Category Archives: Essays

Appliances, People and Other Crap That Gets Old

Last month I had to buy a new clothes washer.  I came home from work one Friday and dropped my casual dress shirts into the washer, as I did at the end of every work week.  After a few minutes I realized the washer had stopped.  In fact, after it filled with water, it had grown surprisingly silent.  The thing banged a lot when in action.  But when I checked on it, I was stunned to find it still filled with water.  No amount of manipulation – which, for the mechanically-challenged such as myself – meant yanking on the knob (as if I was in the midst of a raucous masturbatory session) and smacking it (again, as if in the midst of a raucous masturbatory session).  Aren’t you glad you decided to read something today?!

All of that was to no avail.  So I removed the shirts and squeezed out the water and searched online for a repair place.  I found one, but they couldn’t fix it.  I paid their fee – and never heard from them again.  I filed a fraud complaint with my bank, which gave me provisional credit.  But they ultimately decided I was hysterical and reversed the credit.

I was forced to get a new washer – and change banks.  I realized the obvious: my 10-year-old clothes washer had decided to give up on me (at the financially worst time!) and I had to get a new one.  My long-time good friend, Raymond*, came in from out of town shortly after that.  He was here when I bought a new washer through Overstock and here at the house when it arrived.  It turned out to be much smaller than anticipated – suitable more for a dorm room or efficiency apartment than a hyper-clean single man living alone in a 3-bedroom house – so I was forced to return it.

I then purchased a fuller-size washer and had it delivered.  Before Raymond returned home, he helped me disconnect and move the deceased appliance into the garage.  I had to empty out the bulk of the water by hand.  We both laughed afterwards, as I championed the fact two 50-something fuckers like us could move a massive appliance across several feet and through two doorways.  Personally, it was the most exercise I’d had in months!

Not long afterwards, Raymond encountered his own appliance-related fiasco.  His aging refrigerator had started causing him problems.  He was able to get it repaired, but it was still an unsettling prospect for him.  His health problems seriously impact his personal finances, and in the wealthiest country on Earth, people in his condition have to budget tightly.

The image at top is from a serious of text messages between Raymond and me as he lamented his refrigerator ordeal.  I couldn’t help but laugh loudly and told as many people as possible; people who are roughly our age.

At 15, my truck is showing its age.  The engine light keeps illuminating, and a headlight recently went out.  But it’s still operating relatively well!  Other things in and around my house are also becoming problematic.  My father had a fetish for scented candles, until I finally convinced him they were damaging the walls and ceilings with soot.  The kitchen sink had been causing trouble years ago – long before either of my parents passed away.  The water heater is leaking slowly.  My iron (my mother’s iron actually) committed suicide a few months ago in mid-session.  The roof has a number of openings, which allow squirrels and other small invasive varmints to enter and hide.  Their rumblings in the attic make me recall the mythical rat problem in “The Exorcist”.

Years ago my mother would tell me that life begins at 40; a rather common saying at the time.  She had just turned 40 when we moved into this suburban house in December of 1972.  Shortly after I turned 40 in 2003, I came down with the flu for the first time in my entire life.  The following April, I severely sprained my left ankle while walking my dog.  It had rotated as far as it could go without breaking.  I ended up on crutches and taking time off from work.  About 5 months before I turned 50 in 2013, I had a freak accident here at the house that severely damaged my right arm and landed me in the hospital for a few days.  If I had been alone, I probably would have bled to death.

It seems the start of every decade of my life coincides with something bad.  In the two months before I turned 30 in 1993, one of my closest friends died, and I contracted Hepatitis A that culminated in a hospital stay and nearly two months off from work.  Therefore, I’m not eager to see what awaits me come my 60th birthday – if I’m fortunate enough to make it that far.

A couple of months ago I was looking into one of my eyes in the mirror when I noticed a bruise on the outside of my left forearm, close to the elbow.  It immediately drew my attention for one simple reason – I have no idea how the damn things got there!  And I grew alarmed.  Occasionally my parents would end up with miscellaneous bruises; marks with an unknown cause.  It made me recall an even more unsettling incident from more than two decades ago.

I worked for a bank in Dallas, dealing with high-dollar clientele.  Many of my customers were elderly.  I was on the phone with a gentleman one afternoon when he halted the conversation and began mumbling.  I asked if he was alright.  He then noted rather casually – almost too casually – that he was bleeding and didn’t know from where.  A colleague passing by my desk at that moment noticed my eyebrows pop upward in shock.  I asked the man if I needed to call someone for him, as in 911.  He said no, that he’d be alright.

Of course, a bruise is nowhere as serious as blood.  But I’m still wondering if I’m now at that point in time – the age where my body is subtly telling me it wants to lead a life of its own.  I’m not ready to let the bastard go yet!  Yes, I’m a writer, but I don’t want to melt down into a fat, grouchy curmudgeon surrounded by books and bottles of wine and vodka!  If you knew my present lifestyle, it may seem that way, but no one asked you!

Raymond turned 59 last month, and I told him I’m actually looking forward to turning 60 in two years.  I also told him something even more significant – we will age and mature, indeed, but we will never get “Old”.  I certainly don’t intend to let myself reach that point.  Raymond has been through a lot in his life.  Just half the crap he’s endured would send most people into therapy or a talk show.  And I’m still here for a reason, too.

Broken clothes washers or not, I’ll go on until my power system decides it’s had enough.  In the meantime, I’m still on the lookout for anymore rogue bruises.

*Name changed

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Strained

On September 1, several new laws went into effect here in Texas – 666 to be exact; a number that surely makes evangelicals tremble.  Some, like Senate Bill 968, which bans “vaccine passports”, became law immediately when Gov. Greg Abbott signed them in June.  Others, such as House Bill 2730, which deals with eminent domain, go into effect January 1, 2022.

Overall, it appears that some of them are designed to oppress the basic human and constitutional rights of certain groups.  The Texas State Legislature meets every two years and, in 2019, their principal goal was to loosen gun restrictions even more than they already were.  Those of us who aren’t obsessed with firearms (meaning we don’t suffer from Pencil-Penis Syndrome) wondered how much more lax these rules could become.  Stupidity never ceases to amaze me, and conservatives in the Texas State House always deliver.

This year’s session, though, has raised eyebrows and tempers across the nation – and mainly because of two of those 666 laws in particular.  One deals with voting and the other with abortion.  Abortion has always been an open wound for social and religious conservatives.  To them it’s worse than the growing economic inequalities in the country, the prescription drug epidemic, or the fact that so many children in the U.S. live in poverty.  Pro-life conservatives are “pro-life” – up to the time that baby is born.  Once it pops out of the placental oven, it’s pretty much on its own.

Known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, it is the most ardent assault upon reproductive freedom since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.  It bans abortions no matter the circumstance (including rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life) after the sixth week of pregnancy, which is usually before most women learn they’re pregnant.  It bears that moniker because an embryonic heartbeat allegedly can be detected at the sixth week.  In reality, the heart hasn’t developed by that point; only the muscles that eventually will become the heart have formed.  The term is misleading.  The sound of a heartbeat is generated by the opening and closing of the heart valves.  Those valves haven’t formed yet at 6 weeks.  When someone detects this so-called “fetal heartbeat”, it’s the sound generated by the ultrasound machine.  But self-righteous conservatives in the Texas State Legislature don’t see it that way.  It doesn’t conform to their narrow view of reality.  In other words, a group of (mostly male) politicians have decided they know more about human development and reproductive health care than actual medical professionals.

But the “fetal heartbeat” law goes even further – allowing anyone who assists in an abortion after that sixth week to be held liable as a criminal accessory and sued for up to $10,000.  This isn’t aimed strictly at those in the medical industry.  Giving a woman a ride to an abortion clinic, for example, opens them to criminal charges under this law; which means cab drivers are subject.  Perhaps comforting a woman after the abortion could be considered criminal.  Would a plumber who repairs water pipes in a women’s health clinic be deemed a criminal?  It’s not the state that would bring the charges; the $10,000 penalty is for any individual who files suit under the law.  Thus, if someone is upset (gets their feelings hurt) because of an abortion, they’re entitled for up to $10,000 compensation.

I’m upset there’s so much stupidity in the world.  Where’s my financial compensation?

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to abortion rights when it refused to take up the new Texas law for consideration.  Previously, it’s overturned similar laws passed by other states.  But for the past few years, conservatives have been pushing these draconian measures for the mere sake of having the High Court review the Roe v. Wade decision and ultimately overturn it.  The Court’s refusal to examine this Texas law is a blatant nod to right-wing extremists who feel divinely appointed to control other people’s lives.

The other new law gaining notoriety is Senate Bill 1, which targets the voting process.  SB 1 limits the early voting period and bans 24-hour and drive-through voting.  The drive-through voting idea was proposed last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections.  Perhaps the most alarming feature of this law is that it allows poll watchers greater access.  Voter intimidation is not just rude; it’s felonious.  But don’t tell that to Abbott and the rest of the Republican mafia in Texas who symbolize ongoing efforts by conservatives nationwide to undermine the right to vote – the very genesis of democratic societies.  It’s something we’ve tried to instill in other countries, such as…well, Iraq and Afghanistan.  But, just like the World War II generation moved Heaven and Earth to stop fascism in Europe, yet did nothing to end it here in the U.S., conservatives want people in developing nations to be able to vote in clean and fair elections – without putting the same amount of effort at home.

Like most of the nation, Texas is still in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic with a resurgence of infections and increasing hospitalizations.  This past February the Texas power grid system almost completely collapsed with the onset of Winter Storm Uri.  Scores of people died.  Much of the rest of the state’s infrastructure – mostly roads and bridges – are in dire need of repair or replacement.  And, of course, all those children in Texas and across the nation who are uninsured…doesn’t pro-life also mean taking care of them?

The new gaggle of laws has a few other gems – good and bad.  HB 1535 allows people to utilize marijuana for medicinal purposes.  SB 224 simplifies access to the Supplemental Assistance Program for older and disabled citizens; individuals can forgo the normally required interviews and have a shortened application process.  Now this measure is what I would deem pro-life!

On the other hand, we have HB 2497, which establishes an “1836 Project” committee produce educational materials dedicated to Texas history.  In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo launched Texas’ separation from México.  It’s in contrast to the “1619 Project”, which examines U.S. history from the arrival of enslaved Africans.

Moreover, HB 3979 limits teachers from discussing current events and systemic racism in class.  The bill also prevents students from receiving class credit for participating in civic engagement and – wait for it – bans teaching of the aforementioned “1619 Project”.

I attribute these social studies bills as efforts by White conservatives to undermine the true history of the United States; that Native Americans were more civilized and intellectual than many realize; that the “founding fathers” weren’t devout Christians; and that the Civil War really was about keeping an entire race of people enslaved and not states’ rights.  Like the presidency of Donald Trump, it’s a strike back against decades of progressive thought and ambition.

I never know what to think of these right-wing fools in elected office.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put up that sign on my front lawn offering free rides to abortion clinics.

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Curtain

Pigeons fly as a policeman guards residents praying outside the Shah-e Doh Shamshira mosque during the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr in Kabul on Aug. 30, 2011. Photo by Erik de Castro/Reuters

Hyenas are one of the oldest species of canine on Earth.  Indigenous to Africa and more closely related to felines, they exist in four subspecies: spotted, brown, striped and aardwolf.  Despite these slight differences, hyenas are carnivorous creatures.  They’re also basically scavengers; waiting until a larger animal dies or is severely incapacitated before ripping it to pieces.  And – depending on the victim – they leave little behind, except horns, hooves and tails.  All subgroups of hyena boast another attribute – they can’t be tamed.  They’re not like domesticated dogs, which have become one of humanity’s truest non-human companions.  The hyena mindset is too rudimentary to allow it to sit and stay.  They’re just too savage and wild to conform to human-induced pleasantries and commands.  You really don’t want one as a pet.  Hyenas just need to be left alone.

Afghanistan is a hyena.  It’s savage and wild.  We really don’t need it as an ally.  Unlike a domesticated dog, it doesn’t return the love.  We just need to leave it alone.

This landlocked pocket of mountains sits at the crossroads of Asia and the Middle East; languishing in another realm, a universe unto itself.  Its current borders were established in the 19th century, but Afghanistan bears an ancient history.  Its geographic location made it a principal feature of the storied Silk Road, which carried travelers and traders between Southern Europe and China.  Excavations throughout Afghanistan prove that humans populated the region as far back as 52,000 years ago; when Neanderthals were the dominant bipedals.  Archaeologists have shown that more stable, urbanized societies began developing by 3000 BCE.  With its history closely tied to neighboring countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, the Afghanistan of millennia ago was part of two of the earliest and largest civilizations on Earth – Indus Valley and Mesopotamia.  Mesopotamia is notable for evolution of one of the first writing systems in the world.

For almost as long as its relatively modern existence, Afghanistan has been subjected to one barbarous onslaught after another.  It fell to the Achamenid Empire, after Darius I conquered it around 515 BCE.  Alexander the Great stormed into the region around 330 BCE and defeated Darius III.  The Maurya Empire took control of most of the region where it further entrenched Hinduism and introduced Buddhism.  A variety of successive conquerors and empires descended upon Afghanistan and surrounding areas.  Islam arrived in the 7th century CE via Rashidun Arabs coming from the Byzantine Empire.  In 1221 CE, Mongols invaded Afghanistan under their founder Genghis Khan who oversaw unbridled destruction of towns and villages.

All of these invaders had to battle a common enemy: Afghan tribesmen, gangs of nomadic and uncultured warriors who had little more than determination and grit as guiding forces.  Even when the British first arrived in the 1830s – hoping to annex Afghanistan and protect the latter’s position as a vital trade route from the Russian Empire – they were confronted with bands of ruthless fighters.  Great Britain tried three more times to conquer Afghanistan, resulting in a 1921 treaty to…well, leave them alone!

The most recent invasion attempt came with the former Soviet Union in 1979.  While the Soviets had been able to swallow up much of Eastern Europe throughout the 20th century, the seeming backwater of Afghanistan proved to be more formidable than others.  The Soviets may have easily overrun such nations as Hungary, but Afghanistan tribesmen fought harder than even the great Russian bear anticipated.  The United States likes to claim it helped Afghans defeat the Soviets and drive them out before they could mark a full decade of their presence.  But one thing remained certain.  Afghanistan just couldn’t be tamed; that is, it couldn’t be conquered.

Afghanistan’s remote location has made it as difficult to study as it has been to conquer.

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is only recent; dating to the 1980s.  Before then, most Americans couldn’t point it out on a globe of the world.  Many probably still can’t.

But in the modern schemes of geopolitical events, the fact the U.S. promised to help Afghanistan rebuild after defeating the Soviets and then failed to do it gets lost in translation.  It’s this failure that led to the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s.  The Taliban rejuvenated antiquated views of how the world should function, including a more brutal version of Islam – which is akin to evangelical Christianity: narrow-minded and filled with more hate than love.  What infrastructure remained in Afghanistan collapsed, and women became relegated to a status one step above cattle, driven from schools and forced to walk around dressed like beekeepers.  It was this bloodthirsty atmosphere that spawned the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which in turn, culminated in a 20-year occupation of this ragged bunch of mountains and its disoriented tribal factions by the U.S.

And, as of August 31, we’re gone.  The U.S. has left the region; exiting as a construction company forgoes building a skyscraper in quicksand.  It’s not that America is wimping out and giving up.  We’re tired of this place.  Just as some people can’t pinpoint Afghanistan on a map, some Americans were surprised to know we were still there.

And now, we’re gone.  Good riddance!

I have no qualms about leaving.  Afghanistan wasn’t worth the trouble.  The U.S. couldn’t maintain its place over there.  We can’t always be the ones to protect people from themselves.  We’ve spent trillions of U.S. dollars (taxpayer dollars) and have nothing much to show for it.  The Afghan Army, for example, surrendered to the reborn Taliban as soon as the Americans started leaving.  All that time, effort and money spent to train the locals to fight against the more brutal elements of their own society evaporated.  It’s like training nurses to work in the emergency room and then watch them pass out at the first sight of blood.

So what now?  Nothing!  Once we beat back the Taliban and helped move Afghanistan into the 21st century, the Afghan people should have been able to take control at that point.  Instead tribalism and that vehement version of Islam swarmed over the country.

Afghanistan donned the hyena mentality once again.  But that seems to be its true nature.  It’s wild and can’t be tamed.

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Guns, Votes and Demented Priorities

Last week the state of Texas loosened gun restrictions.  That’s almost incomprehensible in a state that already boasts some of the most relaxed (weakest) firearm regulations in the nation.  But, for the hamster-dick right-wing extremists that dominate the Texas state legislature, any kind of gun restriction is a prospect more terrifying than a bunch of angry Black and Brown women storming into a Proud Boys meeting armed with attitudes and hair brushes.

And that’s pretty much who comprises both the Texas state legislature and the Proud Boys: old and middle-aged White men pissed off the world is no longer theirs to play with.  Thus, they assert control the only way they know how – with guns.

Now, in Texas, people no longer need a license or even proper training to tote a firearm anywhere within the state’s 268,597 sm. (695,663 km).

Gosh, what could possibly go wrong?

Gun rights advocates have always proclaimed that responsible firearm owners have nothing to fear and the general public has nothing to fear from responsible firearm owners.  But they’ve also screamed that any measure of regulation is a step towards elimination.  They’ve warned about those proverbial “slippery slope” dilemmas, even though any nearby slope is slippery because of all the spittle flying out their chapped lips from screaming about gun rules.

Someone with more than half a brain stop the madness!

Contrast that shenanigans with the new voting regulations – restrictions – the same state legislature imposed shortly before then.  Those rules limit early voting hours, ban drive-through voting and require large counties to redistribute polling places that could move sites away from areas with more Hispanic and Black residents.

The voting measures don’t surprise me.  Ever since Barack Obama won his first election – fairly, legitimately and without question – legions of (mostly White) conservatives in state legislatures around the country have done everything they could to ensure that never happens again.

Conservatives have spouted the usual rhetoric about protecting the integrity of the voting process, just as they claim the need to protect their right (their right) to own firearms.  I’ve noticed many of those old men – allegedly tough and strong – always express some degree of paranoia; their fear of someone invading their property and hurting their loved ones.  Therefore, their guns are readily available.  Stupid, paranoid people in the U.S. always reach for their guns and Christian Bibles when things look scary.

Strangely, though, they’ve long since recognized the power of the vote.  Voting is actually more powerful and with longer lasting effects than firearms.  A bullet could kill someone.  A vote can put someone in office who will enact legislation that may alter society for decades.

And thus, they are scared.

It’s almost laughable if it wasn’t so serious.  Right-wing extremists always seem to forget – or perhaps, never truly understood – that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the first amendment for a reason.  You vote first to enact and ensure change in society.  Then again, as I stated above, perhaps they do understand the significance of voting – and that’s why they do what they can to assure that only people with their similar and limited intellectual prowess can vote.  With their guns and Bibles by their sides.

My parents told me of seeing television footage of White police officials attacking Black citizens protesting against discrimination and segregation laws and trying to vote in the Deep South in the 1950s and 60s.  I recall my father, in particular, telling me that the former Soviet Union would display those images on their own TVs and point out this was an example of democracy.

The U.S. always promoted itself as a beacon of democracy; a government of and by the people.

I’ve seen those black-and-white images of 1950s and 1960s America in various retrospectives of a time how we used to be.  Considering what conservative-dominated states legislatures have done to voting and gun laws in recent years, I keep seeing those old images in contemporary colors.

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Notes on Normal

A sign of hope for America.

Things are beginning to return to the way they were.  At least for me.  I found Lysol® at the store last week!  It’s a small – yet strangely ridiculous – sign of hope.  Maybe not so much strange as pathetic.  I mean, are things really so out of whack that we get excited about Lysol and toilet paper?

Last year started off rough for me, when my mother suffered a debilitating stroke.  I reluctantly had to place her in a rehabilitation facility to help her heal.  Her dementia only intensified matters.  Then the pandemic hit.  And then the facility practically evicted her in May of 2020 because her Medicare benefits expired.  She finally passed at the end of June.

The stress of caring for both of my elderly parents for so long seemed to hit afterwards as my body and mind almost completely collapsed.  In the midst of a global plague, I naturally thought I had “The Virus”.  But it was just that relentless stress.  I already knew its effects from life in the working world.  Yet I’d never felt it so personally.

Alas, the U.S. economy is regaining strength, for which conservatives are crediting Donald Trump.  But those of us with more than a few brain cells know Trump’s actions and behavior throughout his thankfully single term in office traumatized the American psyche and steered our financial situation into greater distress.

We finally have a president, though, who know how to act…well, presidential!  Joe Biden may be an old codger, but as someone rapidly headed towards 60, I’d rather have an old man who knows how to govern than a failed businessman / tax cheat / cretin of a human being who brags about fondling women and holds up a bible like it’s a copy of Mein Kompf for a cheap photo op.

Earlier this week I started working on a temporary job – one that requires me to actually get into my truck and drive to an office building in a neighboring suburb.  Aside from having to wear a face mask whenever I leave my desk, it’s a rather normal and ordinary corporate environment.  Oddly, it feels good to go somewhere other than a store or a restaurant during the week.

Some other things, however, remain troublesome.  Like its owner, my 15-year-old vehicle is showing its age.  I really think it just wants to lead a life of its own – much like my body.  Unfortunately, I’ve gained too much weight over the past several months.  I believe that’s a recurring problem.  But rotund physiques have become a common sight here in the U.S.  If I’d known better, I would have invested in sweat pants years ago!

Regardless, I still see hope on the horizon of mediocre.  Now, I must do some sit-ups and enjoy spraying that Lysol.

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Flushed

The recent scandal involving Meghan Markle and Prince Harry has overwhelmed the national media both here in the U.S. and in the U.K.  I still don’t care what goes on with the British royal family and maintain that American media still hasn’t figured out most Americans just don’t give a shit what that band of over-glorified miscreants do or say.  The Windsors are among the handful of Europe’s royal clans that survived the carnage of two global conflicts within a half century.  And, like the other families, they don’t wield any real political power.  They’re merely figureheads.  They may be an institution, but their extravagant lifestyles are supported by taxpayers.

In the U.S. the closest we’ve ever had to a true royal family is from the Kingdom of Hawaii, which still exists – at least in name.  Their power was squashed when the United States formally annexed Hawaii in 1897; a process that began with the usual cadre of White Christian missionaries who thought then – as now – that they knew what was best for the locals.

The interview Meghan and Harry had with Oprah Winfrey about Meghan’s apparently unpleasant experiences with the Windsors proved eye-opening to many – mainly the Windsors and their ardent supporters.  You know – people who aren’t too aware of the world around them.

The only member of the British royal family I liked was the late Princess Diana.  She exuded a sense of class and grace unmatched by any of the Windsor clan.  While she held the formal title of princess, she did more than just look glamorous.  She used her position to raise awareness about the AIDS crisis (a very taboo subject in the 1980s) and landmines in Africa; the result of unfettered wars and European colonialism.  Her boldness with these matters shocked the staid and cloistered Windsors.  Her death traumatized so many.  I think the Windsors were overwhelmed by the amount of love and compassion people across the globe had for Diana and startled by the fact so many Britons would rather have her back than have the British royal family.  In other words, people would much rather see Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles drop dead.  How’s that for public opinion?!

I feel that Diana’s class and grace live on in her sons, William and Harry.  Both served in the British military and have engaged in a number of civic activities to further the cause of humanity.  Meghan Markle adds to that sense of grace.  But, as unsurprising as her allegations are, I’m still upset by her treatment at the hands of her in-laws.  It hints at the disrespect heaped onto non-Whites in the upper echelons of regal European societies.  Like most Europe’s royal families, the British royal clan is at the historical heart of European colonialism, genocide and racist oppression.  The British Crown stormed through Africa, Asia and the Western Hemisphere for centuries, resulting in the deaths of millions and the plundering of cultural treasures.  Two of the United Kingdom’s greatest losses came in the 20th century: Canada and India.  And they still haven’t figured out the sun has set on their empire.

I’m impressed with Harry’s response though.  Instead of trying to defend or explain his family’s supposed attitude towards Meghan, he did what literally millions have men have done since the beginning of time: he came to the defense of his wife, the mother of his child.  He also expressed love for his father, which I don’t doubt.  But it’s obvious Harry is a much different type of royal – whatever that’s supposed to entail.

I have a unique and tenuous connection to the British royal family – emphasis on tenuous.  In September of 1951 King George VI had his entire left lung removed.  A chronic smoker, George had already suffered health scares related to his habit.  My paternal grandfather, Epimenio De La Garza, was also a chronic smoker.  By his own admission he’d begun smoking around the age of 6, which would be 1899 for him.  By 1951 he was in dire straits.  Around the exact same time King George had his lung surgery, my grandfather had his in a hospital in Dallas, Texas.  The connection?  Some of the doctors who worked on King George attended medical school with some of the doctors who worked on my grandfather.  George died the following February.  My grandfather died 17 years later.  Shortly after George’s death, one of my grandfather’s brothers told my father and his 2 brothers that money, power and the best medical care it can provide can’t save anyone if the “main doctor” – meaning God – wants them.

Whatever becomes of the British royal family after this latest fiasco lingers in a strained future.  I just want Meghan Markle to know she doesn’t need their approval for any aspect of her life.  She’s better than that.

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We Could Have Had Beto

Texas, we could have had Beto O’Rourke as U.S. Senator.  Instead, a slight majority voted to keep Ted Cruz in office in 2018.  I emphasize “slight majority” because – unlike his 2012 victory over Paul Sadler – Cruz didn’t well…cruise to a reelection win.

In the summer of 2018, O’Rourke, then a U.S. House Representative, shocked the Texas Republican Party and political observers alike when he raised several million dollars in a very short time.  It was no minor feat; accomplished by literally cold-calling people and pounding the pavement all over the state, gathering small amount donations from average citizens.  O’Rourke also did something no other Texas candidate for the U.S. Senate had done: he visited every single county in the state.  Some residents were stunned upon his arrival, as their county had no record of such a candidate stopping by.  Again, this was no minor task.  Texas boasts 267 counties in roughly 268,597 square miles (695,663 sq. km).  It’s half the size of Alaska and as big as some of Europe’s largest countries, such as Spain and France.  So, O’Rourke disturbed the evangelical conservative force that’s dominated Texas politics for generations; first as Democrats and now as Republicans.

For many Texas Hispanics – especially someone like me whose ancestry in this state goes back before there was a United States – Cruz’s win in 2012 was a distinct insult.  Cruz, a Canadian-born Cuban-Italian, was lauded as the state’s first Hispanic senator.  Cruz is to Hispanics what I am to Nigerians.

More significantly, though, Cruz is known for his antagonistic approach to political navigations once he got to Washington, as well as his failed 2016 presidential bid.  He and Donald Trump ended up battling for the final nomination.  In what I considered a case of choosing the lesser of two evils, Cruz would have been that lesser one.  But, I’ve only voted Republican once in my life and have let myself live to regret it; thus I don’t know what shenanigans rumbled through the brains of Trump acolytes.  The animosity between Cruz and Trump became even more palpable during the 2016 Republican National Convention, when the Texan gave his speech and did everything he could NOT to say the name Donald Trump, as the crowd booed and jeered.  The tension was so high that Secret Service agents removed Cruz’s wife, Heidi, from the convention floor.

By 2018, though, Cruz had done little to advance a pro-citizen agenda.  In all fairness, O’Rourke had no significant legislative achievements during his tenure either.  I guess I was mistaken in believing we elect people to such prestigious positions to actually…you know, do something.  I must be a damn fool!  But that year I eagerly jumped on the O’Rourke train, donating money and proudly voting for him.

Alas, it was for naught.  Cruz squeezed into another term, sweating and hyperventilating all the way.  It was enough to upset that right-wing force in Texas politics, but Cruz made it back to Washington anyway.

Then came the ice.  Like a herd of Central American immigrants carrying loads of bananas stuffed with cocaine (a conservative’s second worst nightmare after queer marriage), Winter Storm Uri ambushed Texas.  Meteorologists had warned state and energy industry officials about its strength.  When most Texans think of hurricanes, they conjure images of Katrina and Harvey, not a snow-laden monstrosity from the Pacific or (hah-ha) Canada.

As millions of Texans found themselves without power – and, in some cases, water – state leaders began blaming liberals and their green energy ideas for the catastrophe.  And Ted Cruz left his comfortable Houston abode to jet to Cancun because his 2 daughters wanted to go.  He was there for all of one day before the angry heat from his constituents melted his margarita and his resolve and he scurried back to Houston; hoping no one would notice.

We noticed.  We also noticed that at least 80 Texans died last week directly as a result of the ice storm.

Cruz hopscotched across the stage of excuses to explain his sudden departure and miraculous return.  Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke began raising money for Texans stranded in their darkened homes and even made calls to some of them.  He got help from one of the most demonized figures among conservatives in American politics: New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, as Texas state leaders continue blaming everyone else for the catastrophe, Ted Cruz left Texas again and headed for Orlando, Florida to attend the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC).  In summation it’s a yearly festival where right-wingers trash anyone even slightly to the left of their narrow-minded ideology.  At this year’s escapade, a gold-colored figure of Trump has taken center stage.

And so has Cruz.  Making light of his Cancun trip, he quipped: “I’ve got to say, Orlando is awesome.  It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice.”

Oh, ha-ha!  HURK!

Fuck you, Cruz.  Fuck you and your conservative philosophies.  Fuck you and the Texas Republican “leaders” who can’t admit their pro-business, anti-regulation antics over the past decades put us into this quagmire.  People suffered and people died during this mess!  One of the wealthiest states in the richest nation on Earth in the third decade of the 21st century should not have experienced such a calamity!

But I’m just venting.  Texas, we could’ve had Beto.

Image: Mike Luckovich

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The Texas state capital building in Austin

The memo was clear.  Everyone should make a concerted effort to get into the office, no matter what the weather is like.  That included winter storms.  It was the mid-1990s, and the manager of the department where I worked in a bank in downtown Dallas insisted that business was paramount.  This was seemingly light years before the Internet and telecommuting became dependable and functional.  And every time ice and snow paralyzed the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area I managed to make it into work.  One week day I awoke to sleet falling outside of my apartment bedroom window; it was about 4 in the morning.  I knew the weather would only worsen, so I shut off my alarm clock and readied for work.  Travel time from my far North Dallas abode into downtown took almost 2 hours by navigating ice-laden streets.  When I arrived just before 8 a.m., I literally had to turn on the lights in the department.

When I went to work for an engineering company shortly after the turn of the century, I ended up back in downtown Dallas, laboring on a contract for a government agency.  I learned quickly the federal outfit had a phobia of snow and ice.  They’d literally shut down when snow began descending upon the city.  As contractors, my colleagues and I had to vacate the premises as well.  One afternoon a monstrous rainstorm attacked, and – in a faux frenzy – I asked loudly if we had to leave the building.  Rain, I declared, was just liquid snow.  No such luck.  We had to continue laboring over our strained keyboards.  Everyone laughed.

Last weekend Winter Storm Uri catapulted into North America from the Pacific, generating ice storms that blanketed the state of Texas this week and inducing an even more paralyzing effect: our power grid shut down.  Literally millions of people have lived without power (and in some cases, without water) since this past weekend.  As of this moment, most homes have their power back.  But a lack of water is now the problem.  Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Texas related to the event has risenDallas-Fort Worth International Airport led the world in the number of flight cancellations this week.

This has been a cataclysm of unimaginable proportions.  I have experienced a slew of serious weather events and witnessed plenty of incidents of government incompetence, but I have NEVER seen anything like this!

What has occurred here in Texas this week is a prime example of the ineptness of conservative ideology and intense deregulation.  Texas is an energy island; producing its own energy and relying upon no one else.  The exception is far West Texas, where El Paso and its immediate surrounding communities experienced the same weather event, yet had no power outages.  That strong sense of independence and individual reliability looks great in political campaigns, but doesn’t always turn out well in real life.  Since the mid-1990s, Texas has had the habit of electing the biggest morons to public office.  And they’ve come to dominate state government.  Texas conservatives have done more to protect gun rights than basic human rights.

Now many of those same conservatives who always espouse the concept of personal responsibility are pointing their gnarly fingers at everyone and everything except themselves and their own disjointed attitudes.  Even though President Joe Biden approved emergency relief for Texas, some Republicans are accusing him of indifference.  They somehow missed Ted Cruz running off to Cancun, México this week because his kids wanted to go.  Governor Greg Abbott has blamed green energy and the Green New Deal for the crisis.  Green energy, however, only makes up about 10% of energy sources in Texas, and the Green New Deal hasn’t even gone into effect yet.  But they’re liberal programs, so of course, Republicans consider them demonic and will trash their mere presence whenever they get the chance.  Abbott also blames the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for mishandling the event, but still hasn’t looked in the mirror.

A ceiling fan in a Dallas apartment building sprouted icicles.

This debacle points to the vulnerability of modern societies that have come to rely upon optic fibers and wires; a weakness that would both appall and humor our hardy ancestors.  In March of 1888, a massive winter storm assaulted the Northeastern U.S., downing power lines and disabling even modest commutes in the region’s largest cities.  People in rural areas, however, lived through the storm and its effects without much trouble.  They were accustomed to such weather anyway and prepared for it.

Preparedness – the word of 2021.

Consider this irony.  Earlier on Thursday, the 18th, NASA was able to land a vehicle on Mars.  The endeavor cost millions of dollars and is an epic triumph in the name of science and technology.  But we can’t get power and water to millions of human beings here in Texas – on planet Earth – for several days.

That’s not just sad; it’s unbelievably outrageous.

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Angry Soul

Have you ever been so angry you literally want to scream or just destroy something?  I’ve had too many days like that, especially when I was working in a corporate environment.  That’s how I felt today.  It was truly one of Those Days.  You know the kind – when everything seems to go wrong, virtually from the start.  I won’t bore you folks with the agonizing details.  But, as it all came to a frustrating end, I can only engage in the most practical of activities: eat cheese and drink red wine.  What the hell did you expect from The Chief?!

Trick question: how do you relieve all that anger?

Traditionally I’ve retreated to my usual standbys – exercise, writing, alcohol, masturbation…things that make all the bad shit go away.  So far, I have 3 out of those 4 today.

But one of my lifelong vices has been holding onto bad stuff for a loooooong time.  Too damn long!  I didn’t just hold grudges.  I relived certain events or incidents and even conversations where I had the last word and the best ending.  The result always concluded in my favor.

Fantasy is nice – when reality is so brutally bland or appalling.

I’ve learned to save fantasy for my dreams and writing potential, which usually coalesce.  I’ve learned to let go of past events, incidents, episodes, altercations, conversations…people.  I guess that comes with age…I mean, maturity.  Understand, dear readers, I’m still holding onto middle age.  The way a drowning person holds onto a life preserver.  But holding on nonetheless.  And I resolved years ago that I would never get “old”.  Whatever the hell old is supposed to mean.  But more importantly, I’ve learned to let go of stupid shit.  It’s always held me back from achieving my grandest goals.  It can hold anyone back.

Anger is one of those elements that robs people of their emotional and psychological freedom.  I know it would be almost too easy to bemoan what a bad day I had today.  One of Those Days where EVERYTHING seemed to go wrong.  It would have been easy to be rude to a store clerk or tear out of a parking lot.  But what good would any of that have done?

I’m not proselytizing.  I hate when people do that!  Yet I’ve realized – in my maturity – that some things just go wrong on occasion.  Sometimes it’s catastrophic; other times it just irritates the living daylights out of us.

But we have to deal with it and move forward.

I’m staying home this evening – and having more red wine.

A real question: how do you handle your anger?

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Don’t You Understand? They’re Victims!

“The Devil made me do it!”

Flip Wilson

You have to understand something about the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6.  They’re not entirely responsible for their actions.  They had merely responded to the words of their newly-formed deity, Donald Trump.  In the hours leading up to the siege, Trump had infused them with idea that he had been wronged by the voting process; that the 2020 elections had been manipulated by covert gangs of leftist forces determined to enforce abortions and gun confiscations upon helpless, red-blooded, bible-carrying Christian American citizens to ensure his loss.  He was a victim, Trump maintained, and vicariously so were his minions.

CHARGE!!!!!!!!!

Thus, the Trumpians had been victimized by the same queer-loving renegades and they were justified in storming the Capitol, tearing through offices, screaming like children told to come in for dinner, threatening others because they got their feelings hurt – all while dressed like ghosts of the Civil War and refugees from a Comic-Con conference gone wrong.

Please!

The Capitol Hill warriors are no more victims of enraged rhetoric than porn stars are of poor script-writing.  For years conservatives have proclaimed the tenets of individual freedom and personal responsibility.  They declared such values in reactive angst to a welfare society and relentless victimhood proclamations.

They loathed when non-White people bemoaned centuries of Euro-colonial oppression and systemic racism.  They rolled their eyes at the thought of women hollering about sexual harassment in the workplace and on college campuses.  They snickered at queer folks complaining of innate homophobia on the job and in school.

Then the U.S. Congress met on January 6, 2021 to certify Joe Biden as the winner of last year’s presidential contest, and – as Dante Alighieri once wrote – all hell broke loose.

The Trumpian crowd became maddened by the process and felt they had no other recourse but to subvert that constitutional mechanism in the most violent manner possible.  Their voices and votes had been ignored and they had to stop the madness.

So, in the name of Ronald Reagan, where the hell was all that talk of personal responsibility?  Where were the people to take ownership of themselves and their actions?  In other words, why do the Capitol Hill rioters suddenly see themselves as victims of…well, anything?!

They all sound like a bunch of – oh, God!  A bunch of minorities, women and queers!  Pass the rifle and heaven forbid!  Now these “victims” have placed themselves in the same category as tree-loving, pot-smoking, Muslim-loving liberals!

What’s going to happen next?  The magnetic poles will switch sides – like communist traitors – and life as we know will extinguish itself?

Again – please!

I personally don’t care to hear the anguished state of mind of these mentally- challenged pencil-dick and cavern-cunt imps.  What happened with last year’s presidential elections is something known as democracy.  It’s the sustenance upon which civilized societies survive.  We cannot exist without it.  The goons who stormed the Capitol three weeks ago didn’t fall victim to the verbiage of Donald Trump; they were victims of their own damned stupidity.  If they truly were swayed by Trumpian oratory, they are as gullible as a child believing in Santa Claus.  They roared into that building because what was left of their brain cells had perished in the swamp of their own hysteria.

It’s just so incredibly interesting that these right-wing extremists who wrap themselves in the American flag and cry freedom – while waving the loser traitorous Confederate flag – are suddenly helpless and violated.  They couldn’t help themselves.  Their faux president told them to do it.

The reality is quite simple: they’re violent and they’re stupid.  But they aren’t victims.

Flip Wilson on “The Ed Sullivan Show” January 11, 1970

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