring in the Philippines along with tumult in Gambia and the specter of Russian aggression all portend the eruption of those dark clouds into maybe the hardest rain the world has ever seen.  And even when Smith bungled a couple of lines in the middle of the performance and admitted her nervousness, it seemed right, that even a poet and songwriter and singer as great and formidable as Smith could be humbled in the presence of Dylan’s work.  That she recovered and was still able to get to the emotional core of the song is testament to the greatness of both artists.

“Hard Rain” is Dylan as prophet.  In the song, the singer’s “blue-eyed son” has returned from a long journey that can only be interpreted as a trip into the future.  He describes the sights and sounds and the people he encountered there as nothing short of apocalyptic.  In the first verse, he describes the physical landscape in terms that become increasingly horrific, culminating in “dead oceans” and “ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard.”

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son
And where have you been, my darling young one
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

The second verse describes the people and cultures that dominate, and again, the images are so clear and concise and horrific. From a “newborn baby with wild wolves all around it” to “a black branch with blood that kept dripping,” there’s a sense of abandonment and isolation. Nearly fifty years before Sandy Hook, Dylan wrote about what at the time would have been unthinkable:  “Guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children.” And the “ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken” seems accurate, too, as there is so much hysterical and vitriolic and ineffective talk from both sides but no real communication.

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son
And what did you see, my darling young one
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Then he describes what he heard.  Note that as the verse goes on, the sounds become quieter and more personal, ranging from the roars of thunder and tidal waves to the cry from an alley.  This apocalypse is more than the death and destruction of the masses, it is also the end of individualism.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

The next verse is the most conflicted, as the dark imagery (“a young child beside a dead pony”) is somewhat balanced by shred of hope and beauty (the young girl who gave him a rainbow.) He meets two wounded men, one “wounded in love,” one “wounded with hatred.” This is the line in the song that I have the most trouble interpreting.  It’s also one of my favorite lines.  Is he saying that in the end, love and hate are equal in their ability to inflict hurt?

Oh, what did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And finally, what is the prophet to do with the knowledge he gained from his journey?  He’s “going back out before the rain starts falling” to “tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it.”  This last verse is incredibly powerful and beautiful.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

 I don’t know how anybody could deny that “Hard Rain” is literature.  The raw beauty and power and emotion captured in these words are undeniably great.  “Hard Rain” highlights the humanity, the unshakable integrity and profound genius of a true prophet.

Ever since the election in November, I’ve been unable to express the feelings of overwhelming dread and loss that I’ve been experiencing. Believe me, I get no pleasure in being right about things that are so wrong, and if I am proven wrong about how bad I think things are going to get, I’ll be unapologetically glad. I’ve been looking for something to describe what I’m feeling and fearing, and have been unable to articulate it. Then I returned to “Hard Rain,” and realized that it perfectly summed up what was going on in my head and my heart. And this is what great literature has done for me time and time again.  Whether it was “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers or “Big Two Hearted River” by Ernest Hemingway or “Two Soldiers” by William Faulkner, it’s shone a light into the darkest recesses of my soul and helped me walk out. More than anything, it’s made me realize I am not alone.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan, Nobel Prize winner.  You know your song well, and thanks to your amazing gift, so do I.

 

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Dirty Jobs: On Mike Rowe, Donald Trump, and the Forgotten


Last night, I did what I rarely do – I went on a rant on Facebook. I know, I know, that is about the biggest waste of time one can experience, but the post I was responding to really hit a nerve with me.

The post was Mike Rowe’s response to a journalist’s response to an article Rowe had written after the election.

Let me begin by saying I’ve been a fan of Rowe’s for some time, ever since I saw the first episode of his television show, “Dirty Jobs.” I’ve always found the subject of work fascinating, in terms of how people do their jobs and how they relate to their jobs and co-workers.  Rowe shares this passion, and I always admired the respect he paid for the subjects of his shows. That he is funny and has a sophisticated wit and self-deprecating sense of humor only add to his appeal.  It also helps that, with his frequent posts on Facebook, it’s obvious that the guy can write.

It’s also become clear that Rowe is politically more conservative than I am. Despite the directions we might lean, I find myself, more often than not, agreeing with what he says, particularly when it comes to work.  Rowe has said (I’m paraphrasing here) that instead of following your passion, let your passion follow you. In other words, rather than wait for your dream job, bring your passion and work ethic to any other job that might be available and get to work. I whole heartedly agree with this sentiment, as work is as vital as air to breathe and water to drink.  There’s a reason they call work “making a living,” as not working is not living. It’s work and our approach to work that gives us a sense of purpose and pride, and a sense of belonging to a community.  Rowe has also railed against the “Work smarter, not harder” sentiment that’s been embraced by guidance counselors for the past twenty years or so, and I couldn’t agree with him more – smarter and harder are not mutually exclusive, we should do both, work harder and smarter. It’s the mentality that one should be frightened of “hard” work, a mentality that has eroded the work ethic. Rowe also supports training efforts to fill skill gaps, like heavy equipment operators, that have persisted and remained unfilled even through the heights of the great recession. I’m with Mike on nearly all of these points.

What made me respond on Facebook last night was the fact that the primary demographic that elected Donald Trump was “uneducated” (hate that term – it refers to not college graduates) whites. I was born into this group and lived there for most of my life (I went to night school and got a Bachelor’s Degree from Columbia College from Missouri, but if I’m honest about it, it’s not a very impressive credential, as the course work was designed for the working adult and not very challenging).  So these are people I know. These are people who are my family.  These are hardworking, good people I’ve admired and looked up to my entire life.

I’ve been tossing and turning ever since the election, wondering how we, the middle to lower class white people, could have elected Donald Trump president and unleashed him to the world.  Forget for just a moment the racist and misogynist sentiment of his over the top rhetoric and consider just what Trump is: an elitist and arrogant snob who has no appreciation for the hard work performed every day by the tradesmen and blue collar and service sector employees who design, build, and work in his luxury hotels and casinos.

Then when you throw in the racist and misogynist rhetoric, it becomes even more baffling how a group that I still believe is not racist, who were as disgusted as I was when Trump made his infamous remarks to Billy Bush on that bus, men who have wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, could get behind Trump.  I understand the need for change, and the perceived crookedness of his opponent, but I personally could never vote for a man who said all of the hateful things Trump said.

So Rowe’s article on the election was countered by a reporter named Gillian Branstetter, (http://www.dailydot.com/upstream/mike-rowe-facebook-post/) followed by Rowe’s reaction to her reaction (https://www.facebook.com/TheRealMikeRowe/posts/1336751243001682?comment_id=1490147844335983&notif_t=like&notif_id=1479379502729421 ), which prompted my reaction (below).  To sum up, while I agree with most of what Rowe says, I have to challenge him or anyone else who tries to speak for this group to account for the racism and sexism that whether representative of a small minority or a larger majority of its members, was a key ingredient in the toxic stew that they all voted for.

. . .

I think that Mr. Rowe’s theory that the election represented a forgotten working class is dead-on – at the same time, one can’t overlook the unprecedented open racism espoused by Trump and embraced by this same class.  Rowe says that “the winner was NOT decided by a racist and craven nation – it was decided by millions of disgusted Americans desperate for real change.”  But far too many of them are willing to embrace racism as a means of affecting that real change. Trump’s campaign openly and cravenly embraced racism and hatred.

And Donald Trump – Donald Trump! – becomes the spokesman for these people?  The same Donald Trump who has refused to pay contractors who built and designed his casinos? The same Donald Trump who has bankrupted so many small businesses? I’d love to see a “Dirty Jobs” episode about the bricklayers or cabinet makers and all the other tradesmen who’ve worked for and been stiffed by Trump. The same Donald Trump who was born into wealth and privilege, who’s never done an honest day’s work in his life, the same Donald Trump who has paid no income taxes for the past twenty years?  And is proud of it, calling himself smart?  What does that make the rest of us who paid our taxes – stupid?  And all the talk about crumbling infrastructure and run down airports, etc. etc, that he complains about – well, Trump contributed to this state by not contributing his fair share of taxes.

So how is it that such a charlatan, such a con man, as Donald Trump became the spokesman for a class large enough to make him President? Rowe is correct that Trump saw a group that had been neglected by both political parties.  His status as an outsider would appeal to this group. He gave voice to them after they’d been ignored so long that they were able to overlook the fact that he wasn’t, never was and never will be, one of them.

But that wasn’t enough, and this is where Trump doubled down on his strategy and decided to go all-in. It was all the fault of the cultural elite who comprised the establishment wings of both the Democratic and the Republican Parties.  Trump’s genius was declaring war on not just the liberals but on the party that nominated him, too.  He was the classic third party candidate, railing against the elitist snobs who controlled both the left and the right, except he’d hijacked the Republican party.  It was a wonderfully subversive strategy, to bore himself into the apple that is the American political system and eat away at it from within.

But even that wasn’t enough. His strategy may have been adequate to get the Republican nomination, but to win the national election by doubling down on this forgotten segment of society would only work if they all showed up at the polls.  He had to inspire them.

And what inspires people into taking action more than fear? And boy, there sure was a lot of fear in this white, working class society.  There was the fear of being left behind, as in 2012 whites became for the first time, at 49% of the population, a minority.  The news was filled with stories about the changing demographics of the country that immigration was causing.  It’s no coincidence that from the moment he announced his candidacy, Trump made immigration the central theme of the election, even though the rate of illegals entering the country was at decades low levels.  It also was no coincidence that at that first campaign appearance he referred to Latinos as rapists and murderers.

From there the rhetoric became even more heated, with Muslims the next target, as he proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the country.  He also, during one of the Republican debates, advocated the state sponsored murder of family members of terrorists.  At the end of the campaign, he picked up an endorsement from that grand old American institution, the Ku Klux Klan.

The cynical calculation he made was that by embracing these extremist groups he would motivate a greater number of those at the bottom of the barrel to get out and vote than the number of people who’d be offended enough to stay home.  It may have been a cynical calculation, but in the end, it was an accurate one. Remember when he said “I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone on national television and not lose a vote?” That may have been the most perceptive comment made by anyone in the entire campaign.

If Mr. Rowe, or anyone else, for that matter, decides that he wants to be the champion of this class, then he is going to have to be willing to recognize not just the legitimate neglect they’ve suffered from the American political system, but he needs to also address the racism and misogyny that has taken root in Trump’s fertile topsoil of hatred and prejudice. It is undeniable, it is real, it is terrifying, and it is un-American, and if left untended to, will spread and devour everything we once stood for.

The Final Straw


Last night sucked, but it didn’t occur in a vacuum. History has a way of repeating itself, and we have a way of making the same mistakes that have been made before.

It’s been seventy one years since the end of World War Two. With the war having been fought on another hemisphere, the United States was the only major country involved that didn’t have to rebuild.   As a result, we became the world’s greatest power and the undisputed leader of the free world.  Taking our responsibility seriously, we forged a foreign policy focused on building international alliances and strengthening the bonds amongst our allies. There were three major initiatives and organizations that took shape:  one, the Marshall Plan, which provided U.S. funded aid to countries devastated by the war, two, the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a means of protecting the U.S. and its western Europe allies against Soviet Union aggression, and three, the United Nations, organized to promote international cooperation and prevent a reoccurrence of the international conflicts that had led to two World Wars.

The other major development in this time was the creation of nuclear arsenals in the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. The cold war remained cold due to the threat of mutual destruction. The world had shrunk from a geo-political standpoint, and although wars continued (the U.S. in Korea and Vietnam, the Soviets in Afghanistan, etc.), the international scope of the world wars was avoided.

Then in the seventies and eighties, as the countries we helped rebuild through the Marshall Plan recovered, the world began to shrink economically, with Japan and later China emerging as economic super powers, competitive with the U.S.  As the 21st century emerged, advances in technology further shrinkened the globe, giving rise to the multi-national corporation and a truly global economy.

As a reaction to the global economy, regional trade agreements and alliances were formed. In the 1990s, with enormous bi-partisan support (in fact, primary opposition came from his own party, the Democrats), Bill Clinton negotiated and signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was designed to open economic borders and accelerate and incentivize commerce in the western hemisphere.  At the same time, western Europe was forming the European Union, which went even further than NAFTA, creating a shared economy among its twenty eight members, even going so far as to create a common currency, the Euro. In 2016, the Trans Pacific Partnership was signed by twelve countries, including President Obama. Intended to remove barriers and enhance economic development in the region, it remains unratified by the United States, with strong opposition from both the left and the right.

The result of the globalization of the economy and the great recession has resulted in enormous economic stress and upheaval.  The low cost of labor and loose regulatory climate of third world work forces became attractive alternatives for corporations headquartered in the west. The loss of service and manufacturing jobs enabled by technology, coupled with the banking collapse of 2008, has resulted in an erosion of the middle class in the United States and other western countries.

This is where history begins to repeat itself. Blame has to be affixed somewhere.

History shows us revolution occurs when the middle class becomes stressed to the breaking point, and I believe that is what is happening now.  The results of last night’s election, coupled with the rise of right wing extremism in the United Kingdom, the Philippines, and France, and the growing boldness of Russian aggression, is a direct reaction to the loss of power by the middle class, and is nothing short of a revolution.  The problem is, revolutions are not always well thought out or even rational.  When revolution is combined with Nationalism, the results are downright frightening.

There are those this morning saying that the election of Trump is being met with unfounded hysteria.  But when you look at the scope of what’s happened not just last night but in the past eight years, you begin to realize the extent of the change that has, with a great degree of certainty, already reached a point of no return.

Last night was nothing short of the end of American democracy.

How did we get here?  We got here by watching the multi-national corporations take our jobs and then our democracy away. The extreme right wing fringe of our society took over by buying out first our senate and then, last night, the other two branches of government.  Last night was the final nail in the coffin of American democracy and the completion of the overthrow of our government.  You think I’m exaggerating?  Look no further than congress’s thumbing of its nose at the constitution and refusal to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nomination. Now, after last night, the far right has control of all three branches of government.  And if you think they’re going to give any of that control up any time soon, well, I’ve got some stock in “entitlement reform” I’d like to sell you.

The election of Donald Trump is a textbook repeat of how the Fascists gained control in Italy and Germany prior to World War Two. Trump appealed to the “silent majority,” the working class white people. He convinced them that the legitimate losses they’ve seen in wages and power were due to illegitimate causes, the minorities and criminal classes that have been exploited even more than they’ve been.  Listening to his acceptance speech last night and how he was going to rebuild our infrastructure was to take a chapter out of Mein Kempf. By rebuilding the crumbling roads and bridges left over from the destruction of World War One, Hitler was able to rally the eroding middle class around him and whip them into a nationalistic fervor.

The distrust in the global economy and associated institutions has been endlessly exploited by Trump. He’s advocated the dissolution of NATO and railed against the unfairness of regional trade agreements (some of which, to be fair, is justified – but there can be no disputing the global nature of today’s economy and the need to be participants). The United Nations has long been a target of derision along the extreme right – it’s only a matter of time before our withdrawal from the institution is proposed. According to Trump, we need to become isolationists, with a wall around our southern border, else we “don’t have a country.”

Ant that is consistent with his racist and xenophobic rhetoric – along with the great Tijuana wall, we must ban all Muslims from entering the country, so we can make America white, I mean, great again. That our first black president will be succeeded by our first president to be openly endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, well, I guess that’s just a necessary little tidbit of irony.

Never mind that Trump is a narcissist.   Never mind that he is an unstable maniac.  That he will be the most powerful man in the world, with his finger on the nuclear arsenal, is just a bonus we get when we go down this new path we’ve chosen.

It’s been seventy plus years now since the end of World War Two – apparently, long enough for people to forget about what caused it and the horror it inflicted on the world.  But there can be no mistaking the simple fact that the rise of Donald Trump is the face of the fall of the American Empire.

Snake Oil


The liars at the NRA are at it again with a new television commercial. If you haven’t seen it yet, it features an attractive woman waking up alone in the middle of the night to the sounds of a shadowy intruder in her home.  As the voice over explains that it takes an average of eleven minutes for authorities to respond to a 911 call, she reaches for a gun in a gun safe on top of her dresser. But the gun vanishes as the voice over explains that “Hillary Clinton could take away her right to self-defense.”

It’s the same nonsense that Donald Trump has been spreading about how if elected, Hillary would “do away with the second amendment,” as if that were even possible.  While she has proposed relatively minor and common sense increases in gun control, unless the woman purchased her weapon from a gun show or one of the other loop-holes that don’t require registration, her gun will still be there. The commercial is more of the nonsensical paranoid “Obama’s going to take your guns away” fantasy that the NRA has been perpetuating for the past eight years. And as their subjects shoot each other up and as the body count rises, they and their gun manufacturing masters continue laughing all the way to their affluent suburban bank.

The simple fact is that president Obama has been the best thing to ever happen to gun and ammo manufacturers. Eight years into his presidency, there are more guns in circulation than ever before, and even as we’ve experienced the nightmares of Newtown and Aurora and the countless other mass shootings, even as we’ve made the jobs of law enforcement even more difficult with the passage of open and concealed carry laws, the extremism and fear mongering perpetuated by the NRA continues unabated, and as its constituency digs in, the second amendment becomes its shield.

This devotion to the constitution might be considered noble if it wasn’t so selective. One need only look at the other amendments that Trump has proposed violating:

  • His immigration policy of “mass deportations” would violate the Fourth Amendment‘s ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures,” as well as the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by relying on racial profiling.
  • His proposed ban on Muslims would violate the First Amendment.
  • His proposed “database” of Muslims would violate the Fifth Amendment.
  • His advocacy of state-sponsored torture would violate the Fifth and Eighth Amendments.
  • His proposal for “opening up the libel laws” to enable  the executive branch to sue the media would violate the First Amendment.
  • His support for mass surveillance and the bulk collection of citizens’ data would violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

That’s a total of five amendments that Trump’s policies would trash – and there are probably more, as I am no constitutional scholar.  Yet the NRA would have us ignore these in order to protect ourselves from a moderate interpretation of the Second Amendment?

None of this makes any sense – especially when you consider that the supposed foundation of political conservatism is the prevention of government overreach. How can the very same people who fear the government coming to their homes and removing their guns be okay with the same government locking up and deporting millions of people?  How can they be so sensitive to perceived slights to their religion and support a ban on another religion?

The answer is that a large chunk of the modern conservatives in this country are fear ridden and selfish idiots who can’t see the forest for the trees. Only Jesus and guns can save their narrow minded white asses from the black and brown people who are so frightening to them that they’d throw away everything this country has stood for so that an orange haired lunatic con man can protect them. That they buy the snake oil he is selling is a reminder that there is no constitutional amendment against stupidity.

Tuesday Morning


Last year, on Easter Sunday of 2015, my wife took me to the emergency room after I experienced pains in my chest and left arm. They ran a bunch of preliminary tests and everything looked fine, but the doctor admitted me anyway until I could undergo a stress test, which he ordered for me to take Monday morning.

To make a long story short, the stress test almost killed me, and I ended up in Intensive Care for a couple of hours. Finally, after running more tests, they were able to determine that three of the arteries to my heart were badly constricted, with one at 99% blocked. They scheduled me for triple bypass surgery early Tuesday morning, and they closely monitored me all that night.

Monday evening, my wife sat with me in my room. I don’t remember much about what we talked about, other than telling each other how lucky we were to have caught this in the nick of time and how much better I’d feel after it was all over and my recovery was complete. Finally, sometime around ten o’clock, we realized how exhausted we both were and what a long day Tuesday promised to be, so she went home to try and get a few hours of sleep while I’d try to do the same in my hospital bed.

An hour or two later I woke up from dozing and saw the empty chair where she’d been sitting all evening. Only it wasn’t the chair I saw, rather, it was our bed at home, and I saw my side empty and my wife sleeping alone, and it hit me: there was a chance, if things didn’t go well during the operation or in the immediate days of recovery afterwards, that I’d already spent my last night sleeping in bed with my arm wrapped around her. For the first time since my hour or two stay in Intensive Care, the gravity of what I was going through and the permanence of death really hit me.  It wasn’t her eyes or her face or her skin or her voice that I thought of.  It wasn’t the laughs or the secrets we’ve shared. It wasn’t the deep friendship and comradery we’ve spent a lifetime forging.  It wasn’t any one of the million waking real world things I love about her.

It was instead the sleep we share every night, our bodies pressed against each other, the rising and falling of her breath, and the rhythm of our hearts beating together in perfect time. I laid there the rest of the night, awake, hoping and praying I’d wake up from my operation on Tuesday morning so I could go back home and once again fall into sleep and into the dream that my love for her has been all these years.

This Monday, August 15th, will be our thirty fifth wedding anniversary and I want to tell you, thank you, Deb, thank you for the dreaming.  After we have our little anniversary dinner and evening, we’ll go to bed and sleep and dream together, just like we have almost every night for the past thirty five years, and when the August early morning light of Tuesday morning illuminates our bed, we’ll wake up together, too. I now know that, regardless of what happens or whatever distances are placed between us, in the night, when you close your eyes, and in the morning, when you open them, I’ll always be with you and you with me.

Black Lives Matter


The past few days have been nothing short of insane, with two more questionable shootings of black men by white police officers, and the subsequent murder of five police officers in Dallas.

To be clear, nothing can justify any of these murders.  The five officers killed in Dallas is unforgivable, especially when considering the fact that their lives were taken while they were working to protect people who were protesting against them.

I have nothing but respect for the brave officers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us from the sick and twisted few who view violence as a justifiable mean to an end. It’s an incredibly difficult job that is only getting harder, and requires men and women of exceptional courage and character.

At the same time, because their job is so important, I believe that police officers should be held accountable to a higher standard.  The stakes are too high to suffer the incompetent and corrupt few who besmirch the integrity of the badge and weaken the trust that citizens must have in the institution to maintain a semblance of order and sanity.

One of the outputs of the week has been debate about the legitimacy of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. There’s been a  lot of push back against the movement, from preposterous and inflammatory rhetoric from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who classified the movement as a “terrorist organization,” to the many dim-witted racists who dismiss it with the broad sweeping statement that “all lives matter.”

Well, no shit. That is so obviously true.  If only the people saying that really believed it, if they paid attention to some simple facts, they’d begin to grasp that white America and black America are two radically different places.  Once one begins to understand these differences, the need for a “Black Lives Matter” movement becomes as obvious as the fact that for many Americans, black lives don’t matter.

The discrepancies between these two different Americas are so vast and complex that there are no easy sound bite solutions. For more than one hundred years, blacks have been segregated and abandoned, relegated to lives of poverty and violence, with inadequate access to education, health care and employment. As a result, a culture of cynicism, drug use, and violence has developed.  The inner city neighborhoods have become war zones, with no way out, and no way in for the abundant riches enjoyed by those outside.

How big are the gaps?  Here are some numbers I pulled down from the Center of Disease Control’s (CDC) website this morning:

Average life expectancy, U.S., birth 2010

Total population               78.7

White males                       76.5

Black males                         71.8

White females                  81.3

Black females                    78.0

 

U.S. Infant mortality rate – Deaths before first year, per 1,000 births

Total population               6.17

Whites                                  5.20

Blacks                                    11.5

 

Unplanned pregnancies from 2006 to 2010

U.S. Whites                        30%

U.S. Blacks                          70%

 

U.S. Obesity Rate

Age                        White    Black

2-5 years              3.5%      11.3%

6-11                       13.1        23.8

12-19                     19.6        22.1

20-39                     26.2        46.0

40-59                     38.7        49.3

60 or more          34.0        48.5

 

Deaths from Firearms per 100,000 people

Age                        White    Black

15-24                     14           75

25-34                     17           79

35-44                     15           33

45-64                     20           15

65 and over        27           7

 

It’s taken a long time for things to get to this point, and the reasons for the disparity in all of these numbers are many and complex, and the solutions too difficult for a simple mind like my own to comprehend.  But maybe the first step is for white America to recognize that we’re all Americans and decide that it is unacceptable for so many of our fellow citizens to be discarded and abandoned and forced to live under such deplorable conditions.  Maybe the first step is the simple acknowledgement that black lives really do matter.

The United States of Armed-erica


This past weekend, forty nine innocent American lives were lost in yet another mass shooting.

I don’t know what the answer is. All of the tired old arguments have been trotted out, and as usual, minds are not being changed.  That won’t happen until the time when somebody we know personally is struck down. Until that happens, until we recognize the victims as someone we know, these shootings will remain an abstraction, something we can’t relate to.

Which exactly sums up how deeply and seriously fucked up we are as a society.  Our inability to recognize the faces of our own children in the victims of Sandy Hook, of ourselves out to enjoy a movie in Aurora, Colorado, or the friends and family members out for a good time in a nightclub in Orlando, is a chilling indictment of how desensitized we have become and how little we value human life.

I understand that people don’t want to give up their guns. I understand that many of the proposed solutions are knee–jerk reactions that will have little or no effect. What I can’t understand is the reflexive close minded defense of the status quo. So increased gun control isn’t going to change anything – if you’re so fucking smart, give us some ideas that will.

And don’t just say that the solution is more guns.  The idea that more guns will make us safer is just stupid. When the shooting is in a darkened movie theatre or a dimly lit and chaotic nightclub where alcohol flows freely, more gunfire will result in more deaths. Real life isn’t the movies, where you know who and where the gunman is, and where events unfold in slow motion. Real life happens quickly and randomly. And besides, do we really want to live in a country where we need to arm ourselves just to go see a movie or to practice our religion?

What we all need to focus on is the lives lost.  Imagine the unimaginable, getting a phone call that your son or daughter is dead, shot down and taken forever by some random, deranged dickhead. I’m guessing that the same old “bad people do bad things” and “guns don’t kill people, people do” arguments won’t stand up, and that the rage and pain would be unbearable.

We can focus on the numbers, the thousands of lives lost to gun violence, but those are just statistics. Statistics don’t live and breathe, and they sure as hell don’t bleed. Real blood is being spilled, and as long as we do nothing to prevent it, it’s on all of our hands.

Nick


Nick1

Twenty seven years ago today, on a warm and sunny day, my wife called me at work and told me to get my ass home.  She was about to have a baby, our second.  A few hours later, around six o’clock PM if I remember correctly, Nicholas was born. From that point on, the world would be a better place.

Nick was born with a twinkle that has never left his dark eyes, like two stars that glow and shine in defiance of the otherwise black and empty void.  When he smiles, those stars ignite and light up the entire universe. From the beginning, he inherited the warmth and likeability that made my father, Nick’s grandfather, so unique.

From the beginning, he also had to endure the burden of being the most like his old man. It was bad enough that he had to look like me, even worse was that he seemed to think like me, sharing the same interest in sports and music, and the same sense of humor. I always felt proud when people would point to him and say, “He’s just like you.”  So proud that I bought into it, that I believed it.

It turns out that I was wrong.

nick3

Nick is better than me.

It’s taken some time, too long, really, for me to see this.  It should have been obvious.  But that’s me – I can be slow and dimwitted. For too long, because Nick was “just like me,” I projected my own insecurities and weaknesses onto him, bluntly pointing out “mistakes” he was making.  I thought I was questioning decisions he’d made, but it’s really not a question when you insist that you already know the answer. I regret my judgmental nature, and recognize that however much he is or isn’t like me, the journey he is on is his own, and only he alone can chart his course into the great unknown.

Now Nick is a full grown man, and on this, his twenty seventh birthday, I want to celebrate how much he isn’t like me, and how proud he makes me, and how much I love him.

nick2

 

Saturday


Saturdays at the hospital are filled with empty spaces. It begins outside, in the almost empty parking lots, the same parking lots that on weekday mornings are filled to capacity, now populated by only a handful of cars parked close to the entrances to buildings like scattered leaves blown against a doorstop.

Inside, the emptiness fills hallways and corridors that during the week are consumed by wheeled activity, nurses or attendants pushing gurneys or wheelchairs, doctors and surgeons in lab coats with heads buried in clipboards. Rooms are filled with patients, both out and in. On Saturdays, beyond the walls of the emergency ward, there are no out patients.

In late morning the visitors start trickling in, friends and family, mothers and wives, fathers and husbands, siblings and in-laws. A little bit nervous at first, not knowing what to expect, they cling a little bit closer to each other than they normally would as they walk down the halls, bearing gifts, flowers and balloons or books, peeking into each room at the living story lying in each bed, hoping for a spark of recognition, until they reach the room they came for.  As they enter the doorway they suck in their breath and force a smile on their faces, and finally they are standing face to face with their loved one, broken and hurting and healing.  They make nervous small talk and stand in uncomfortable poses next to the bed.  Time ticks on as they talk about shared interests, while husbands or wives grow impatient and glance at their wristwatches or cell phones, thinking about the game they are missing or the lawn that needs mowing, any of the things that they worked so hard all week for. They feel it all slipping away as their spouse drones on and on, telling the patient how good he looks and how much he is missed at home and how easy he’s going to have to take it after he gets out.

Then, in late afternoon and early evening, the visitors are gone, and the patients are left alone.  The flowers and the cards and the books are all put away, and nurses make their rounds, dispensing meds or serving dinner. This is the time for rest, and as the sun descends, weariness and fatigue set in, and sleep comes.

But just before sleep, in the lengthening shadows cast through the windows by the setting sun, their presence is felt, like a cold shiver down the spine.  This is their time, and for the half hour between daylight and night, they move freely and unapologetically.  You can see them, standing behind opened doors in darkening corners, floating on the air pushed through floor vents by furnaces or air conditioners.  You can hear their murmurs between the rhythmic beeping and humming of monitors and machines, the voices of the others, the ones who came here and never left.

A Happy Anniversary


Today marks the one-year anniversary of my heart bypass surgery.

I am fully recovered and have made significant changes to my diet and lifestyle. I’m maintaining my weight at about twenty pounds less than before the surgery, and I’m exercising every day.  I’m feeling well enough that without calendars to remind me, I forget that I ever had the procedure.

When one of those significant dates arise, I look back on the events with a vague sense of detachment, like they happened to somebody else, and I have to work hard to remember what it was like falling asleep in the hospital bed the night before, with a nagging fear of never seeing my home or my family again playing in my head.

There are so many important things that we see, feel or touch every day that we don’t appreciate the value of until we are confronted with the real possibility that we may never experience them again.  The night before, when I thought of the things that the last time might have already come and gone for, it quickly became overwhelming.  From the helicopter seeds that take flight from the big maple tree just outside my back door to the sound and smell of bacon frying to the shadows at the end of the hallway that remain just beyond the reach of the midday sunlight, it didn’t take me long to realize that there were far too many things for me to list.

Now I am back to taking all of these things for granted again.  There are so many things that as I was experiencing them I swore I’d never forget that now, only a year later, I’ve already forgotten. And while I lament the loss of the heightened awareness I experienced through my little ordeal, part of me also celebrates the return of preoccupation and blindness to these things, because they are symptomatic of living. To be alive, in the present, is to not have time for such contemplation of the miraculous beauty that is always within our grasp.

Daily routine, the marrow of everyday living, seems trite and trivial compared to the revelatory truths that define the universe until they are taken away from us.  Only then can we see that the mundane is the most profound, and that the mechanics of living a life, the forces that prod us to go to work, to make out grocery lists, to even brush our fucking teeth, are the real things that matter. These are the things that keep a life alive, where dignity and truth reside.

I am so happy and grateful to be alive, for the opportunity to once again obsess over the trivial.