Category Archives: Essays

Flush Royal

The announcement of the summit alarmed everyone.  They didn’t know what to make of it.  What would happen?  So, as the key players gathered, many held their collective breath.  Others dismissed it as the usual pomp and circumstance.  Again, interested parties wondered, what would come of this?

Was it another meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?  Had the World Court convened to mediate yet another dispute between Israel and Palestine?  Did México’s president finally agree to pay for that border wall?

No, it wasn’t anything that dramatic – except for the tabloids.  Queen Elizabeth II had summoned members of her immediate family to discuss their royal duties.  More specifically if Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, really did plan to step back from their title-bound obligations.  And, once again, the American press focused so much of their time and energy on this sudden turn of events.

Yet, amidst the chaos, I have to make a very simple inquiry: WHO CARES?!

Seriously!  With all due respect to my British friends, acquaintances and fellow writers and bloggers, the average American citizen doesn’t give a damn what happens with the British royal family!  And I suspect many average Britons don’t care either.

But here we are – AGAIN – with several American media outlets wasting more of their – and our – time telling us what that group of entitled bluebloods are doing.  A while back they spent a great deal of time revealing that Prince Philip had decided to retire from his royal duties and remain at Buckingham Palace, the Windsor family’s primary abode; an 800-room monstrosity that dates to the 18th century.  How does one retire from duties that really aren’t a job?

My mother retired from the insurance industry at age 70.  She gets two pensions, plus social security.  She literally worked for half a century – dealing with gender and racial harassment; gossipy coworkers; rude customers; and unsavory managers.  I recall her bringing work home sometimes, just so she could get caught up – although she didn’t get overtime.  That was on top of helping my father raise me and tending to the house.  She also had to deal with migraine headaches, which often struck in the midst of meetings and conference calls.  Gosh, did Prince Philip have to deal with that shit?

Ever since Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer wed in 1981, the American press has held an incredible fascination with the British monarchy.  I have to concede that Diana had more class, grace and style than the entire Windsor family combined.  I’m actually glad that her sons, William and Harry, inherited both her looks and her sense of generosity.

But, if you take away all of their regal extravagance, the Windsors would qualify as little more than trailer park trash here in the U.S.  And, in all fairness, I’ve known people who lived in trailer parks and had more class than the Windsor clan.

Since the United States has such a close relationship with Great Britain – it’s from their tight grasp that we were born – I suppose it’s natural many of my fellow citizens would be enamored with British royalty.  After all, we aren’t similarly obsessed with the royal families of India, Japan, the Netherlands, or Spain.

But, as an average American whose taxes help fund the livelihood of the First Family (in this case, the Trumps, already among the wealthiest families in the world), I have to point out that it is average Britons whose tax money funds the livelihoods of the Windsor family.  While Great Britain suffered through severe economic downturns in the immediate aftermath of World War II and through subsequent national events – such as IRA bombings and coal miner strikes – money was still being sucked out of the paychecks of working people so the Windsors could move from one grand home to another and gallop across the globe.  It’s British taxpayers who finance those extravagant state dinners at Buckingham Palace where only the rich and powerful can partake of exquisite meals.

Twenty years ago Prime Minister Tony Blair made a concerted attempt to tackle child poverty in the U.K.  At the time officials estimated approximately 34% of children in Great Britain lived in households impacted by poverty.  Blair’s goal was eliminate poverty – or at least severely reduce it – within a generation.  Sadly, results have been mixed.  But at least he tried.

The U.S. president is more intent on spending billions of American dollars (tax-payer money) to build a wall along our southern border to keep all those varmint Mexicans out.  Never mind that my Indian and Spanish ancestors had dominated the region long before there was a United States or a Trump family.  That, of course, is a different history.

I suspect much of the child poverty in England could be resolved by pulling money out of the coffers of the Windsors and inserting into health and education programs specifically aimed at children and working families.  The U.S. could do something similar with taxes levied against the largest corporations and wealthiest families who already don’t pay much in taxes.  Families who – much like the Trump clan – feel they’re somehow entitled to their luxurious lifestyles; an existence for them that comes at the expense of we lowly peons who struggle with increasing costs of living on a daily basis.

I don’t know what will come of the aforementioned “royal summit” and, of course, I DON’T CARE!  Plenty of English citizens are opposed to the Windsors and to the general concept of a royal family.  We certainly know what France and Russia did to their monarchies.  I don’t wish a similar fate to befall the Windsors.  But it wouldn’t hurt them to relinquish Buckingham Palace to the city of London to be transformed into a museum.  Their plethora of jewels possibly could fund complete renovations of every single school building in the U.K.  Elizabeth and Philip could sell off the bulk of their homes, and the entire clan could settle quietly into a single multi-room estate and write books about their privileged lives as a source of income.

See!  If we average people ruled the world, there would be no war, poverty, sick and hungry children or overpriced state dinners.  And everyone would have a place at the table!

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays

About the Last Decade…

“I saw the decade in,

When it seemed the world could change,

At the blink of an eye.”

Jesus Jones – “Right Here, Right Now

I have to wonder what is it about this last decade that makes it unique.  How do we define the 2010s?  It seems to be a modern quandary.  Since the 1920s, the United States – and perhaps, much of the world – has viewed itself in terms of decades.  Every ten-year period for the past century has been defined by certain cultural and political events and movements.

The 1920s were known as the “Roaring 20s” and the “Jazz Age”.  It was a decade of extraordinary prosperity, the maturity of the film industry, jazz bands, raccoon coats, flappers, bootleggers and marathon dancers.  The 1930s were dominated by the “Great Depression”; a calamitous effect of those “Roaring 20s”.  It also became renowned for the equally disastrous “Dust Bowl”, bank robbers, the rise of fascism in Europe and many precursors to World War II.

The 1930s started as the previous decade came to an end and spilled into the 1940s, which then became known as the “War Years”; its connection to the Second World War sealed in blood and stone.  Sorrow and patriotism marked that period, but hope also rose up from the sands of despair.  American dominance across the globe began to take shape in that decade.

The 1950s saw the greatest economic expansion in modern world history, as a new “Middle Class” took control of the American experience.  The Second World War metastasized into the Cold War, as Communism began rampaging across Europe.  The Korean War was a brutal stain on this time of prosperity, which also became known for a dual sense of conformity and fear.  The various civil rights movements that would dominate the latter half of the 20th century began fomenting in the 1950s.

The 1960s were a cataclysm of generational clashes, which started with the election of John F. Kennedy.  The decade commenced as a mirror of the previous decade.  But all of the chaos that defined the 60s had begun rumbling in the 50s, like a volcanic caldera.  People who had done everything possible to secure their right to freedom and happiness exploded with anger that they had achieved little in many respects.  Their hostility shocked the staid American populace, as the decade also saw the space race take shape; political assassinations; the Vietnam War; drug and sex revolutions; and finally, a man on the moon.

The 1970s began as an extension of the 60s, but it saw an explosion of artistry in music, television, cinema and literature.  It also experienced cultural and technological innovations.  On the down side, it was scarred by the first resignation of president in U.S. history; a humiliating end to the Vietnam conflict; energy crises; and finally, an even more humiliating hostage situation with Iran.

While the 60s were often called the “We Decade” and the 70s the “Me Decade”, the 1980s became the “Gimme Decade”; a time when greed became good, hair and women’s shoulder pads grew large and overpriced meals grew small.  It spawned the “MTV Generation” and saw the VCR become ubiquitous in American households.  It also experienced the rise of one of the greatest health crises in world history, as AIDS exploded.

The 1990s remains my personal favorite.  Although it began with the “Savings & Loan” crisis and the Persian Gulf War, we underwent economic growth that eclipsed the 1950s and an explosion of technology unmatched in modern history.  The 90s saw multiculturalism and the fruits of affirmative action; DNA science; the collapse of the Soviet Union; right-wing paranoia; and Y2K.

The first two decades of the 21st century, however, seem almost indistinguishable.  The horror of 9/11; a resurgence of patriotism; U.S.-led Middle East conflicts; and the “Great Recession” defined the first ten years.  But, if we had to classify the 2010s, how would we so it?  What would we say?

I feel it’s been almost a complete reversal of two centuries of civil rights progress.  The birth of the “Tea Party” in 2010 wasn’t so much a vitriolic dissatisfaction with the tax system in the U.S. (Taxed Enough Already), but rather, the election of the nation’s first biracial president.  That seemed to upend all that was considered normal in this country; an obliteration of long-held norms.  The “Tea Party” boasted a few Asian, Black and Hispanic members; all tokens working on behalf of the Old White Male, who went from just ‘angry’ to downright ‘enraged’.  So-called “birtherism” mixed with the complete and total disrespect Republican politicians had for Barack Obama.  In response, Republican-dominated state legislatures (including my beloved Texas) became determined to dismantle decades of voting rights by limiting early voting periods and enhancing voter identification methods; all in an attempt to undermine a mythical rash of voter fraud.  In reality, they were just appalled that a Negro (a half-blooded one, but a Negro nonetheless) could make it into the highest political office in the land.  Fortunately, they’ve been stalled by various judges at almost every step.  In retaliation for the Obama years, many voters became determined to get just about any old White man into the White House.  Thus, we ended up with the cantankerously disoriented Donald Trump.  I told myself repeatedly during the disastrous George W. Bush years that I’m not ashamed to be an American.  But Trump’s tenure has made that sentiment exceptionally difficult.

As with any serious economic downturn, the “Great Recession” made America turn inwards during the last decade; with non-Whites and immigrants suffering the usual brunt of antagonism and fear.  What should have been a time of extraordinary prosperity – coming off the 1990s – mutated into lackluster economic growth in the 2000s and ardent despair in the 2010s.  Literally millions of people lost their jobs, homes and savings, as the large corporations (particularly the monstrous financial institutions) that fueled the near-total collapse got bailed out.  And – with a few high-profile exceptions – no one went to jail.  Where was my tax relief?

The trickle-down economics bullshit that forms the basis of conservative financial ideology got a steroid-type boost with the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and intense deregulation of those dreaded banks.  That furthered the expansion of wealth inequality that makes the “Gilded Age” look juvenile.  The “Gilded Age” – to anyone wary enough – created an anarchist movement that took root in the slums of Europe and Latin America before seeping into the U.S.  It came close to a rebirth with “Occupy Wall Street”, but I still believe a full-fledged revolt is possible.

I guess how we define any period in our lives is how we define ourselves.  If we like where we are in life, then times are good.  It’s always purely subjective.  As introverted as I am and as pessimistic as I may seem to some, I still hope the 2020s experience an eruption of more progressive national ideologies; such as advances in science and medicine and greater funding for education and health care, instead of war and tax breaks for a select privileged few.  Where we go from here is often dependent more on our own aspirations than on fate and acts of God.  The sun hasn’t set on hope, if we look at hope as concept ahead and not behind.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays

One Last Angry Clarion Call

Trump looking out in anger.

“It seems clear that [Attorney General William Barr] will do or enable anything to keep Trump in office.  And Trump will do anything to stay there.  Suspension of the election, negation of the results, declaration of martial law are not simply fanciful, alarmist or crazy things to throw out there or to contemplate.  Members of Congress, governors and state legislators, leaders in civil society, lawyers, law enforcement figures and the military need to be thinking now about how they might respond.”

Norm Orenstein, Chair of American Enterprise Institute of Public Policy Research

Donald Trump has joked recently that he might not leave office after a second term, as mandated by the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  This particular amendment was ratified in response to the 12-year tenure of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The original authors of the Constitution had never intended for any elected Chief Executive to hold the position as if it were a divinely-inspired monarchy.  They certainly didn’t anticipate Roosevelt, but they most likely designed the Constitution with concerns about scandalous characters like Trump.  Our 45th Chief Executive made his claim about an extended presidency last month at a conference of the conservative Israeli-American Council in Hollywood, Florida.  I’ve always found it oxymoronic – downright hypocritical, actually – that Trump bears such ardor for Israel and the Jewish people, while openly courting White supremacists.  But that’s a different subject.

The thought of Trump holding just one term in the White House was frightening enough three years ago.  That he could be elected to a second term is deeply unsettling.  That he could somehow forcibly remain in the office even one day longer makes the bloodiest horror films look like Hallmark greeting card commercials.

Yet Trump is delusional enough to believe that’s a real possibility, and he has plenty of supporters who would be comfortable with such a scenario.  Those of us who live in the real world understand this simply could not be allowed per that pesky 22nd Amendment.  Still, even some constitutional experts have surmised Trump might make such an attempt.  That would be reality TV at its worst!  Richard Nixon quietly left the White House, following an impassioned farewell speech to his staff, in August of 1974.  There were no guns blazing or hand grenades exploding.  Nixon and his family weren’t spirited out of the White House through a tunnel to avoid angry mobs of detractors.  The Nixons simply strolled onto the South Lawn, accompanied by newly-appointed President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, to Marine One.  The helicopter made the loudest sound of anything.  That’s how a peaceful transition of power occurs, even in the most dire and tense of situations.

With Trump, I can almost see him and his wife, Melania, scurrying through that tunnel in a setting reminiscent of Romania’s Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu.  I honestly don’t believe it will ever come to that sanguineous of a climax.  Yet, I wouldn’t put it past the infantile Trump to grip onto the door frame of the master bedroom.

But, while Trump’s behavior can’t be taken too lightly, another aspect of the current American experience that definitely shouldn’t be dismissed is the effect Trump’s presidency has had on his faithful minions and the sentiments that put someone like him into office.  Decades of socially progressive behavior and legislation gave us Barack Obama and others like him; individuals who didn’t meet the traditional standard of those in position of power.  In other words, Obama and others weren’t White males.  Just a half century ago it was inconceivable that someone like Obama could ascend to the highest elected office in the land.  It was unimaginable that Nancy Pelosi would be the one banging the gavel in the House of Representatives.  Only a handful of visionaries thought it possible that Hilary Clinton could be a serious contender for the presidency, or that Pete Buttigieg could live openly gay AND serve in the U.S. military AND talk about having a “husband.”  People born, say, since 1990 have no idea what a vastly different world it is today than in the few years before their time.

Now, it seems the nation has digressed with Donald Trump.  Decades ago, Ronald Reagan aspired for America to return to a time before the 1960s messed up everything.  That was a simpler time for him and others just like him.  But it meant Blacks sat at the back of the bus; women sought nothing but marriage and motherhood; queers remained in the closet; and Native Americans languished as comical figures on TV screens.  The 1960s may have messed up the world for the likes of Reagan and Nixon, but it opened up the universe for everyone else.

As I marched through my junior year in high school, I began receiving phone calls from a man with the local recruiting office of the U.S. Army.  I believe I’d spoken to him at least twice, before my father happened to answer the phone one day; whereupon he politely told the man that I had plans for college and that he and my mother were determined to ensure I get there and graduated.  Just a few years later I’d openly stated I had considered joining either the Navy or the Marines.  And each time my father talked me out of it.  In retrospect, I understand why.

As a naïve high school student in the late 1940s, my father had been convinced NOT to take a drafting course and instead go for something in the blue collar arena.  “Most Spanish boys do this,” is how he quoted the female school counselor telling him.  My father liked to draw and – much like his own father – had the desire and talent for an architectural profession.  But he’d been talked out of it.  Because that was what most “Spanish boys do”.  College was for White guys.  Trade school and the military were for everyone else.

Years of struggle – working twice as hard for half as much – and assertive civil rights action had led America to the early 1980s, when I graduated from high school.  And didn’t have to join the military.  In the spring of 1983, I was sitting in a government class at a local community college, when the instructor asked, “What do we owe minorities in this country?”

Seated in the row in front of me was a young man who had graduated with me from the same high school.  I knew his name, but I didn’t know him personally.  Without missing a beat, he muttered, “Nothing.”

Only the few of us nearby heard him.  He was White, as was most everyone else seated on either side of him.  From my vantage point directly behind him, he looked angry; as if he’d been robbed of something that was rightfully his.

I finally spoke up and informed the class that “this country” owes the same thing to minorities that it does to everyone else: equality and fairness; “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, as prescribed in the Declaration of Independence.  I added, “Nothing more, nothing less.”

That one young man and the others nearby nodded their collective heads and looked at me, as if I’d said something unbelievably profound – which, to them, it may have been.

That level of total fairness and freedom hasn’t been easy.  But nothing so monumental as dramatic cultural changes are.  The Civil War, for example, ended more than 150 years ago.  Yet, some people in the Deep South of the United States still can’t let that go.  They still insist it was a war over states’ rights, not slavery.  They’ve been fighting that conflict all these years and they still haven’t won!

That’s a little of what Donald Trump’s presidency is all about: a bunch of old-guard folks wanting to maintain things as they were way back when.  And it’s just not going to work for them any longer.  The old White Republicans dominating the U.S. Senate disrespected Barack Obama as much as they could without making it too glaringly obvious.  They did everything they could to undermine his presidency and essentially failed at every step.  If anything, they only hurt the country and their reputations.

Social and political conservatives can’t return to an America of the 1940s and 50s any more than liberals can return to an America of the 1990s.  Memories are forever, but time marches onward.  It always has and it always will.  Trump’s presidency may be the final battle cry of the angry White male.

But we can’t go back to whenever.  Time continues.

1 Comment

Filed under Essays

10 After 20

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” – Marie Curie

Here we are!  It’s 2020 – the start of a new year and a new decade.  Forty years ago I was excited about the prospect of witnessing and understanding the birth of a new decade.  I had just turned 16 and couldn’t remember 1970.  But this was different.  A whole new decade!  As my parents and I often did, we staged a New Year’s party in 1979; inviting family, friends and neighbors.  I had taken the time to cut up strips of multi-colored paper into literally thousands of squares, which I then tossed into the air from a large brown paper bag at the stroke of midnight.

I was considerably more excited ten years later, as we welcomed the 1990s, which – even now – remains the best decade of my life.  I was a young adult by then, working for a major bank in Dallas; a small personal accomplishment that made me feel I was finally a part of society and not some frustrated observer on the outside looking into a seemingly untouchable world.  During that time I began making concerted attempts to become a published writer and even contemplated returning to college.  These latter two dreams each wouldn’t materialize for more than another decade later.

The turn of the century – and the millennium – was one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever experienced.  Like the dawn of the 1990s, it remains a high point of my life.  Twenty years ago the world looked more hopeful and inviting.  I wasn’t nearly as excited about the 2010s.  Things had grown kind of awkward for me by then.  But it’s come and gone.

So alas, we are at the threshold of the third decade of the 21st century.  Every New Year’s bears the excitement of a renewal; a chance to alter our priorities and improve our stations in life.  Yet, it’s different with the start of a new decade.  Since the early 1900s, societal changes have occurred rapidly.  For millennia, time periods were designated by century; now they’re often designated by decade.  Each ten-year interval boasts its own cultural shifts; fashion and music trends; and political dynamics.  As our life expectancy increases, so does our concept of time.

I’m approaching this decade with more caution, however.  As I tend to do, I maintain a safe distance and analyze the universe around me and wonder what more can be done to improve not just my life, but everyone’s lives.

These last two decades have seen an explosion of technological and cultural advances, both here in the United States and across the globe.  But, in many ways, things haven’t changed much.  I’ve focused my concern on how dismal our political and economic well-being have become.  The pathetic presidency of George W. Bush and the ever-increasing disorientation of the Donald Trump administration have set us back on many levels.  Unlike 20 years ago we now have the greatest wealth gap in over a century.  The first decade of the present century should have been an extraordinary time of progressive social and technological advancement.  Yes, everyone seemingly has a cell phone and a personal computer.  But so many promising visions of the future were lost to Middle East conflicts and an extreme level of corporate deregulation.  The “Great Recession” squashed hope for many people across the nation.  While many of my fellow Americans wonder if Bitcoin will make a resounding return to the financial sphere or what latest cell phone apps will be available in the coming months, I’m contemplating the grander picture.

In the 19th century, the U.S. built the world’s first transcontinental railroad system and helped create telephones and electric lighting.  At the start of the 20th century, we sent men into the air and then constructed the world’s largest highway system.  In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the nation; wanting us “to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things; not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  And, we did just that!  Just seven years later, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface.

The 1960s and 70s saw the birth of various civil rights movements: women, non-Whites, and gays and lesbians.  That forced America to live up to its promise to be a land of equality and prosperity.  We finally began seeing the fruits of those movements in the 1990s.

Yet here stands the U.S. – still mired in Middle East conflicts and dealing with an economy that, on the surface, looks extraordinary.  But those of us struggling with medical bills and increasingly high costs of basic living aren’t exactly thrilled that the U.S. stock market is functioning wonderfully for large corporations that don’t often pay their taxes and feel they have the unquestionable right to contaminate the environment in the name of profit.

Although I’m an introvert, I remain optimistic and would like to see society achieve some grand accomplishment over the next 10 years.

Infrastructure – As of 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a grade of D+ for infrastructure.  That’s an overall assessment of everything from bridges to railroads.  To say they’re falling apart is dismissively juvenile.  A grade is just a letter, but the implications are dire.  In 2007, a section of Interstate 35 through Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145.  But, nearly 13 years later, the U.S. is still spending more on military intervention in the perpetually-chaotic Middle East than making serious efforts to rebuild, or even refurbish, highways like I35.  The ASCE estimates the nation will need up to 4.5 trillion USD to repair or rebuild much of our infrastructure by 2025.  It’s one critical issue on which elected officials of all political stripes might agree.  Instead, we have a president who wants to spend even more money to build a wall along the nation’s southern border with México.  I can’t even contemplate how much that would cost.  Knowing the U.S. federal government, though, it would be much more than initial estimates.  Still, as I move around my own local area, I notice roads that have been under construction since the start of the last decade!

Subterranean Power and Telecommunication Lines – In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria rolled over Puerto Rico as a borderline category 5 storm.  With an estimated cost of 94 billion USD, it stands as one of the most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history.  And Maria didn’t even reach the American mainland.  As with most such calamities, residents in the impact zones lived without power, which includes clean water.  Like Andrew did to Florida in 1992, and Katrina to the Gulf Coast in 2005, Maria destroyed a substantial number of power and telecommunication lines across Puerto Rico.  Our government’s response?  USD 5 billion in aid and a president tossing paper towels into a raucous crowd.

Tropical storm systems aren’t our only nemesis.  Currently, the U.S. is dealing with yet another round of powerful winter weather, with strong winds flipping vehicles and blizzard conditions hampering travel.  It’s not uncommon for massive weather phenomena to impact more than 100 million people.  Last October the Dallas, Texas area experienced a rash of tornado outbreaks.  But that’s just in one city in one state.  Other areas across the country have been struck by these meteorological vortexes.  And, of course, power and telecommunication lines are among the casualties.

The same happens after floods, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes.  Humans can never control Earth’s natural elements.  Every time we’ve tried, those elements remind us who holds the true power.  Still, we can lessen the severity of unruly weather by burying as many of our power and telecommunication lines underground as possible.  It’s nothing new.  People have been pushing this concept for years.  And there are the usual detractors.  Although a number of power and telecommunication lines have already been interred, opponents claim they’re not always more reliable than overhead lines.  While overhead lines experience more outages, subterranean lines are generally more difficult to access and repair when problems with them do arise.  Another obstacle, of course, is funding.  There are greater costs associated with the installation of subterranean lines.  The costs would have to be passed down to consumers somehow.  But, I feel it’s all worth the financial burden.  Ultimately, it costs people more to go without power – both in actual money and lives lost.  The expenses incurred with the initial installations and ongoing maintenance will more than pay for themselves in the ensuing years.

Space – Since humans first looked up to the sky and began studying the stars, we’ve wondered what it would be like to fly and visit another celestial body.  Now, we’ve taken flight and ventured onto the moon.  The next logical step would be Mars.  Plenty of people – from Elon Musk to Mars One – are making a concerted effort to get there.  In the 1970s, the U.S. became the first nation to reach Mars with the Viking I and II voyages.  We’ve done it again recently with the Curiosity mission.  The U.S. space program was good for the country and the world, as it spurred a number of technological developments; mainly with telecommunications, but also with engineering and robotics.

Sadly, if the U.S. wants to send humans to the moon now, we couldn’t do it.  We’ve let that go.  Again, it’s the war factor – more money spent on Middle East conflicts than on things that really matter.  But I would like to see the U.S. rejuvenate its space program and begin establishing a lunar colony; thus making interplanetary travel materialize from the pages of science fiction into reality.  And, of course, we should make a concerted effort to send a craft with humans to Mars by the end of this decade.  There’s more technology in a single Smart Phone than there was in all of the Apollo 11 lunar module.  We can make this happen.

Thousands of years ago humans thought Earth was the only place in the universe that harbored any semblance of life.  We’re starting to realize that’s not true.  We exist on this third rock from the sun, but I’m certain we have never been alone.  And, even if we are (by some odd fluke of nature), what’s to say we can’t venture outward and make our world more hospitable?  If we rise above our own political and social distractions, we’ll understand we can do better than this.  We have to do better.  I can’t imagine us living in a world of such chaos and uneasiness.  Throughout this next decade, we have to move forward.  Time will.  We have to follow it.

Photo by Josh Sorenson.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays

Trauma Nation

“Never let yourself be persuaded that any one great man, any one leader, is necessary to the salvation of America.  When America consists of one leader and 158 million followers, it will no longer be America.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

From a political standpoint, this has not been a good week for the United States.  On Wednesday, the 18th, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump.  Trump now holds the dubious distinction of being only the third Chief Executive to be recommended for removal from office.  As much as I personally despise our Russian-elected president, I’d rather see him voted out of office next November than be forcibly removed.  It would be the single strongest message to Trump and his band of right-wing sycophants that their extremist ideology is of no use to the American populace.

But the impeachment process hints at a failure in our national leadership and puts the institution of voting into question.  As the oldest continually-functioning democracy in the world, the U.S. has always been a beacon of freedom; our constitution an enviable guide to how a nation should operate.  Our right to vote is a core element of our very national existence.  It’s the heart of our democratic soul.  The president of the United States is often deemed the leader of the Free World.  That other elected officials would seek to oust him from that pinnacle slashes at our democratic heart.

I’m old enough to remember Watergate.  Even people who considered themselves staunch conservatives had to concede that President Richard Nixon was as crooked and devious as his detractors made him out to be.  On the night Nixon announced his resignation, millions of Americans tuned into the live broadcast.  Afterwards there was no sense of real jubilation.  As the nation inched closer to its bicentennial, most people – including my parents – felt sad.  When Nixon left the White House, the transition of the office occurred at the tip of a pen, instead of the barrel of a gun.  After all, we didn’t live in a third-world society.  No tanks, no bombs and no bloodshed.  Still, Americans asked, how did we get to this point?

I definitely recall the Clinton impeachment fiasco.  My brain and body became flush with anger at the self-righteousness of the Republicans Party.  They had done everything to undermine Bill Clinton’s presidency – even before he won the Democratic Party’s formal nomination.  And they failed.  Their bloodthirsty overreach extended shamelessly to the president’s secretary and the mother of the woman who kept that infamous blue dress.  They paid the price for their arrogance in the November 1998 midterm elections.  They lost their super-majority in both houses of Congress.  Conversely, the Democrats gained seats; the first time the same party as the president attained positions in the House and the Senate in a midterm election since 1942.

And now, here we are – for the second time some twenty years – at the threshold of usurping the leader of the Free World.  How did we get to this point?  As I wrote in an essay two years ago, impeachment should not be taken lightly.  Neither politicians nor average citizens should become obsessed with it.  A sanguineous mindset traumatizes the national soul.

With the term “impeached” now added to the title of President, Donald Trump’s place in political history has been secured – unpleasantly and distastefully carved into the American psyche.  He cannot escape it.  Deny it, yes, as his narcissistic persona is already doing.  But – like the sky – it’s ubiquitous and unmalleable.

How painful for this nation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays

The Chief at 56

The Chief in a moment of self-adulation after a run this past summer – and to prove to real and cyber friends I can actually move faster than a fat man walking through a cactus field. Naked. Blindfolded.

As of 1:15 a.m. Central Standard Time U.S. this past Tuesday, November 5, the Chief turned 56.  It’s not necessarily as big a deal as, say, turning 55.  And I remember years ago thinking that, once somebody reaches the half century mark on life’s odometer, ensuing birthdays don’t really matter.  But I’ve learned every birthday matters.  It’s another year forward and another chance to improve oneself.  I feel I’m doing that with my writing, as well as more practical moves, such as joining a new gym.

This year’s birthday was rougher than expected.  I got sick – again.  Allergies that usually plague me with the change of seasons (the summer to autumn transition is generally the worst) hit me harder this time around; thus prompting a visit to my doctor for a trio of anti-microbial, germ-phobic medications.  My eyes showed the wrath of the usual culprits: ragweed and mountain cedar.  I confirmed my sensitivity to them some 15 years ago with an appointment to an allergy specialist.  Visits to the refrigerator, kitchen cabinets and local stores had long proven ineffective.  Ragweed and mountain cedar ranked at the top of my allergy reaction list, along with other suspected villains – oak and cat dander.  I’m also allergic to stupid people, but aside from working outside the home and driving, there’s no definite test for that.

But my eyes looked as if I’d been ambushed by a swarm of killer bees or came out on the wrong end of a boxing match.  Still, the drug cocktail – which did include the ubiquitous screwdriver – eased my angst.  And then, the little microbial fuckers resurfaced, like dental appointments and property taxes.  They assaulted me with their ecological mainstays: watery eyes, congestion, coughing and the tendency not to use Spellcheck.  Misery!  Misery, I tell you, dear readers!  Joining that gym last month was a much-needed lifestyle change.  Since the late 1980s, I’ve pretty much been a gym rat.  I even wrote about it six years ago.  However, when I signed up to this new place, it had been roughly eleven months since I’d been to a gym to lift weights.  Note to the wise and health-conscious: do NOT take nearly a year off from lifting weights and expect to be back to normal in a single session.  But, at that last gym a year ago around this time, one of the senior staff apparently had an issue with my attire.  I wore an old sweat jacket – one I only wear to the gym.  Admittedly, I’ve had it since high school.  Some 35+ years ago.  Okay, it’s a man thing!  You wouldn’t understand, unless you bear that rare Y chromosome!  The zipper is twisted, and it’s shrunk.  I often keep it unzipped during workouts.  No one had ever had a problem with that.  Until November 2018.

The man – either a lost Viking or an intense Grateful Dead fan – literally got up in my face and ordered me to “zip it up.”  He then walked away.  And so did I.  I re-racked a curl bar and left; canceling the membership once I got home.

This new gym has no such qualms about ratty, decades-old sweat jackets.  It doesn’t cater to GQ cover models or suburban soccer moms – no offense to suburban soccer moms!  It’s an old-school gym – where men can go shirtless, women can wear sports bras, and dogs run around the front office.  Literally, the owners have 2 massive and very friendly canines practically greeting people when they enter.  As a certified Wolfman and canid aficionado, I love the idea of dogs almost anywhere! 

I was determined to visit the gym on my birthday, as I’ve done with just about every birthday for as long as I can remember.  I even did so last year – before the Sweat Jacket Incident.  But I just couldn’t make it this past Tuesday.  Again, those allergies.  Or maybe the flu.  Or I’m being punished for not completing my second novel by now, as promised.  Perhaps internalizing all those angry sentiments from work and driving had finally caught up to me.  But then again, I never was too keen on the idea of being a serial killer.  That doesn’t look good on your Linked In profile.

But other distractions arose, particularly with this aging house.  Bathroom and kitchen sinks, roofs, foundations and various and sundry attributes boast large repair price tags.  I relish the thought of living in the house where I grew up.  I don’t have to fight for parking space, deal with noisy upstairs neighbors and getting rent paid on time.  I have the joy of dealing with aging bathroom and kitchen sinks, roofs and foundations.  Aaah – suburban life!

So this birthday wasn’t the best.  But I made it to another year!  I’m always thankful for that.  The alternative is not pleasant.

The other day a friend posted a drawing on Facebook of someone hugging what looked like Jesus Christ with the verbiage: “The best part of going to Heaven.”  I thought, if there is such a place, the first person I’d want to see is my father, who passed away 3 years ago and who I think of and pray to every day and night.  Nearly 5 months later, when my dog died, I fell into a mortal depression.  When I marked my 53rd birthday that year, I honestly felt I wasn’t going to make it much longer.  I was ready to give up.  I still truly believe my father returned to get my dog; in part, because he absolutely loved that pint-sized, four-legged monstrosity, but also because he simply wanted the dog to be with him.  I could understand my 83-year-old father’s demise; he had been sick off and on for years with gastrointestinal problems.  His body could no longer take the punishment.  But then, he came back to take the dog?!  Oh well…such mysteries are not for this world to understand.

Yet, as morose as I felt at the end of that year, I realized I had so much I wanted to do.  I still hadn’t published my first novel and I have other stories I want to write.  I realized I couldn’t give up.  It certainly wouldn’t be fair to the people who care about me, but it wouldn’t even be fair to me.  I’ll die, and the sun will still rise in the east the next morning.  Some people I’ve known actually think it won’t, if they die!

So, here I am at the ripe slightly-passed-middle-age of 56!  I’m still writing and still fighting!  Now, I just need to find a new way to assassinate these allergens and get back into the gym.

6 Comments

Filed under Essays

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