Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Call Me Ponyboy

‘Tis the season of stress and strain, financially and emotionally. With the holiday shopping season upon us—we just passed Black Friday – the days at the bookstore begin to whip by at a breakneck pace. I work like a dog in a retail environment during the time of the year when stores hope for their biggest sale days. It’s the end of the year. The last chance to catch up to, or surpass last year’s totals. Add to that mix the fact that I’m moving with my family to a new house in the next few weeks, and it becomes stress overload. At least for me it does. I’m just a man, not a superman, although kryptonite does not seem to bother me at all. Go figure.

I'm a celebrant of one.

Leave it to me. I must be addicted to feeling like an outsider. I’m an atheist and I married into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I feel like a Fish out of water. A square peg in a round hole. Like a dog without a bone. There are no holiday celebrations. No Christmas lights or birthday cakes. On Christmas Eve our house is always the darkest on the block, while the rest of the neighborhood is aglow. Having grown up on holidays, and continuing that tradition until marrying my current wife, I can say without equivocation that I miss celebrating the holidays.

It doesn’t do any good to get mad at the world, because the world is indifferent. All that anger just raises my blood pressure, hardens my arteries and chaps my ass. I don’t fall in for phoofy terminology, but my inner child is pissed off. Day one – at birth – I was given up for adoption; something about the wrong eye color. I was then raised by wolves for six months before being adopted by the hillbillies from the hinterlands. I never truly felt like a vital part of my family, which made it all that much more difficult to fit into the greater society at large.

I need to pause and reflect for a moment. Kiss my son’s forehead, and remember my breathing. My son is so kind and empathetic. He inspires me to be a better person. My parents never said the words “I love you” to us until we were grown and started saying it to them. I guess then they felt that it was okay to respond in kind. It was one of those households, where you knew you were loved, because you were fed and clothed and had a roof over your head. Beyond that, what? You want hugs, or something? How does it feel to want?

"I forgot my mantra."

The holidays come and go, and I just get older. I’m not a lapsed Catholic, but I do qualify as an Angry Buddhist. I can’t seem to muster up enough Zen to release my thoughts to the idiot wind. Life is short and my mean little old heart could give out tomorrow. Is this really how I want to spend my last days? Mad at the world? I rather spend it loving my son, hearing the birds sing and the writing inane blog posts like this one. I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. I’ve still got some fight left in me, but more importantly, I still have a lot of love to give, and it would be a shame to die without having given it all away. What else is love for, but to offer it freely, and without infection?

Instead of feeling like a fish out of water, I want life to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Sense of Betrayal

This time it's personal...

Many of us are still walking around in an apparent state of shock after the recent election. Unless you’re lucky enough to be living in a cave, you are aware that Donald Trump has been elected president of these United States, which means that they may not be united much longer. Everything that is wrong with this country reached its nadir last week with the election of Donald Trump. Protests immediately sprang up in cities across the country. He was officially endorsed by the KKK and his new chief of staff has ties to white supremacy groups. Some say, give him a chance to prove himself, but he proved himself to be sleazy conman long before he was mistakenly elected president of these United States.

I feel betrayed by my country. I gave four years of my life to the government when I joined the Air Force at age seventeen. I pay my taxes and abide by the rules of the road. My country, ‘tis of thee, is starting to come apart at the seams. Our fragile social construct will soon be in the tiny hands of a reality TV star, who seems to have no concept of moral responsibility. He has over seventy lawsuits pending against him. He openly degrades women and people with disabilities. He wants to start deporting immigrants and yet all of his wives have been immigrants. He uses immigrant labor to build his towers, which are obvious substitutes for his feelings of sexual inadequacy. It’s all just so headshakingly stupid.

I feel betrayed by my family. I knew we had some serious haters in our country, but I didn’t realize that some shared my last name. Maybe in my parents’ case, voting for Trump was a case of accidental bigotry. They’re good people. I’ve never considered them to be racist, just uninformed and when you’re pushing a hundred it’s a little late to start. They eat what they are fed by the media without asking questions about the harmful ingredients. This will most likely be the last vote they cast in their lives. My parents have always voted republican, but this time is different. This time it’s personal.

I’m a white male – safe in this society – but I’m married to an African American woman, and I have a mixed race son. My cousin was finally able to marry her partner of many years. Many of us are worried for our immigrant friends and this whole idea of “extreme vetting.” Unfortunately, everything about this is extreme. Whites hate a level playing field. Rich white men pay pennies to starving brown children to make Air Jordans or iPhones, so that they can afford the best single malt whiskeys or that quaint little getaway in the Caribbean. Nobody ever got rich through hard work, but through exploiting the inexpensive labor of others.

I’ve struggled with this post since the election. It’s too soon to know what evil lurks in the hearts of these men, but Trump’s recent cabinet appointments do not portend well for the future of humanity. We’d better be prepared to fight for our rights, and the rights of our neighbors. Fascists do not give up power easily, but you fascists bound to lose. Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sheer Pandemonium

Today is November 8th. Election Day. When it comes to politics, passions run deep and divisions become canyons. They’ve switched to mail-in ballots here in Washington and I think that’s a mistake. I used to look forward to walking to the local polling place with my neighbors to perform my civic duty. Yes, it is a civic duty – like paying taxes – and you get what you vote for. This presidential election has been the ugliest campaign in memory, and I’m looking forward to it being over. I’m also tense and nervous and I can’t relax about the potential outcome and its aftermath. I’m getting my post-apocalyptic soundtrack ready, just in case.

This election reminds me of when I was eleven-years-old and I used to attend pro-wrestling matches at Jack Witschi’s Sports Arena. In between bouts, the young fans would hang out by the wrestlers’ locker rooms, hoping to get an autograph. There were two locker room doors: one for the good guys and one for the bad guys. One time, while standing to the side of the door awaiting my turn, I glanced into the locker room and noticed a bad guy or two walking around! It was one big locker room! There were no good guys or bad guys. Just beefy actors, making a buck on a Saturday night, slapping another beefy actor around. It was all in good fun, and kind of cathartic, too. That’s how I feel about the republicans and democrats. They all share the same locker room and have drinks together after the show, the show in this case being the running of the United States of America. I think they’re the only ones having fun though and the drinks are on us.

The only significant memory about presidential elections that I can recall from my youth is watching the election returns of the 1972 presidential election. Richard Nixon was defeating George McGovern by a landslide and my father was very happy about this fact. It was my bedtime, but I was allowed to watch some of the early results and even though my dad was happy, he was still in some discomfort. That evening he was suffering from a painful boil on his ass. My mother was using her skills as a nurse’s aide to lance and clean out the abscess, while he lay on his stomach. Now when I think of Richard Nixon, I think of the boil on my father’s ass.

It was only a year later though, when our family was privileged to witness a moment in history. We were visiting Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1973 and I happened to recognize Fred Thompson, the Minority Counsel, in a pizza parlor. He put my entire family on his guest and we sat in for the morning session of the Watergate hearings, watching the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency. Karma can be a real pain in the ass.

[I promise to tell the Watergate story in its entirety in another blog post.]

Friday, November 4, 2016

Bonus Video

Alabama Shakes - Don't Wanna Fight (Live on SNL)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Slipping Into Darkness

“Hello darkness, my old friend.”  – Simon and Garfunkel

Daylight Savings Time is upon us once again. This coming Sunday, November 6th at 2am, we have been instructed by the powers-that-be to turn our timekeeping devices back one hour. Our phones and computers do it automatically, essentially taking away our choice in the matter, at least for those technological gadgets. Those still living in the analog world, can have the pleasure of moving the big hand and little hand until you’ve traveled back one hour in time. Now you can finish watching that movie, instead of going to bed.

Ben Franklin once wrote an essay for the Journal of Paris called “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” in which he jokingly suggested to the French that they could save on candle costs by getting out of bed earlier in the morning, making use of the natural morning light instead. Cheeky bastard, wasn’t he? Here in the U.S., “Fast time,” as it was then called, was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson in 1918, to support the war effort. (Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.) It was repealed only seven months later, but in 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a year-round annoyance, and if you didn’t like it, you had to lump it in some fashion. Preferably off the clock.

This year the winter solstice falls on December 21st. That day will be seven hours and thirty-four minutes shorter than the longest day on summer solstice. That’s practically a full day at work! On those midwinter days, it’s dark when you arrive at work, and it’s dark when you leave. Thankfully, we have plenty of windows in the bookstore, so that I can actually witness darkness falling. Then I slip into it, when I begin my walk home, like a silk letter, being slid into a black velvet envelope.

The winters here in Seattle are by far the darkest I have experienced. It’s not Alaska dark, but it’s much darker than I was used to in Massachusetts, where winter snowfall helps to brighten the landscape. Cloudy days = dark days. Over a decade ago, I purchased a full spectrum lamp in an effort to help alleviate any seasonal sadness, but I have found that what works for me best is to write myself out of the darkness. Slipping into darkness and then writing my way out is therapeutic. I don’t want to end up like Patty Hearst, kept in the dark until Stockholm syndrome sets in.

I feel like I’m practicing literary dark arts, dredging up memories from my past. These memories are not repressed though. They want to be found! Through my writing, I journey into the heart of darkness until I uncover the horror, the horror of my sorrows and bring them out into the light. That’s when I should use my candlelight app, rather than curse the darkness. Shining a light on the subject does not mean self-criticism. It’s a light radiating love and forgiveness. Like a Hallmark card, but not as cloying.

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.” – Carl Jung