Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sounds and Ultra-Sounds

This past week has been a time of public testimony and political posturing. We have witnessed perhaps the final gasp of the patriarchy in a naked abuse of power and contempt … and finally being called to account. Dr. Christine Ford’s emotionally raw recall of her traumatic event with its clarion ring of truth was in stark contrast to Brett Kavanaugh’s seemingly rehearsed vehemence and, at times, sputtering evasion. Sounds of authenticity and fury of denial.

At the same time Peggy and I have had a week of personal dread, anxiety and some relief. A series of scans and ultra-sounds revealed a tumor in her uterus. In a separate matter a biopsy came back positive for a lesion on her hand. The latter will be removed in a procedure on Tuesday. We await word from an oncological gynecologist for the former. One doctor cheered us with the opinion that it may well be something of long duration and benign.

Amazing how certain words can alter body chemistry. Benign is certainly one of them along with negative when it means something affirmative. Just as mass, malignant and metastasize send the neuro-transmitters into survival mode.  

The macro and micro have also come together for me in past years. The day JFK was shot in Dallas I had just returned from a doctor with the news that my daughter Janice was first diagnosed with possible congenital deafness. We had suspected but dispelled the notion. It was the day before her first birthday. 

The two events have been associated in my head ever since. 
I have also joined, in my mind, the assassination of Robert Kennedy with my daughter Lauren’s first encounter with juvenile arthritis in 1968. Her elevated sedimentation rate inflamed her joints just as our country felt to me like it was coming apart at the seams.

It makes me wonder if troubled times have a way of spreading across my entire landscape. No, I won’t allow it. Whether the Republicans have their way with this nominee or the next one on their list the tide of history shall ultimately prevail. Women are taking back their agency, their bodies. Sex between one consenting adult is done.

It is all of a piece. The sexual abuse. The tribunal of disbelieving men twisting a trauma into a political vendetta. And the intemporate nominee to the High Court. Each of Trump’s candidates is an anticipated vote to overturn Roe v Wade robbing women of their reproductive rights. Life is indeed sacred. That’s why we have birthdays. Pregnant women cannot ride in carpool lanes. We are not suddenly nine months older than we think we are. If Republicans really held life sacred they would not display calloused indifference for human life, once born. So-called Right-to-Life is a hoax wrapped in a cloak of bogus religiosity.

Forty-five years ago John Dean described a cancer growing in the Nixon White House. Today that virulence in the executive has metastasized into the Republican Senate. Grassley and Graham et al (except Sen. Flake) turned a deaf ear to Dr. Ford’s story and voiced outrage in defense of their client as if spokesmen for the Good Old Boys’ Club. They were the voice of male chauvinist porcines snorting in a vanishing mud. May predatory men and out-of-control cancer cells no longer have dominion.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Looking For Good News

But I can't come to the phone right now. I’m too busy thinking great thoughts and looking for good news. If you are calling about molestation and harassment by Hollywood, the Holy Hierarchy or High Court, press one. If you are calling about derangement in the White House, press two. Melting glaciers and estranged polar bears, press three. Homeless folks living in cardboard boxes while the Dow is bursting its buttons, press 4. If you are asking for contributions to the policemen’s ball leave your message before the beep. If you are calling to tell us that Peggy’s Cat-Scan got mixed up with somebody else’s leave a message after the beep.  

The morning newspaper is filled with stories of bodies buried in a typhoon landslide, 124 immigrants found packed in a cargo truck, opioid drug overdose and a variety of mayhem and misdemeanors. Cable stations are feasting on bulletins of disaster. Netflix is bloated with serial killers, epidemics, carnage and apocalyptic scenarios.

As a kid I followed WW II in the New York Times. I remember feeling some pride learning how to hang onto the subway strap with one hand and folding the paper with the other. The pages were all about Allied retreats and advances, bombings, surrenders, liberations and maps of Pacific islands. It was a geography lesson. It all ended in the summer of ’45 and I wondered what there would be to write about. It seems that bad news is inexhaustible. Even in good times I read somewhere there are always about two dozen small wars going on which apparently don’t merit our attention.

Maybe some bad guy died. Does that count as good news? It’s probably why some people watch the Hallmark channel. Here’s a story of a woman living in her car for the past year who, along with four others, found a room in a five-bedroom condo through some charity.

The macro doesn’t match the micro. Just last week a woman let me ahead of her on line at the check-stand with my three items. The bonsai plant is still looking pleased with itself. That book the library claimed I didn’t return turned up on their shelves and they apologized. The honey dew I bought in August is almost ripe enough to open. At least I asked if it was ready and it didn’t protest.

Contrary to the impression left by Breaking News I don’t know any mass murderers, double agents, or human traffickers. I’ve yet to have lunch with a suicide bomber or been targeted by a drone. There have been no jack-knifed big rigs on our street. Dog-walkers bag their poop.

Singularly we are a noble lot. We hold the elevator door for each other. We stop (more or less) at stop signs and may grumble over prices but don’t blow up the market. There is no one on the road to incite me into rage. For the most part the milk of human kindness flows in every vein. And yet as we cling to some sort of neo-tribal identity the beast within is given legitimacy. We regress to feral-survivor mode as if…

We’re experiencing a high call volume. Your expected wait-time is seven hours. Best to call back between midnight and three when you can be assured no one will answer the phone.

As for that Cat-Scan, we are dealing with it. Peggy lives by these words of wisdom: No Resistance.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Where I Came In

Saturday between noon and one o’clock we’d be there inching our way across an aisle in the dark theater, my brother and I. It didn’t matter that the movie had started. Being four years older he was stuck with me; I was five, plus or minus. We were probably well-prepared for a long afternoon with boxes of Jujubes, Necco wafers and assorted agents of tooth decay and future zits. 

We would stay until we could say, This is where we came in. How many movies did I watch starting in the middle and working itself to the end and then the beginning? You might think that the lesson would have taught me that life is cyclic like the seasons. But it didn’t quite take. The counter narrative is linear sequential.

I expect most of us behave as if the world started when we fell to earth. Page one. Anything before was preamble. Progression was assumed, corresponding to our own growing up. Life in the 1930s was simple because I was a simpleton and my senses were rudimentary. See Dick run … and he did.

Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger sang union songs extolling the working class. You can’t scare me I’m sticking with the union…till the day I die, went one song. Another lyric was, They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there / You either are a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair. Blair was a coal mine owner who probably had brought in scab labor during a strike.

In today’s world of the absurd we have descendants of these mine-workers voting for Blair’s would-be chum, Donald Trump. This isn’t progress. It is regression. Some sort of twisted dictatorship of the proletariat. Karl Marx had it all wrong. The down-trodden masses have turned into the mob and cast their lot with the guy in the penthouse. The forgotten are led by the misbegotten. The sit-down strikers of the thirties are now marching to the hokum of a flimflam man. 

We knew those fat cats back in the day. Sydney Greenstreet, Edward Arnold, Eugene Pallette and Charles Coburn weighed in at about half a ton. They nearly always played the filthy rich tycoons indifferent to the man asking, Brother, can you spare a dime.

As Ma Joad said in the Grapes of Wrath: Rich fellas come up an’ they die and their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, cause we’re the people.

Yes, the people keep on coming but they took a wrong turn, it seems to me, back in Vietnam war days when unions of hard hats mistook it for WWII and felt left out of the social upheaval. They became misaligned with their own welfare and miscast with the generals and war profiteers.

Oliver Hardy famously said to Stan Laurel, Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into. Their movies were part of my Saturday matinee menu along with the double feature, newsreels, March of Dimes collection, Looney Tunes, and a serial such as The Lone Ranger. We are currently in a bigger mess than Stan Laurel ever imagined and no William Tell Overture to signal the return of the masked Ranger or Tonto to set the world right.

Another Laurel quote: I had a dream that I was awake and woke up to find myself asleep. America is half asleep under the spell of malarkey. There is a card sharp robber baron and his band of cattle rustlers running the show with tacit support from the town folk. I am waiting for the part when the clean-shaven sheriff calls them out. It is high noon at the O.K. Corral. I’m waiting for the drunken doctor to sober up. For the schoolmarm to ring the bell and the saloon-keeper to prohibit brawls and shoot-outs. For the decent poor folk to figure out how their bread is buttered and stop shooting themselves in the foot. I can't leave now. I'm waiting for the scene when I can say, This is where we came in.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Damn Those Greeks

Rumor (which I just started) has it that when Trump heard Stormy was in bed with laryngitis he shouted, Damn those Greeks. He was overheard uttering the same epitaph when told the New York Times op-ed piece was written by Anonymous. Who knew our inspirational leader was a classical Hellenistic scholar.

Perhaps he was drawn to the Greeks when told that their early version of Democracy included slaves and that hubris was a feature of Greek heroes ... before they had their comeuppance. Trump has enjoyed many highlight moments usurping the prerogatives of the Gods. Zeus, himself, that old mischievous hurler of lightning tweets, when he wasn’t having his way with nubile nymphs, would surely have taken umbrage with our Donald. The Olympians didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Sparta, rather than Athens, might have been a better fit. Bone spurs to the contrary notwithstanding, he would not have shied away from an invasion or two. And certainly there would be no skimping on parades. Of course, any military action would have been fought by lesser men, the fools and losers. Trump would have watched from his eponymous (another Greek) Tower demonstrating his Edifice Complex.

To prove his immersion in all things Greek Trump follows Socrates dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living. He has tweaked it by declaring that the unexamined Tax Return is not worth showing. As for Plato’s assertion that we are mere shadows on the wall Trump seeks to test the notion by building a three-thousand mile wall. In the world of mythology heroes routinely kill dragons.  Rather than look inside at his own demons he has set out to kill the imagined one, namely, Government. Had he directed his angst against corporate greed we might have reason to hail him.
He has identified with Narcissus fixed as he is with his own face and hair. Opposing women’s control over their reproductive rights Trump might have looked toward ancient Greece where many an unwanted baby was set out among the rocks or caves …only to pop up years later (Ion and Oedipus) with dire consequences.

But Trump is, archetypically speaking, the Trickster. Though that designation insults the coyote. He certainly is not the disguised shaman or healer. His forked tongue may be his Achilles heel having put his foot in his mouth so often. He is part Odysseus with duplicity and deceit and part Orpheus charming his way into the underbelly while he lip-syncs the illusory dread in the Heartland.

My guess is Trump’s favorite Greek name is Xeno, meaning strange voice; hence xenophobia, that base fear which he has inflamed among his fearful base.  Damn those Greeks.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Conversation with the Other

In a recurrent nightmarish day-dream I’m the last one standing. Aliens have arrived and I’m there to greet the spaceship hoping, at least, for someone to have lunch with. After the usual small talk about our respective planets and what went wrong with mine I ask what took them so long. The pilot apologizes because they’ve been monitoring our decline and fall for many moons, alarmed at our recent planetary suicide but he says they just didn’t make the lights.

The three-eyed android who more resembles an over-sized grasshopper or an under-sized rhinoceros, remarkably, speaks a perfect English. Good thing because I only took Trash as a second language. It had been a while since I’d spoken at all and found myself fluent, at first, only in gibberish till I regained use of my tongue.

He then turns to a pile of what we used to call technology inquiring how all the gadgetry works. I dread the moment and plead total ignorance. Fearful of raising his hackles I try to explain that we earthlings used a lot of things but most of us had no idea how anything worked. His hackles did indeed rise. I worried that some form of inter-galactic enhanced interrogation was coming in which I might find myself impaled on one his hackles.

He seemed to accept my ignorance since, after all, we had convincingly demonstrated our collective stupidity by electing an infantile despot to lead our nation. The visitors regretted their delayed arrival and having to deal with such a poor specimen as me to enlighten them on our human progress. I could only assure them that there used to live among us some who could explain how the loom with its punch cards led to player pianos and eventually to programming the computer. I told him there were a few of us undaunted by hot wires or hard drives who could fiddle with links and algorithms and blue teeth and black holes. If one of those had survived they could build it all over again from a handful of dust. However I was not the guy.

All I had to offer was the paper clip, coat hanger and orange juice squeezer none of which he had ever seen before. We agreed to call it a start and besides it would take a lot more than things to get it right next time around.