Friday, October 25, 2019

Vigilante Justice

Just behind Mom and apple pie there is nothing more American than good old vigilante justice. From Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger back to the noir detectives and before that the singing cowboy of the Wild West. For every cattle rustler there was a Lone Ranger and even lonelier Tonto. Who was that masked man and where'd he go?

The wheels of justice are far too slow or too corrupt and cumbersome for our extra-legal hero. Besides, who wants to sit through the tedium of the real world.  After all, the rugged individuals we are noted for can’t wait to set things right. He's got a nose for trouble. He has a few heads to crack, rescue a damsel and send the bad guys up the river. It all comes down to this: man, alone versus the institutions. The real enemy may not be the outlaw but the courts, due process and government itself.

Vigilantes always think they know better. The guy in the lynch mob knows where the hanging tree is just as the moron at the Trump rally knows the chant. 

Our heroes are the ex-cop or private eye who defy medical science as he tears himself free of his I.V. and walks out of the hospital twenty minutes after surgery to save mankind. Even better is the ordinary man or woman minding their own business when spiraled into a web of ordeals with dragons.

Everybody’s favorite is Clyde. When banks started foreclosing on farms in his day he didn’t wait for trickle-down economics to put a few crumbs on his table. He went directly to the bank. His withdrawal slip was a gun. Everybody needs a hobby. Too bad thirteen people got in the way of his bullets. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie redressed their grievances in that rugged American way. Somehow between holdups he managed to write a letter to the richest of all captains of industry. It doesn't get more absurd than this............

Mr. Henry Ford, Detroit, Michigan
Dear Sir, 
While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove [sic] Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever [sic] other car skinned and even if my business hasn’t been strickly [sic] legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.

Yours truly, Clyde Champion Barrow

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Suddenly Old

A funny thing happened to me after my 86th birthday. I got to be 86….suddenly.  It’s been a cruel seven months. Up until my birthday I was thirty-nine, plus or minus. I used to play basketball in the park on Sunday. Now if I tried to slam-dunk I probably trip over the foul line and bang my head on the bottom of the backboard.

Aging knows no grace. It doesn’t inch or creep; it leaps, precipitously. One day you’re vertical and next, diagonal. I look at people in the restaurant with walkers as kindred folk. And they nod back as if to say you’re one of us now. Get over it.

Of course I’d always known about decrepitude but surely that didn’t apply to me, did it? I had pluck and spunk but that was then. When I go marketing now the first thing I do is search for a shopping cart (my walker) in the parking lot….even if I’ve come only to pick up a bread. 

In terms of endurance, agility or brisk walking, this is the age of subtraction.

What did you do yesterday?
I threw out the trash.
What else?
I changed the paper toweling.

About six weeks ago I went to sit down and I missed. It was in the E.R. when Peggy was brought there in the early morning hours. I had a newspaper in one hand and a cup of water in the other. My balance deserted me. I thought nothing of it when I landed on the floor apparently with my shoulders taking the impact. If I had given it any thought I would have landed on my face. A rearrangement of my nose, mouth, cheeks, etc… could do no harm.

In that nanosecond if you are granted a multiple choice do not opt for shoulders. They get nasty when insulted. They’ve served me well all these years and we’ve grown emotionally attached. Now I can’t reach or tuck in my shirt or even scratch my head without wincing. I can still shrug all right but I’m not in the mood for shrugging. The pain gets particularly loud when I’m trying to sleep. Hush, I say to my aching upper arms. I never knew it had such a low threshold of pain.

Add to this malady my neuropathy which has been mostly dormant for decades. It seems to have coordinated a frontal attack in my upper regions causing an enervation of the musculature in my lower extremities.  In addition my right knee and left ankle are arthritic along with a bone spur. Not one of those fake ones for people who live in towers but a real one for which there is no remedy.

To say that ambulation has become a challenge is like saying the Trump presidency gives one pause. In baseball terms if I hit a ball against the centerfield wall and the two outfielders ran into each other, then one woke up and threw wildly back into the infield……….I might or might not make it to first base.

Now I must return to my exercises, jumping to conclusions and running off at the mouth… if I can only get up from this chair. I must learn to act my age; something I thought I’d never have to do. 

Yes, I agree. Nothing is more boring than hearing about someone else’s woes. I’m putting myself to sleep with all this self-pity. It must be time for a nap.

Saturday, October 12, 2019


Wars have a way of upsetting the narrative…as if there really ever was one. Looking backward some of us try to connect the dots and trace a shift in the way things were...and then weren’t anymore.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, which was particularly uncivil, our history was marked by betrayal of the cause along with the rise of monopoly capitalism and the American version of Dickensian poverty. On another level, sensibilities shifted. Calvinism, with its rigidity and literal interpretation of biblical fables gave way grudgingly to a looser code; at least among academics, poets, writers and journalists. For the Blacks not enough was gone by the wind but immigrants ultimately provided diversity and then there was Charles Darwin even if many hadn’t yet evolved.

The First World War yielded the Jazz Age and Lost Generation…..lost to fertilize the fields of Europe, lost to the flu pandemic and lost in bewilderment. The notion of never-ending progress was snapped by the colossal stupidity of ignorant armies clashing in the night, as Matthew Arnold’s poem, Dover Beach put it. For a decade we let loose, drinking in Speakeasys and living on margin with Dow & Jones until the bubble burst into a dust bowl of apples.

World War II was so disrupting it resulted in a decade of conformity with millions of new homeowners in tract homes with scrupulous lawns and  2 ½ children. Under God was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. It was a decade of Pax Americana. Eisenhower presided and everyone knew his place, still with separate drinking fountains and swimming pools. Under the Doris Day / Rock Hudson immaculate conception a controversy of birds was stirring on those metal trees on the roof and in the devil grass among dichondra. In came the Beats, the hair, the hemp, the flower-girls, freedom-riders, soldiers marching, sit-ins and love-ins.

Trump has been President for almost 1000 days. History may well regard this period as a wartime. We have been under siege with his pernicious mindlessness, the moral violence he adds to our daily discourse, his barbed mendacity, bellicose rallies which reek of Nuremberg and his frontal assaults on our democracy. I may be getting ahead of the arc but I see the decline and fall of his quasi monarchy close at hand. I can smell it. We are nearing the point when even the unconscionable Senators are bending under the weight of his wanton disregard of our Constitution. The White House is blanching, aghast with his reckless, indefensible behavior.

When he is gone there will be an epochal change. Gradually we will return to civility just in time for the Thanksgiving table. No more food fights. The word Truth will reenter our vocabulary. Hypocrisy and loathing will lose their currency. Make room for common sense as applied to gun laws, the degradation of our planet and immigration.

The common-weal will replace pseudo-Populism. We contain multitudes, always have and are richer for it. In the words of e.e. Cummings, We who have died are alive again today. When the monarch is removed along with his con-men, hit-men and Yes-men we will enter into first a period of repair and then a recognition of necessities. We may even put to rest those festering issues over which the Civil War was fought as well as checking the rise of fascism before a swastika replaces our stars and stripes.