Monthly Archives: October 2019

Little Laughter

The new “Joker” movie is a rehash of an old conundrum: middle-aged man tries to remain relevant in a society that views him with mocking contempt, while he seeks true love and cares for his elderly disabled mother.  Said middle-aged man then experiences a cerebral infarction that plunges him into a psychotic pit of hopeless violence.

How the hell did the screenplay writer get hold of one of my journals?!

“Joker” reminds me of a 1950 Mexican film entitled “Los Olvidados” (The Forgotten Ones), directed by Luis Buñuel.  Also known as “The Young and the Damned”, it focuses on a small cadre of teens trying to survive the brutalities of urban life in a México City slum.

By the 1950s, many films began to acquire a more realistic approach to the world’s problems.  While a post-World War II America seemed to relegate itself to colorful musicals and grand westerns with clearly-drawn heroic and villainous figures, filmmakers in other countries expressed a more cynical, jaded view.

In “Los Olvidados”, Buñuel depicts poverty exactly as it is: cold, violent and oppressive.  It’s a birth place for anger and hostility; not ingenuity where people go from victim to survivor through sheer will power and determination.  American movies of the time often showed Mexicans and Negroes as happy and laughing, despite their economic hardships and substandard living conditions.  In “Los Olvidados”, poverty doesn’t hover in the background like trees in a park.  It’s tangible and painful; it’s a source of cruelty and hate – not an inspiration to forge ahead through rocky obstacles and build a better life.

“Joker” is a modification of that, as it highlights the humiliation individuals often experience in their ongoing quest for acceptance.  It also points to the hostile and sometimes violent reaction people have when they don’t gain that acceptance or respect.  It’s why, for example, American society exploded into rage and bloodshed in the mid-1960s; more directly, why many non-Whites exploded.  They’d finally lost their patience.  They’d done everything possible to be part of the American mainstream, and it still wasn’t good enough.  They were still being treated as second-class citizens; intimidated at the voting booth; forced to sit in the back of mass transit vehicles; sequestered into a proverbial closet.  Beat an animal long enough and it’ll eventually bite back.

For me, patience was always a given.  I had a long fuse.  It took a lot to aggravate me to the point of hysteria.  That may seem like a good thing, a positive attribute – and it is.  But like paralyzing fear, it has its drawbacks – namely that I let people take advantage of me.  Then, in the quiet of my home, I’d complain about it – to no one.  When I would finally bite back, I would unleash a barrage of bloody emotions.  And people would have the audacity to be shocked and get upset.  In other words, I’d scare the shit out of them.  But the primary drawback?  It made me look mentally and emotionally unstable.

In “Joker”, Joaquin Phoenix tries to put on a happy face, while mired in emotional pain and confusion.

I can recall a number of examples where I let myself get pushed too far, but here’s one.  July 2000 and I worked as an executive administrative assistant for a large bank in Dallas.  I supported two bank officers, plus the manager to our little group.  That summer our particular division decided it wanted every individual officer to submit letters to every client in their portfolios; personally-signed letters – not electronically stamped.  The letters for each of my two officers arrived later than for those of the others.  They’d been sent to the wrong floor.  One of my officers seemed to get upset that I didn’t get all 800+ of her letters out on the same day she dropped them on my desk.  She’d taken them home and, after two weeks, finally had them all signed.

I reserved a conference room for half a day, just for the sole purpose of folding each and every one of those letters and placing them into respective envelopes with two of the officer’s business cards.  When my manager realized how far behind I was, he enlisted a few others to help me get them done.  One of the helpers was a fellow administrative assistant who loathed the idea of helping anyone do anything.  In between folding and stuffing, that one particular officer I supported kept yelling at me to answer her phone – while she conversed with another associate.  I finally told her to stop yelling at me.  She and that one admin, however, took the time to stand at the desk of the admin to the department supervisor and discuss beauty secrets with his roommate who did drag shows at local queer bars.  The roommate was on speaker phone.

The next day – after all the letters had been dispatched – I confronted my manager to complain about the fiasco.  His dismissive attitude, along with the eye-rolling response from that one officer and that one other assistant, served as the final knife into my back.  To enhance the aggravation, they pointed out that I’d taken the time to talk with my father (when their own family members would call several times a day) and then accused me of “fraternizing” with yet another admin.

Thus, my patience disintegrated faster than tequila at an open bar during a Mexican wedding.  The level of anger that spewed forth from beleaguered soul terrified even me.  My voice rose in such extreme anger that some people on the other side of the floor hear me.  When our department manager threatened to call security if I didn’t “calm down”, I took the liberty of calling them myself.  On speaker phone.  With that supervisor (and my immediate manager) standing beside me.  They were both stunned into silence, as the security official on the phone waited for a response.

“No, it’s okay,” replied the department supervisor.  For once she sounded nervous.

A security official did come into our area; as equally perplexed as he was curious about my call.  By then, however, the department supervisor’s boss – they were all C-level executives – had learned of the situation and consulted with me privately.  He was angered – not with me; but with my colleagues and my direct manager.  When he gathered all of us together, I thought that one officer, the one who’d accused me of “fraternizing”, was going to melt into a puddle of tears and shit.

I didn’t like what happened that day.  I didn’t like that it got so ugly.  Hostility breeds nothing but contempt.  But I had to take a stand.  I had to let people know how exactly I felt and why I was so angry.  I rightfully put the blame back on them; that if they’d shown me the respect I deserved as an adult and a business professional, none of that would have happened.  Then again, if I’d only said or done something earlier; if I’d just reacted sooner, the day would have proceeded more smoothly.

Sometimes, though, we do have to yell; we do have to make a scene.  It should never get to that, but it happens.  Some people just can’t grasp the concept of keeping peace in the neighborhood or maintaining a high degree of business professionalism.  We have to lower our intellect to their level, so they’ll comprehend what we’ve been trying to tell them.  I hate doing that – because it really does make us look emotionally unbalanced.  But occasionally, there’s just no other way.

The title character in “Joker” is embroiled in the same dilemma.  He’s trying desperately to remain relevant and garner respect.  He’s been beaten down and disrespected for far too long.  Then he explodes.  He’s been pushed to the violent breaking point.  And there are literally millions of people like him across the globe.

It all goes back to one of the most human of desires: to be acknowledged and respected.  The lack of respect creates hostility in the workplace, but it also launches wars and civil unrest.  We saw that here in the U.S. with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.  We saw it with the 2011 “Arab Spring”.  People can only take so much.

Whatever happens, it’s no laughing matter.  Respect will always equal dignity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays

Retro Quote – Louisa May Alcott

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty believe in them and try to follow where they lead.”

Louisa May Alcott

Leave a comment

Filed under History

Worst Quote of the Week – October 25, 2019

“So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights.  All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching.  But we will WIN!”

– Faux-President Donald Trump, colorfully describing the impeachment inquiry by the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives

Still working (with surprisingly little effort) to maintain his role as ASSHOLE-in-Chief, Trump once again uses racist terminology to elicit sympathy from his brainless followers.

To put the concept of lynching back into historical perspective, the above photo was taken shortly before the lynching death of Henry Smith in Paris, Texas, in 1893 that was viewed by a crowd of 10,000 as a public spectacle.  An estimated 4,000 people have been lynched in the U.S. since the end of the Civil War, even as late as the 1960s; mostly Black, but also Native American, Hispanic and even some Whites.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama offers a stark view of the REAL victims of human intolerance.

Leave a comment

Filed under News

Best Quote of the Week – October 25, 2019

“We want people to know that it exists, and they can join it.”

Pastor Doug Pagitt, founder of a left-leaning religious organization called “Vote Common Good”, about obliterating the myth that leftist or liberal-minded people can’t also be religious.

Leave a comment

Filed under News

PEN America in Dallas

Dallas author and co-founder of PEN Dallas/Fort Worth Sanderia Faye.

I’m excited to announce that a global literary and free speech organization, PEN International, has established a new chapter in Dallas, Texas.  Founded in London in 1921, PEN International has a very simple mission: preserve literature in all its forms and ensure everyone can engage in free speech and freedom of expression.  These are core elements in any truly democratic society, but they are constantly being challenged and even threatened by self-appointed guardians of writing, journalism and speech; people who seem to think they have the right and the power to determine what the rest of us can say and read.  It’s a never-ending battle and, sadly, it never will be won.  Those of us who advocate for a free press and free speech will always have to confront the oligarchical bullies who feel they – and only they – are blessed with inalienable rights to speech and literature.

Pen International felt the need to establish the Dallas / Fort Worth chapter in the wake of the fraudulent 2016 U.S. presidential election, which has given us an arrogant, foul-mouthed, womanizing, reality TV star in the White House.

“At a time of exceptional threats to free expression and open discourse, our chapters will bring years of mobilization, activism and organizing among writing communities across the country to the next level,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.  The Dallas/Fort Worth chapter, as well as others around the U.S. will be vehicles for “pushing back against the breakdown of civil discourse, the marginalization of vital voices, and encroachments on press freedom.”

This shouldn’t be a surprised to anyone familiar with U.S. politics.  I’ve noticed over the years that, any time a conservative Republican lands in the White House, free speech and freedom of the press come under attack.  They have no problems loosening gun laws and sending our military to fight stupid wars (as if there’s such a thing as a “smart” war).  But, when it comes to education, health care and even voting, conservatives suddenly feel the need to debate the matter.

Regardless of how hard we have to fight to ensure the rights to free speech and freedom of the press, we will always take up the torch of liberty and justice.

Everyone has a story and everyone needs to be heard.

Leave a comment

Filed under News

No Synching

Dearest Followers:

Allow The Chief to pull his Stradivarius from behind the toilet paper and bathroom cleaning supplies and attempt whole-heartedly to extract a bit of sympathy from you.  This past Monday, October 21, I awoke feeling disoriented.  I can’t explain it exactly, but I simply felt…weird.  Yes, I realize you folks have come to expect that from me, especially since I’m a writer, and a troubled mindset is one of the drawbacks of the creative spirit.

I’ve encountered this sensation before – only once previously, though.  But, on this past Monday, it felt more intense and painful.  I kept feeling that anything and everything I did – no matter how small or mundane – wasn’t right.  I couldn’t open a door in the right way.  I couldn’t even pick up a piece of trash the right way.  I mean, EVERYTHING I did wasn’t right.

I keep thinking it might be related to my allergies.  The summer to fall transition is almost always the worst for me.  But, every few years, I have a period like now, where it hits harder than freight train striking a vehicle stuck on the tracks.  Simple over-the-counter and / or home-based remedies won’t help.  I have to visit my family doctor and get some high-caliber, prescribed medicine.  This year, he gave me three.  Feeling tired and lethargic comes with the territory.  I’ve always said my worst allergies follow the hurricane season in the Atlantic / Caribbean basin.  And, this time around, the storm was a Category 5.

I’m pretty much over all that mess now.  But…that overwhelming disoriented feeling.  Is that related to my allergies and / or the prescribed medicines?  I know some high-octane medicines have a myriad of potential side effects.  In fact, reading the list of side effects – diarrhea, fatigue, nausea – makes me wonder if they’re worth the trouble.  Let’s see, what do I prefer?  A runny nose or a runny ass?  Too many choices!  Like trying to find a book to read while eating cereal.

Then again, are my years of frequent alcohol consumption finally coming back to haunt me, like the fact I never attended a high school dance?  I consider myself a recovering alcoholic, but I still haven’t given it up permanently.  Smoking, yes, but I can’t resist a good screwdriver or wine cooler!  I just watch myself.

Perhaps, this is what life is like headed towards age 60 – meaning the seventh decade of my existence.  As a youth, I recall my parents – mainly my mother – opining that life begins at 40.  At that time, people, indeed, seemed to have reached the apex of happiness with family, career, etc.  Now, I hear that 50 is the new 40.  Medical advances have made it more likely people will live into their 80s and 90s.  Thus, 50 really is becoming middle age for many Americans.

I just don’t know.  But I feel friends and family are likely to scoff at me, if I mention aloud that I’m feeling incredibly disoriented.  ‘So, what’s new?’ they might say.  ‘Tell me something I DON’T know!’  Okay, okay!  You don’t have to rub it in, like sandpaper mistaken for…well, toilet paper.

I’m only putting this out there – to this audience, my faithful followers – because I’m not really ashamed of it.  It’s just frustrating and annoying.  Okay, it pisses me off!  It interferes with my daily activities.  I can’t even work on my creative writing.  That disoriented sensation blocks my artistic mind from producing anything.  So, I just go to sleep.

As with the last time this happened, I realized I just needed to stop trying so hard to understand it and merely take a shower and plunge into my bed with its 10-year-old mattress.  I’m curious to know, however, what you folks think.  Has this happened to you and, if so, how did you deal with it?  Remember, if you don’t take this seriously, we’ll hear about more drama from the British royal family!

Image: Gary Larson, “The Far Side”

2 Comments

Filed under Essays

Retro Quote – Elijah E. Cummings

“My life is based on pain, passion, and purpose.”

–  Elijah E.Cummings, U.S. Congressman from Maryland who died unexpectedly on October 17

Leave a comment

Filed under History