Sunday, February 26, 2017

362. Progress

 C.W. taught me a lesson in equality yesterday. I think he had fun. I didn’t.

 It happened this way.

I woke up, made myself a cup of coffee and wandered into living room of our condo. The sun had not yet risen, but there was light enough. There, sitting on the couch, staring out at the skyline lights, was a man who resembled me in many ways: my age or older, Caucasian, blond, and nattily dressed in a sport shirt, khakis, and penny loafers. “Good morning,” he said.

I nodded and waited. He appeared to sink deep in thought for a moment before turning to me. “Do you believe in self-reliance?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said.

“Would you like to hear my story?”

“Why not?” I said. I don’t know why. I guess it was because he looked so sincere and honest. He began.

“From the earliest age I can remember,” he said, “I’ve done everything more or less as expected. I obeyed my parents, who were hard working and honest people. In grade school, I was an exemplary student. In high school, I excelled at one of the finest educational facilities in the state. I took home awards. Garnered scholarships. Gave up many of the social activities enjoyed by the other students so I could study. My parents never stopped instilling in me the value of hard work, dedication, honesty, and sacrifice.”

I nodded, and he continued.

Then I made a seamless transition to college. I graduated with honors and prepared for a career.”

“You sound like a perfect American example of self-reliance and hard work paying off,” I said.

“There was war, then, and the draft,” he said. “I volunteered, served my time and ended my career with a thankless assignment in a foreign war. When I finished, and the plane took off over the South China Sea, I saw the blue water beneath me and relaxed. I knew that I would return unscarred. I dozed as the plane ascended into the clouds.”

The most amazing thing happened next. As the first gleams of the morning’s sunrise landed on the distant buildings, a change occurred in the room. As it lightened, he darkened. All of his features changed as if electronically synced in reverse with the emerging sunrise. His hair soon turned from straight blond to a tightly curled black, His face transformed itself into ebony, and an African-American of my age sat in front of me.

“The plane landed,” he said, “and I was soon back in my home town. It was a large metropolitan area and I felt opportunities would abound. They didn’t. Employers seemed almost surprised that I would apply for executive positions. A few offered me jobs driving trucks or managing cleaning crews.

“What about public-sector jobs?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? Neither the police nor fire department would hire persons … persons like me, if you know what I mean.”

“I think I do,” I said.

“The only job I was ever offered in the public sector was as part of a road crew in the street department, and it wasn’t a supervisory job. You never enjoyed that kind of experience, did you?”

Still somewhat in shock over the identify shift, I could only shake my head, and say, “No.”

“Finally,” he said, “one of the railroad lines offered to hire me and teach me about diesel engines.”


“I took it, what else?” he said.

“Were you interested in diesel engines?”

“Are you kidding? My degree was in accounting, with a minor in finance.” He shook his head. “Diesel engines.”

“What then?”

“I met this girl,” he said. “We dated, most often at the movies, where we had to sit in the balcony. She cooked meals for us. There were few restaurants in town that served our kind.”
Once a sign for resaturants.
Now a political slogan. - C.W.
I said nothing.

“Then we married.”

I said nothing.

“I was eligible to buy a house on the GI Bill,” he said. “Nothing down, and what was a reduced interest rate at the time.”

“What happened then?”

“You don’t want to know.”

We sat in silence as the light finished filling the room. After a long period of nothingness, he slapped his leg. “Well,” he said, “things got better after that. Jobs opened up, but my college classmates had years of seniority by then. At least I didn’t have to come home smelling like diesel anymore.” He smiled.

I said nothing.

“Yes,” he said. “Things got better and better, until the country elected a president who looked more like me than like you.”


“I don’t know. It was like a long-standing resentment lay like a deep boil, unseen and forgotten. But there were plenty willing to prod that boil. It burst.”

“And now?”

“More and more, I’m thinking back to that long plane ride home.”

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Morning thoughts: Insanity

C.W. and I were talking …

“I read somewhere,” he said, “that this person you’ve elected president plans to increase the number of your country’s nuclear warheads. Want to explain?

“First,” I said, “I didn’t elect him. Second, I’m not sure it’s my country anymore. It certainly doesn’t resemble it. Third, I haven’t a clue.”

“Doesn’t he know those things are dangerous, those warheads?”

“I would think so. But maybe not.”

He thought for a moment. “Do I need to go talk to him?”

“You’re a Falloonian,” I said. “I think he listens to aliens from another galaxy.”

“Ramadongia, probably, the scourge of the Universe," he said. He resumed the conversation. Do you know how many of those things going off it would take destroy the planet?”

“You’re the scientist,” I said. “You tell me.”

“A half-dozen or so,” he said. “Tops. And I read where you already have over 4,000.”

“It’s insanity,” I said. “I understand that.”

“My point exactly,” he said. “I think he’s playing a game we call, on Falloonia, Bloalleupkrsauf.”

“Say what?”

“Rough translation: ‘the crazy leader ploy’”

“The what?”

“Crazy leader. We’ve seen it employed a few times across the galaxy. The leader of one group keeps the leaders of other groups cowed and subservient because they truly believe he is insane enough to pull a stunt that would destroy them all … himself too.”

I thought about this. “Does it work?”

“On occasion.”

“What kind of occasion?”

“The occasion in which all other leaders are sane.”

“I beg your pardon?”

It fails any time there is another leader that is as insane as he is.”

He could have gone all day without saying that.

Better teach your children
how to "duck and cover." - C.W.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

361. Hoarding's Dangers

It started as a quiet day at the farm yesterday. The most exciting thing should have been the trip C.W. and I took to the county dump to clear away some trash from our place. He loves going to the dump. Says it is the best one-image microcosm of our species. The only way I can describe his chosen form is as the late entertainer Liberace dressed as a supporting character from the old TV series, Green Acres.

Yeah. Real inconspicuous, but I have only limited control over him. Anyway, we arrived and dumped our stuff into the large dumpster. It was only then that I noticed he had brought along a rather long “grabber-reacher” of the type used to pick up trash. “Hey,” he said as he retrieved a long section of rubber tubing and held it before me, “wasn’t Mrs. Big Dope wanting a piece like this for her washing machine?”

Before I could answer, he tossed it into the truck. Then he picked up a partially used package of coffee filters. “Great for straining things in the shop,” had said, tossing it the truck. He did likewise with other items:

- Several plastic storage containers, “You can always use theses.’
- A partially used can of pressurized ether. “Now we can start those diesel tractors on the coldest morning.
- A thermometer. “Remember I broke the one in the shop."
- A box with an inch of kitty litter still in it. “Mrs. Big Dope will thank you for this.”
- A funnel, glass beaker, and a partially used roll of masking tape. “Got to be good for something.” (The hoarder’s anthem—I’ve heard it for more than 40 years).

I noticed the dump operator watching us and persuaded C.W to desist. He pitched a half-used bottle of methanol gasoline additive into truck with a “Just trying to help save money,” and we took off.

We had been driving for a few minutes when I saw a county sheriff’s vehicle on the road with its blue-lights flashing. I started to move to the outside before I saw an officer standing behind the car motioning for me to pull in behind it. I glanced at the speedometer. It showed five miles a hour below the legal limit. “What the …?” I pulled in.

The officer motioned for us to keep our hands visible. C.W. was confused. “What does he want?”

“He wants us to show him our hands.”

“Which ones?”

“The usual two,” I said. “And don’t mention your others. Seeing the officer motion for me to lower the window, I complied. He walked to my side.

“What you boys been up to?” he asked.

C.W. and I spoke at once. I said dumping trash and he asked what business it was of the officer.

“Pay no attention to him,” I said. “He’s not from around here.”

The officer frowned, but said to me, “May I look in your truck bed?”


Returning after a long inspection, he said. “Got a call you were gathering some interesting stuff.”

“Interesting? How?”

“It’s mostly stuff his wife says she needs,” C.W. said, “for her farming business.”

“And where is this farm?” The officer took out his pad and pen.’’

Before I could stop him, C.W. blurted the address.

“Thanks,” the officer said. “Don’t move.”

He went to his truck and talked on the two-way for several minutes, before returning.

“You boys know what those kinds of things are used for, don’t you?” He paused. "Of course you do."

“Making money. Didn’t you know?” C.W. said. I felt like slapping him.

“Just things around a farm,” I said. “Is there a problem?”
This certainly doesn't resemble
a science lab on Falloonia. - C.W
The officer took a deep breath and exhaled.

“Maybe yes. Maybe no,” he said. “I have no probable cause that you are cooking up a little “meth” out there, but we’ll be watching you. Very close.”

“Hey, that sounds like fun,” C.W. gave him his best entertainer’s smile.

“You can go now,” the officers said. “I figure I’ll see you again. Now have a nice day.”

I drove as fast as the limits allowed toward home, hoping against hope. When I made the last turn, however, I saw a patrol car exiting our drive onto the state highway. Oh dear.

We parked quietly and I made C.W. come with me and sneak into the back door. Alas, we had just made it to the kitchen when a female voice boomed from the front of the house. “You boys better get in here and do some explaining.”

C.W. bounded toward the sound. “Hey,” he said, “guess who we met today?”

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Morning Thoughts … blessedness

C.W. and I were talking …

He had been re-reading the Bible, both the old and new Testaments. “I’m confused,” he said, laying it aside. “How did the kangaroos get to Australia after the flood? And why did they not stop anywhere else for a little procreative fun?” He stopped, and two of this three faces smiled. "I've heard that both partners jump up and down when they 'do it' and I'll bet that is worth watching."

“I think the story of the Ark might be what I call an ‘Insight Myth,’ and not science or history,” I said, “more didactic than literal.”

“So what is the lesson?”

“Oh,” I said. “The story might teach us that those who make a total mess of their lives might, in fact, share  a common experience with the gods themselves, and may correct things if they are willing to pay the price.”

“A sort of behavioral ‘do-over’ in fact?”


He thought. “Isn’t there a moral instruction that wouldn’t involve millions of dead babies floating around?”

I decided to shift the emphasis and delivered a short exegesis.

The so-called Beatitudes, in the Christian New Testament have always attracted my attention. Largely ignored today, they provide a great embarrassment to the apocalyptic evangelists. In fact, they pretend the Sermon on the Mount was a liberal plot, added during the "New Deal" era. Imagine a right-wing politician offering the following maxims, as expressed in the Christian Book of Matthew.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

 I’ve been researching the origin of the word “blessed.” If considered at all, many so-called “Christians” today would take the commonly used definition of blessed as “happy” and say all those covered by the eight Beatitudes should be delighted with their fate and worry about other things. "Don't worry," they say, "about anything except what we tell you to worry about. Be happy."

I don’t think it is that simple. I tend to side with the theologian who defined “makarios” (the Greek word actually used for "blessed' in the New Testament) as “the opposite of cursed.”

C.W. seemed interested, so I left him with a Jewish Story worth considering in our times:

The old Rabbi said, "In olden days there were men who saw the face of God."
"Why don't they any more?" a young student asked.
"Because, nowadays no one stoops so low," he replied.

Now if that wouldn’t make Franklin Graham’s sphincter muscle dance the polka, I don’t know what would.

Where is the part where he tells
people who to vote for? He seems
much more interest in telling folks
how to lead their own lives. C.W.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Morning Thoughts … Armageddon

C.W. and I were talking …

He commented that I seemed more at peace than usual this morning. I explained.

I’ve been doing some thinking. If the “We want Armageddon” crowd wins, and America sends ground troops into this Middle East mess, I’ve plotted two alternate courses. I call them “pro” and “con,” I thought about “Uday” & “Qusay” but those seem to be taken at the moment.

With “pro,” I’ll grab my protest-posters, find my old tie-dyed shirt and my “Che” hat, and hit the streets until they gun me down, or reason returns to America. C.W. thought that would appeal to our old friends and neighbors.

 Under “Con,” I’ll build my wife a mansion and a ten-acre dog pen with heated dog houses, take that trip to Gal├ípagos Islands I’ve always wanted, purchase that $5,000 guitar I crave, get a case of cigars, load up with expensive Scotch and cheesecake, then pick, while she tends the animals, till the fireball gets us. No need to save our money for old age. We’ll be as old as we’re gonna get.

C.W. thought that approach a little cynical. “You just want to appeal to your right-wing friends, don’t you?” he said.

One could do worse, in either case, than dying without ever voting for a scoundrel or a warmonger.