The Last Christmas Letter

I opened my eyes as the train, the IRT #1, was just pulling out of the station at 135th Street and knew in a moment I was headed in the wrong direction.  I glanced quickly at my watch and saw that I had been headed in the wrong direction, this time, for at least three hours, give or take.  It was early, very early, on New Year’s Day in the mid-60’s, about in the middle of that decade when the nation, and much of the rest of the world became afflicted with that paroxysm of self indulgence which continues today; worsening down the decades since. Hours before, together with my friends, most of whom are dead now, I had taken liberties with my body and soul to mourn the old year’s passing and greet the new one before the chance for a massive hangover in its honor escaped me. I had succeeded beyond my wildest imaginings

I was in the car with only one other person.  He was a “long drink of water”, taller than me, slim and neatly dressed in white tie, wearing a well polished shoe on his left foot and an old style high topped canvas Keds sneaker on his right foot; very sloppily laced and tied.  I knew he was taller by the length of his legs reaching almost beyond the pole, one of three down the length of the middle of the car placed for standees; none of whom were now here, and would not probably be for at least forty-eight hours.

As I slowly returned to the state I was beginning to wish I hadn’t, I noticed something else about him.  He was playing a harmonica, not well, but not horribly, and barely audible above screeching wheels and echoing roars and rattles coming from the empty train.  He looked at me and winked, smiled behind his cupped hands and kept playing.  He was playing, I determined, something of Wagner’s, The Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla, from Das Rheingold.  And, I thought, entering something like consciousness, why not??  What better thing to hear than a Wagnerian march-dirge played in time to the Cage-like screeches and roars of a 60′ tin can in a dark, wet, cold tunnel.

We were alone, but I thought none of this was at all unusual.  New York City, I’d long ago learned, was a big enough place to handle a waking drunk and an oddly dressed virtuoso harmonicaist (?) by themselves in a subway car so late in the night that the hours are probably not on the clock.

He stopped around 96th Street and I clapped, bringing my hands slowly together and making as soft a sound as I could stand, and managing a weak “Bravo!”  Well, it was brave, anyway, his performance.  For that, I thought, he should receive recognition, small as it might be.  This made him smile.  “You like it?”  And , it was my turn to smile.  And nod, slightly, my head not yet fit for much more movement.  He rose, stretched and galumphed across to sit next to me.  I realized he was that kind of tall person who occasionally appears; the ones two sizes too big for their ability to do little more than sit; who, once upright, appear always on the very edge of tumbling into a mess of separate parts and pieces, like a pile of Legos the dog just ran into.

Tucking his harmonica away in his jacket he offered me his hand.  “Photius Jarndyce Le Pense,” he nearly trumpeted in a squeaky tenor, perfectly matching the rest of his presence in the world.  “Photius for the heretic.  My mother is one.  Jarndyce for the case.  My father is an attorney.  Le Pense is French.  We are all thoughts.  Of God, don’t you think?  Very pleased to meet you!”

I returned the gesture and the sentiment, though I wondered then how much pleasure I had to offer.  But, I gave it my best shot.  “I’m French.  Are you?”  I hadn’t spoken my name, I supposed, loudly enough for him to hear it clearly.  So, I repeated it, and added, “No.”

And there began a friendship that endured across time and distance until just a few months ago.  It was a strange one, I’ll admit, but, nonetheless ..

By the time I had arrived at my own stop in The Bronx, the sun was making great advances on the night.The sky above the hill that framed the eastern edge of my neighborhood, Kingsbridge was beginning to glow a warm and delicate pink.  The last stars and a slice of moon hung approximately above the station platform I was standing on; still a bit unsteadily on legs not long ago washed in a storm of inibriation.

I felt a steadying hand on my arm, and Photius’ said, “Nice place, this.  I’ve never been here.  Let me help you home.  Don’t worry.  I haven’t a thing to do today.”  He spoke like a telegram.

I was grateful for the offer, because I had figured out that I could either wait in the cold station until full light came, and with it one sight and sobriety, or reach the street below the only way then possible; by tumbling down three flights of steel stairs.

So off we marched.  It was a short three block walk to the door of the old apartment house, and along it I answered a few questions from him, and he answered a few of mine.  We exchanged nothing of either a deep or profound nature along the way.  He told me he preferred three minute eggs, and loved creme fraich on his breakfast cereal.  I learned what creme fraich was, who, in fact, hadn’t known it existed until then.  He learned that there were thirty two taverns along Broadway and the neighboring side streets between the 225th Street El Station and the line’s end at 242nd Street.

Upon the foundation of such confidences was our life long friendship built.

Photius delivered me to the door of my apartment on the ground floor shook my hand, wrapping his long bony fingers about twice around my hand firmly and bowed slightly while wishing me a “Happy and Holy New Year.” Then, with a word of thanks for the company, and a quick glance at my watch …he carried none…he left, saying he would be in time for the 9:00am Mass at Holy Name down on 110th Street..  I stumbled through the door and was asleep, probably, before he crossed the old bridge over the railroad tracks across the street.

We never met in person again.  Ours was to be an epistolary friendship, his first letter, a charming and amusing description of his life as a student at Morningside Heights, and comments on students, professors, food and drink, music and art, on life, arriving a few days later.  I did my best to keep up, but I couldn’t.  Photius was a river.  I was a little pond, more often a puddle.

His Christmas letters were the best, and I shared them with friends and family, quite a few of them becoming friends with him themselves.

He never married.  He never published anything, though many people often urged him to do so.  He was simply happy writing, I came to conclude.  It really didn’t matter to him if he was ever read by anyone.  But, he was.  Maybe it wasn’t millions, or even thousands. Perhaps several hundred people at most knew of him, and enjoyed what he did for them, the places he went, the things he saw, the people he met, and his stories about them all.

But, it had to end, and it did.  The letters suddenly stopped, and we wondered; myself and the few of my own friends I had introduced to Photius over the years.  For a year there was silence.  And, then, on Christmas 2001, the week before to be exact, I saw his familiar scrawl on an envelope and opened it to read this, Photius’ last letter to me, or to anyone else.

Believe me, I tried to  find out if there were others.  I reproduce it here for you.  Don’t let his first sentence confuse you.  I think Photius lived “in” Christmas, and considered all of his letters, perhaps everything he did, to be taking place during Christmas, and to be about things and people taking place and being in Christmas:

Christmas, 2001:

As you know for some years now I have been in the habit of writing an annual Christmas letter at least once a year.  I know that as well.  So, we agree.  That is good.

I used to have a lot of time to do it, and unlike what many people do with Christmas letters, I took pride in making sure everything I wrote was Gospel truth.  I checked my sources and my facts, reviewed my notes and recordings of my conversations with all of you.  I worked for weeks assembling the vast amount of data I knew you would examine closely with microscopic attention to detail, hoping for some notice from me of your role in my life, or a mistake about it.  Have I ever failed you?  Honestly, now.  Remember, God is watching you.

Well all that has changed, and who knows it may all be for the good.  I don’t mean, I am not speaking, about failing you, but about having the time to put together an accurate and interesting Christmas letter.  What to do about it has been troubling me a bit lately.  I thought of asking one or two friends to sort of ghost write one for me, figuring that presidents and such have staff writer who do things like that.  But that wouldn’t be me.  It’s deceptive, and I have never lied when I didn’t have to.  In that matter I have always followed the advice of my friend’s Uncle Dennis, a very wise man,  given to me personally many years ago, “Never waste a lie, Photius, lad.  If you do, you’ll always be one behind.”  The man, God rest him, never passed up a drink, either, and for the same reason.  he believed in something he named, alternatively, the Economy of Truth, and Alcohol.  Conserve the former and consume the latter.

I thought about sending out some form of  letter full of blamk spaces that might be filled in by you, whoever you ar, with whatever was exciting in your own lives.  You could then read it to your friends as if it came from me.  But, I decided that wouldn’t do.  It would rob you of experiencing my own wit and style, no small reason why there is, I have been told, a brisk trade in bootlegged copies of past letters copied on Xerox machines i places as disparate as Xingiang, China and Peoria, KS.  I don’t say this with any sense of hubris at all.  Well not with so much as to be disgustingly smug.

It happened that I was thinking what to do with this year’s letter the other day when in the mail arrived the answer.  it was the Christmas letter of my good friend Homer Timolean Clinch originally from an real American town, Rubberlip, TN.  Homer had moved here about six months ago and started a business, Homer T. Clinch Pasta, right out of his kitchen. He’s already got ten employees, eight of them family from Rubberlip, living in his apartment, and is in production “most every day it matters” as he says.  His stuff has become pretty popular around here, especially the Alfalfa Linguine with Hog Ear sauce.  It’s an acquired taste I’ll warrant, but don’t knock it you people back east.  So are chocolate covered ants.

Here’s what Homer has to say to his “Frayuns and Famlee” this year:

“Hy, Y’all, it’s me again, Homer.  By now most of you are missing me, and those that ain’t I ain’t sending no letter to anyway.  Me and Alma Jean and the Spawn moved up North to the other side of the Ohio.  It was business took us.  Most f the folks here are nice people, but, this ain’t no joke, they talk funny…and too darn fast.  I have got to figger me some way to listen faster.  And stop laughin at ’em.

Take last Friday.  I was in the kitchen stirring up a mess of dough for my special Christmas pasta, Green and Red, from collards and red beans.  It was comin’ real good, too.  the phone rung and I put down the oar I was using for stirring.  I don’t use it for rowin’ no more since some folks complained about the pasta tasting like pond water.  I may go back to it when I come out with my Algae pasta in the spring…and from it, ha, ha.

Anyway, I put down the oar and Dolph, my hound with the chewed ear, begun ‘a likin’ on it.  “Damn Dolph,” I said, “You’re mor trouble than hungry wet twins.  Don’t I always give you a lick when the batch is done?”  He just looked at me with them goober eyes of his and went back to licking and scratching while I answered the phone. 

Howdy, Homer here,” I said, real pleasant.  Was a lady on the line and she said, “Help!”  I got that clear.  Oh I do good on one word at a time.  And then she took off… 

She begun about a three minute mess on how she was planning a big supper for some outta town friends who ain’t never been down this far before.  They was, I figure, the tie, jewelry and powder wearing kind, you know?  I was able to make out she wanted a mess of pasta from me for one of the courses on this hog waller she was puttin’ on.  So I run down the list of what I got.  And the only thing I heard her say clear was, “I don’t boil Hog Ears!”  That was real clear.  Well, I told her, who does? I’d chop ’em. I told her I’d take off most of the hair since she had Yankees eatin’. So, after some back and forth, we worked down to where I thought she’s ordering a mess of my special holiday Hog Ear sauce.  So I thought she wanted me to do it up and bring it over hot and ready.

How many was all I wanted to know , and I mad out her sayin’ thirty.  I guessed that was the number of folks at this party.  At two ears a plate, that figgered out to 120, give or take.  A big order, and I could use the ten bucks. “What time you eatin’, Miss,” I asked her, and thought she said Saturday at 8:00pm.  I told her since I don’t stay up that late unless there’s a game on, I might have to charge her more.  I thought she said, “Don’t matter.”  Then I hung up and commenced to cooking for real.

I was at the door with a mop pail full of steamin’ pasta at 7:58PM.  Big house, lots of windows and curtains on every one as far as I could tell, even on the top floor.  Some fella from the army opened the door and let me in, and even took my coat which I asked him to put on the chair.  He put it in a closet as big as our downstairs.  He wanted to take the pail of pasta, too, but I said , “The lady of the house is waiting.”  I bust right past him into a big room with more candles than a church and about the most dressed bunch of folks this side of one of them walt Disney cartoon movies all sitting around a big long table talking real low and drinking from skinny glasses; not a jug in sight.  I heaved the plate up on the table and said, “Y’all pass your plates on down this end and lemme slop some of the best stuff you ever wrapped your lips around onto ’em!” 

One of the ladies way down the other end, I recognized her whe she started talking, she was the one placed the order, said, “Excuse me, but just who are you?”  I said, real loud ’cause this might be a good place to advertise, “I’m Homer Clinch from Homer’s Pasta, and I brung you the best mess of Alfalfa with special Holiday Hog Ear sauce, you ever swallered.”

Two ladies got up and ran from the room right then.  A couple of fellers got up after them and started moving my way.  I figgered they was coming to help until they grabbed me and begun to hustle me back to the door and the army guy.  The lady followed and another army guy come up and took the pail of pasta and sauce off the table. “Hey, I thought you wanted me to bring this stuff on over tonight, lady,” I said.  She got all stiff all over and said, “What I told you, Mr. Clinch.”  I got all this now on account of she was talking real slow, “What I told you after hearing your list of revolting products, was “Don’t soil my ears.”  “Now, ” she continued, “I’ll be happy to see your back and the last of your (here she shook all over like someone who just stepped in a mess of stuff real soft would do) Hogs Ears.”  “Not so fast, Miss,” I said while the two guys held me and the first army guy was draping mu coat over the top of my pail of sauce.  “Not so fast.  It took me some time to make this up and I’m out $7.00 for the ears.”  She turned to the army guy and said, “Give him enough to get him out of here.”  The she left to go back to her long table, skinny glasses and whispers.

I took a chance and told him I wanted $12.oo, so I made four dollars on the night, and sold the pail full of pasta to Millie, down at her Diner for their Sunday Dinner Special, for another $3.50 and a mess of sweet potato pie.  I threw in the use of the mop pail for a week.  She got a mop but no pail and been using the dish sink water on the floor. 

I don’t figure I’ll be doing no deliveries soon,a nd it’ll be a while before I break into the city market

Me and Alma Jean, the kids and Lump wishes you a Merry Christmas,

Homer

This is all I have of him.  I’d kept all of his letters in a box in the basement of the house we just moved from to this place on the river not far away.  Somehow the box, along with a couple of thousand old photos I was sure I had, never made the journey.  The other place is empty now, echoing with the ghosts packing their own gear.  I’ve left them the new address.  They have a standing invitation.

I’m hoping Photius, wherever he may be, picks one up.

I miss the odd fellow.  My memory is clouded about what took lace all that long ago.  It is working on data that was hazily acquired at best.  But I remember the voice, the tall thin awkward fellow, the stilt like legs in their formal dress.  I remember his Adam’s apple oscillating as he spoke. And I remember his kind eyes.  Blue, like the lightening sky.

I never did find out how he wound up with one shoe and one sneaker, though for years I kept meaning to ask him.

Here is my friend’s show piece:

The Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla

 

The Charwoman of the Democratic Party’s National Committee

There is this lady from Florida with the melodious name of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Well, that’s how the folks on the 6 and 11 identify her.  I simply refer to her here as DWS, her initials, which may signify her name or The Department of Waste Services.  Between the two I like the last one better.  Actually she’s the head of the Democratic National Committee, an organization dedicated among other strange things to putting a period, full stop, to the United States one unborn infant at a time.

Ain’t I cute?

Anyway, the Debster was “caught on tape” sometime recently repeating a rote response over and over, like a parrot…and looking not a little like one, too, after being asked a simple question; the simple question being one about the genus and species of her children in utero; a question a two year old can answer.  The question she was asked?  Were her children human beings while yet in her womb?  Even Horton knows that!

But, not DWS.  Nope, she as much as took the Fifth.  She does not want to say if the things she carried within her for nine months were human beings while there.  Why she doesn’t want to say this puzzled me.  What even puzzled me further is why a person whose belly is swelling is unable to name, or unwilling to say what, exactly, is the thing doing the swelling.  Do we not know that ape mommies have apes inside, and whales, whale babies?  We are not reluctant to name those things. What force compels them thus to silence when asked if what is gestating is, well, one of us?

I wonder, too, just what if anything she thought they were during those three times she says she went through the experience.  Had she thoughts of her womb’s contents at all?  Did she, as I believe anyone else in her condition able to do so would, did she seek the care of and consult with a person trained to advise her and treat her  and what she carried within; an obstetrician?  Did that person ever use the word “baby”, the word “child” or “boy” or “girl” in her presence?  Or was he or she as ignorant of what lurked beneath DWS’s heart as she must have been herself?

What a curious thing, to be treated by someone who was ignorant of what was being treated.  Anyway, perhaps she did, and doing so was exercising one of her “reproductive rights”.  And she got care for herself and her “product of conception” that she could not help noticing was growing inside her into, well, into what, exactly must have been anyone’s guess.  Was she comforted?  How could she have been one wonders.  Nevertheless, was she comforted to know, if knowledge could have been hers in the midst of all this mystery, that she had, in fact begun the process of gestating a baby, a human baby?

Did she, sitting in her Obstetrician’s waiting room, accept the smiles of other women similarly exercising their reproductive rights during the term of their gestation with the purpose, so far, to at term’s end produce a …?  Did she smile back at them, all the while knowing, or believing in her right to believe it…which is even more affirming…, that what was moving and kicking and listening to her heart beating above it was a…what?

Did she ever say the name?  can she have dared to sing to it?  I think perhaps not, and that is a sad and strange thing, if so.  But when one has a right, as terrible a right as a “reproductive right”, one must I suppose obey it in all of it’s dark splendor, steeling oneself against a too personal involvement with the more stern solemnities involved in its exercise.  For, no matter where they are in their progress to life, and, really, no matter where or in what condition they are found, those found in violation of their mother’s terrible Reproductive Right are no longer entitled , they are in fact in violation, of their once unalienable Right to Life; that right with which all have been endowed by their Creator.  From that moment, they are lives, beings, unworthy of life, and it may be taken from them.  Perhaps in that thought is the secret to DWS’s curious lapse about the thing within her.

Rights, of course, are there to be exercised, but when the decision to exercise is made they must be obeyed…completely.  Here I make an observation about The Creator God who granted everyone, everything, the right to exist.  And so, even he, who certainly could have, did not deny that right to Satan; whom God knew and knows from his first moment as an angel, of whose nature and person he has always been aware.  How odd that DWS, who advocates the continuation of such a terror as the “reproductive right” cannot bring herself to name or acknowledge the being(s) upon whom she would exercise that right.

I wonder do her three children, whom she does, finally, acknowledge in the short interview as human beings, do they know that for nine months they lived under her heart unaware of the terrifying fact that they were a scant heartbeat away from their mother’s deadly exercise of her “reproductive right” to murder them?

Finally, I wonder when, during the process of giving birth, or how soon after it, did DWS realize, or decide, her children had become human beings, and that murdering them could conceivably have led to her own execution for that crime in another simpler, saner, more compassionate age?

What Did Jesus Do!!!???

A friend sent me a kind of poster today and suggested that I may share it with whomever I wish to share it with.  It says:

Jesus regularly ate dinner with thieves and prostitutes but you’re telling me it’s against your religion to bake a cake for a gay person?

I do not understand the point of the poster.  I also do not think that thieves and prostitutes were the regular dinner companions of Our Lord.  But, I quibble.

In any event, I wrote the following letter to my friend whichhas been edited for this appearance:

Dear M,

I have been told by others that the man who introduced me years ago to the lady I would marry is a homosexual.  We have been friends a long time.  And the subject of his sexual attraction, or mine, never entered in any way into our friendship.  As far as I know, he has lived a celibate life. I would bake him a cake, but he is an excellent cook. He is also an expert gardener, and an accomplished, self taught, artist. He is a deeply spiritual fellow, too.

Another friend, one of the strongest and fiercest men I have ever known, I was told was a homosexual, too. He died young; from alcohol and drug abuse. He had a troubled childhood, but no more troubled than anyone I knew in my neighborhood. The only difference between him and my other friend was, as I learned much much later in my life, he was actively homosexual.

There was another friend of my youth who, when we were in our mid-teens, suggested that we engage in a common homosexual practice together. I declined, politely but definitely too. This person really never had anything to do with me after, and soon disappeared from the neighborhood.

I wrote a little essay about that incident, and one or two other similar incidents, which was published in a local on-line journal. For the next several weeks I was labelled a homophobe and my cruelty and hatefulness analyzed and criticised by many people, none of whom had the slightest idea who I was. I was amazed and amused. But, I concluded that their motivation was hate and their purpose was to silence me, and anyone who thought as I did, or dared discuss similar experiences.

I have been groped by homosexuals, and propositioned; not often, but it has happened. Thankfully, that no longer happens…at least not in the last twenty years; the last one to do so was a Catholic priest. I regularly pray for him.

I do not know where you may have conceived the idea that I think it against my religion to bake a homosexual a cake. I have had homosexuals in my home as guests on many occasions, and cake has often been among the things available to eat; sometimes, even, cake that I baked.

In addition, like Jesus I have eaten dinner with thieves and prostitutes. I have dined, too, with capitalists and bankers and tax collectors and attorneys and soldiers. And, since I have been a cook from time to time, baked a cake for not a few of them.

Now, I know that the little thing above is something designed in opposition to the recent law passed in Indiana. It is, as are most things of its type, a silly simplification of the argument against the law. Besides its silliness, it gets it wrong, completely, and like the folks who hatefully labelled me, misrepresents thereby the reason and purpose of the law, and, I think purposefully and maliciously so.

I have no doubt that Christ ate with homosexuals while here on earth. We know for a fact that he was in contact with adulterers. And we have evidence that He convinced at least one adulteress to reform, too. Perhaps, in those possible meals with homosexuals, he convinced one or more of them to reform their way.  But, what the Savior’s dinner company has to do with a law designed to support the free exercise of religion puzzles me, very much. I do not attend any celebrations of so-called “Gay Pride” for reasons which have to do as much with my faith as with good taste, decorum and decency. I suspect that Our Lord might not either, though I do not come across any posters similar to the one above questioning our motives for not standing in the crowd waving rainbow flags while half clad, or unclad homosexuals parade by, pridefully, while suggesting that because Christ ate and drank with sinners we should watch homosexuals parade.

Indeed, I can envision a time, given the way things have been “progressing” when attendance at such bizarre and barbaric displays will be mandatory. Such things are what this law seeks to protect us from; and I think it a great sadness that we need a law between a God given right enshrined in our founding document as the first right and those who would forbid its free exercise. I thank you for the invitation to share this document, but I honestly do not know anyone who I think would welcome or benefit by it.

Peter

PS: In no way did I mean to criticize or demean the priest I mentioned above. I still attended his Masses, still received the sacraments from him. He still heard my confessions and gave me absolution for my sins, and I prayed then for him as I do now. I like what St. Thomas More said: “Pray for me, and I will pray for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven.” I see no reason why we should not. Perhaps, if that were the case, universally, people might respect the faith and religious beliefs of other people and not demand of them things which would cause them to violate them. I think Jesus would like that.

I Have A Right To Be Polarized

Good Morning Sunshine(s):

I remember the famous quote from someone getting his head handed to him:  “Why can’t we all just get along?”  Or, it was something along those lines.  Whatever  it was, it’s become more or less a New Commandment; as in “I give you a new commandment!  You shall get along with everyone!  You shall be tolerant, and diverse, and non-judgmental of your neighbors.  You shall not think their behavior savage, profligate, illegal, immoral or fattening lest you cause them to feel bad!  I am the, umm, the Happy Face!”

It was something along those lines that I woke up thinking about today, remembering the recent accusations of treasonous behavior directed at a group of senators from the opposite party here in these Untied States who wrote a very public letter warning a very public enemy about the life expectancy of a deal in the making.  A deal which a lot of folks, including the letter writers, not only think is not good, but is downright bad, not to say stupid, wrong and jejeune.  But, we have come to expect such things from certain folks over the last half dozen or so years.

So, they think the deal’s wrong, all wrong, and said so.  Well, at least we know where they stand on that issue.  At least, too, they don’t meet their opposition, who was one of their own, on the porch of the Senate and stab him to death to preserve the Republic.  But, it isn’t yet March 15th.

Some folks, not yet at the “calling someone treasonous” stage, lament such public displays of differences of opinion uttering versions of the “Why can’t we…” plea for harmony, unity, peace and good will.  Being right (not politically, Dear.  Puhleeze!) and acting that way causes disharmony.  Being polite does not.

Well, sometimes polite is wrong and right is, well, honorable.  I mean, it wasn’t right for former Rep. Wiener to show his naughty bits to a lady, even if some folks would say he had a right to do it…which I do not think he did, being after all married even if it was(is?) to a lady who works for a lady who has long thought it’s always right for her not to do the right thing (but what difference does that make?).   But it was right to say, and that loudly, that it was wrong, that HE was wrong, even if some folks would have preferred to “avert eyes” from the rude behavior, and to reach the conclusion that his wrongness was much wider and deeper than a mere matter of dressing or not.  Are you still following?

Stuff like this upsets a lot of folks.  They want everyone, like the fellows above, the Senators of Great Discord, to just get along; because, after all they say, it’s the right thing to do.  Families get along.  Don’t they?  They’re not polarized.  Neither are countries; or they shouldn’t be.  A nation needs to stick together and follow one leader.  “My country, etc…”  So they did in Rome, as recently as 70 years ago…and look what’s happened since.  And, they did it in places like Germany, Russia and China which were paradises and thousand year empires, for a while. Then other folks started thinking it wasn’t right, more or less, not to be polarized about some things…most things…everyone said should be right, including, most importantly, a bunch of Dear Leaders, and Uncles.   How else, one reasons in these cases, can Great Leaps Forward be accomplished unless everyone at all times thinks; nay believes with heart and soul, that all is right, and just, proper and helpful toward salvation?

While I continued thinking about this, I came across an article by a fellow with the odd sounding name of Hadley Arkes.  He wrote about polarization, a bad thing to have say the right believers in this article; worse, I suspect, than Ebola, because it has proven fatal in many cases among the polarized.  And Prof. Arkes concludes that it just might be right; despite what all of the folks who want us to have and exercise our rights in an atmosphere of smiling tolerance and agreeable silence say; vigorously exercise them, including the new ones which have been hiding in closets and shadows until coaxed out into the light by judges and oddly dressed or undressed people.

But, he, being a well educated fellow, and a real live professor of something, somewhere, says it much better than I ever could here.

Right’s never wrong.  But sometimes, and lately quite often, “rights” are, and being polarized, even angrily so, about that is, to my way of thinking, right.  The folks who argue against that, preaching tolerance of wrongs, will see nothing wrong, some sweet day, with putting people away who aren’t tolerant, diverse of opinion and supportive of one dear leader, a person not afraid of progress and change; a person to charge full speed ahead into the hope filled future. Dammit all!  They’ll do it because they’ll say that those who don’t think right are wrong and have no rights, particularly the right to think the way they do about the right way of doing things, including such things as Prof. Arkes mentions in his little article..

They’ve done it before. And, they’ll do it again, to paraphrase a once popular song.

They’ll do it again.

Niggling Details

NIGGLING DETAILS, PUT THEM ASIDE. CONCENTRATE ON THE BIG PICTURE

Earlier today I read a short posting on Facebook from one of my FB friends.  It was a comment on and a question about an article my friend had read in some online journal.  He remarked that the article was not, in his own judgement, a very well written piece.  My friend is a professor, BTW.  He said he’d have given it a C had one of his students submitted it, and I got from his tone that it would have been a charitable C.

My curiosity aroused, I clicked on the link and read the article myself.  My FB friend was right.  It is a very stupid article by some fellow; a paean to the brilliance of Our Dear Leader, his clear sightedness, his intuitive grasp of the “big picture”, as the numbskull who wrote this thing calls it.

Minutes before I began reading this article…which I really did not finish, since I became ill to the point of retching…I had read the following in a little book written way long ago when I was a boy, and people still had brains which they used to think. The author was speaking about power and how dangerous it can become both in the hands of the wrong folks and for the people over whom power is exercised:

“The greater a man’s power, the stronger the temptation to take the shortcut of force: the temptation to ignore both his creative originality and his personal truth; to achieve the desired end simply by force, dismissing what cannot be forced as not worthy of consideration – in other words the temptation to erect a culture on rational and technical foundations alone. To this end, man himself must be considered something “marketable” (“the labor market”), something that can be managed – i.e., “laid off or on,” “conditioned” from the start to certain ends.”

Are you getting the “big picture” yet?

Because, this next part I read I found really interesting:

“Nothing corrupts purity of character and the lofty qualities of the soul more than power. To wield power that is neither determined by moral responsibility nor curbed by respect of persons results in the destruction of all that is human in the wielder himself.

Antiquity was profoundly aware of this danger.   ….  For Plato, the tyrant (i.e., the wielder of power), who was not held in check by reverence for the gods and respect for the law was a forlorn and doomed figure. Little by little modernity lost this knowledge. Things that are now common practice – the denial of any norm higher than man, the public consent to autocratic power, the universal use of power for political or economic advantage – these are without precedent in history.”

The  author of the piece my FB friend linked me to was making a case for the superior intelligence of President Obama, and his ability, because of this, to see things that, well, we people of lesser intelligence cannot see..  As I read his article names of people came to mind.  You’ll read them toward the end of this if you persevere.  But, since the author was appealing to us to acknowledge the superior genius of President Obama I naturally thought how fitting and apt the description of the use of power was when applied to him. The term “Imperial Presidency” has been around since Nixon’s reign. (Let’s be honest, folks, and stop calling these things “administrations”.) It would be hard to find a better one than this presidency to call an Imperial one. The next one…if there is one…will be even more imperial.

Anyway, I recalled these few sentences I’d just finished while reading the article. And, I thought of people in the recent past who have been able to see the “big picture”; always a picture of hope and progress which would lead, inevitably to change; always change for the better. The following names were among those I conjured: Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Mussolini, Uncle Ho, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Peron, Castro, Kim Il Whomever, the brand new Caliph out there in the desert. And, of course, the subject of this fellow’s essay, our current president. He, like them all, sees far, and dreams big. And all we need do is sit down, shut up and obey.

I give you a song, with words and pictures.  A song born in hope and forecasting change, a new age:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yDrtNEr_5M

A great song, don’t you think?  And not a true word in it.  That’s the Big Picture; a lie from top to bottom; a fraud from border to border.  But, only a genius would know that.

The Day All Good Things Happen

Today, a friend remarks, is the day all the good things happen.

Well, not today. Not this day, the day after death with no resurrection  No redemption  No return from the plunge over the edge.

Mark this Sunday down in your books, Pilgrims. It is the day when the wound was re-opened; the deep wound of 9-11, thought closed until torn open and pulled apart in Boston, where the boast was we were strong. The wound that, I think, has finally reached the heart of these Untied (at last) States; where the weapon has been aimed from evil’s center for long years.

I remember the flags years ago flying from little staffs on pickup trucks and motorcycles, the flags of hurt and unity, gone in weeks, except for the tattered rags of flag fabric fluttering from the bridges over freeways. And, of course I remember the many Boston strong hats and t-shirts; all the self affirming gear. It did and doesn’t do a damn thing except attract the hyenas and the vultures who love the smell of death and fatten on carrion.

What to do?

What, dear God, to do?

Some say we should support the police men, wave to them, smile at them, pat them on the back.  That seems to me like little more than pouring a glass of water on a volcano, punching a tornado.  Others cry havoc and let slip, at last, the dogs of war.  I understand that.  My own blood is up, and I really do wish to hurt, and know whom I wish to hurt.  Aah, but then…

My first reaction was unutterable rage; still smoldering, against the evil madness among us, a rage which finds its justification in the actions of stupid men and women in offices and places of power real or imagined, in the words and the policies of  the self-absorbed bloodsucking servants of influence and privilege, and the opportunistic liars and demagogues in the public square, who pander to and feed pain; who fan the flames of, and warm themselves in, the fires of hate.  And, then, what?

And, then, deep sorrow.

That lasts, today.

The day all good things happen.

Gimme A Break, Willya!

Michelle Obama, the First Lady of These Untied States, has made headlines recently with a comment about suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous racism.  I suppose she was lending her sisterly support to such as have suffered the same in the recent past at the hands of the thugs who “serve and protect” us.

She, too, wants to be counted among the sufferers and their Sharptons, their Jacksons abroad in the night…and day…to call attention to the malignity of race difference poisoning the country’s soul; to remind those of us who are privileged and prejudiced of the indignities we daily inflict on everyone not us, whomever we (and they) may be.

She tells a heart wrenching tale of being asked to get something off a shelf in a Target store, saying, “Those kinds of things happen in life.”  Those instances of humiliation and hateful racism is what she meant.

The only problem with her story is that the first time she told it, it wasn’t at all racist.  As a matter of fact, one might call the moment as she recollected it on some late night TV show an endearing typically American moment; a kind of Norman Rockwell thing.

I married a woman a foot less tall than I am, and I well remember her telling me, and others on more than one occasion that she married me because I could get the stuff on the top shelf.

Had I married a racist?  Good Lord, all those years and I never knew!  That must be the trouble with racism, so subtle, so insidious, so something or other.  I feel debased, now.  I am thinking of removing all top shelves from everywhere.

This whole situation reminds me of another incident in my life.  I remember the day clearly, though it was a long time ago. I was in my nice blue uniform, the one Customs Port Investigators wear. I was on duty at Pier 84 on the North River, as those piers were styled in New York. I think the vessel may have been the SS United States, or, in any event, a large ocean liner. The well dressed fellow approached me followed by a porter with a hand cart and several pieces of luggage. When he had caught my eye, he reached into his dark overcoat pocket, removed his hand and flipped me a quarter. “Call me a cab,” he said. I caught the coin and flipped it back. Then, I told him he could hail a cab himself since I wasn’t authorized to do so. I could, I added, search his luggage and himself…which for the next 15 minutes I did.

The porter, who was a black man by the way, gave me a wink, a nod and a big smile as he collected his fee from the guy and walked back inside the pier to his next job, leaving Mr. Cabman to fend for himself.

Who was the racist?

And then there’s this.  The story the way it happened, without a racial twist in any direction.

Wouldn’t it be nice…?