Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who did it?

We have Gay pride, Latino pride, Black Pride, Woman's about Gay Shame, Latino Shame, Black Shame, Women's Shame?

Come on, let's be fair. For every yin there is a yang. Is there any success without failures; cheering without booing, self-congratulation without self-criticism, rights without responsibility? Have gays sometimes failed themselves? Don't Hispanics stumble on their own, blacks tripped themselves up and women cut off their noses to spite their faces. Is is all powerful white males' fault?

Could some of group-identity difficulties be a product of one's own f___ing up and not necessarily the product of others failing us? There is a common theme in modern identity politics of blaming one's problems on someone else that seems a little too-simplistic: the idea that everything good in life has been a product of my one own group's achievement and everything bad (counter-productive) a result of another group's fault?

Shakespeare said in his play, "Julius Caesar": "The fault, Dear Brutus, lies not with the stars, but with we ourselves." Always blaming someone else for all our difficulties seems too easy...and juvenile. It's what children and adolescents do: "look what Mommy and Daddy did to me!" and they go into their room and slam the door; waiting for Mommy's and Daddy's guilt to alter the situation.

Adults rather, shrug somewhat philosophically, accept that 'shit (even shit that may have been caused by somebody else) happens'...and move on forward, by accepting responsibility (ownership) for our own undesirable situations, and spend valuable energy fixing the problem and not worrying so much about affixing the blame.  

To view it from a macro- level: "Ask not what America can do for you; ask what you can do for America." That was President's JFK's inspiration for America in his 1961 inaugural address. It seemed a better rally cry for national consensus, and personal achievement, than the cry-baby-ing that seems a bit too rampant amongst our political parties...and It's time to alter the 50-year descent in self-excusing and other-blaming. Grow up, America. Blame yourself--ALL of ourselves--for the Great Recession and wealth imbalance. And change it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Goodbye, T.

I decided to pay a respectful visit. I promised myself to arrive at a certain near future time,
when the family agreed, the caregivers permitted,
wanting not to disturb those angels, who, by now, in their
role-functioning of bed-sore salves and diaper removals and soothing words
of comfort , now said low and slow--
presaging his last gurgle soon to come.

(After all, I too will one day die; I therefore needed to see
for selfish reasons death's stark and silly face.)

"We'll meet at T's apartment
on Sunday," I suggested to the ill man's truest friend (outside of daughter)
of course. A combined visit semed more logical (easy?).

While the clocks ticked away our waiting time to visit, I imagined: that
sweet daughter laboring mightily in a fog of fury;
Her Daddy, who was abandoned/divorced by Mommy years before, and
who was raised by Step-Daddy and Mommy in a far away state
But he was still her blood, her fantasy-factual Dad to love,
dying now, in a cold distant apartment town, needing her help,
to offer up her final serving of daughterly faith.

I knew him best years before, thirty to be exact.
We were not close. He didn't like me much, as I perceived it then.
Never nasty, but rather aloofly, wittily, condescendingly arch,
a joke (a laugh to cover) and snide remark the weapons of his distaste.
Working together, however, made us try to form a friendship...
but the form of friend ship never congealed. I was at his wedding, though.
An invitation, more I thought, from his wife than him. I knew her well, before.

Over the next thirty years we met briefly, accidentally really,
unavoidably so, it would be most honest to say,
at a few gathering of co-worker friends, milestone birthdays,
weddings, graduations and the such
pleasant, warily, protectively, not even sharing notes of successes. Nor either, potentially more friend-inducing, failures. Just jokes.

One day,
unbeknown to us, the common disease co-joined.
The mutual friend's phone call came out of the blue: "Mind if I tell T. about your experience with the disease?" He had known of my plight..
"You might be able to help him, give some insight."

Instinctively, without malice before thought...or after thought...I said "Of course;" and meant it. Death is important. too powerful a foe to let human trivialities stand. Who cares whether we were close or not before. War makes strange bedfellows but it does make bedfellows. 

So T. and I soon meet once again, over the phone, then in face, at his birthday party, seeming old friends now, any separation breached, mercifully.

At the party I also met there the daughter, his life's charming child,
who soon moved from a continent away,
DC to here, to care for ailing father, to share and aid the fight.

But soon thereafter, and more frequent times now, at least measured against the past, he and I talked, exchange inside information
about doctors and medicines and nutrition and pills,
and websites and institutions that  might avail him best.

We even met at a doctor's lecture, and shared a laugh, a memory, and sandwich later.

Then, after another month without contact (he was out of town to consult new doctors)
the mutual friend calls: "T's disease has progressed mightily."
"Ironically he lives near you now," moved to a nearby apartment, convenient to the hospital and the daughter's new school.

I call; T. and I talk (although not of death...
We fighters never give in to eventualities, preferring to fight,
with drugs and protocols and second opinions; death is for us a vanguishable foe.) "I'd like to get together," he says. A few stabs at places and times to meet, nothing set
"Will call later" agreed by both.
Then another call, days later, from the mutual friend, "T's in the hospital."
We form a plan for our visit together.
Then the next call: "He's at home, in hospice." Life tumbles to death speedily. Another plan to visit,
The final call from the friend: "He's dead."

"Thank God the suffering's over," he says, the common wail. I agree.
But no less true, in our hearts and minds, co-mingling with
the unvoiced desire to spit, shout and curse at all-conquering death.
"We'll be setting up a memorial service," the mutual friend says. You and I will have to have lunch soon." "Yes," I say. "We must not postpone, or just promise." We mean it.

The dead man was more a friend in death than he ever was in life. Yet the breach remained, even in these last days. Or so I assumed. An email list he had given others, to form a Internet group to keep his friends appraised of his progress, had not included me. When discovered, I was not surprised, shocked or hurt. Life is nothing if not consistent. But I still miss him. He was a fellow human being. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls..." and so on.

It's five AM now, he is still dead and my sleep is dead, abruptly ended at two AM; denied. So I paw and peck away at this keyboard trying to make a pact with sleep: please allow me to join my wife in bed in the other room, I am growing weary. Can I assuage you, oh sleep, can I, like him, rest a bit, until the universe--owner of us all--throw another of its meaningful meaninglessness to interrupt our bliss?"

I finally sleep, another night. He, too. A bit longer.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Stream of Memories: 1940s

Memories of the early 1940s: sitting in the old Plymouth car with a rumble seat and a running board we used to jump on and ride as kids; all civilians standing up for soldiers when any arrived at a crowded restaurant counter to eat during WWII; my father wearing a fedora at all times out of the house, and always tipping the brim when passing a lady; scouting the gutters for tin foil (cigarette packs) so we could later cash the ball of much government needed tin foil in at special depositories and make some money; scouring the same gutters for matchbook covers we used as $$$ for card playing (hotels were 100s, X-lax fifties; 10, 5, 1 covers were based on amount of printing on inside; giving you some idea what was rare and valuable in our upper-poor circumstances); making balls of rubber bands, large enough that they bounced. and using them as baseballs; footballs made up of wrapped-around newspapers; scooters made of orange crates where we nail them on end to a length of two-by-four, with hand-made handles on the top of the box for turning and old, discarded skate wheels attached to the bottom of the two-by-four as scooter wheels; 'war projectiles' made of long blades of grass (weeds) and carefully enveloped with black tar dug up from hot streets and then wrapped around the thick end of the long grass blade to throw at one another; neighborhood block-ladies gathering at night, sitting out on under a streetlight chatting and, as out-of-factory paid 'piece work' cutting insignias for WWII uniforms; burning dried-out swamp tails to keep away mosquitoes; the same women doing other 'piece work' putting together puzzle pieces that hung from chains; other women and some older men gathered on a porch or under the same streetlight getting buckets of beer from the Clinton Cafe corner tavern to drink on those same hot night; WWII rationing and stamp allowances from the government (so many monthly allotments of stamps for scarce meat and sugar and other food items)--that's how we 'at home' participated in the war effort--sacrificing; my mother sending me to the grocery store to feed a friend newly dropped-in, shopping on 'account' at Eddie's (Vargian's) Market; we'd order, Eddie would pack our foodstuffs in bags, he'd record what we owed for daily purchased items in a marble-covered school book, amounts written in with a thick, black pencil, whose sharpened head he always placed in his mouth first, to darken the result by that application of saliva...and my Mom and Dad would pay up at the end of the month--Eddie charged a little more for items, but if you didn't have money (which we many times didn't), we always were able to eat; the horse parlor (bookie joint) with my father, where his day was: work all night as a waiter, from 10 at night to 8 in the morning, come home and sleep, up at 2 PM and listen to the horse race results on the radio and go back and forth to the bookie parlor to place new bets on each races in cash and pick up any winnings--this happened until dinner time--he did that six days a week; Sundays driving to White Castle's for bunches of 5-cent hamburgers and a visit to Hudson County Park...and on and on.

Memories. Where have seventy years gone?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Gratitude

My wife used to tend to the she is tending to me. She waters me with constantcy, fertilizers me with love. In gratitude, I will try to bloom as faithfully as a geranium if not the rose, smell as sweetly in the early evening dusk as jasmine, and seek the sun as tenciously as the tallest, elegant sunflower; while continuing to place my roots firmly in the ground like the common shrub I am.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Prejudice...a Friend

I believe in prejudice. It means--literally--"pre-judgement."

An event occurs, a meeting with a stranger, a change in the texture of the sky, a sudden eruption of noise in the next room...and we make a determination--based on our prior experience in the past--with such an event. ..and act accordingly: we shun the stranger, prepare for rain, check to see whether our aged mother fell down.

Pre-judgement is using our knowledge, gathered through our experience (which includes our reading and education) to assess (based on the past) the benefits or dangers inherent in the new event. It would be illogical to do otherwise. The purpose of knowledge and experience is to create a body of prejudices to inform the logic of our future decisions. Refusing to heed our knowledge of the past is counterproductive. The human need for better decisions based on the operation of pre-judgement is essential to the beneficial functioning of the human mechanism. It remains at the core of universal evolution and survival.

Bigotry, on the other hand, as opposed to prejudice, is bad. Bigotry produces bad decision-making. It refuses to heed the logic of new information even when it is incontrovertible.

Bigotry refuses to change its pre-determinations, pre-judgements, when new evidence indicates otherwise. For example, a stranger enters the room; and based on prior (bad) experience with similar strangers, I logically remain wary. But when this particular stranger soon exhibits all the tell-tale signs of a friend and compatriot--and I steadfastly keep him a stranger even though my new information says he is a friend; that is bigotry.

Bigotry is a form of insanity; it is prejudice gone awry. It is a healthy decision-making now diseased and perverted by inflexibility and the rejection on new facts.

Bigotry is bad. But prejudice is good. And we must learn to distinguish between the two--and not let the worry about bigotry over-concern into giving the valuable functioning of prejudice a bad name. We must not become bigots about prejudice.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Iran and Nuclear Bombs

Everyone is wondering if Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons. Of course they are. Here's the logic: Iran has Israel to the West of it, with their atomic bombs, Russia to the North with their huge amount of atomic bombs, China, India and Pakistan to the East with their atomic bombs. Iran is surrounded by atomic powers. And then...there is America, the biggest atomic power of them all, stridently and opening calling for regime change in your country. If you were Iran, wouldn't you be developing atomic I would.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The American Century

The Twentieth Century was The American Century, as earlier centuries were: from the Fifteenth Century on, there were Spain's, Dutch and French and English Centuries (Portugal, Germany and Russia tried to have their centuries, but never quite succeeded in doing it).

The greatest US era of The American Century was 1945 to 1965; after an earlier (1890 to 1928) gradual climb to world dominance (even the depression years of 1929 to 1939, brought on by the greed and excesses of the Roaring Twenties, was felt around the world, underscoring America's ability to lead, downward as well as upward.

1941 to 1945 was the apex of America's show of world military might, echoing America's tipping positively the scale against Germany in WWI (1917-1919). Then, after the war, came the Marshall plan in Europe, re-investing and economically dominating the world, and culminating domestically in the Lyndon Johnson's Great Society

Today, ironically (or jealously?) we belittle the 1950s as plastic and shallow. Take it from me, who was raised in that period, the 1950's were neither. The period exuded confidence, equity (the greatest growth of the middle class was during that period) and humble greatness. The racial, gender, diversity and sexual revolutions that occurred subsequent to the zenith years of the early sixties, rolling through the rest of the century, accompanied America's decline in the latter part of the century. Was it coincidence or correlation? Future historians will have to decide, Did we want too much "sharing of the wealth and power" too soon? Did those revolutions takes America's eyes the the growing economic challenges of the rest of the world, especially the oil sheikdoms, India, China and Brazil.

Will the Twenty-first Century be The Chinese Century, or the perhaps the Indian Century? Will America therefore have to learn to slip back gracefully into back-of-the-pack status, as Spain, Holland, France and England have done in centuries past? Or will America re-capture its sense of "exceptionalism", re-inserting earlier generations (1930 to 1945) sense of duty, shared sacrifice, investment and hard work for consumerism for NIMBY (not in may back yard)? Will the present entitlement generation(s) eradicate their sense of automatic deserving, and substitute "earn and learn"
for "take and grab"?

Time and history--America's and the world's--will tell.


Friday, September 02, 2011

My father said, when I was eighteen:

"We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow; our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so." (He said that when I ridiculed him.)

"I cried because I had no shoes, because I had no feet." (He said that when I felt sorry for myself.)

The next fifty-six years I have tried to live by their admonishments. They have enriched my life.

Said He to She:

Definition of a Hook-Up: "I'm not here to fill your needs. I'm here to fill your wants."