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Archive for January, 2015

The final epitaph

How strange. We go through life. Perhaps we have a moment of something that others might call achievement or fame. We help with the dishes, mow the lawn, maybe even add a new deck to the back porch, and then our name appears in the paper for three or four days…and we’re gone. Poof, that’s it; that’s the end of it. We appear with thirty, forty, fifty or more names, and that’s all. Well, no, it’s not quite that simple. If we have family, they grieve…for various lengths of time. If we’re without family; if our family pre-deceased us; if we died alone and unloved – except perhaps for a nurse or caretaker – we’re just a name in the paper, along with others, for three or four days…and we’re gone.

Life goes on. We’re not a part of it anymore, but life does go on. Our role is over; we’ve left the stage; we no longer drive the A48 bus along the same route we drove it for years. Some riders notice; most don’t care, just as long as the A48 transports them from point A to point B. That’s their role; go from point A to point B. Then one day one of the regulars is no longer on the bus, and their name appears in the newspaper for three or four days…and the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round…new driver; new faces; new newspapers left behind on the seats; new names in the newspapers.

What a peculiar merry-go-round on which we live, this carousel of life and living. Some people jump off for a few precious moments of glory and fame, but then they jump right back on; go round and round until it becomes their time to leave the merry-go-round forever. Others will jump on, take their place, and the wheel will continue to spin.

Wasn’t it Puck who said, “What fools these mortals be,” blaming others for what he had done, but even without his magic potion, he was right. Our moment in the sun is brief and then, like the magician’s flash paper, our light disappears. Hopefully, we have left behind a memento or several, either in terms of progeny or achievement. If progeny, we hope they will achieve something greater than our own contribution, but we don’t know, nor, in the end, do we really care.

As I age, more and more I agree with Pogo; “We have met the enemy and he is us.” How prophetic was Walt Kelly’s little possum in saying that. What monstrous truth appears in those nine little words? Taken on a very broad scale, man is his own worst enemy. Certainly, he doesn’t play well with others. One or the other is always trying to destroy some other ‘man’ for whatever ungodly – or sometimes godly – reason or other. So we must thank you, Puck and Pogo for your exceedingly insightful look into this creation we call man; this package whose dismal epitaph appears for three or four days as a line in a newspaper, and sometimes not even that.

Many moons and more than a few sunrises ago, my youngest came to me. She had graduated college months before and was working as a therapist in a nursing home. “Is this it?” she asked. “Is this what life is all about? We work during the week; watch old people die; party on weekends or do something else for two days and then begin again? Is this it?” How does one answer a question like that? James C. Collins, author, lecturer, and student of how and why companies succeed, has an interesting approach: “We will all experience disappointments and crushing events somewhere along the way, setbacks for which there is no “reason”; no one to blame. It might be a disease; it might be injury; it might be an accident; it might be losing a loved one; it might be getting swept away in a political shake up; it might be getting shot down over Vietnam and thrown into a POW camp for 8 years. What separates people, James Stockdale taught me, is not the presence or absence of difficulties, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life.” My answer, although not quite as erudite, was probably similar to yours. “If you’re not living your life as you wish, what would you do to change it? How can you make your life what you want?” It wasn’t a particularly brilliant answer, somewhat of a cliché I would imagine. By and large, my life has turned out as well – I think – as could be expected with the product with which I had to work. I’ve known manual labor; I graduated high school and college (twice); I had a job that I enjoyed immediately upon graduation; was married; fathered children; suffered the usual tragedies of losing parents and even a few friends before the ripe old age of 25; changed jobs and enjoyed the second more than the first; the third more than the second, etc; learned the agonies of being fired without cause – “We’re abolishing your position;” what a pisser that was;  rehired and spent the next twenty years loving every minute of each work day. There were many enjoyments and few painful experiences. There was vicarious enjoyment through the achievements of my spouse and my children. Yet, looking at everything in hindsight, it was just life’s merry-go-round; a nice ride, but it’s almost time to get off.

I figure I’ll beat the newspapers, however. You see, I’ve already arranged that the newspapers not be notified. Those who want to know will know. I don’t care to be a line in a paper for three or four days. I will defy Dylan Thomas and I will go quietly into that gentle night.

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The commencement address

“Mr. President, honored platform guests, members of the faculty and staff, parents and friends…and members of the class of 2015…”

(Wait for the usual bullshit applause…and some smartass to make a comment, which will then be followed by a certain amount of laughter by those who have yet to sober up from the night before. I’d kick the little shit out if I had the authority to do so, and if I could find him in that mass of black out there; Jesus, that’s depressing; almost funereal. If it weren’t for the friggin’ tassels, they’d all look alike.)

“Perhaps my salutation is somewhat in error for it is you, the members of the class of 2015 whom we honor this day with baccalaureate degrees that note the completion of four or more years of difficult study with a group of highly regarded and highly resourceful faculty who have spent countless hours to ensure that you received the very best education possible.”

(There you go. You just placated both the idiots reading today’s newspapers in the faculty section, the academic vice president who believes  that the crowd he’s collected really care; the parents who think they made a pretty good investment, and even the members of the class who are still awake and not texting or sexting as the case may be.)

“Today is a landmark occasion for you graduates. You are going out into a world that desperately needs your expertise and your fresh ideas (oh, mother of god, did you actually just spew that one out?), but it will not be an easy journey for you. Your degree is not an entitlement. Just as you have earned it in the classrooms that surround you. (It’s kind of nice to have commencement in a quad surrounding by the halls of whatever the hell that is climbing up the brick and slowly eating its way into the building…looks good but really fucks up the buildings.) What you have earned is a license to hunt; that’s right, your degree is not a guarantee of anything except to prove that you are the best individual to fill the shoes of the organizations where you seek employment. (I wonder if they even understand that a year from now some of them may be asking ‘You want fries with that?’ Holy crap, I think that kid in the front row is about to slide off his seat…ooh, thank you guys and gals for propping him up. Jam a stick up his ass and maybe he’ll sit up straight!)

“That license has been issued to you by one of the finest institutions in the country. It has been recognized by numerous magazines and newspapers as being at the very top of its class, and this adds value to your license. However, everything depends on you and your efforts to achieve the greatness we know you can achieve in your field.” (Oh, man, this is like shoveling shit against the tide. These people just want to walk across the stage and get their degrees. Then they can get the hell out of here with mom and dad and grandma and go have a good stiff drink somewhere. From the looks of some of them, I’m not certain they’re gonna make it across the stage. )

“To you mothers and fathers let me say that this institution has done its very best to provide an education that will stand your son or daughter in good stead as they begin a new chapter in their life. Yes, they will face challenges, but from what I’ve seen, they are ready to meet those challenges head on. You have every right to be proud of what they have achieved.

“To the class of 2015, I wish you good luck and God speed.” (Listen to that applause…for nothing. I write a couple of books and they ask me to give a commencement speech and get an honorary degree.  And I can’t even stand up here and tell them the truth. The truth, ha…that’s a joke. What should I say? It’s a pretty messed up world out there guys and what you learned in the classroom ain’t all you’re gonna face when you begin working in the real world…no more summers at the beach or winter or spring breaks. The way you did things here may well bear no resemblance to what you get to do out there. You won’t become the big shot in six months or a year. If they give you any responsibility of real meaning, you can bet your ass that someone will try to shoot you down…just for shits and giggles. Be careful of who to trust…no, make that…trust no one. Everybody has to prove themselves, you included. Even if you do well, the naysayers will talk about how young you are and how you haven’t any experience. That’s the worst guys; they accuse you of not having experience and you’re asking how the hell you can get some if they won’t give you the chance.)

(Well, on with the rest of the show…glad my part is over!)

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The stewards have failed. The stewards were given a pearl, a gem of priceless value and failed to protect it. That’s right, you and I, she and he, they and them, we and us…we have failed to protect that with which we were charged to do. We have raped the land; we have polluted the waters; we have exhausted the resources; and we have wept crocodile tears blaming everyone and everything else for what we have reaped. Hypocrisy, the name is man.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke said that. He also noted, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” Burke was an Irish statesman and political thinker; just a man, like so many others, to whom we should have been listening but also like so many others, a man we arrogantly ignored.

So what has happened because of our ignorance? A failed art student and painter nearly exterminated a race of people. Man’s willingness to take the path of least resistance is leading us to a change in our climate that will, in all probability, hasten our demise as a species. Rather than trying to find a common ground for peace, man continues to slaughter his brother for reasons that are trivial, interpretative, and idiotic.

Terrorist groups actually threaten the very existence of mankind. Billions of people live in fear 24/7 that someone representing one of these groups will kill them for no reason whatsoever other than the fact that they may not like the color of your hair, eyes, shirt, skirt, or shoes. Having a shotgun put to your head and being told that you are going to have your fucking head blown off is a very sobering experience. Having been there, I guarantee you will not wish to do it twice.

Good people have tolerated bad behavior for too long. What has it gotten us? It got us two world wars, ‘police actions,’ as they were called, and numerous fire fights from South America with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC)  to Boko Haram in Nigeria, to Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and lord only knows how many other groups all over the world. These are bad people. They don’t care about preserving the pearl. They don’t care about human life. They are selfish and care only for themselves…and even that is open to question most of the time. Some of them claim to follow religious teachings. Ha, that is a joke; they follow nothing. They are murderers, rapists, thugs of the worst sort, and they should be demolished. The pearl’s problems are far greater, yet these are what we as the stewards must confront on an hourly basis.

Now, we have a government that has collapsed in Yemen. We have a world economy that appears to still be in recession. We have an ice cap that is melting. We are still polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases from fossil fuels that will eventually cause the temperatures to rise further. Polluted air will kill us; a lack of clean water will kill us; food production will decrease as droughts occur. Our lack of stewardship of our pearl has resulted in melting ice and rising sea levels can also affect the Earth’s crust, causing land to rebound and triggering volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.

While some of our population attempt to act as good stewards, they are being ignored by others more interested in short-term gain and with greater resources to allow their stupidity to be accepted. Doctors warn that global warming will also create more heat-related deaths from cardiovascular problems and strokes. Young children and the elderly will be especially vulnerable to higher temperatures. Elected officials say, “Don’t listen to the doctors. They are naysayers,” but are they really? The conservationists tell us that we are destroying animal habitats and food sources for larger animals and that we should not be surprised when these larger animals begin to attack man for food. Elected officials tell us that the conservationists are being irrational and that animal attacks will never happen. It seems to me that some of these attacks are already underway, but perhaps I’m just being an alarmist; after all, who am I, but one of the stewards who wishes that more people would pay attention to what’s going on in our world.

According to the Mother Nature Network – another one of those groups with “all the crazy alarmists,” as its detractors might say, while “Global warming may be bad news for us, it’s good news for disease-carrying mice, rats, and insects.” We’ve seen that with the Ebola outbreak. Places like the Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations have had their funding cut because our elected officials don’t see the need for greater research or the development of vaccines for diseases such as Dengue fever, a disease which causes internal bleeding and which has now spread to Florida.

In all, since the beginning of time, man, charged with the stewardship of the planet he inhabits, has done a pretty poor job of taking care of our little gem. Over the centuries, as we have grown to walk upright and evolve into what we are today, we have ignored the fact that we have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to our place of habitation. One of the reasons we have been so minimally concerned is that we are mortal. We come; we procreate; we age; we die. While we’re here, we are more intent on looking after ourselves rather than our surroundings. Unfortunately, we have reached and are rapidly passing a point of no return. Our planet is going to turn on us. War won’t be an answer. Merely existing will become the goal, but we will continue to be stupid and create a poisonous environment that will make even existing a challenge. Perhaps we will find another place to go; another place to poison. Perhaps earth will become a dead planet…or perhaps that was what was supposed to happen all along.

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Aw, c’mon

“She’s sturdy.”

“Aye; she’s sturdy.”

“Is she solid and tarred?”

“Aye; she’s sturdy and tarred.”

“But is she solid?”

“I’ve tole ya her qualities, yet ya continue to question. Why is that? Are ya fearful?”

“I’m fearful of nothing!”

“You’re fearful she’s not solid.”

“I asked a question; that’s all…and you’ve answered it. Can we end this?”

“Yes…as long as you’re not fearful.”

“Fearful, be damned…I’m not fearful!”

(Pause)

“What happens at the edge?”

“What edge?”

The edge!”

“There is no edge.”

“There has to be an edge.”

“No edge.”

“The scholars said there’s an edge.”

“The scholars have never been wrong?”

“No. They are the scholars.”

“…and they have never been wrong?”

“No.”

“They are wrong!”

“That’s heresy!”

“Do you see scholars here to condemn me for heresy?

“No, but it’s heresy.”

“And when there is no edge, will it still be heresy?”

“Wait a minute…what scholars?”

“Those guys over there, in the robes, with the beards.”

“The ones with what look like robes? The guys with the beards?”

“Yeah, they said they were scholars.”

“And they said it would be heresy if we didn’t listen to what they say?”

“Well, yeah!”

“Harry…those robes…they’re aprons….those scholars; they’re scallopers…the heresy…they pulled your leg. Now, get on the damn boat and let’s go fishin.’ “

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“I’m dying,” she said. Simple, direct, no drama to it all.

“Yes,” I replied, “I’m aware of that.”

“Can you help?” she asked.

“A rather strange question,” I responded. “Help in what manner?”

“Can you ease the pain? There’s a great deal of pain, you know. I don’t really mind the pain, but if there was a manner in which it could be eased, I think I’d feel better about the dying if there weren’t quite so much pain.” Always the pragmatist.

“There are drugs. Is that what you want? It might be for the best if you took them. They’ll ease the pain for a while.” It always seemed strange to me that when the doctors know someone is dying, how so many of them still seem reluctant to turn the dying patient intro a drug addict even though it might just allow their transition to be easier. I wonder why that’s so?

“I’m not big on drugs, you know; never cared for them; always thought they messed up my stomach. Guess I’ll just have to make some choices.”

“Yes, I guess you will.” She’s always been somewhat stubborn about drugs…as well as doctors. Had she not collapsed in the store, we probably would have learned she was dying after the fact…rather, a fait accompli. That’s really not very nice. She’s been dying for several years now. None of us had the courage to confront her with that fact which she would have denied had we mentioned it. I suppose that, as her husband, it was my place to speak up, but why irritate a person who’s dying and who already feels badly enough about the whole thing.

“Do you still love me?” she asks.

“Yes, I still love you,” I reply.

“Not as you once did, however,” she queries.

“No, not as I once did,” I respond. “I love you now without doubt, without fear, without any of those things that could call into question my love for you. I love you now with trust. Trust goes beyond the intimacy of youth, the molding of ourselves to one another; the attempt at altering the other’s opinions. This is, perhaps, the final stage of our love. Somehow, it seems more than appropriate, don’t you think?”

“We did have our times, however,” she says, attempting a small smile.

“Take this,” I say. Although she’s been on morphine for months, she appears to believe that what she takes is medicine. Perhaps this is some form of delirium, denial, or whatever. At least she’s coherent. Unfortunately, there are times when she’s not. Her milky eyes will stare at me and gibberish comes from her tongue. This is the time to stare back and nod. The tears have stopped; both hers and mine. Tears are useless at this stage. One might say, ‘all cried out,’ but that wouldn’t be quite right. I don’t think one can ever reach that point.

Her tongue comes out and the dropper releases its copper measure of relief. It won’t take long, but neither will it do much good. Should I continue to refill the dropper until the bottle is empty? Is that fair to her, to me?

Minutes pass; her eyes close; open briefly, and she is gone.

Too much?

 

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I really don’t know when or how it started…but I’d really like to know. What did we do to cause such hatred and such terrible acts of violence by radicalized Muslims?  Ah, let me see; how much time do you have and how many pages will it take for me to condense this into something readable?

The initial answer is that Muslims, as a group, don’t hate Americans. They don’t understand our definition of freedom of speech versus the definition in other countries. They don’t understand how France can tolerate the insulting of Mohammed while denying Muslim women the right to wear a veil. They don’t understand how publicly denying the Holocaust in Germany can earn you a prison sentence. They don’t understand how it’s a crime in England to set up a web site to criticize an individual. In other words, freedom of speech in the West differs so markedly from that in the Middle East, and part of the hatred stems from that misunderstanding. That, however, is only a minor reason for the distrust and hatred of nearly everything Western.

One of the major reasons for western hatred appears to be anti-Semitism. The general feeling appears to be that Israel has no right to exist. In addition, the thought is that whenever it’s a choice between Israel and any Muslim country, the West is always on the side of Israel and never on the side of anything Muslim. With the rise of al Quaeda and ISIS – sorry, President Obama, but despite your claims, both are very much alive – US sentiment toward radicalized Muslims appears to have degenerated into a distrust of anything dealing with the Muslim community abroad. The tragedy in France has only served to reinforce that feeling, both here and abroad. Western citizens are asking the questions, “Are there any sleeper cells in our cities,” and if so, are they getting ready to raise havoc in Berlin, London, Barcelona, Brussels, or once more in Boston?

Radicalized Muslims believe – and they are absolutely right – that America speaks from both sides of its collective face. After all, we were once great supporters of Saddam Hussein and our “ally,” Iraq; we then tossed him to the dogs on March 23, 2003. We also supported Dictator Mommar Gaddafi until he no longer served our needs. The same was true of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. How can we possibly face these people when we lie directly to their collective faces; when the people we support indiscriminately kill their own citizens by the hundreds of thousands. In other words, we have a foreign policy that absolutely defies logic in the mind of the average Muslim.

I don’t believe the Muslims fully understand many of the things that we do. Why, for example, do we marry outside our own bloodlines? To a true Muslim, this is bastardizing the family’s blood. In an article by Nicolai Senills, entitled, “Cultural psychology: How Islam managed to stay medieval for 1,400 years,” he states, “Together with massive inbreeding — 70 percent of Pakistanis, 45 percent of Arabs and at least 30 percent of Turks are from first cousin-marriages…” Such marriages in Western culture would cause more shock than same-sex marriage has done in the United States. In Islam, of course, such sin would be met with death.

Radicalized Muslims believe the West to be decadent and in need of cleansing, and they believe that it is their obligation to do so; to impose the writings of the Quran on those who do not follow its teachings. Okay, that’s a bit off the wall, but why then does ISIS want an Islamic state where only those “true” to the teachings of Islam may live? Why do they attack kosher food stores? Kosher is the food of the Jews, and what do the radicalized Islamists feel about the Jews? You’ve got it…kill ‘em all!

We live in an uncivilized world. We came to the ‘new world’ as uncivilized peoples, killing the natives, stealing their land and despoiling it. We did all of this in the name of progress and civilization. Progress and civilization my ass; we did it in the name of greed and avarice. Now we have allowed that greed and avarice, that corruption and moral decay to infect us just as much as the tribal living has infected those of the Middle East. Do I blame the radicals for killing 2,996 of our innocents on 911? You bet your boots I do. However, I cannot blame them for their hatred; we’ve brought much of it on ourselves. I would suggest that the West wake up to the fact that until we fully understand the extent of the hatred toward us, there will be more and more attacks. This is a fight to the finish. The radicals may be reasonably few in numbers, but the damage they cause, not only physical but psychological, are showing them to be winning the current battles.

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Writing about something is not the same as knowing about something. I have always admired good reporting as well as good fiction. John Powers of The Boston Globe was a hell of a writer when he was covering sports. John is a huge man, towering over me, but his insight into what took place at almost any sporting event made the reader feel that he or she was actually in the arena, not as a spectator but as a participant. My dear late friend, Bob Parker, was a wonderful fiction writer who drew the reader in from the first sentence and kept the reader enthralled until the last period was place.

I am about as far from a John Powers or Robert Parker or any of the wonderful writers we read on a daily basis. Like many of you, I struggle to gain and maintain the reader’s interest. It shows in that, if really lucky, I have two or three readers a day. It’s an ego thing, and I’m the first one to admit it.

Think about everything that is happening in the world today. We still have stupidity in Washington, with a President who feels he can do no wrong…and he’s wrong; a Congress now controlled by a single party, but I don’t see much taking place other than the Keystone Pipeline which is just going to line a few more pockets of the one percent; our judicial branch is, at best, confused about which issues belong before them and which should be left to the states for a final decision.

On the world front, we have the horrible executions of the French satirists at Charlie Hebdo and the assassination of four police officers by known radicals who were allowed to walk the streets freely and who got the martyrdom that they desired after their horrible onslaught. Sure, I could do my research online and read everything there is to read…like over one million articles, most of which are as accurate as would be teats on a bull, but that doesn’t give one the right to put together an accurate Reader’s Digest condensed version. Perhaps the most odious and despicable post-episodic thing taking place now is the race between al Qaeda and ISIS over who takes the “credit” for committing this hideous act. Is it fodder for the writer in me? By writing about this crime, I merely lend credence to the fact that no one, anywhere in the world, at any time, is safe from these half-crazed lunatics who are exercising their childhood fantasies of killing with no more respect for the beliefs of true Muslims and the Quran than the Bible-thumping idiots of the Westboro Baptist Church have in their beliefs about Christianity.

So what is left for me, in the few years I have remaining, to garble about? Should I talk about the 2016 race to become the next sucker in the White House? I have finally – gad, but it took a long time – figured out why smart people don’t run for president…their egos are not large enough, or as Clint Eastwood once put, “A man just has to know his limitations.” The really smart person allows the puppet to become the titular head and then the puppet-masters, eg, Citibank, the pharmaceutical lobbyists, the farm folk, and several others sit back and tug on a few strings to get the puppet to do their bidding. It’s wonderful to sit at the computer and gaze into the crystal ball. The Republican Party is firmly convinced that the next puppet will be from the GOP, thereby giving both the executive and legislative branches to a group of people who care little for the average American and a great deal for the one-percenters. After all, it’s the one-percenters who write the bills they pass and keep their bank accounts growing. And, what the hell, should a Democrat – by some miracle of God – attain the exalted puppet-post, it will merely be four or eight more years of gridlock. With gridlock, nothing gets done; the press has a field day; and late night comics rub their hands together in glee. While I consider myself an independent voter, I have to admit that someone like Chris Christie of New Jersey could really shake the old-time-DC-boys up; in addition to which, he probably knows where to get rid of the bodies….lots of swampland in New Jersey.

The recent story of the loving son is not something that you find every day. Could one invent such a thing? Perhaps if I was a more creative writer it could happen. However, I’m not that desperate to build a readership. That was just one of those poignant moments that had to be set to paper, and I was honored to have the opportunity to do so…my thanks to those who commented. The opposite of that situation was viewed by Juli yesterday. “Behind you is a mother and son,” she said. “Neither has stopped texting since they sat down.” Of course, we had no idea if they were texting one another, but my bet is that was not the case. Kind of sad, isn’t it? Can you imagine saying to one of your adult children, “Let’s go to lunch and leave our smart phones in the car.” Be the fastest goddamned lunch on record. Yes, I could write about my view on technology (said he, pounding away at the keyboard) but I don’t even know the vernacular for today’s techno-geek…tough to fall behind the times like this.

Well, I’ve almost reached my thousand word limit so to you, my reader (hopefully with an ‘s,’ I bid you a wonderful winter without falls or flu; without slipping and sliding; without icicles or idiots. If you have young children, I hope you will enjoy sledding with them at the local hill. The bumps will be a bit rougher than you may remember, but what the hell, you’ll have wonderful memories when you recall the day over a cup of hot chocolate…don’t forget the whipped cream!

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